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Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle

     Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the butterball silent comedian who rivaled Charlie Chaplin in popularity, may have done terrible sexual things to actress Virginia Rappe the night of September 5, 1921, resulting in her death. There were no first-hand witnesses, and he, denying all, escaped prosecution through two hung juries and a mistrial. Though never found guilty, Arbuckle saw his films banned, his lucrative Hollywood contract cancelled. He never recovered his career, and died out of the limelight in 1933 at age 46. His reputation today? The only thing recalled is that night of infamy, immortalized by gruesome pages in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon and by (rotund James Coco played him) the 1975 Merchant-Ivory The Wild Party.

     But what of his movies? Recently, Kino Video has remastered two volumes of Arbuckle's 1917-1920 two-reel shorts, which he directed and starred in for Paramount Pictures, and all of which co-star his pal, Buster Keaton. Arbuckle is a nimble talent, comfortable with his 266-pound rhino frame, whether chasing a young sweet thing, doing somersaults, or prancing about in drag. His rubbery baby face and barndoor rear both figure in the action.

     A special treat: commissioned original music by Boston's own Alloy Orchestra, stretching beyond percussion and electric piano with banjo, accordion, and even Theremin. A wish: that the Alloys find an occasion to play live to the one lost masterpiece on the DVD's, Arbuckle's surrealist madhouse caper, Good Night Nurse!

GERALD PEARY
(June, 2001)

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