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I; Fatty [Paperback]

Jerry Stahl
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

May 20 2005
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the funny fat man of the silent screen, tells his own story of success, addiction and his tragic fall from grace. Actor Johnny Depp has optioned the book for film.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Dedicated as ever to exploring life's dark and deviant sides, Stahl shows his heart in this sad, wild, uproarious faux memoir of silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Presented as if told to Fatty's butler—who wouldn't dispense his employer's heroin unless he coughed up the dirt—the book hews closely to the undisputed facts of Arbuckle's life. The forerunner of fat man comic actors ranging from Jackie Gleason to Horatio Sands, Arbuckle was most famous for being the center of one of the first celebrity trials: at the height of his film career, he was accused of raping an aspiring actress. The prosecution claimed that he crushed her with his weight during the act and she later died of the resulting internal injuries, while the papers suggested that when his "manly equipment" failed to function he reached for a Coca-Cola bottle. Arbuckle was acquitted at trial—but even the apology issued by the jury did him no good. Stahl's deep dedication to the whacked-out and marginalized helps him inhabit Arbuckle's character sharply and convincingly. Poor, huge, articulate Fatty realizes at one point, "Success and adulation turned out to be just a vacation from the jeers and ire I'd known before."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle's life is the quintessential Hollywood rags-to-riches-to-rags story, following the silent-film actor from his youth in a one-room Kansas shack to wealth and international fame that rivaled that of Chaplin and Keaton (his proteges), from addictions to alcohol and heroin to his public disgrace in a rape-murder case of which he was ultimately found innocent. There is probably not much new material here--most of the author's sources are widely published--but in this "novel," told in Fatty's voice, Stahl gives Arbuckle a hard-earned humanity as well as explains the actor's incalculable contributions to film comedy. Along the way, Stahl also gives a good sketch of the early years of Mack Sennett's Keystone film studios, where Arbuckle got his biggest breaks: "Mack and the gang worked off a simple formula: create mayhem, and film it." And his account of the media hysteria over Arbuckle's criminal case, which led to the destruction of a man's career, not to mention the creation of reactionary and longstanding movie-censorship laws, finds harrowing resonance with our own modern-day obsessions with sex and celebrity. Alan Moores
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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By Mark
Format:Hardcover
Jerry Stahl seems to be able to find the sarcastic and sardonic humor in even the most downtrodden lives. "I, Fatty" is a firsthand account of Fatty Arbuckle's tumultuous life. It's written very simply and helps us to imagine the inner turmoil of being an outsider in a judgemental society.
Born to an abusive father in Kansas, Arbuckle turned to theatre as an escape from a bitter life. He rose to fame in the cinema and at one point was more popular than Chaplin. He was the first screen actor to make a million dollars a year.
But in 1921 he was accused of the rape and murder of actress Virginia Rappe. He was slandered by the press and not even his acquittal could save his career. He eventually lost everything.
Stahl emphasizes the mental anguish of being fat, impotent, and presumed guilty. He also shows the role that heroin played in Fatty Arbuckle's life. Heroin was readily available and legal at the time, and he became addicted using it as a pain killer after a botched medical procedure. Towards the end of his years, his servant used heroine as a tool to get Arbuckle to divulge all of his secrets.
I had the pleasure of hearing Stahl read from the book and it was quite entertaining. He joked that it is obligatory for him to include heroin in every one of his novels. He emphasizes the public outcry against Fatty as being led by a conservative anti-Hollywood element. I would agree, but would also like to point out that in the 1920s journalists had more leeway to embelish the truth and print it as fact. Even today, the press chooses to emphasize some facts over others and often slanders people in the process.
If you are interested in the life of one of Hollywood's first stars, and if you like dark humor, "I, Fatty" is for you. It's a good read that will make you think and give you a laugh or two.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  48 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real Hollywood Aug. 19 2004
By Lilly Marlene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
'A little tramp stops being a tramp when the camera

stops rolling. But a Fatty stays fat'

Until I read Jerry Stahl's almost unbearably

beautiful faux memoir on Fatty Arbuckle, all I knew

about the silent movie star was what I'd read in

'Hollywood Babylon' many years earlier. The first

Movie-star in history, ruined by the accusation that

he raped and murdered a young starlet with the help of

a Coca-Cola bottle. Stahl crawls into the mind of a

battered, dirt-poor little boy, hated by his father.

After ditching school to watch vaudeville shows, he

soon stumbles on the stage himself. But he becomes

famous for what he loathes himself most for: for being

fat. He stuffs himself in baby-clothes and drag and

soon matches Charlie Chaplin's and Buster Keaton's

popularity and public adulation. But he becomes

famous for what he loathes himself most for: for being

fat.

It is well known that he drank too much. But his

Heroin-addiction was something that is not that well

known. Even though he was acquitted after three trials,

he never recovered. Stahl draws a brilliant parallel

to the first victim of the media driven Hollywood

scandal. No matter what's the truth; the public has

decided that this fat and disgustingly funny troll did

it.

Stahl makes you feel the anguish and the self-hatred

like nobody else, but he also makes us love Fatty Arbuckle.
26 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brings Arbuckle to life. A good laugh and a fast read. Enjoy July 19 2004
By Mark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jerry Stahl seems to be able to find the sarcastic and sardonic humor in even the most downtrodden lives. "I, Fatty" is a firsthand account of Fatty Arbuckle's tumultuous life. It's written very simply and helps us to imagine the inner turmoil of being an outsider in a judgemental society.
Born to an abusive father in Kansas, Arbuckle turned to theatre as an escape from a bitter life. He rose to fame in the cinema and at one point was more popular than Chaplin. He was the first screen actor to make a million dollars a year.
But in 1921 he was accused of the rape and murder of actress Virginia Rappe. He was slandered by the press and not even his acquittal could save his career. He eventually lost everything.
Stahl emphasizes the mental anguish of being fat, impotent, and presumed guilty. He also shows the role that heroin played in Fatty Arbuckle's life. Heroin was readily available and legal at the time, and he became addicted using it as a pain killer after a botched medical procedure. Towards the end of his years, his servant used heroine as a tool to get Arbuckle to divulge all of his secrets.
I had the pleasure of hearing Stahl read from the book and it was quite entertaining. He joked that it is obligatory for him to include heroin in every one of his novels. He emphasizes the public outcry against Fatty as being led by a conservative anti-Hollywood element. I would agree, but would also like to point out that in the 1920s journalists had more leeway to embelish the truth and print it as fact. Even today, the press chooses to emphasize some facts over others and often slanders people in the process.
If you are interested in the life of one of Hollywood's first stars, and if you like dark humor, "I, Fatty" is for you. It's a good read that will make you think and give you a laugh or two.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny Ha-HA and Funny Peculiar Feb. 24 2005
By Bill Keeth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
`I love this book,' reads Johnny Depp's comment on the front dust jacket of I, FATTY. `I like it,' is mine. It's a great title for a book and a tremendous tale of early Hollywood, told with a verve and flair reminiscent of that which E L Doctorow's RAGTIME applied to the eastern seaboard of the US of A.

I, FATTY is a first-person narrative fictional reconstruction of the life and times of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the first Hollywood star to earn $1M a year, only to find his fame turn to infamy and fortune slip from his grasp after a party resulting in the death of a female partygoer in Room 1221 of San Francisco's St Francis Hotel.

Revisionist in the sense that this is Arbuckle's personal take on his career and eventual disgrace, there is still no way the fat boy wasn't "at it" - whatever "at it" may mean, of course. He was not a rapist (for reasons revealed in the book), and he was certainly no murderer. But the precise details of Virginia Rappe's demise remain as unclear as they ever were. Fact: Fatty Arbuckle - a definite dipso and occasional drug addict - is caught in flagrante with a damsel in dire distress who subsequently dies.

So what is Fatty Arbuckle exactly? A voyeur? Maybe. A raver? Well, yes: he's no angel, that's for sure. But neither is Virginia (-in-name-only) Rappe, the professional lady who expires subsequent to Fatty's alleged ministrations with a Coke bottle. And neither are the press and public any more angelic than they.

Thanks to the concentrated attention of the Hearst press in the main (Buster Keaton apart, Fatty's friends are the kind best described as "fair weather") Fatty Arbuckle is a condemned man from the start, and his world caves in completely until, exonerated at last (after a trial and retrials), he makes a lacklustre, partial, almost hand-to-mouth comeback as William Goodrich.

On the minus side, Jerry Stahl's narrative is a bit too magazine-speak smooth for my liking. Personal pronouns appear to be anathema to him: a hostile witness instantly becomes "madcap Mabel", Fatty's car is christened "Big man-mobile", and an ill-favoured acquaintance attracts the soubriquet "Old Onion-Breath". Nor is the odd anachronism outside the author's remit: Fatty (dead by 1933) bewails the lack of the GUINNESS BOOK OF RECORDS 20-odd years before its time. But on the plus side, though Chaplin is somewhat neglected due to Fatty's dislike of the man, there are wonderful characterisations here of Mack Sennett and Buster Keaton - in addition to which a young Bob Hope is glimpsed on stage with Fatty in Cleveland, Ohio - and Bogart on Broadway.

As I say, I like I, FATTY: it's a good read about interesting people in an exciting time and place. Still, I'd draw the line at love. Accordingly, I hereby draw that line unhesitatingly under Ted Heller's FUNNYMEN. Now there's a book I love: a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis-type showbiz scenario that romps entertainingly, mellifluously, and quite unstoppably from front cover to back. I rate it a real tour-de-force! A true American masterpiece! Read it, please read it - and read I, FATTY too.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I, Fatty is the fictional autobiography of tragic silent film comedian Roscoe Arbuckle June 15 2009
By C. M Mills - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roscoe Arbuckle was a fat man who lived a tragic life. He was born in Kansas to an abusive father and invalid mother. The father taunted him for his considerable girth while beating him with a strap. Roscoe ran away after a year or so of grammer school to hit the boards in vaudeville.
Underneath the all too too sullied flesh there was a good brain and warm heart. Fatty became famous as a star comedian along with opium addicted Mabel Normand in the Keystone Cop flicks. Fatty knew them all-Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd. He was the first Hollywood star to make a million dollars a year and was loved by the vast American public who enjoyed a night at the flickers.
Along the way he engaged in many bad habits such as heroin and opium usage, excessive eating and drinking enough to drown several grown men. He was known as "The Prince of Whales." Arbuckle was always well dressed, knew his lines and was eager to help newcomers in the business.
Fatty's life went down the spout when he was accused of the rape and murder of the floozy Virginia Rappe in a St. Francis Hotel Room in San Francisco. Fatty endured three trials and terrible publicity. He was finally acquitted but his career was in shambles. He went on to direct a few movies under an assumed name and opened a nightclub but the damage had been done to his career. Fatty married three times, endured several physical afflictions and was the first big star whose scandal gave Hollywood a bad reputation in middle America.
Jerry Stahl has done his research on the Arbuckle life and career. Arbuckle (1887-1933) was an important figure in early film comedy who deserves to be studied.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A well written novel, NOVEL being a word of significance March 23 2006
By Snorre Smari Mathiesen - Published on Amazon.com
Let me begin by stressing that Jerry Stahl is, by all means, a good writer. I, FATTY is an enjoyable read in some ways; but also a distressful one, particularly to fans of silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Johnny Depp is quoted as describing the novel as "the true skinny" on the comedian. With all due respect to this very talented actor, I am somewhat puzzled by his statement. Having read the novel twice, I found the Roscoe of Stahl's novel to be pretty much a bitter, rudely-spoken and generally depressing incarnation, which is hardly synonymous with how Roscoe's friends and associates remembered him. Though I cannot be certain, of course, it seems to me that Stahl's main motive for writing this novel stems from a fascination in a life which, certainly, was plagued by much pain and injustice. Roscoe had a very sad childhood, left alone to his violent, alcoholic father after his mother's early death, and constantly teased at school for his overweight; and while he admirably managed to outwin much of the traumas of his early years, going on to become one of the most celebrated film comedians of his time, his career was ruined after he was wrongly accused of rape and manslaughter in 1921. Roscoe played the sidekick of Charlie Chaplin early on in the latter's film career, and was the one who directly introduced Buster Keaton to the world of celluloid.

A fascinating subject for a novel, no doubt. However, the fact that all persons directly involved in Roscoe's life have, in all probability, deceased by now, should not mean that ehtical deference can be ignored altogether. The events described does not require that far a dive into the past, after all; the scandal which ruined Roscoe's life happened less than a hundred years ago. In my opinion, Stahl far too seldom seems to take into consideration that his characters are based on real human beings. Perhaps this is a matter of necessity from an author's point of view; in order to make a character come alive on the page, focus on plain facts may indeed be a hindrance. A character based solely on facts and authentic observations would possibly turn out too realistic to be believable in the context of a novel. Yet, what troubles me most with I, FATTY is that it recalls Roscoe's entire story, seemingly first-hand from his perspective, and I'm not convinced that the book's admission of being a "novel" on the cover will prevent people less acquainted with Arbuckle's life to interpret too much of this as the truth or close to it (Charles Nordhoff and James N. Hall's novel "Mutiny on the Bounty" and its arguably inaccurate portrayal of Captain Bligh comes to mind).

A few distressing examples: in the novel, Roscoe suffers a severe drug addiction right up to the end. In actuality, there is no proof whatsoever of this having been the case. Roscoe was prescribed morphine by his doctors at one point in 1917, following an infection which developed into a painful carbuncle on his leg, and this may have led to an addiction for a while; but all reports I know imply that he overcame it within some months. Perhaps most provocative is the depiction of the fatal event which ruined Roscoe's career; here the comedian's "thoughts," as projected through Stahl, make him into a less than noble character, to say the least, despite his innocence and the fact that he, by all reliable accounts, tried to help the girl he was later accused of having abused. Granted, Stahl may have wanted to make the event more interesting by attributing Roscoe with an apparently conflicting state of mind even under such desperate circumstances, but I just wonder: was it necessary to depict this horrible event at all?

It may not have been Stahl's intention to make his portrayal of Roscoe truthful in the first place, but rather to use his story as the basis for a novel he wanted to share, but also in that case, Roscoe deserved better. That said, I did actually enjoy the novel, if for other reasons than to witness "the true skinny on Fatty" brought to light. Stahl is a gifted writer, who seasons his work with highly quotable lines. I very much enjoyed the chapter on the making of the Keystone films, which nearly brought that bygone era back to life to me. I don't know if it was the moment when Chaplin placed his boots on the wrong feet that Roscoe realized that the young newcomer was a "genius," but he does make this amusing observation in I, FATTY and it has stuck with me. In the end, I do recommend I, FATTY to anyone seeking an entertaining, well-written read; but please keep in mind that the narrator is not the actual Roscoe Arbuckle. Far from it, I would believe. (This review was updated and revised in May, 2012)
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