In 1921, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle was the biggest comic actor in America, the Jazz Age’s answer to Will Farrell. Paramount was paying him $1 million to make six laff riots a year (that’s more than 12 million in 2008 dollars). One fan described dancing with him as “like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut.” Then, 30-year-old aspiring actress Virginia Rappe died of a ruptured bladder after an epic party in Arbuckle’s San Francisco hotel room. Oops.
The cops concluded that the damage had been done by Arbuckle’s 300-pound girth during sexual intercourse. He was booked after a friend of the actress claimed Arbuckle had raped Rappe in the hotel room. Rumors quickly swirled around the case. It was whispered that Rappe had been abused by everything from an icicle to a champagne bottle.
After two mistrials, Arbuckle was acquitted, but the legal fees left him penniless. In 1922, he was banned from making movies and left with but a solitary friend — alcohol. Arbuckle died on June 30, 1933, aged 46, ironically the day after he had been signed by Warner Bros. to make his first feature film in 12 years. — Chuck Bottomley