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Fatty Arbuckle

Fatty ArbuckleAKA Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle

Born: 24-Mar-1887
Birthplace: Smith Center, KS
Died: 29-Jun-1933
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Cremated (ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean, off Santa Monica)

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Actor, Victim

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Keystone Cop

Always chubby, Roscoe Arbuckle was taunted as "Fatty" in childhood and the nickname stuck. He was frequently beaten by his father, who doubted the boy's paternity and eventually abandoned the family. In his teens he worked as a vaudeville comic and singer, and he began working in films in 1909. Eventually he was hired by Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company in 1912, where he was a regular in the Keystone Cops shorts, and headlined his own "Fatty and Mabel" series of shorts with Mabel Normand. In a 1913 Keystone short called "A Noise from the Deep", Arbuckle takes what is believed to be cinema's first pie in the face, and the gag was reportedly his own idea. Often working with his friend Buster Keaton, Arbuckle's star rose even brighter after he started his Comique Film Company, and in 1920 he was signed by Paramount Pictures as Hollywood's first million-dollar-a-year man.

For the Labor Day weekend in 1921, Arbuckle's friend Fred Hibbard hosted a three-day party at San Francisco's St Francis Hotel, renting three suites and arranging for a jazz band, catered food, and ample illegal alcoholic beverages. It was by all accounts a weekend of debauchery, and the party gave Arbuckle more lasting fame than any of his films. At about 3:00 on 6 September 1921, he stepped into one of the bedrooms to change his clothes, planning to leave the party with Mae Taub, the daughter-in-law of evangelist Billy Sunday. According to Arbuckle, he found Virginia Rappe, a party guest and long-time friend, weak, sick, and vomiting in the bathroom. He helped her onto the bed, and what happened next is still subject to debate and exaggeration.

Rappe complained that she could not breath and began ripping off her clothes. Arbuckle and another guest, Maude Delmont, argued loudly, after she began pressing ice cubes against Rappe's abdomen and thigh. Arbuckle called for the hotel manager and a doctor for Rappe, but had no apparent inkling that her illness would prove fatal, and he left with Taub within minutes. Rappe died of a ruptured bladder several days later, and as soon as Arbuckle heard of her death, he returned from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He was arrested on 11 September 1921, and tried for manslaughter.

The case was covered in gruesome detail and lurid innuendo, with newspapers (especially William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner) claiming that the inebriated movie star had ravaged a sweet, innocent girl. The man who had rivaled Charlie Chaplin as America's most popular comic was soon held in general disdain and widely assumed to be guilty. It was whispered that Arbuckle had crushed Rappe with his weight while raping her, or crammed a Coca-Cola bottle or ice cubes up her vagina. To this day Arbuckle's name -- if remembered at all -- is often mentioned in the context of "getting away with murder", but the evidence against him was scant. Rappe's bladder was actually brought into the courtroom and introduced as evidence, and physicians testified that the damage was not caused by any external object or force. Arbuckle's primary accuser, Delmont, was not called to testify, because her story kept changing. The District Attorney's investigators found that she had previously been involved in numerous extortion plots, and Arbuckle maintained that Delmont had approached him for hush money, and only gone to the police after he refused to pay.

He faced trial three times, with two juries unable to reach a verdict, before being acquitted in his third trial. The jury deliberated for six minutes before finding him not guilty, and apparently they spent most of that time composing an extraordinary rebuke to prosecutors, signed unanimously: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. ... We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime."

The film business already had an unclean reputation, and the Arbuckle affair was the impetus for appointing former Republican Party chairman Will H. Hays as Hollywood's point man for morality. Arbuckle's films were ordered withdrawn from circulation, as one of Hays' first acts as President of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America. But being blacklisted was probably unnecessary -- Paramount had already suspended Arbuckle's contract, and his ruined reputation would have made his lighthearted comedies distasteful to audiences anyway. He disappeared from the screen but continued working in movies, directing dozens of films under the assumed name William B. Goodrich. Returning as Fatty Arbuckle in the early sound era of the 1930s, he starred in a few well-received shorts, and was signed to a studio contract by Jack L. Warner. But Arbuckle's comeback was not to be -- he died of a heart attack before any of his new films had been completed.

At the time of his death, he lived at the Alto Nido Apartments in Hollywood, where "Black Dahlia" Elizabeth Short would live ten years later, and where fictional screenwriter Joe Gillis lived in Billy Wilder's classic Sunset Blvd.

Father: William Goodrich Arbuckle
Mother: Mollie (d. 1899)
Wife: Minta Durfee ("Araminta Estelle Durfee", actress, m. 6-Aug-1908, div. 27-Jan-1925)
Wife: Doris Deane (actress, b. 1900, m. 1925, div. 1928, d. 1974)
Wife: Addie Dukes McPhail (actress, b. 1905, m. 1932, d. 2003)

    Hollywood Walk of Fame 6701 Hollywood Blvd. (motion pictures)
    Murder tried three times for allegedly killing Virginia Rappe (acquitted)
    Rape Virginia Rappe (acquitted)
    Benevolent & Protective Order of the Elks
    Died Intestate
    Risk Factors: Obesity, Morphine, Alcoholism

    The Red Mill (29-Jan-1927)
    The Garage (15-Dec-1919)
    The Cook (15-Sep-1918)
    The Bell Boy (18-Mar-1918)
    Out West (20-Jan-1918)
    Oh Doctor! (30-Sep-1917)
    The Butcher Boy (23-Apr-1917)
    Fatty and Mabel Adrift (9-Jan-1916)

    The Garage (15-Dec-1919)
    Love (2-Mar-1919) · Fatty
    The Cook (15-Sep-1918)
    The Bell Boy (18-Mar-1918)
    Out West (20-Jan-1918)
    Coney Island (29-Oct-1917) · Fatty
    Oh Doctor! (30-Sep-1917)
    The Butcher Boy (23-Apr-1917)
    Fatty and Mabel Adrift (9-Jan-1916)
    The Rounders (7-Sep-1914) · Neighbor
    The Masquerader (27-Aug-1914) · Film Actor
    The Knockout (11-Jun-1914)
    Tango Tangles (9-Mar-1914)
    A Film Johnnie (2-Mar-1914) · Himself

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