Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle photo

Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle

Birth name:
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle
Date of Birth:
29 June 1887 Smith Center, Kansas, USA
Height:
5' 10" (1.78 m)
Roscoe, one of nine children, was the baby of the family who weighed a reported 16 pounds at birth. Born in Smith Center, Kansas, his family moved to California when he was a year old. At 8, he appeared on the stage. His first part was that of a picaninny kid with the Webster-Brown Stock Company. From then until 1913, Roscoe was on the stage performing everything from acrobatic acts, to clown, to singer. His first real professional engagement was in 1904, singing illustrated songs for Sid Grauman at the Unique theater, San Jose, at $17.50 a week. He later worked in the Morosco Burbank stock company and traveled through China and Japan with Ferris Hartman. His last appearance on the stage was with Hartman in Yokahama in 1913 where Roscoe played the Mikado. Back in California, Roscoe went to work at Mack Sennett's studio. He was hired at $40 a week to work at Keystone. For the next three and one half years, he never starred or even featured, but appeared in hundreds of one reel comedies. He would play mostly policeman, usually with the Keystone Cops, but he also played different parts. He would work with Mabel Normand, Fred Sterling, Charlie Chaplin and learn about the process of making movies from Director Henry Lehrman, who directed all but two of his pictures. Roscoe was a gentle and genteel man off screen and always believed that Sennett never thought that he was funny. Roscoe never used his weight to get a laugh. He would never be found stuck in a chair or doorway. He was remarkably agile for his size and used that agility to find humor in situations. By 1914, Roscoe also directed some of his one reelers. By 1915, he moved up to two reelers which meant that he would need to sustain the comedy to be successful, which he was. He appeared in films such as Fatty Again (1914), Mabel, Fatty and the Law (1915), Mabel and Fatty's Wash Day (1915), Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco (1915), Fatty's Reckless Fling (1915) and so on. For Mabel and Fatty Viewing the World's Fair at San Francisco, Keystone took the actors and crew to the real World's Fair to use it as the background for the movie so that the cost to them was small, while the background was expensive. By 1917, Roscoe formed a partnership with Joseph M. Schenck who was the husband of Norma Talmadge. The company was Comique and the films that Roscoe made were released through the Famous Players on a percentage basis. With his own company, Roscoe had complete creative control over his productions. He also hired a young performer that he met in New York by the name of Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton's film career would start with Roscoe in The Butcher Boy (1917). Roscoe wrote his own stories first, tried them out and then devised funny little twists to generate the laughs. Roscoe's comedy star was second only to Charlie Chaplin. With the success of Comique, Paramount asked Roscoe to move from the two reel films to feature films in 1919. Roscoe' first full length feature was The Round-Up (1920) and it was successful. It was soon followed by other features such as Brewster's Millions (1921) and Gasoline Gus (1921). But tragedy struck on Labor Day, 1921 with the arrest and trial of Roscoe on manslaughter charges. Roscoe's roommate had thrown a party in their suite which was crashed by a disreputable starlet named Virginia Rappe who fell seriously ill and died a few days later. The papers, led by the Hearst group, made this incident Hollywood's first truly major scandal. On the day fellow Paramount Director William Desmond Taylor was murdered, Roscoe was notified as he sat at the counsel table awaiting the verdict of the jury in his second manslaughter trial. Roscoe, who had known Taylor since they were both directors at Paramount, was visibly affected. Although eventually acquitted after a third trial in 1923, Roscoe's career was finished as the papers printed unfounded story after story about his supposed guilt, causing a public outcry of moral outrage. Unable to return to the screen, Roscoe later found work as a comedy director for Al St. John, Buster Keaton and others under a pseudonym William Goodrich. In 1932, Sam Sax signed Roscoe to appear in comic shorts for Warner Brothers starting with Hey, Pop! (1932). Roscoe completed six shorts and showed the magic and youthful spirit that he had a decade before. With the success of the shorts, Warner Brothers signed Roscoe to a feature film contract, but he died in his sleep, at 46, the night after he signed the contract.
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