Roscoe Arbuckle's Birthday
Nobody got a rawer deal than Roscoe Arbuckle (3/24), but that’s not news. He’s one silent star you can mention among civilians (you know, those non-film fanatics we have to share the planet with), and a surprising number of them know all about him. Or they think they do. Usually, you get Oh yeah, he killed the girl during that orgy, or an indelicate reference to Coke bottles. Well, we know better. So did that third jury when they came out and said the State Of California owed Roscoe a very big apology. Well, how do you give a man his life back after dragging him through a mess like this? They started out accusing him of capital murder, for Cripe’s sake! Some say Arbuckle’s films were allowed to deteriorate over the years because nobody wanted to be reminded of him. They pretty nearly accomplished that, because a lot of them are gone now. Roscoe himself had a vault hidden somewhere, but nobody’s been able to locate it. I wish they could. His reputation could still use some major rehab. As a comedian he’s not up there with Chaplin or Keaton, but maybe we’d all appreciate him a little more if the prints looked better. Whenever I read about that fateful Labor Day weekend in 1921, I think about how close Roscoe came to staying home, then I think if only he had, and all that other stuff we can’t do anything about now. His accusers were a scruffy lot. Blackmailers, abortionist doctors, crooked prosecutors, you name it. Poor Roscoe (notice I don’t call him Fatty --- he never liked that) dropped $700,000 in legal fees (this is 1921 money!) and still got banished from the screen despite his courtroom vindication. The dead woman, Virginia Rappe, was said to have had five abortions by the time she was sixteen, and an out-of-wedlock child when she was seventeen. Wacky Mack Sennett had her tossed off the Keystone lot for spreading venereal disease, though it was later revealed she had lice! Boy, the stuff that went on in those tumultuous teens --- lice --- ugh. So you can see what Roscoe was up against. It’s nice to know he had a comeback of sorts just before the end. Warner Bros. hired him for a series of Vitaphone shorts in 1932. He did six. I’ve seen most of them, and they’re good. A couple of them, Hey, Pop! and Buzzin’ Around, are really good. This was the best exposure Roscoe had since the trial. Warners was talking up more for him, maybe even features. All that collapsed when he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his hotel room in 1933. He was only forty-six. Good friend Buster Keaton said he died of a broken heart. I don’t know as I agree, although the damage had been done and it was devastating. Still, things were looking up for Roscoe. On that final evening out, he and his wife had dinner with Ed Sullivan, of all people. Is it any wonder Ed was so blasé about The Beatles thirty years later? After all, he’d once dined with the Arbuckles!
Stars who are good to their doggies always rate special mention at the Greenbriar, as I'm devoted to my pooch as well (even if he was sprayed by a skunk last night). This portrait is actually dated 1924, well after Roscoe’s retreat behind the cameras. He might have been seeking a director spot around this time, or perhaps a return to the stage. In any case, that sobered expression reveals a changed man. From happier days, here is Roscoe at Paramount doing close inspection on the camera lens for This Is So Sudden, a title which must have been changed (or the picture abandoned?). We do know his Paramount features were shelved and/or withdrawn after the trial. I assume that’s director George Melford serenading Roscoe and crew during The Round-Up in 1920, but by all means, correct me if I'm wrong. From the trial --- two dramatic shots. Roscoe in the courtroom --- and his stunned, disbelieving countenance tells the whole story, as if the horror of this ordeal were still not fully absorbed. Former wife Minta Durfee provides a courtroom lifeline in a revealing close look at the two --- she was there throughout to provide moral support. Roscoe seems to be regarding the last friend he has left in the world. Maybe he was. Finally, his wedding three years later to Doris Deane on May 17, 1925. The best man is stalwart pal Buster Keaton, and that’s Natalie second from the left. Buster kept a framed portrait of Roscoe on his wall till the day he died.