Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 5, 2019

Fatty Arbuckle, Natalie Wood & Harvey Weinstein: Rape, Murder, and Selling Soap

……………… The tuxedo-wearing Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s mugshot

Sometimes ghosts come at us over the airwaves, from almost a hundred years ago. Here’s how it happened for me this week:

  1. I was poking around on Roku yesterday morning [12/4/19] for some Charlie Chaplin material. I opted (completely randomly) to watch a free 1914 short, The Rounders, from Keystone Studios (now famed for the Keystone Kops). It was only 16 minutes long–although the crappy distributor app said it was 9:00 (one reason I chose it, being strapped for time), and maybe the poor-quality version I saw was missing some of the original material. It’s notable, however, that Chaplin is not in Tramp mode here, but playing richer.
  2. Besides Charlie, I recognized the portly but graceful other drunk here as the great silent movie comic Roscoe

    Cover of Keystone/Mutual 1914 short “The Rounders” (not to be confused with the Brian Koppelman/ David Levien-penned poker film “Rounders”, featuring Matt Damon and Edward Norton)

    “Fatty” Arbuckle. In the back of my mind I vaguely recalled some scandal Fatty was involved with back then. The Chaplin short itself was fine, though not among the best for either actor. I then moved on with my day, filing The Rounders away at the back of my mind’s junk drawer of cinema history.

  3. By noon yesterday, Fatty was back, literally haunting me. While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, actor/broadcaster Ralph Garman’s The Ralph Report, his “This Day In History” segment discussed the Arbuckle hung jury’s non-verdict on December 4, 1921, in the first of three manslaughter trials of Roscoe Arbuckle. These three “trumped up” trials were for the alleged killing of star-chaser, failed actress, frequent drunken exhibitionist, and likely prostitute Virginia Rappe… Talk about “fake news”! Since he was the highest-paid actor at the time ($3 mil –think Tom Cruise or Robert Downey, Jr. level fame and money– but in a world with only 10% as many stars), Fatty’s was the trial of all trials in the early days not just of Prohibition, but also of Hollywood’s “self-censorship” through the Hays Code. The Hays office, a government watchdog agency out to clean up the morals in movies, was established just four days after Fatty’s first verdict. It was partly a direct response to Fatty, as the public had been stirred up for years by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst (the model for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane), and his three-inch headlines about such scandals. However, by the end of the Arbuckle trials, it was clear that
  4. no rape had occurred,
  5. the ruptured bladder that later killed Rappe several days later was already severely inflamed before she even met Arbuckle (Fatty had even tried to save her when she was vomiting in his bathroom), and
  6. the D.A.’s first “witness” Maude Delmont (who he didn’t even put on the stand, since she was so disreputable and easily refute-able) had sought to profit –by blackmail or fame– in accusing Fatty at all.

But by the end of this mess –and his eventual acquittal after just five minutes of jury deliberation at the third trial — it was already too late for Fatty. His rep was ruined, he was soon banned by Hays the government hack himself, and Fatty’s career never really recovered from the unjust accusations.

So there you have it. A haunting, to restore a smeared reputation. “Science fiction, or science fact?” (to quote Ralph, with the title of another of his frequent segments) . Here’s why I believe it’s fact :

Either I chose to watch The Rounders on the exact date of his first verdict entirely randomly, and then —also randomly— I chose to listen to that Ralph Report episode (of a program which I had been away from for weeks) on the same day,  …  or else…


Maybe in the swirl of the #metoo movement, Fatty wants all the powers that be to assign him a publicist, and begin restoring his badly tarnished reputation. So let me be the first to say it in the MeToo context: Fatty wuz framed!

Ralph Garman also mentioned that another departed great, Chris Farley, was on-record as intending to make a biopic on Fatty Arbuckle someday. So maybe the famed prankster Farley’s in on this week’s haunt, as well. (Hi Chris! Love ya! Mean it!) Either way, I’ll take the safe route, and do what the ghosts are asking here, lest these two formidable figures continue their haunting hijinks.

So before I move on to the larger topics of alleged rape, murder, and how media-makers and soap/car/magazine/website-associated opportunistic scandalmongers and Vultures [click for the John Mayer song on this subject] use these tragedies and spectacles for their own gain, let me give a couple last plugs for better factual information about the great Fatty Arbuckle:

a) For a true historian’s approach to the topic, what could be better than Smithsonian magazine?

b) For a 60-minute audio infotainment approach to the sad-but-true Fatty and Virginia story, you can find that at the always amazing cinema history podcast series You Must Remember This, produced by author and journalist Karina Longworth. She gets current big-name actors to voice some of the historical figures, her research is impeccable, and the writing and production are quite tasteful and entertaining as well.

… and by the way, leave it to Robert Downey Jr. to be in the middle of (or at least on the fringes of) yet another Hollywood controversy, having once played Charlie Chaplin (no stranger to scandal himself) in the underrated 1992 biopic Chaplin .

Speaking of controversy, tragic actress deaths, Downey and rape, followers of the  Marking Time blog here will perhaps recall that the rape –and to a lesser extent the death– of 1950s movie icon Natalie Wood has been one of the more popular subjects in this blog. Natalie, it turns out, once dated the real life nightclub owner, record mogul and Mafia front Morris Levy, a main character in my upcoming historical crime fiction novel, Murder in Birdland. Thus my interest (in my book) is more in the true SPECTACLE of her melodramatic life than her equally melodramatic death and/or murder.

My main interest here, on the other hand, is to discuss how entertainment “news” and/or gossip has been mostly a wart on the ass of most serious actors –and creators in other genres, especially popular music– where the studios, media conglomerates and pesky hangers-on usually have no vested interest in what an actual court-of-law calls “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. As a pack of lies from a pack of liars, such shoddy prosecutions to increase the profile of a top cop or D.A. –and the even more shoddy journalism that usually drives the machine– all this propaganda merely set the stage for screwing up every presidential election since Kennedy in 1960, not to mention the outright theft of the elections in both 2000 and 2016.

As many in showbiz are known to say: “There ain’t no bad publicity.” Or if you prefer, take the earlier version, “If it bleeds, it leads.” That one comes direct from the newspaper publishing realm which tried and convicted Arbuckle (and it’s probably originally a movie quote, too… though I don’t know where from… look it up yerself!).

As for what Downey has to do with it, he eventually worked with Natalie’s daughter, actress Natasha Gregson Warner in the film Two Girls and a Guy (1997). As the children of cinema figures from mid-century (Robert Sr. was a writer/director), they became friends from then onward. So it became a thing in 2018 when actor Kirk Douglas (receiving a Golden globe special honor that year, at age 101) was semi-anonymously accused of raping a fifteen-year-old Natalie. Certain parties (myself included) strongly suspected Downey to be the anonymous accuser (though not the first). Click the link within my earlier blog for the detective work behind this theory. All of this hubbub, of course, went down in the immediate aftermath of  Ronan Farrow’s groundbreaking story on Weinstein’s serial sexual predation in The New Yorker’s October 10, 2017 edition.

I’ve now blathered on for far too long, in a manner short on facts but rife with opinion, just as I’m accusing those “yellow journalists” of doing. For this, I’m insincerely sorry, dear Reader. But you’re smart. You can read between the lines.

Fatty wuz framed.

On Kirk Douglas, RJ Wagner, and Chris Walken, the jury may forever be “out”.

Weinstein, my fellow fatty, wuz not framed.

On Trump and Ukraine, the jury’s out again, even though the king has no clothes, …so Shakespeare turned out to be wrong (a rare thing) in The Merchant of Venice when he said about another amoral businessman and horrific act “The truth will out.”

God bless us all. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Scheider shoots shark Jaws-Garand-5 (Arbuckle & Trump)





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