Tag Archives: Buster Keaton

Fatty Arbuckle 3.24.13 Thought of the Day

“I don’t weigh a pound over one hundred and eighty and, what’s more, I never did.”–Fatty Arbuckle

Fatty (Roscoe) Arbuckle -

Fatty (Roscoe) Arbuckle – (Photo credit: Movie-Fan)

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born on this day in Smith Center, Kansas, USA in 1887. Today is the 126th anniversary of his birth.

He was the youngest of nine children born to Mollie and William Goodrich Arbuckle. He was a big baby (some sources say 13 pounds, some say 16 pounds) too big, apparently. His father thought the baby wasn’t his.

Roscoe never lost his baby fat and soon earned the nickname “Fatty.” When he was a year old the family moved to California. With his mother’s encouragement, Fatty, who had a good singing voice, started singing and doing comedy on stage when he was eight years old. He worked in vaudeville until 1899 when his mother died. At that point his father, who never accepted Fatty and would often beat the child, turned him out of the house. Fatty supported himself by doing odd jobs at a hotel. Luckily for him he soon won a talent contest and was back on stage…

performing as an acrobat, clown and singer. His first real professional engagement was in 1904, singing illustrated songs for Sid Grauman at the Unique Theater in San Jose, CA, 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, Japan, in 1913, where he played the Mikado. [IMDB]

By 1909 he was working in films. He started at the Keystone Film Company as an extra — making a whopping $3 a day — but his star soon rose. He was featured in several Keystone Cop adventures. He also starred with Mabel Norman in a number of movie shorts called “Fatty and Mabel.” He invented the thrown-pie-in-the-face gag for his film “A Noise from the Deep“.  He started his own company, Comique, but sold his interest to friend Buster Keaton  before signing with Paramount Pictures for an unheard of $3 million for 3 years.

Arbuckle's photo on the cover of the UK based ...

Arbuckle’s photo on the cover of the UK based Pictures motion picture magazine of the July 23, 1921 issue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arbuckle helped Buster Keaton get started in the film industry. He also mentored Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope.

His weight plagued him all his life. He was 185 pounds when he was 12, and “It was written in his contract that his weight remain above 250 pounds and that he would be given a healthy yearly bonus if he exceeded that by 50 to 100 pounds. During his career he kept it well over 300.” [IMDB]  He also had substance abuse issues with both alcohol and morphine.

[Image courtesy: The Hairpin.com]

[Image courtesy: The Hairpin.com]

Scandal put a halt to Arbuckle’s career in 1921. He attended a three-day Labor day weekend bash held by his friend Fred Hibbard at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. There was…

“a jazz band, catered food, and ample illegal alcoholic beverages. It was by all accounts a weekend of debauchery, and the party gave Arbuckle more lasting fame than any of his films.” [NNDB]

Fatty was getting ready to leave and went into one of the bedrooms to change when he found his friend Virginia Rappe “weak, sick, and vomiting in the bathroom. He helped her onto the bed.” [Ibid]  Rappe suffered from cystitis, a condition that was aggravated when she drank heavily. It caused her so much pain that she would rip off her clothing to try to get some relief. That’s what she did at the party. As Fatty and another guest, Maude Delmont,  tried to comfort her, but she complained she couldn’t breath and began to rip off her clothes. Delmount put ice on her stomach and thighs, Fatty called hotel doctor and manager. The hotel doctor told them that Rappe was just drunk, and, with the situation under control, Fatty left the party as planned. However, “Rappe died of a ruptured bladder several days later, and as soon as Arbuckle heard of her death, he returned from Los Angeles to San Francisco. He was arrested on 11 September 1921, and tried for manslaughter.” [Ibid]

The newspapers, led by William Randolph Hearst‘s group, made this incident Hollywood’s first truly major scandal. Roscoe was tried not once but three times for the criminal charges; the trials began in November 1921 and lasted until April 1922; the first two ended with hung juries … [IMDB]

Delmont claimed that Fatty had raped Rappe, but it later came out that she tried to extort money from Arbuckle and only went to the police with the claim after he refused to pay. Rappe’s manager Al Semnacker said Fatty, who’s obesity made him impotent,  used a piece of ice to rape the actress (the object morphed into a Coca-Cola or champagne bottle in later newspaper retellings of the story.) The more lurid the story grew, the more newspapers it sold.

Matthew Brady, the San Francisco District Attorney who acted as prosecutor for the trial pressured witnesses into making false statements against Arbuckle.

At his third and final trial in April of 1922, the jury not only returned a “not guilty” verdict but excoriated the prosecution for pursuing what they said was a flimsy case with no evidence of Arbuckle having committed any crime; several jury members walked to Arbuckle after the verdict was read and hugged him and shook his hand. [IMDB]

But the damage to his career was done. Paramount cancelled his contract and the new Hayes Commission banned his movies. He sunk into alcoholism. He got some work through his friend Buster Keaton. He was able to direct under the name of “William Goodrich.” And in 1932 he appeared before the cameras again, this time in a short talkie, “Hey, Pop!” for Warner Brothers.

With the success of the shorts Warner Brothers signed Roscoe to a feature film contract, but he died in his sleep on June 29, 1933 , at age 46, the night after he signed the contract. [NNDB]

Roscoe Arbuckle

Roscoe Arbuckle (Photo credit: Luke McKernan)


Thought of the Day 10.4.12 Buster Keaton

“Tragedy is a close-up; comedy is a long shot.”
Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton (Photo credit: twm1340)

Joseph Frank Keaton IV was born on this day in Piqua, Kansas, USA in 1895. Today is the 117th anniversary of his birth.

Keaton’s parents were vaudeville actors and he joined their act at age three. He got his nickname, Buster, when he fell down a flight a stairs and landed at Harry Houdini‘s feet. The magician picked him up and handed him to his mother saying “What a buster.”

Physical comedy and slapstick was part of the family act — redubbed “The Three Keatons” when Buster became a permanent fixture.  The little boy was

knocked over, thrown through windows, dropped down stairs, and essentially used as a living prop. It was this training in vaudeville that prepared him for the fast-paced slapstick comedy of the silent movies. [American Masters: Buster Keaton]

Keaton later noted that “It was the roughest knockout act that was ever in the history of the theater.” [Buster Keaton.biography] He knew how to land and never got hurt from the onstage antics as “the little boy who can’t be damaged,” he enjoyed flying about the stage so much that he would giggle when his father tossed him about. But when he realized that the audience liked the heightened sense of danger, Buster  developed his famous “deadpan face.”

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buster moved to Hollywood at 22 and began to work with Fatty Arbuckle. His first film was The Butcher Boy in 1917. Arbuckle was already an established comedian and he became Keaton’s mentor. Keaton earned $40 a week for his work with Arbuckle, and the two worked together until 1920 when Keaton was confident enough to go it alone.

He made a number of “two-reelers,” or shorts, and then feature films including One Week, The Playhouse, Cops, The Camera man, Steamboat Bill, Jr.Our Hospitality, Sherlock. Jr. and The General.  

Here’s the classic “hat” scene from Steamboat Bill, Jr...

He did all his own stunts — instructing the cameras to keep rolling “no matter what” until he yelled “cut” or he died.  And he didn’t use special effects.In another scene from Steamboat Bill, Jr. Keaton stands outside a dilapidated house. The front of the house (a 2 ton facade) falls on him, and he happens to be standing where an open window lets him escape injury. It is not a very big window (there is a much bigger on right next to him) and it must have taken both a lot of mathematics and a lot of courage to do the stunt, but it made for some movie magic…

The General is considered one of the greatest silent films ever made now, but when it came out the reception was tepid.  It resulted in Keaton’s switch to MGM studios, something he regretted for the rest of his career.  Keaton thought The General was his greatest movie, and the public, eventually, came around to his point of view. In 1989 the National Film Registry added The General  to its list. Roger Ebert named the film  the #1 greatest film of the silent era.

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton (Photo credit: twm1340)

MGM let him make one more truly classic “Buster style” film, The Cameraman in 1928, but then MGM lowered the boom and  took away his creative control. How sweet is this scene from the Cameraman?

With the studio calling the shots Keaton became just another comic actor. He had a number of hits in the 30’s, many of them with Jimmy Durante at his side, but he lacked the stoic charm and the ownership of his previous movies. He worked on Marx Brothers and Red Skelton movies — uncredited — and did what he could to make a living.

Screen shot from Sunset Boulevard. [Image courtesy: Bobby Rivers TV]

In  1950 he played himself as a member of the “waxworks” in Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard and then in 1953 he was in  Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Interest in his old movies revived and he started to make television appearances. Paramount made a movie about his life, The Buster Keaton Story starring Donald O’Connor.

 “…By the 1960s, his films were returning to the theaters and he was being hailed as the greatest actor of the silent era.” [American Masters: Buster Keaton]

He was given an Honorary Academy Award “for his unique talents which brought immortal comedies to the screen” in 1960.

Keaton passed away on February 1, 1966. He was suffering from Cancer.

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