When Legends Gather #534

Roscoe Arbuckle and Harry Houdini


Goomba said...

Too bad Houdini couldn't make Arbuckle's legal problems disappear!

Christopher said...

he may be able to pull a deck of cards outta my ear but hes no Mable Normand..

Marshall P. Smith said...

Arbuckle didn't have legal problems, he had an image problem thanks to Hearst.

Tommy O'C said...

Arbuckle had legal problems, to be sure.

The ambitious, ethically challenged prosecutor pressured witnesses to perjure themselves. He refused to allow Arbuckle's only accuser to testify because of her criminal past. Had she done so, the case would have fallen apart. Another witness, who later recanted and fled the country, testified that the "victim," Virginia Rappe, on her deathbed, had alleged "Roscoe killed me."

On the basis of this testimony, the judge allowed Arbuckle to be charged with murder, and the People v. Arbuckle moved forward.

Long story short, Arbuckle endured no fewer than three trials. And, although the last jury is said to have exonerated him (a legal rarity), Arbuckle's life was wrecked.

The expense alone was tremendous. Arbuckle owed his attorneys $700,000 (about $10 million in today's dollars) and lost his house and cars defending himself. Not to mention the damage to his reputation, career, and well-being.

It took over a decade for Arbuckle's fortunes to reverse. Tragically, he was enjoying a comeback with Warner Brothers when he died of a heart attack, in 1933. (As a footnote, he died in his sleep at New York's Park Central Hotel, where Albert Anastasia would be executed so memorably, while sitting in a barber chair, twenty-four years later.)

Hearst's role in the destruction of Arbuckle is not to be denied. In 1925, Arbuckle and his wife vacationed at San Simeon. Hearst had hired him to direct a film with Marion Davies. Of the scandal, Hearst told Arbuckle, "I never knew anything about your case, Roscoe, than I read in the newspapers."

The Arbuckle incident unfortunately coincided with the scandal-ridden death of director William Desmond Taylor and the fatal overdose of drug-addicted actor Wallace Reid. Hollywood decided to crack down on wayward celebrities, before the government stepped in and did it for them. Arbuckle became the first actor to be blacklisted--a ban that was lifted only nine months later. But, "public opposition [to Arbuckle] remained pervasive" for years, despite the total discrediting of the evidence against him.

Regarding Mabel Normand. Her career also ended due to scandal, following the above-mentioned murder of William Desmond Taylor, in 1922, the year after Arbuckle's infamous party.

Campaspe said...

Poor Arbuckle. He was a talented man. And even today most people remember him as a rapist, when that was very likely not the case.

Rhys Ziemba said...

You spelled "Fatty" wrong. Dude was framed.