Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887-1933)

Fatty Arbuckle portrait

Silent film comedian Roscoe “Fatty Arbuckle” was born Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle in Galveston, Texas on March 24th, 1887 and educated in St. Louis, Missouri. At age eight Roscoe appeared on the stage for the first time. His first roles were with the Webster-Brown Stock Company. He was on the stage performing everything from acrobatic acts to clown acts to a singing act, performing illustrated songs for Sid Grauman at the Unique Theater, San Jose. He also worked for the Morosco Burbank stock company and traveled throughout China and Japan with the Ferris Hartman company. He even managed his own stock company for a time. Roscoe eventually went to work for Mack Sennett’s studio Keystone circa 1909 starting at $40 a week. He appeared in hundreds of one-reel comedies. He played mostly policeman, usually with the Keystone Kops. He learned about the process of making movies from talented director Henry Lehrman, who directed all but two of his films.

Fatty Arbuckle with the Keystone Kops

Fatty, far right, in his days as a Keystone Kop

Roscoe was a gentle and sensitive man off-screen and always believed that Sennett did not think he was funny. Roscoe never used his weight to gain a laugh. He was remarkably agile and athletic for his size and used those talents to find humor in situations. By 1914 Roscoe had also directed some of his own one-reelers. By 1915, he would move up to two-reelers. He appeared in many successful comedy films with screen comedienne Mabel Normand as his sidekick, with titles such as “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), etc.

Roscoe was married three times, the first time to actress Minta Durfee from 1909-1925, who stood by him during his later legal troubles, and then to actress Doris Deane from 1925 to 1928, then to actress Addie McPhail from 1932 until his death in 1933.

In 1917 Roscoe formed a partnership with producer Joseph M. Schenck, husband of Norma Talmadge. The company was named Comique and the films that Roscoe made were released through Famous Players-Lasky on a percentage basis. His salary during this time averaged an astounding $5,000 to $7,000 a week. At Comique Roscoe had complete creative control over his productions. He hired a young performer whom he had met in New York by the name of Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton’s film career would start with Roscoe in “The Butcher Boy” (1917 – surviving), and Buster remained grateful to Roscoe his entire life. Roscoe wrote his own scenarios and then improvised to generate additional laughs. With such great success it was just a matter of time before Roscoe was hired to do feature length films. It was Paramount who asked Roscoe to move from the two reel films to feature films. In 1920 Roscoe’s first full length feature was the successful “The Roundup”. It would soon be followed by other features such as “Brewster’s Millions” (1920), “Gasoline Gus” (1921), and “Leap Year” (1921). His last silent film appearance was in Buster’s “Go West” (1925) in an uncredited role. By that time Buster was the star and Roscoe had been destroyed.

Tragedy would strike Roscoe on Labor Day, 1921 with his arrest and trial on murder charges. Roscoe had thrown a party which was crashed by a disreputable bit player named Virginia Rappe. The girl fell seriously ill during the festivities and died a few days later. The newspapers, led by the William Randolph Hearst group, would make this incident Hollywood’s first truly major scandal. Hearst later boasted to Buster Keaton that he had sold more papers about the Arbuckle-Rappe tragedy than he had at the sinking of the Lusitania. Although eventually acquitted after a third trial in 1923, Roscoe’s career appeared finished, since the papers had printed unfounded story after story about his supposed guilt for months, which had fueled a public outcry of moral outrage across the nation. His films had been banned and withdrawn. Unable to return to the screen, Roscoe later found work as a comedy director for his nephew Al St. John, Buster Keaton and others, under the pseudonym William Goodrich. He also directed Eddie Cantor’s first films. In 1932, Sam Sax signed Roscoe to appear in comic shorts for Warner Brothers starting with “Hey, Pop” (1932). Roscoe would complete six shorts and once again show the fine comedic timing 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 sadly he died in his sleep of heart failure at age 46, the night after he signed the agreement, on June 29th, 1933 in New York City. ~ Copyright © 2004

Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle’s Silent Films

Go West (1925) (uncredited) …. Woman in department store
Sainted Devil, A (1924)
Hollywood (1923) …. Cameo appearance
… aka Joligud (1923)
Fast Freight, The (1921/II)
… aka Freight Prepaid (1921)
… aka Via Fast Freight (1921)
Leap Year (1921) …. Stanley Piper
… aka Skirt Shy (1921)
Crazy to Marry (1921) …. Dr. Hobart Hupp
… aka Three Miles Out (1921) (USA)
Gasoline Gus (1921) …. Gasoline Gus
Traveling Salesman (1921) …. Bob Blake
Dollar a Year Man (1921) …. Franklin Pinney
Brewster’s Millions (1921) …. Monte Brewster
Life of the Party (1920) (as Roscoe Arbuckle) …. Algernon Leary
… aka Life of the Party, The (1920)
Round-Up, The (1920) …. Slim Hoover
Garage, The (1919) …. Mechanic/Fireman
… aka Fire Chief (1919)
Hayseed, The (1919) …. Mailman
Back Stage (1919) …. Stagehand
Desert Hero, A (1919)
Love (1919) …. Farm Boy
Cook, The (1918) …. Chef
Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand

Good Night, Nurse! (1918) …. Fatty
Moonshine (1918) …. Revenue Agent
Bell Boy, The (1918) …. Bellboy, barber
Out West (1918) …. Train Rider, Bartender
… aka Sheriff, The (1918)
Country Hero, A (1917) …. Village Blacksmith
Coney Island (1917) …. Fatty
… aka Fatty at Coney Island (1917)
Oh Doctor! (1917) …. Dr. Fatty Holepoke
His Wedding Night (1917) …. Drugstore soda clerk
Rough House, The (1917) …. Mr Rough
Reckless Romeo, A (1917) …. Husband
… aka Creampuff Romance, A (1917) (USA)
Butcher Boy, The (1917) …. Butcher Boy
Creampuff Romance, A (1916)
… aka His Alibi (1916)
Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916)
… aka Concrete Biscuits (1916) (USA: 8mm release title)
He Did and He Didn’t (1916)
His Wife’s Mistakes (1916)
… aka His Wife’s Mistake (1916) (USA)
… aka His Wife’s Mistress (1916)
Other Man, The (1916) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Waiters’ Ball, The (1916) …. The Cook
Bright Lights (1916)
… aka Lure of Broadway, The (1916)
Colored Villainy (1915)
Fatty and Mabel at the San Diego Exposition (1915)
Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance (1915)
Fatty’s New Role (1915)
Fatty’s Plucky Pup (1915)
… aka Foiled by Fido (1915)
Fatty’s Reckless Fling (1915)
Fickle Fatty’s Fall (1915)
Hogan’s Romance Upset (1915)
Love in Armor (1915)
Mabel and Fatty’s Married Life (1915)
Mabel and Fatty’s Simple Life (1915)
… aka Fatty and Mabel’s Simple Life (1915)
Mabel and Fatty’s Wash Day (1915)
Mabel’s Wilful Way (1915)
Rum and Wall Paper (1915)
Village Scandal, A (1915)
When Love Took Wings (1915)
Wished on Mabel (1915)
Fatty and the Broadway Stars (1915)
Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915) …. Fatty
… aka Fido’s Tintype Tangle (1915)
Little Teacher, The (1915) …. Fat Student
… aka Small Town Bully, A (1915)
Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (1915) …. Daughter
That Little Band of Gold (1915) …. Hubby
… aka For Better or Worse (1915)
Fatty’s Faithful Fido (1915)
… aka Fatty’s Fatal Fido (1915) (USA)
Mabel, Fatty and the Law (1915) …. Fatty
… aka Fatty’s Spooning Day (1915)
Among the Mourners (1914)
Baggage Smasher, The (1914)
Caught in a Flue (1914)
His New Profession (1914) …. Bartender smoking cigar
… aka Good for Nothing, The (1914/II)
… aka Helping Himself (1914)
Killing Horace (1914)
Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914)
… aka Hotel Mixup (1914)
Our Country Cousin (1914)
Fatty and Minnie He-Haw (1914)
Fatty’s Magic Pants (1914) …. Fatty
… aka Fatty’s Suitless Day (1914)
Shotguns That Kick (1914)
Leading Lizzie Astray (1914)
Sea Nymphs, The (1914)
… aka His Diving Beauty (1914)
Fatty’s Wine Party (1914)
Fatty’s Jonah Day (1914)
… aka Fatty’s Hoodoo Day (1914) (USA)
Incompetent Hero, An (1914)
Lovers’ Post Office (1914)
Zip, the Dodger (1914)
Their Ups and Downs (1914/I)
Fatty Again (1914)
… aka Fatty the Fourflusher (1914)
Fatty’s Debut (1914)
… aka Fatty Butts In (1914)
Lover’s Luck (1914)
Rounders, The (1914) …. His Neighbor
… aka Going Down (1914) (USA)
… aka Love Thief, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Oh, What a Night (1914) (USA)
… aka Revelry (1914)
… aka Tip, Tap, Toe (1914) (USA)
… aka Two of a Kind (1914)

Fatty Arbuckle

Brand New Hero, A (1914)
Masquerader, The (1914) …. Film Actor
… aka Female Impersonator, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Female, The (1914)
… aka Perfumed Lady, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Picnic, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Putting One Over (1914)
Fatty’s Gift (1914)
Those Country Kids (1914)
That Minstrel Man (1914)
Those Happy Days (1914)
Sky Pirate, The (1914)
Rowboat Romance, A (1914)
Love and Bullets (1914)
… aka Trouble Mender, The (1914)
Fatty’s Finish (1914)
Fatty and the Heiress (1914)
Knockout, The (1914) …. Pug
… aka Counted Out (1914)
… aka Pugilist, The (1914)
Alarm, The (1914)
… aka Fireman’s Picnic (1914) (USA)
Water Dog, The (1914)
… aka Rescue, The (1914) (USA)
Suspended Ordeal, A (1914)
Bath House Beauty, A (1914)
Chicken Chaser (1914)
… aka New Yard Lovers (1914) (USA)
Barnyard Flirtations (1914)
Rural Demon, A (1914)
His Favorite Pastime (1914) …. Shabby drunk
… aka Bonehead, The (1914)
… aka Charlie Is Thirsty (1914) (USA)
… aka Charlie’s Reckless Fling (1914) (USA)
… aka Reckless Fling, The (1914) (USA)
Tango Tangles (1914) …. Clarinettist
… aka Charlie’s Recreation (1914)
… aka Music Hall (1914)
Film Johnnie, A (1914) …. Fatty
… aka Charlie at the Studio (1914)
… aka Charlie the Actor (1914) (USA)
… aka Film Johnny (1914) (UK)
… aka Million Dollar Job (1914)
… aka Movie Nut (1914)
Twixt Love and Fire (1914)
Robust Romeo, A (1914)
Rebecca’s Wedding Day (1914)
In the Clutches of the Gang (1914)
Flirt’s Mistake, A (1914)
Under Sheriff, The (1914)
Misplaced Foot, A (1914)
He Would a Hunting Go (1913)
His Sister’s Kids (1913)
Fatty’s Flirtation (1913)
Ride for a Bride, A (1913)
Woman Haters, The (1913)
Fatty Joins the Force (1913) …. Fatty
Wine (1913)
… aka Wine Making (1913) (USA)
Fatty at San Diego (1913) …. Fatty
Speed Kings, The (1913) …. Race track official
Quiet Little Wedding, A (1913)
Two Old Tars (1913)
… aka Sea Dogs, The (1913) (USA)
Fatty’s Day Off (1913)
Mother’s Boy (1913)
When Dreams Come True (1913)
Faithful Taxicab, The (1913)
… aka Fatal Taxicab, The (1913)
Gypsy Queen, The (1913)
Mabel’s Dramatic Career (1913) …. Man in cinema audience
… aka Her Dramatic Debut (1913)
Mabel’s New Hero (1913)
… aka Fatty and the Bathing Beauties (1913) (USA)
Riot, The (1913)
Almost a Rescue (1913) …. Jimmie
Professor Bean’s Removal (1913)
Love and Courage (1913)
Noise From the Deep, A (1913)
Telltale Light, The (1913)
For the Love of Mabel (1913)
Bandit, A (1913)
Peeping Pete (1913)
Waiters’ Picnic, The (1913)
Passions, He Had Three (1913)
… aka He Had Three (1913) (USA)
Gangsters, The (1913)
Alas! Poor Yorick! (1913) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Help! Help! Hydrophobia! (1913)
Voice from the Deep, A (1912)
Sanitarium, The (1910) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Making It Pleasant for Him (1909) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Mrs. Jones’ Birthday (1909) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Ben’s Kid (1909) (as Roscoe Arbuckle)
Rival Demon, The (????)


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