Before big name comedians like Chaplin, Keaton or Lloyd there was Roscoe Arbuckle. He was one of the most famous silent actors of the early 1900’s. At the height of his career he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood with a million dollar contract. He mentored Charlie Chaplin, discovered Buster Keaton and gave Bob Hope his break. It is said he had a beautiful singing voice. Arbuckle started his career in vaudeville and was part of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops. He was a comedian and director. Actress Mabel Normand frequently co-starred in many of his movies. Some of his movies include Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916), Coney Island (1917), and Out West (1918). Arbuckle sometimes appeared in his films as a woman like Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915).
Scandal of 1921
One scandal can ruin a career. It was the first scandal in Hollywood. In 1921 at a party at the St. Francis Hotel, Arbuckle was accused of sexually assaulting an aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe who died several days later of peritonitis caused by a ruptured bladder. Arbuckle was dragged through the mud by William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers and the public who laughed at his movies turned on him. The case was sensationalized. Although there was no signs of sexual assault, he was tried three times for manslaughter. The first two trials ended in hung juries. The third trial he was acquitted. Even though he was acquitted his reputation had been ruined and he was banned from making movies. Distributors refused to show any movie with his name in it. Eventually the ban was lifted but his career was never the same.
On June 29, 1933 Roscoe Arbuckle had a heart attack and died in his sleep. He never recovered from the scandal. Sadly his name is more linked to this scandal than his contribution to early comedic films. If you are interested in Arbuckle try a search on Youtube.