Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Favorite Classic Movie Stars - Roscoe Arbuckle

Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle was an American silent film star, comedian, director and screenwriter.

He was married three times. His first wife was Minta Durfee and that marriage lasted from 1918 till 1925. His second wife was Doris Deane and that marriage lasted from 1925 till 1929, and his third marriage was to Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail and that lasted from 1929 till 1933.

Arbuckle is noted as one of the most popular actors of his era, but he is best remembered for a highly publicized criminal prosecution case that occur ed in 1921,that ended his career. Although he was totally acquitted by a jury with a written apology, the trials scandal ruined the actors career and personal life and he would not appear again onscreen for another ten years.

He was born with the name of Roscoe Contling Arbuckle on March 24th, 1887 in a town called Smith Center, Kansas. His fathers name was William Goodrich Arbuckle and his mothers name was Millie Arbuckle. His mother died in 1899 leaving Roscoe with his father who was extremely cruel to him and eventually abandoned him altogether. Roscoe survived by doing odd jobs at a hotel in San Jose, California. One night he entered an amateur talent contest where he caught the attention of showman David Grareman.

Between 1902 and 1908 he worked several years in the vaudeville and burlesque circuit. He was even in San Fransisco during the great earthquake of 1906, and was forced at gunpoint to help clean debris.

Besides being a wonderfully talented comedian, Arbuckle was also a talented singer, something few people knew. 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!".

He began his film career with Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909. He appeared sporadically in Selig one reelers until 1913, moved briefly to Universal Pictures and became a star in producer, directer Mack Sennetts "Keystone Cops" comedies.

Between 1909 and 1921 Arbuckle had made more than one hundred and fifty silent films defining the art of slapstick at "Keystone Studios".

Even thought he had a bulky two hundred and fifty pound frame, he was a very able acrobat and played the hero who saved the day by pie throwing - back flipping and outwitting his opponents. In "A Noise from the Deep", Arbuckle became the first film comedian to be hit by a pie on film. He also had the ability to throw two of them at the same time in different directions. 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"

In 1914 Paramount Pictures made the unheard of offer of $1,000 a day/25% of all profits? complete artistic control to make movies with Arbuckle and Mabel Normand. The movies were so popular and lucrative that in 1918 Paramount offered Arbuckle a three year/three million dollar contract. In 1921, Paramount again signed him. A million dollars a year. He worked tirelessly filming three feature films simultaneously!

Roscoe disliked his screen nickname which was obviously because of his substantial size. However, the name Fatty (Big Buster) identifies the character that Roscoe portrayed on screen (usually as 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.

The scandal that destroyed Arbuckles life began as follows; and while I will attempt to be as brief as possible, I truly feel that the so called facts surrounding this outrage need to be addressed as it shows how both the press, and the era made it possible to destroy the life of a innocent man.

On September 5, 1921, Arbuckle had decided to take a much deserved and well needed small vacation. He went with two friends. Lowell Sherman (an actor/director) and Fred Fischbach (a cameraman). They checked into rooms 1219, 1220 and 1221 at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. It is not known who for sure, but one of the men decided to have a party. The party was to be held in room 1220. They also invited several woman to the suite. Including one Virginia Rappe, a 30 year old aspiring actress. Rappe was reportedly "a heavy drinker". Apparently, she became ill during some point of the party and when Arbuckle went into his private suite to change clothes to go out to do some sight seeing, he opened the bathroom door to find Miss Rappe vomiting into the toilet and complaining of being very ill. Arbuckle, carried her to a bed and made her comfortable and then continued on his way. Miss Rappe got progressively worse as the evening wore on and started screaming with pain in her pelvic area. The Hotel doctor was called and examined her and concluded that her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication.

Virginia was also at the party with a friend of hers named Maude Delmont. Delmont was a woman of very dubious character. She had a large criminal record including 50 counts of extortion, bigamy, fraud and racketeering. And was also know as a pro co-respondent for blackmailers. Miss Delmont had been drinking quite extensively also that evening, and was passed out on the bed next to Miss Rappes while watching over her.

The Hotel physician who had examined Miss Rappe had told Miss Delmont that Miss Rappe should be taken to the hospital right away, but it wasn't until two days later that this was done. Unfortunately, one day after being hospitalized, Miss Rappe, died due to peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Her companion, Miss Delmont told police that Arbuckle had raped Rappe and police concluded that the impact of his overweight body had on Rappe must have eventually caused her bladder to rupture. Rappes manager, Al Semnnacker accused Arbuckle of using a piece of ice to simulate sex with her which led to the injuries. But, by the time the story was in the newspapers, the object had evolved into being a Coca-Cola bottle or a champagne bottle instead. In truth, witnesses testified that Arbuckle had rubbed the ice on Rappes stomach to ease he abdominal pain. This rumor, however was never proven.

After two trials resulting in hung juries, the third trial ended in a acquittal. But even though he was acquitted of any crimes and having support from Hollywood friends, the motion picture industry, etc. Public opinion was against him. He was able to still work, but behind the scenes under the name of William B. Goodrich as a director and gag writer. He also performed on the vaudeville circuit under his own name. Arbuckle was confident that he had nothing to be ashamed of, and denied any wrongdoing. Miss Delmont later made a statement incriminating Arbuckle to the police in an attempt to extort money from his attorney's but, the matter soon spun out of control. Major media events and stories in William Randolph Hearsts nationwide newspaper chain were written with the intent of making Arbuckle appear totally guilty.

After the third trial and the acquittal, the jury released the following statement to the press.

Statement From the Jury
April 12, 1922

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.

He was manly throughout the case, and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed.

The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible.

We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free of all blame.

But the damage was already done, and Arbuckles career or his life would never be the same again. In 1932 Warner Brothers gave Arbuckle a chance to star in a comedy short called "Hey Pop". The public loved it and its success led to five more talkie shorts. On June 30, 1933, hours after completing his sixth Warners short and signing to make a feature length film, Arbuckle died of a heart attack. He was only 46 years old.

Roscoe Arbuckles career is cited by many film historians as one of the greatest tragedies of Hollywood to this day.

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