Poignant story based on the life of silent screen star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.
That some readers may feel like donning surgical gloves before picking up a book about Fatty Arbuckle makes one of the author’s main points: a miasma of perversion still befouls the great comic’s reputation, and Details columnist Stahl (Plainclothes Naked, 2001, etc.) uses fiction to show how it felt to wear Fatty’s clothes. Through Arbuckle’s bemused, raunchy voice, he draws a sympathetic portrait of a keen, wounded actor in a tale replete with insightful portraits of American vaudeville and silent film. Arbuckle’s drunken father heaped physical and verbal abuse on the boy, blaming him for being so large at birth (in 1887, in Kansas) that he destroyed his mother’s reproductive organs. At age 8 (weight: 150), Arbuckle quit school and gained success playing the abused fat boy in traveling theatrical stock companies. As a young man desperate for work, he appeared in silent comedies directed by Mack Sennett and eventually became one of the first stars to earn millions, his screen antics making him the artistic peer of Chaplin and Keaton. His personal life was not as successful as his career. To numb physical and psychological traumas, he turned to alcohol and heroin. Then, in 1921, he faced trumped up charges of murdering and raping a starlet with an iced champagne bottle. Fed sensational stories by the Hearst press, the public recoiled from their once-beloved Fatty, striking fear in the hearts [sic] of studio heads, who now deemed him a pariah. Acquitted after three complex trials, neither the man nor the actor ever fully recovered. No doubt the progeny of the Puritans, philistines, and fundamentalists Stahl skewers herein still believe Fatty was guilty.
As show business “reporting” grows more sensational and less reliable, Stahl again turns to fiction, creating an illuminating story about actors, studios, and audiences.