Cover image for I, Fatty : a novel
I, Fatty : a novel
Stahl, Jerry.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Bloomsbury, 2004.
Physical Description:
280 pages ; 22 cm
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The strange, compelling, and occasionally hysterical story of Hollywood's first celebrity scandal-as told by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the star at its center.

Abandoned as a boy in Kansas, Fatty Arbuckle found adulation first onstage, and then in the new medium of the cinema. In his day, during the second decade of the 1900s, Fatty was more popular than Chaplin; he became 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, whom he encountered at a party in San Francisco and who died a few days later. Though he was eventually acquitted by a unanimous jury, the virulent speculation by the press ultimately destroyed Arbuckle's career for good. Framed for a crime he didn't commit, and demonized by conservative powers that hyped the case as emblematic of all the evils of show business, Fatty Arbuckle was the O.J. Simpson of early Hollywood, the first modern celebrity whose presumed guilt - and alleged innocence - galvanized a nation.

In I, Fatty , Jerry Stahl, the celebrated author of Permanent Midnight , tells the story from Fatty's own perspective. This is an incisive and sympathetic look into the life of a man whose astonishing rise and fall set the precedent for the scandals that still shake Hollywood today.

Author Notes

Jerry Stahl is the author of the bestselling memoir Permanent Midnight , which was made into a movie starring Ben Stiller, and the novels Perv - A Love Story and Plainclothes Naked . His fiction and nonfiction have been featured in magazines including Esquire and Playboy , and he writes the monthly Culture column for Details . He has also written extensively for film and television. He has one daughter and lives in Los Angeles.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

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 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

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." Agent, Chris Calhoun. (July) Forecast: Stahl's near-ventriloquism and immersion in the mystique of Hollywood will remind readers of Joyce Carol Oates's Blonde; silent film fans will relish the period flavor. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Stahl (Permanent Midnight) brings us into the fascinating, nearly forgotten era of silent film through the persona of Fatty Arbuckle, who escaped an impoverished and abusive childhood by joining the vaudeville circuit and eventually became one of the major film stars of that period. Working with Mack Sennett and his Keystone Cops, as well as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Arbuckle perfected the kind of broad physical comedy appreciated by early movie audiences. Arbuckle was a millionaire in the 1920s, when the budding film industry was awash in drugs and scandal. With the onset of Prohibition and changing morals, he found himself a scapegoat for Hollywood and his career ruined when he was framed for the rape and murder of a starlet. Unfortunately, Stahl's fictionalized memoir technique distances the reader from the immediacy of Arbuckle's life story. Readers have to get past his wise-guy, self-hating tone and cliched period slang, while the narrative's repetition and heavy-handed prefiguring remove any suspense. Still, it's worth the read.-Reba Leiding, James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.