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."
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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.