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Fatty Arbuckle

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle, also known as Fatty Arbuckle (March 24, 1887 – June 29, 1933), was an American silent film comedian, director, and screenwriter. Arbuckle is noted as one of the most popular actors of his era, but he is best remembered for a heavily publicized criminal prosecution that ended his career. Although he was acquitted by a jury with a written apology, the trial's scandal ruined the actor, who would not appear on screen again for another 10 years.

Born in Smith Center, Kansas, to Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle, he had several years of Vaudeville experience, including work at Idora Park in Oakland, California. One of his earliest mentors was comedian Leon Errol. He began his film career with the Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909. Arbuckle appeared sporadically in Selig one-reelers until 1913, moved briefly to Universal Pictures and became a star in producer-director Mack Sennett's Keystone Cops comedies.

Arbuckle was also a talented singer. After Enrico Caruso heard him sing he urged the comedian to "give up this nonsense you do for a living, with training you could become the second greatest singer in the world".

On August 6, 1908 he married Araminta Estelle Durfee (1889-1975), the daughter of Charles Warren Durfee and Flora Adkins. Durfee starred in many early comedy films under the name Minta Durfee, often with Arbuckle.

Despite his massive physical size, Arbuckle was remarkably agile and acrobatic. Mack Sennett, when recounting his first meeting with Arbuckle, noted that he "skipped up the stairs as lightly as Fred Astaire"; and, "without warning went into a feather light step, clapped his hands and did a backward somersault as graceful as a girl tumbler". His comedies are noted as rollicking and fast-paced, have many chase scenes, and feature sight gags. Arbuckle was fond of the famous "pie in the face," a comedy cliché that has come to symbolize silent-film-era comedy itself. The earliest known use of this gag was in the June 1913 Keystone one-reeler A Noise from the Deep, starring Arbuckle and frequent screen partner Mabel Normand. (The first known "pie in the face" on-screen is in Ben Turpin's Mr. Flip in 1909. However, the oldest known thrown "pie in the face" is Normand's).

In 1914 Paramount Pictures made the then-unheard of offer of $1,000 a day/25% of all profits/complete artistic control to make movies with them. The movies were so lucrative and popular that in 1918 they offered Arbuckle a 3-year/$3 million contract.

Arbuckle disliked his screen nickname, which he had been given because of his substantial girth. However, the name Fatty (big buster) identifies the character that Arbuckle portrayed on-screen (usually, a naive hayseed) -- not Arbuckle himself. When Arbuckle portrayed a female, the character was named "Miss Fatty" (as in the film Miss Fatty's Seaside Lovers). Hence, Arbuckle discouraged anyone from addressing him as "Fatty" off-screen.

Arbuckle gave Buster Keaton his first film-making work in his 1917 short, The Butcher Boy. They soon became screen partners, with deadpan Buster soberly assisting wacky Roscoe in his crazy adventures. When Arbuckle was promoted to feature films, Keaton inherited the short-subject series, which launched his own career as a comedy star. Arbuckle and Keaton's close friendship never wavered, even when Arbuckle was beset by tragedy at the zenith of his career, and through the depression and downfall that followed. In his autobiography Keaton described Arbuckle's playful nature and his love of practical jokes, including several elaborately constructed schemes the two successfully pulled off at the expense of various Hollywood studio heads and stars.

After English actor Charlie Chaplin joined Keystone Studios in 1914, Arbuckle mentored him. Chaplin's most famous character, "the Tramp", was created after Chaplin "borrowed" Arbuckle's trademark balloon pants, boots and tiny hat.

At the height of his career, Arbuckle was under contract to Paramount Studios for $1 million a year -- the first multi-year/multi-million dollar deal paid by a Hollywood studio. [1] He worked tirelessly, filming three feature films simultaneously. On September 3, 1921 Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule and drove to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman (an actor/director) and cameraman Fred Fischbach. The three checked into the St. Francis Hotel, decided to have a party, and invited several women to their suite. During the carousing, a 30-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe became seriously ill and was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication.

Rappe died three days later of peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Rappe's companion at the party, Maude Delmont, claimed before a grand jury that Arbuckle had somehow pierced Rappe's bladder while raping her. Rappe's manager Al Semnacker (at a later press conference) accused Arbuckle of using a piece of ice to simulate sex with her, which led to the injuries. By the time the story was reported in newspapers, the object had 'evolved' into being a Coca-Cola or Champagne bottle, instead of a piece of ice. In fact, witnesses testified that Arbuckle rubbed the ice on Rappe's stomach to ease her abdominal pain. Arbuckle was confident that he had nothing to be ashamed of, and denied any wrongdoing. Delmont later made a statement incriminating Arbuckle to the police in an attempt to extort money from Arbuckle's attorneys, but the matter soon spun out of her control.

Roscoe Arbuckle's career is cited by many film historians as one of the great tragedies of Hollywood. His trial was a major media event and stories in William Randolph Hearst's nationwide newspaper chain were written with the intent of making Arbuckle appear guilty. The resulting scandal destroyed both his career and his personal life. Morality groups called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death, and studio executives ordered Arbuckle's industry friends (whose careers they controlled) to not publicly speak up for him. Charlie Chaplin was in England at the time. Buster Keaton did make a public statement in support of Arbuckle, calling Roscoe one of the kindest souls he had known. Film actor William S. Hart, who never worked with Arbuckle, made public statements which presumed that Arbuckle was guilty.

The prosecutor was San Francisco District Attorney Mathew Brady, who was determined to get a conviction as he was planning to use the case in his campaign to run for governor. To this end, Brady made public pronouncements of Arbuckle’s guilt, and pressured witnesses to make false statements. During the hearing and despite the judge threatening a motion to dismiss the case, Brady refused to allow the only witness accusing Arbuckle, Maude Delmont, to take the stand and testify. Delmont had a long criminal record with convictions for racketeering, bigamy, fraud and extortion. The defense had also gotten hold of a letter from Delmont admitting to a plan to extort Arbuckle. Along with Delmont’s constantly changing story, for her to testify would have ended any chance of going for trial. In his summation, the judge demolished every bit of the prosecution's evidence, and harangued Brady for producing such a flimsy case. The judge found no evidence of rape, but decided that Arbuckle could be tried for manslaughter.

What evidence the prosecution presented was often greeted with laughter from the courtroom; the spectators stood and cheered for Arbuckle after he testified. The jury returned deadlocked with a 10 - 2 not guilty verdict, and a mistrial was declared.

The same evidence was presented, but this time one of the witnesses, Zey Prevon, testified that the district attorney had forced her to lie. Another witness who claimed Arbuckle had bribed him turned out to be an escaped prisoner charged with assaulting an 8 year old girl; plus, fingerprint experts testified that the case's fingerprint evidence was faked. The defence was so convinced of an acquittal that Arbuckle was not called to testify. However, the jury interpreted the refusal to let Arbuckle testify as a sign of guilt. It returned deadlocked with a 10 - 2 guilty verdict -- another mistrial was declared.

By this time Arbuckle's films had been banned, and newspapers had been filled for seven months with alleged stories of Hollywood orgies, murder, sexual perversity and lies about Arbuckle's case. Maude Delmont was touring the country giving one-woman shows as "The woman who signed the murder charge against Arbuckle", and lecturing on the evils of Hollywood. This time, it took the jury a mere 6 minutes to return a unanimous not guilty verdict; five of those were taken to write a statement of apology. Unfortunately, public opinion had long-since been turned strongly against Arbuckle; six days after the verdict, the censorship board banned Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in U.S. movies again.

The Arbuckle case was one of four major Paramount-related scandals of the period. In 1920 Olive Thomas died after drinking a large quantity of medication meant for her husband (matinee idol Jack Pickford) which she had mistaken for water. In 1922 the murder of director William Desmond Taylor effectively ended the careers of actresses Mary Miles Minter and former Arbuckle screen partner Mabel Normand and in 1923 actor/director Wallace Reid's drug addiction resulted in his death. The scandals caused by these tragedies rocked Hollywood, leading major studios to include morality clauses in contracts.

Owing to the scandal, most exhibitors declined to show Arbuckle's latest films. Ironically, one of the few feature-length films known to survive is Leap Year, one of two finished films Paramount withheld the release of, amid the scandal. It was eventually released in Europe, but was never theatrically released in the United States or Britain.

On January 27, 1925 he divorced Araminta Estelle Durfee in Paris. She had charged desertion. Arbuckle married Doris Deane on May 16, 1925.

Arbuckle tried returning to moviemaking, but industry resistance to distributing his pictures lingered after his acquittal; he retreated into alcoholism. In the words of his first wife, "Roscoe only seemed to find solace and comfort in a bottle."

Buster Keaton attempted to help Arbuckle by giving him work on Keaton's films. Arbuckle wrote the story for a Keaton short called "Daydreams." Arbuckle allegedly co-directed scenes in Keaton's Sherlock, Jr., but it is unclear how much of this footage remained in the film's final cut.

Arbuckle also directed a number of comedy shorts under the pseudonym William Goodrich for Educational Pictures, ...

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