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.
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.