I, Fatty
Jerry Stahl
Roscoe Arbuckle was always called "Fatty" because he was, well, fat. By the time he became the highest-paid movie actor in America, he weighed in at three-hundred pounds. And, according to Stahl, he hated the nickname. And his body.

Also, according to Stahl --- at least in this first-person account --- Fatty wasn't too bright. He thought in burlesque one-liners, was given to stupid jokes, couldn't get it up (with a couple of strange exceptions), and was mostly out of it on booze and drugs.

All this may be true, but I, Fatty, doesn't make for pleasant or even pleasurable reading because of the character of this "I." A noisy wiseacre is not much of a companion on a trip, in a hotel room, in a courtroom, in bed, or in a novel. We are with Fatty in all these venues as the author has him come on as a non-stop wiseguy and practical joker. After a time, a very short time, Fatty becomes a genuine pain.

For example, Fatty tells us how he taught Charlie Chaplin to walk funny. At the Mack Sennett studios where they both worked, Fatty wired up the toilet seat in the men's room:

    I told some of the guys, and we crouched in the dressing room trying not to giggle when Charlie went in. Five seconds later --- "Yeeoww!" Out flies Chaplin, skivvies at half-mast, clutching his nuggins doing that herky-jerky shuffle that turned into his trademark.

Can you imagine spending a day --- or 277 pages in this case --- with a character like that? Fortunately, the truth catches up with the author (and the main character) about half way through. At a disgusting (and disgustingly described) party at the Hotel Fairmount in San Francisco, in 1921, Fatty became enmeshed with a lady named Virginia Rappe. She goes into seizure, he tries to revive her --- in a very peculiar way --- she dies: and he gets the rap, if not the Rappe. All of a sudden the most beloved comic in America has turned into a virgin-ravishing murderer.

The Hearst press had a field day with this one, and three trials followed. In the first, the jury votes him innocent by 11-1. In the second, the jury votes him guilty by 11-1. In the third, the jury votes him not only innocent but called the trials a travesty.

Strangely enough, Fatty survived, went on to make several more movies, married twice more, and finally, according to Stahl, killed himself with an overdose of heroin in the midst of the depression, in New York City.

And strangely, too, the book comes to life when the author decides to let Fatty stop being the wise-guy, faces the fact that he is the most unloved person in America, that he might be gassed. He listens to the DA intoning, "Imagine this enormous, sweating beast, in all his nakedness, throwing himself atop the innocent and fragile victim you see here. Imagine this outsized actor shaking his massive appetites on her tender frame."

    After five minutes of this [Fatty says] I was almost ready to hang me myself.

--- Lolita Lark
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