I became intrigued by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle on a walking tour of San Francisco that included a stop at the St. Francis, where the ghost of Virginia Rappe haunts. This book was a great fictionalized biography that Stahl drew from several sources.
Fatty, a rotund child abused by his father, heckled for breaking his mother’s “flower” when he was born, abandoned at the train station and resorting to theater work to support himself as a teenager. Eventually he deigns to get into pictures, joining the Keystone studios for Keystone cop movies, where a lot of the footage was stumbled upon (oh, there’s a fire? let’s go film our actors along with real firemen). He learns the craft of directing there, gives Chaplin his Little Tramp bit, befriends Buster Keaton. Eventually the first actor to pull in $1M a year (in 1918), has a custom Pierce-Arrow car built for him with flush toilet.
He married Minta, his first love, and found that he was unable to perform his husbandly duties. Which is ironic, considering the crime he was accused of and vilified for. He owns the Vernon Tigers, a Pacific Coast League baseball team. He started his own film company, Comique, had the idea for pie fights after he threw something at his wife. At the top of his game, September 1921, he goes to San Francisco during the height of Prohibition for a vacation.
In San Francisco, he books 3 rooms at the St. Francis for himself and his two friends, Lowell Sherman and Fred Fischbach. Fred hooks up with a bootlegger and comes back to the hotel with Virginia Rappe and Maude Delmont. Virginia is well known to Fatty as a woman who tears her own clothes off and goes crazy when drinking. She is found laying in Fatty’s bed as he presses a cold champagne bottle to her nether regions to bring her around. This is construed as rape and murder, as she later dies from a ruptured bladder. Supposedly, this all happened because of a botched abortion, so she arrived at the hotel already a dead woman.
Hearst newspapers fanned the flames of hate, the nation turned against Fatty. He endured 3 trials (the first 2 ending as mistrials after the jury couldn’t unite) before being acquitted. Most of Fatty’s films have not survived, being lost or deliberately destroyed.