Fatty Arbuckle: Tragic Comic

Find out about the career and scandal that ended it all for Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle.

Roscoe Conkling Arbucke, silent screen star and alleged murderer, was born on March 24, 1887 in Smith Center, Kansas. His family was a poor one, constantly struggling and on the move. When baby Roscoe was just one year old they moved to California. Roscoe would grow into a stocky, overweight child. The nickname "˜Fatty' was given him by local children and was to stick for life. In his late teens Roscoe began to acquire a name for himself in the entertainment industry as a singer. In this capacity he was to entertain in dance halls. His life was changed forever in 1912 when he met Mack Sennet, the owner of a fledgling movie production company known as the Keystone Film Company.

In the portly singer, Sennet saw the makings of a slap stick comedian. He was soon featuring Roscoe in his two-reel silent comedies. When Sennet developed the Keystone Cops, Arbuckle was featured as one of the mainstays. Arbuckle's popularity with the audiences was immediate. He soon had his own headline in the "Fatty and Mabel" series of films, which co-starred Mack Sennet's girlfriend Mabel Normand.

In 1916, Arbuckle defected to the Paramount Pictures Studios. Here he was offered the unique privilege of having complete artistic control over his movies. The Comique Film Corporation was created to accommodate this. Arbuckle's movie success escalated over the next few years. By 1920 he was making seven reel features. In early 1921 Paramount was so convinced of Arbuckle's goldmine potential that they offered him a 3 year deal at the unheard of rate of $1 million per year.



During the first eight months of 1921 Roscoe made nine feature films for Paramount. By September he was in desperate need of a break. On the morning of Saturday, September 3 he decided to take a break in San Francisco along with a couple of friends. They arrived at the St. Francis Hotel and immediately ordered whiskey and a victrola delivered to their room. For the next two days a period of drinking, partying and alleged debauchery followed. Sometime during this period the party was joined by a dress model named Bambina Maude Delmont, an agent named Al Semnacher and a young actress by the name of Virginia Rappe. With the girl's arrival the party apparently deteriorated into debauchery. Arbuckle entertained his guests while wearing just his pyjama pants. Large amounts of alcohol were consumed. On Monday afternoon a seriously drunk Virginia Rappe made her way into the bathroom of Room 1221. Arbuckle followed her into the room and shut the door. He came out 15 minutes later. What happened in those 15 minutes would become the focus of three criminal trials.

Virginia was obviously very sick. The inebriated guests gathered around her bedside as she screamed in pain and ripped her clothes off. Arbuckle finally carried her to a vacant room. She wasn't taken to hospital for three more days. She died on the Friday. The cause of death was peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder.

On September 10 Roscoe "˜Fatty' Arbuckle was charged with murder. A day later the story was front page news around the world. Two days later voluntary and state mandated bans were imposed on Arbuckle's movies. On September 13, a Grand Jury returned an indictment of manslaughter against Arbuckle.

On November 18 the court case of the century began. Three weeks later the Judge dismissed the jury after they were unable to come to a decision. A new trial was set for January, 1922. Again the jury failed to reach agreement and a mistrial was once again entered into the records. The third trial began in March, 1922. This time after just six minutes of deliberation the jury reached agreement. Roscoe Arbuckle was found not guilty of manslaughter.

Fatty Arbuckle's career, however, was over. He was banned from the screen for a time. On readmittance he was forced to change his name to get work. In the late Twenties he was getting steady work as a director. In 1932, he had worked his way back in front of the camera, but it was too late. Roscoe Arbuckle died of a heart attack on June 29, 1933. He was 46 years of age.

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