Roscoe Arbuckle

Roscoe Arbuckle
Roscoe Arbuckle
Born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle
March 24, 1887(1887-03-24)
Smith Center, Kansas, U.S.
Died June 29, 1933(1933-06-29) (aged 46)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Other names Fatty Arbuckle, William Goodrich
Occupation Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter
Years active 1909–1933
Spouse Minta Durfee (1908–1925) (divorce)
Doris Deane (1925–1929) (divorce)
Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail (1931–1933) (his death)
Official Website

Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle (March 24, 1887 – June 29, 1933) was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter. Starting at the Selig Polyscope Company he eventually moved to Keystone Studios where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope.

He was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s, and soon became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1921 with Paramount Pictures for an unprecedented $1 million.[1]

In 1921, to celebrate his contract, Arbuckle threw a party at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco during the Labor Day weekend. Bit player Virginia Rappe became drunk and ill at the party; she died four days later at a sanitarium known for performing abortions. Arbuckle was accused by a well-known madam of raping and accidentally killing Rappe. Arbuckle endured three widely publicized trials for manslaughter. His films were subsequently banned and he was publicly ostracized.

Though he was acquitted in the third trial and received a written apology from the jury, the trial's scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian.[1] Though the ban on his films was lifted within less than a year, Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s. He died in his sleep of a heart attack, aged 46, in 1933.[1]


Early life

Born in Smith Center, Kansas, one of nine children born to Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle. Roscoe Arbuckle weighed in excess of 13 lb (5.9 kg) at birth and as both parents had slim builds this resulted in his father not believing the child was his own offspring. This disbelief led him to name the child after a politician (and notorious philanderer) whom he despised, Republican senator Roscoe Conkling. The birth was traumatic for Mollie and resulted in chronic health problems which contributed to her death 12 years later.[2]

Arbuckle had a "wonderful" singing voice and was extremely agile. At the age of eight his mother encouraged him to perform in theatres which he enjoyed until she died in 1899 when he was 12. His father, who had always treated him harshly,[3] now refused to support him and Arbuckle got work doing odd jobs in a hotel. Arbuckle was in the habit of singing while he worked and was overheard by a customer who was a professional singer. The customer invited him to perform in an amateur talent show. The show consisted of the audience judging acts by clapping or jeering with bad acts pulled off the stage by a shepherd's crook. Arbuckle sang, danced and did some clowning around but did not impress the audience. He saw the crook emerge from the wings and to avoid it somersaulted into the orchestra pit in obvious panic. The audience went wild and he not only won the competition but began a career in vaudeville.[2]


In 1904 Arbuckle was invited by Sid Grauman to sing in his new Unique Theater in San Francisco, which was the start of a long friendship between the two.[4][5] He then joined the Pantages Theatre Group touring the West Coast of the United States and in 1906 joined the Orpheum Theater in Portland, Oregon owned by Leon Errol. Arbuckle became the main act and the group took their show on tour.[6]

On August 6, 1908 he married Minta Durfee (1889–1975), the daughter of Charles Warren Durfee and Flora Adkins. Durfee starred in many early comedy films, often with Arbuckle.[7][8] They reportedly made a strange couple as Minta was short and petite while Arbuckle was tall and very large.[2] Arbuckle then joined the Morosco Burbank Stock vaudeville company and went on a tour of China and Japan returning in early 1909.

Arbuckle began his film career with the Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909 when he appeared in Ben's Kid. 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. (However, according to the Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1919 and 1921, Arbuckle began his screen career with Keystone in 1913 as an extra for $3 a day, working his way up through the acting ranks to become a lead player and director.) Although his large size was undoubtedly part of his comedic appeal Arbuckle was self-conscious about his weight and refused to use it to get "cheap" laughs. For example he would not allow himself to be stuck in a doorway or chair.

Arbuckle was 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".[9]

Screen comedian

Arbuckle's nephew Al St. John (right) with Buster Keaton and Arbuckle in Out West (1918)
Arbuckle's photo on the cover of the UK based Pictures motion picture magazine of the July 23, 1921 issue

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 US$1,000-a-day plus 25% of all profits and complete artistic control to make movies with Arbuckle and Normand. The movies were so lucrative and popular that in 1918 they offered Arbuckle a three-year, $3 million contract (2010: $43,057,003).[10][11]

By 1916, Arbuckle's weight and heavy drinking were causing severe health problems and an infection he caught became a carbuncle on his leg so bad that amputation was considered. Although he recovered with his leg intact, he had lost 80 lb (36 kg)—managing to get his weight down to 266 lbs (120 kg)—and he had become addicted to morphine.[2] This is reported[who?] to have been given to him by doctors to diminish the pains in his legs, as the danger of using morphine was not yet widely known.

Following his recovery, Arbuckle started his own film company, Comique, in partnership with Joseph Schenck. Although Comique produced some of the best short pictures of the silent era, in 1918 Arbuckle transferred his controlling interest in the company to Buster Keaton and accepted Paramount's $3 million offer to make up to 18 feature films over three years.[2]

Arbuckle disliked his screen nickname, which he had been given because of his substantial girth. "Fatty" had also been Arbuckle's nickname since school; "It was inevitable", he said. He weighed 185 lb (84 kg) when he was 12. Fans also called Roscoe "The Prince of Whales" and "The Balloonatic". However, the name Fatty 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. Arbuckle discouraged anyone from addressing him as "Fatty" off-screen and when they did so his usual response was "I've got a name, you know."[12]

As mentor

Charlie Chaplin

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

Buster Keaton

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

Bob Hope

Arbuckle also gave Bob Hope his break in show business. In 1927, Arbuckle allowed Hope to be the opening act in his comedy show in Cleveland. Roscoe then gave Hope the names and numbers of his friends in Hollywood, telling him to "go west".

The scandal

Jackie Coogan "Nazimova" (actress) Gloria Swanson Hollywood Boulevard Picture taken in 1907 of this junction Harold Lloyd Will Rogers Elinor Glyn (Writer) "Buster" Keaton William S. Hart (Two-Gun Bill) Rupert Hughes (Novelist) Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle Wallace Reid Douglas Fairbanks Bebe Daniels "Bull" Montana Rex Ingram Peter the hermit Charlie Chaplin Alice Terry (Actress) Mary Pickford William C. DeMille Cecil Blount DeMille Use button to enlarge or cursor to investigate
This 1921 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[13] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.

On September 5, 1921 Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule and, despite suffering from second degree burns to both buttocks from an accident on set, drove to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman (an actor/director) and cameraman Fred Fischbach. The three checked into three rooms 1219 (Arbuckle & Fischbach), 1220 (empty) and 1221 (Sherman) at the St. Francis Hotel. They had rented 1220 as a party room and invited several women to the suite.[1]

During the carousing, a 26-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe was found seriously ill in room 1219 and was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication and gave her morphine to calm her. Rappe was not hospitalized until two days after the incident.[1]

In fact, Virginia Rappe was already an ill woman. She suffered from chronic cystitis,[14] a condition that flared up dramatically whenever she drank. Her heavy drinking habits and the poor quality of the era's bootleg alcohol could leave her in severe physical distress. She developed a reputation for over-imbibing at parties, then drunkenly tearing at her clothes from the resulting physical pain. But by the time of the St. Francis Hotel party, her reproductive health was a greater concern. She had undergone several abortions in the space of a few years, the quality of care she received for such procedures probably substandard, and she was preparing to undergo another (or, more likely, had recently done so) as a result of a pregnancy by her boyfriend, director Henry Lehrman.[15][16]

Author Andy Edmonds theorized that during the relatively innocent horseplay at the party, Arbuckle may have accidentally struck Rappe's midsection with his knee. If she had undergone a botched abortion during the days immediately before, the blow might have been enough to badly damage her already compromised internal organs. This would also account for the statements that a delirious Rappe was alleged to have made later during the party, statements along the lines of, "Arbuckle did it," or "He hurt me," without implicating Arbuckle in any rape or violent attack on her.

At the hospital, Rappe's companion at the party, Bambina Maude Delmont, told Rappe's doctor that Arbuckle had raped her friend. The doctor examined Rappe but found no evidence. Rappe died one day after her hospitalization of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Delmont then told police that Arbuckle raped Rappe, and the police concluded that the impact Arbuckle's overweight body had on Rappe eventually caused her bladder to rupture.[1] 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.[17] 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 denied any wrongdoing. Delmont later made a statement incriminating Arbuckle to the police in an attempt to extort money from Arbuckle's attorneys.[18]

Arbuckle's trial was a major media event; exaggerated and sensationalized stories in William Randolph Hearst's nationwide newspaper chain damaged his career. The story was fueled by yellow journalism, with the newspapers portraying him as a gross lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent girls. In reality, Arbuckle was a good natured man who was so shy with women that he was regarded by those who knew him as, "the most chaste man in pictures".[2] Hearst was gratified by the Arbuckle scandal, and later said that it had "sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the RMS Lusitania."[19] The resulting scandal destroyed Arbuckle's 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) not to publicly speak up for him. Charlie Chaplin was in England at the time; Buster Keaton did make a public statement in support of Arbuckle; film actor William S. Hart, who had never worked with Arbuckle, made public statements which presumed that Arbuckle was guilty.

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle (1887-1933)

The prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady, an intensely ambitious man who planned to run for governor, made public pronouncements of Arbuckle’s guilt and pressured witnesses to make false statements.[1] Brady at first used Delmont as his star witness during the indictment hearing.[1] Although the judge threatened Brady with dismissal of the case, Brady refused to allow Delmont, the only witness accusing Arbuckle, to take the stand and testify. Delmont had a long criminal record with convictions for racketeering, bigamy, fraud, and extortion, and allegedly was making a living by luring men into compromising positions and capturing them in photographs, to be used as evidence in divorce proceedings.[20] The defense had also obtained a letter from Delmont admitting to a plan to extort payment from Arbuckle. In view of Delmont’s constantly changing story,[1] her testimony would have ended any chance of going to trial. Ultimately, the judge found no evidence of rape. After hearing testimony from one of the party guests, Zey Prevon, that Rappe told her "Roscoe hurt me" on her deathbed, the judge decided that Arbuckle could be charged with first-degree murder. Brady had originally planned to seek the death penalty. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter.[1]

The first trial

Arbuckle was then arrested on the charges of manslaughter but arranged bail after nearly three weeks in jail. The first trial began on November 14, 1921 in the city courthouse in downtown San Francisco.[1] At the beginning of the trial Arbuckle told his already-estranged wife, Minta Durfee, that he did not harm Rappe; she believed him and appeared regularly in the courtroom to support him. Public feeling was so negative that she was later shot at while entering the courthouse.[19]

San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady served as the prosecutor.[19] Brady's first witnesses during the trial included Betty Campbell, a model, who attended the September 5 party and testified that she saw Arbuckle with a smile on his face hours after the alleged rape occurred; Grace Hultson, a local nurse who testified it was very likely that Arbuckle did rape Rappe and bruise her body in the process; and Dr. Edward Heinrich, a local criminologist who claimed he found Arbuckle's fingerprints smeared with Rappe's blood on room 1219's bathroom door. Dr. Arthur Beardslee, the hotel doctor, testified that an external force seemed to have damaged the bladder. During cross-examination, Betty Campbell, however, revealed that Brady threatened to charge her with perjury if she did not testify against Arbuckle.[1] Dr. Heinrich's claim to have found fingerprints was cast into doubt after Arbuckle's defense attorney, Gavin McNab, produced the St. Francis hotel maid, who testified that she had cleaned the room before the investigation even took place and did not find any blood on the bathroom door. Dr. Beardslee admitted that Rappe had never mentioned being assaulted while he was treating her. McNab was furthermore able to get Nurse Hultson to admit that the rupture of Rappe's bladder could very well have been a result of cancer, and that the bruises on her body could also have been a result of the heavy jewelry she was wearing that evening.[1] During the defense stage of the trial, McNab called various pathology experts who testified that while Virginia Rappe's bladder had ruptured, there was evidence of chronic inflammation and no evidence of any pathological changes preceding the rupture; in other words, there was no external cause for the rupture.

Taking the witness stand as the defense's final witness, Arbuckle was simple, direct, and unflustered in both direct and cross examination. In his testimony, Arbuckle claimed that Rappe, whom he testified he had known for five or six years, came into the party room around midnight, and that some time afterward Mae Taub (daughter-in-law of Billy Sunday) asked him for a ride into town, so he went to his room (1219) to change his clothes and discovered Rappe vomiting in the toilet. Arbuckle then claimed Rappe told him she felt ill and asked to lie down, and that he carried her into the bedroom and asked a few of the party guests to help treat her. To calm Rappe down, they placed her in a bathtub of cool water. Arbuckle and Fischbach then took her to room 1227 and called the hotel manager and doctor. After the doctor declared Rappe was just drunk, Arbuckle then drove Taub to town. The courtroom spectators, most of whom were fans and supporters of Arbuckle, reportedly booed and jeered at Brady and most of the prosecution witnesses during the entire trial, and they also reportedly stood, cheered and applauded for Arbuckle after he testified.

The prosecution presented medical descriptions of Rappe's bladder as evidence that she had an illness. In his testimony, Arbuckle calmly denied he had any knowledge of Rappe's illness. During cross-examination, Brady aggressively grilled Arbuckle that he refused to call a doctor, and argued that he refused to do so because he knew of Rappe's illness and saw a perfect opportunity to kill her. After over two weeks of testimony with 60 prosecution and defense witnesses, including 18 doctors who testified about Miss Rappe's illness, the defense rested. On December 4, 1921, the jury returned deadlocked after 44 straight hours of deliberation with a 10–2 not guilty verdict, and a mistrial was declared.[1]

Members of the jury later revealed that one holdout named Helen Hubbard had announced to them in private that she would vote guilty "until hell freezes over" and that she refused to discuss the evidence, look at the exhibits, or read the trial transcripts. All others voted for acquittal until at the end one male juror joined Hubbard. Hubbard's husband was a lawyer who did business with the D.A.'s office. It was also revealed that Hubbard and was a member of the first California Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a feminist organization.[21] According to American sociologist Gary Alan Fine, "Reaction to Arbuckle's arrest was linked to the gender politics of the early 1920s," and indeed Hubbard was referred to in the press as a representative of women's rights. The Examiner described her favorably as "a titian-haired Amazon combining the exact knowledge of a housewife and a firm belief in equal rights." [22]

The second trial

The second trial began on January 11, 1922 with a different jury, but with the same legal defense and prosecution as well as the same presiding judge. The same evidence was presented, but this time one of the witnesses, Zey Prevon, testified that district attorney Brady had forced her to lie.[23] Another witness who claimed Arbuckle had bribed him turned out to be an escaped prisoner charged with assaulting an eight-year-old girl, and who was looking for a sentence reduction. Heinsen took back his earlier testimony and testified that the case's fingerprint evidence was likely faked.[23] Further, in contrast to the first trial, Rappe's history of promiscuity and heavy drinking was detailed. The second trial also discredited some major evidence such as the identification of Arbuckle's fingerprints on the hotel bedroom door. The defense was so convinced of an acquittal that Arbuckle was not called to testify. Arbuckle's lawyer, McNab, barely made a closing argument to the jury. However, the jury interpreted the refusal to let Arbuckle testify as a sign of guilt.[23] After over 40 hours of deliberation, the jury returned on February 3, deadlocked with a 9–3 guilty verdict. Another mistrial was declared.[23]

The third trial

By the time of the third trial, Arbuckle's films had been banned, and newspapers had been filled for the past seven months with stories of alleged Hollywood orgies, murder, and sexual perversion. 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.

News story of the six minute not guilty verdict, 1922.

The third trial began on March 13, 1922, and this time the defense took no chances. McNab took an aggressive defense, completely tearing apart the prosecution's case. This time, Arbuckle again testified and maintained his denials in his heartfelt testimony about his version of the events at the hotel party. McNab also managed to get in still more evidence about Virginia Rappe's lurid past, and reviewed how the district attorney, Matthew Brady fell for the outlandish charges of Maude Delmont, whom McNab described in his long closing statement as "the complaining witness who never witnessed". Another hole in the prosecution's case was opened because Zey Pevron, a key witness, was out of the country and unable to testify.[1] On April 12, the jury began deliberations and it took only six minutes to return a unanimous not guilty verdict—five of those minutes were spent writing a statement of apology, a public apology unprecedented in American justice. The jury statement as read by the jury foreman stated:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him... 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 which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Some experts later concluded that Rappe's bladder might also have ruptured as a result of an abortion she might have had a short time before the September 5, 1921 party. However, Rappe's organs had been destroyed and it was now impossible to test for pregnancy.[1] Because alcohol was consumed at the party, Arbuckle was forced to plead guilty to one count of violating the Volstead Act, and had to pay a $500 fine.[24] At the time of his acquittal, Arbuckle owed $700,000 in legal fees to his attorneys for the three criminal trials,[24] and had lost his house and his cars to pay off some of the debt.[24]

Although cleared of all criminal charges, the scandal and trials had greatly damaged his popularity among the general public, and Will H. Hays, who served as the head of the newly-formed Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) Hollywood censor board, cited Arbuckle as an example of the poor morals in Hollywood.[24] On April 18, 1922, six days after Arbuckle's acquittal, Hays banned Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in U.S. movies again.[24] He had also requested that all showings and bookings of Arbuckle films be canceled, and exhibitors complied. In December of the same year, Hays elected to lift the ban,[24] but Arbuckle was not able to secure work as an actor for a long time.[24] Most exhibitors still declined to show Arbuckle's films, several of which now have no copies known to have survived intact. One of Arbuckle's feature-length films known to survive is Leap Year, which Paramount declined to release in the United States due to the scandal. It was eventually released in Europe.

Similar concurrent scandals

Though it was regarded as Hollywood's first major scandal,[1] 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 February 1922, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor effectively ended the careers of actresses Mary Miles Minter and former Arbuckle screen partner Mabel Normand. In 1923, actor/director Wallace Reid's drug addiction resulted in his death. In 1924, actor/writer/director Thomas H. Ince died mysteriously, aboard W. R. Hearst's yacht.[25]


In November 1923, Arbuckle's estranged wife Minta Durfee filed for divorce, charging grounds of desertion.[26] In January 1924, the divorce was granted on her part.[27] They had been separated since 1921, though Durfee always claimed he was the nicest man in the world, and that they were still friends.[28] After a brief reconciliation, Durfee again filed for divorce, this time from Paris, in December 1924.[29] Arbuckle married Doris Deane on May 16, 1925.

Arbuckle tried returning to filmmaking, but industry resistance to distributing his pictures continued to linger 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 his films. Arbuckle wrote the story for a Keaton short called Daydreams (1922). Arbuckle allegedly co-directed scenes in Keaton's Sherlock, Jr. (1924), but it is unclear how much of this footage remained in the film's final cut.

In 1925, Carter Dehaven made the short Character Studies. Arbuckle appeared alongside Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Rudolph Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, and Jackie Coogan.[30]

William Goodrich pseudonym

Eventually, Arbuckle was given work as a film director under the alias William Goodrich. According to author David Yallop in The Day the Laughter Stopped (a biography of Arbuckle with special attention to the scandal and its aftermath), Arbuckle's father's full name was William Goodrich Arbuckle. A persistent but unsupported legend credited Keaton, an inveterate punster, with suggesting that Arbuckle become a director under the alias "Will B. Good". The pun being too obvious, Arbuckle adopted the more formal pseudonym "William Goodrich".

During the middle and late 1920s and early 1930s, Arbuckle directed a number of comedy shorts under the pseudonym for Educational Pictures, which featured lesser-known comics of the day. Louise Brooks, who played the ingenue in Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931), told Kevin Brownlow:

He made no attempt to direct this picture. He sat in his chair like a man dead. He had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career. But it was such an amazing thing for me to come in to make this broken-down picture, and to find my director was the great Roscoe Arbuckle. Oh, I thought he was magnificent in films. He was a wonderful dancer—a wonderful ballroom dancer, in his heyday. It was like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut—really delightful.[19]

Second divorce

In 1929, Doris Deane sued for divorce in Los Angeles, charging desertion and cruelty.[31] On June 21, 1931 Roscoe married Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail (later Addie Oakley Sheldon, 1905–2003) in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Brief comeback and death

In 1932 Arbuckle signed a contract with Warner Brothers to star under his own name in a series of two-reel comedies, to be filmed at the Vitaphone studios in Brooklyn. These six shorts constitute the only recordings of his voice. Silent-film comedian Al St. John (Arbuckle's nephew) and actors Lionel Stander and Shemp Howard appeared with Arbuckle. The films were very successful in America, although when Warner Brothers attempted to release the first one (Hey, Pop!) in the United Kingdom, the British Board of Film Censors cited the 10-year-old scandal and refused to grant an exhibition certificate.

Roscoe Arbuckle had finished filming the last of the two-reelers on June 28, 1933. The next day he was signed by Warner Brothers to make a feature-length film.[32] He reportedly said, "This is the best day of my life." He suffered a heart attack later that night and died in his sleep.[6] He was 46. Arbuckle was cremated, and his ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean.


Many of Arbuckle's films, including the feature Life of the Party, survive only as worn prints with foreign-language inter-titles. Little or no effort was made to preserve original negatives and prints during Hollywood's first two decades. By the early 21st century some of Arbuckle's short subjects (particularly those co-starring Chaplin or Keaton) had been restored, released on DVD and even screened theatrically. Arbuckle's early influence on American slapstick comedy is widely cited.

In 2007 director Kevin Connor planned a film, The Life of the Party, based on Arbuckle's life. It was to star Chris Kattan and Preston Lacy. However the project was unable to find funding and was shelved in late 2008.

The 1975 James Ivory film The Wild Party has been repeatedly but incorrectly cited as a film dramatization of the Arbuckle/Rappe scandal. In fact it is loosely based on the 1920s poem by Joseph Moncure March.[citation needed] In this film, James Coco portrays a heavy-set silent-film comedian named Jolly Grimm whose career is on the skids, but who is desperately planning a comeback. Raquel Welch portrays his mistress, who ultimately goads him into shooting her. This film may have been inspired by misconceptions surrounding the Arbuckle scandal, yet it bears almost no resemblance to the documented facts of the case.

An episode of Mathnet featured the death of a silent film actor named Roscoe "Fatty" Tissue. When asked if he buried his fortune with him, secretary Lynne Thigpen declares, "there was nothing in the casket but Fatty Tissue."

Chris Farley had expressed interest in starring as Arbuckle in a biography film. This idea was suggested to him by comedy guru Del Close. Farley died before any details of the film had been worked out.[citation needed]

Fatty Arbuckle's is an American themed restaurant chain in the UK prominent during the 1980s named after Arbuckle.

In April and May 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a 56-film, month-long retrospective of all of Arbuckle's known surviving work, running the entire series twice. Highlights included The Rounders (1914) with Charlie Chaplin and Mabel and Fatty's Simple Life (1915) with Mabel Normand.

Arbuckle is the subject of a novel entitled I, Fatty by author Jerry Stahl. The Day the Laughter Stopped by David Yallop and Frame-Up! The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle by Andy Edmonds are other books on Arbuckle's life.

A scene of one of Fatty Arbuckle's silent films was featured in the HBO pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire. In the scene, Arbuckle is burying a bottle of alcohol and giving it a fake funeral.

In a dream sequence on the TV series Wilfred, a wine bottle is brought to a party as a gift. The main character, played by actor Elijah Wood, states that it was Fatty Arbuckle's favorite wine.



Vitaphone shorts

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Noe, Denise. "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe". Crime Library at truTV. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Ellis, Chris & Julie (2005). Celebrity Murder: Murder played out in the spotlight of maximum publicity. Constable & Robertson. ISBN 1 84529 154 9. 
  3. ^ "Roscoe Always Jolly But Weak: Stepmother". The Evening News. 12 September 1921.,3461777&dq=virginia+rappe&hl=en. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  4. ^ Saperstein, Susan. "Grauman's Theaters". San Francisco City Guides. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  5. ^ "She Must Use 7 Mirrors". The Evening News. 31 January 1905.,1086129&dq=grauman&hl=en. Retrieved 5 June 2011. 
  6. ^ a b "Dies in His Sleep. Film Comedian, Central Figure in Coast Tragedy in 1921, Long Barred From Screen. On Eve of his Comeback. Succumbs at 46 After He and Wife Had Celebrated Their First Wedding Anniversary.". The New York Times. 1933-06-30. Retrieved 2008-07-03. "Roscoe C. (Fatty) Arbuckle, film comedian, died of a heart attack at 3 o'clock ... Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born at Smith Centre, Kansas, on March 24, 1887." 
  7. ^ "Minta Durfee, Actress, 85, Dies; Former Wife of Fatty Arbuckle". The New York Times. 1975-09-12. Retrieved 2008-07-03. "Minta Durfee, the actress who was married to Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and became Charlie Chaplin's first motionpicture leading lady, died Tuesday in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb." 
  8. ^ Del Olmo, Frank (1975-09-12). "Fatty Arbuckle's First Wife Dies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  9. ^ HOME VIDEO; Arbuckle Shorts, Fresh and Frisky The New York Times April 13, 2001
  10. ^ "Fatty Arbuckle Scandal". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  11. ^ Equivalent to US$42.5 million per year in 2008 dollars
  12. ^ Alice Lake called him Arbie. To Mabel Normand he was Big Otto, after an elephant in the Selig Studio Zoo near Keystone. Buster Keaton called him Chief. Fred Mace called him Crab. And for some unexplained reason fellow comic Charlie Murray referred to him as My Child the Fat. His three wives always called him Roscoe.[1]
  13. ^ Vanity Fair magazine September 1921, accessed 2009
  14. ^ "Testify Regarding Early Life Of Virginia Rappe". The Lewiston Daily Sun. 31 October 1921.,1981542&dq=virginia+rappe&hl=en. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  15. ^ "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe". 
  16. ^ "Virginia Blamed Lover, Says Nurse". Ludington Daily News. 14 September 1921.,1247471&dq=virginia+rappe&hl=en. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 
  17. ^ Hopkins, Ernest J. (25 September 1921). "Miss Rappe's Manager Tells Worst He Knows Of Arbuckle". The Pittsburgh Press.,1130214&dq=sid+grauman&hl=en. Retrieved 4 June 2011. 
  18. ^
  19. ^ a b c d "Fatty". Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Great American Trials; 'Fatty' Arbuckle Trials: 1921–22; pages 294–299. 1994, New England Publishing Association.
  22. ^ Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept, and Controversial; 2001; page 151. 1994, University of Chicago Press.
  23. ^ a b c d "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe - Crime Library on". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  24. ^ a b c d e f g "Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe - Crime Library on". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ "Milestones 11-12-23". Time. November 12, 1923.,9171,716962,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  27. ^ "Milestones 01-07-24". Time. January 7, 1924.,9171,717388,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  28. ^ "Excerpts of Interview with Minta Durfee Arbuckle by Don Schneider and Stephen Normand". Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  29. ^ "Milestones 12-08-24". Time. June 29, 1931.,9171,741918,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-03. 
  30. ^ Leider, Emily W., Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino, p. 198
  31. ^ "Milestones 09-08-29". Time (magazine). September 30, 1929.,9171,737948,00.html. Retrieved 2008-07-03. "Sued for Divorce. By Mrs. Doris Deane Arbuckle minor cinemactress, Roscoe Conkling ("Fatty") Arbuckle, onetime cinema funnyman; at Los Angeles; for the second time. Grounds: desertion, cruelty." 
  32. ^ "Arbuckle, Star Film Comedian, Dies In Sleep". St. Petersburg Times. 1 July 1933.,663514&dq=virginia+rappe&hl=en. Retrieved 6 June 2011. 

Further reading

  • "Devil's Garden" Ace Atkins Publisher G.P.Putnam's Sons New York 2009
  • Edmonds, Andy (January 1991). Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. New York, NY: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0688091296. 
  • Yallop, David (August 1991). The Day the Laughter Stopped. London: Transworld Publishers. ISBN 055213452X. 
  • Oderman, Stuart (July 2005). Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle: A Biography Of The Silent Film Comedian, 1887-1933. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786422777. 
  • Neibaur, James L. (December 2006). Arbuckle and Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0786428317. 
  • The New York Times; September 12, 1921; pg. 1. "San Francisco, California; September 11, 1921. "Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle was arrested late last night on a charge of murder as a result of the death of Virginia Rappe, film actress, after a party in Arbuckle's rooms at the Hotel St. Francis. Arbuckle is still in jail tonight despite efforts by his lawyers to find some way to obtain his liberty."
  • The New York Times; September 13, 1921; pg. 1. "San Francisco, California; September 12, 1921. "The Grand Jury met tonight at 7:30 o'clock to hear the testimony of witnesses rounded up by Matthew Brady (District Attorney) of San Francisco to support his demand for the indictment of Roscoe ("Fatty") Arbuckle for the murder of Miss Virginia Rappe."

External links

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