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silent film actor
Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born in Smith Center, Kansas, on March 24, 1887. One of nine children, he reportedly weighed 16 pounds at birth. His family moved to California when he was about one year old.
Arbuckle first appeared on stage at the age of 8, appearing as a picaninny kid with the Webster-Brown Stock Company. From then until 1913, he performed everything from acrobatic acts, to clown, to singer. His first real professional engagement was in 1904, singing illustrated songs for Sid Grauman at the Unique Theater in San Jose. He then worked in the Morosco Burbank Stock Company, and travelled through China and Japan with Ferris Hartman. His last stage appearance was with Hartman in Yokahama, Japan, in 1913.
After returning to California, Arbuckle went to work at Mack Sennett's Keystone Studio, for whom he appeared in hundreds of one- and two-reel comedies over the next three-and-a-half years, including: Fatty Again (1914), 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), and Fatty's Reckless Fling (1915) -- the "Mabel" in these movies was popular leading lady Mabel Normand.
Arbuckle never used his weight (some 300 pounds) to get a laugh. In none of his movies was he shown getting stuck in a chair or doorway. He was remarkably agile for his size, and he used that agility to find humor in situations.
In 1917, Arbuckle and Joseph M. Schenck (husband of Norma Talmadge) formed Comique Pictures. The films made by Comique were released through the Famous Players on a percentage basis. With this company Arbuckle had complete creative control over his productions. He also met and hired a young comedian by the name of Buster Keaton, with whom he would star in "The Butcher Boy" (1917). By 1920 Arbuckle's comedy star was second only to Charlie Chaplin.
With the success of Comique, Paramount Pictures asked Arbuckle to move to feature films. His first full-length feature film was The Roundup (1920). Other feature films done for Paramount included Brewster's Millions (1920) and Gasoline Gus (1921).
Arbuckle's career came to a crashing halt in 1921, when he was arrested on manslaughter charges following the death of Virginia Rappe, a disreputable starlet who died a few days after a party thrown by Arbuckle. Newspapers, led by the Hearst group, turned Arbuckle's arrest and subsequent trials into Hollywood's first truly major scandal. Although eventually acquitted after three trials, Arbuckle's reputation had been seriously tarnished.
Unable to return to the screen, Arbuckle found work as a comedy director for Buster Keaton and others under the pseudonym William Goodrich. In 1932, Sam Sax hired him to appear in comic shorts for Warner Brothers; he went on to complete six shorts. Warner Brothers then signed him to a feature film contract, but he died in his sleep on June 29, 1933, the night after he signed the contract.
This page was last updated on 03/23/2017.