A Silent Star and His Fall

By | Mar 24, 2012

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born on March 24, 1887 in Smith Center, Kansas, to Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle. His mother died in 1899 and his father abandoned him shortly afterward. Arbuckle survived by doing odd jobs at a hotel in San Jose, California. He entered an amateur night contest where he caught the attention of showman David Grauman, who took him into vaudeville as a singer and dancer.
Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle

From 1902 to 1908 he toured in stock companies, and on vaudeville and burlesque circuits. He was in San Francisco during the great Earthquake in 1906 and was forced to clear debris. In 1908 he appeared as an extra for Selig’s Polyscope Company.

Between 1909 and 1921 Arbuckle made more than 150 silent films defining the art of slapstick at Keystone Studios, where he excelled as a performer, writer and director. Even though he had a bulky, 250-pound frame (the reason for the nickname, Fatty, one that he hated) he was an able acrobat and played the hero who saved the day by pie-throwing, back-flipping and outwitting his opponent. In “A Noise from the Deep,” Arbuckle became the first film comedian to be hit with a pie on film. He also had the ability to throw two of them at the same time in different directions.

While on vacation in September 1921 he hosted a party at his room. Virginia Rappe, who attended the party, died of an inflammation of the lining of the pelvis. Arbuckle was accused of raping Rappe, which allegedly caused her injuries. After two trials resulted in hung juries the third ended in an acquittal.

Virginia Rappe

Even though he was acquitted of any crimes and having support from Hollywood friends, the motion picture industry, partly through public opinion, wasn’t. He was able to work behind the scenes, under the name William B. Goodrich as a director and gag writer. He also performed on the vaudeville stage under his own name, but his film career seemed to be at an end.

In 1932, Warner Brothers gave Arbuckle a chance to star in a comedy short called “Hey, Pop.” The public loved “Hey, Pop,” and its success led to five more talkie shorts. On June 30, 1933, hours after completing his sixth Warner’s short and signing to make a feature-length film, Arbuckle died of a heart attack. He was only 46.


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