Roscoe Arbuckle Week, Part III (Life after scandal)

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Though Roscoe was unanimously declared not guilty and given an unprecedented apology, Hollywood still refused to have anything to do with him. Not only was he blacklisted, but his films were ordered to be destroyed. This had heartbreaking, disastrous effects for film history, though at least a fair amount of Roscoe’s films have survived.

Roscoe was deep in debt from all his legal fees, but he had some really good frieda who completely paid off his debts. His best friend Buster Keaton got the ball rolling on that matter. Roscoe’s friends also sent him on holiday to the Orient to try to forget what had happened, but it was impossible to forget something that traumatic and life-altering.

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In 1923, upon Roscoe’s return to the U.S., director James Cruze ignored the blacklist and cast him in a cameo role in the satirical Hollywood, one of the most famous and sought-after lost films. Buster, always a super friend, gave Roscoe directing and writing duties for Daydreams and Sherlock, Jr. Roscoe gave Buster his start in films in 1917, took him under his wing, and mentored him, and now it was time for Buster to give back.

Roscoe and his estranged wife Minta, who’d remained good friends, tried a reconciliation. Sadly, things didn’t work out, and Minta filed for divorce a second time. Roscoe remarried to Doris Deane on 18 May 1925.

Also in 1925, Hollywood allowed Roscoe to work as a director, provided he didn’t use his real name. He chose the pseudonym William Goodrich, after his father. Buster suggested Will B. Good, but Roscoe vetoed it as too obvious of a joke.

In 1927, Roscoe gave Bob Hope his big break by letting him be the opening act for his comedy show. He also gave Bob contact information of Hollywood friends, and advised him to go west.

In 1929, Roscoe’s second marriage ended in divorce, due in part to the drinking problem he’d developed.

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In 1928, he opened Roscoe Arbuckle’s Plantation Club, a nightclub which many Hollywood stars most enthusiastically supported. Free entertainment was provided by stars including Chaplin and Buster, and past co-star Mabel Normand presented him with a huge floral sculpture on opening night. Sadly, the Great Depression forced the club to close.

Roscoe embarked upon a successful stage tour, and returned to directing in 1930. One of these films was Windy Riley Goes to Hollywood, the legendary Louise Brooks’s first talkie. (Louise did appear in the 1930 talkie Prix de Beauté, but all her singing and dialogue were dubbed.)

On the tenth anniversary of the scandal, Motion Picture magazine published “Doesn’t Fatty Arbuckle Deserve a Break?” Dozens of stars signed it, and audience response was immense. Finally, in early 1932, Warner Brothers signed him for a series of six two-reelers, under his own name. The films were hugely successful in the U.S., though the British Board of Film Censors still had him blacklisted.

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Roscoe married for the third time in June 1932, to Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail, 18 years his junior. This marriage truly made him happy, and came at such a most fortuitous time in his life.

On 28 June 1933, Roscoe finished filming the last two-reeler in his contract, and the very next day was signed by Warner Brothers to make feature-length films. That night, he went out with friends to celebrate his first wedding anniversary and the new contract.

Later that night, Roscoe died in his sleep of a heart attack, aged only 46. Buster believed he’d died of a broken heart, though Addie said he died smiling. He’d lived long enough to see his reputation restored.

Roscoe Arbuckle Week, Part II (The scandal)

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On 5 September 1921, Roscoe went to San Francisco with two friends, checked into three rooms by the St. Francis Hotel, and used one for a little party. One of the guests was 26-year-old bit player Virginia Rappé.

When Roscoe saw her vomiting, she said she felt ill and asked to lie down. Roscoe carried her into the bedroom and went for help. When he returned, she was on the floor, tearing at her clothes, and violently convulsing. She was put in a cold bathtub and taken to another room, after which Roscoe called the manager and doctor. The doctor declared she’d had too much to drink, and gave her morphine.

Two days later, she was hospitalized, and Maude Delmont, whom she’d only met a few days before the party, accused Roscoe of rape. The doctor found no evidence, though Mrs. Delmont continued with her accusations.

On 9 September, Virginia passed away from secondary peritonitis and a ruptured bladder.

Mrs. Delmont went to the cops, and they jumped to the wild conclusion that Virginia’s bladder had ruptured due to the impact of Roscoe’s massive body.

Virginia’s manager, Al Semnacker, accused Roscoe of raping her with ice. Over time, it transmogrified into a bottle of champagne, Coca-Cola, and milk. Witnesses testified Roscoe only rubbed ice on her stomach to try to ease her abdominal pain.

Mrs. Delmont made a later statement to police in hopes of getting money from Roscoe’s lawyers.

Roscoe was arrested and arraigned on manslaughter charges on 17 September. After almost three weeks, bail came through.

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Suite 1221 of the St. Francis Hotel, shortly after the party

During the three trials, several witnesses testified Virginia suffered from cystitis, which worsens by the imbibing of alcohol; venereal disease; and several substandard abortions within a few years (the last one days before the party).

The sleazy William Randolph Hearst absolutely loved this story, since it “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania.” This was one of a number of Hollywood scandals which led to the creation of the infamous Hays Code.

The public judged Roscoe guilty immediately, and he went from mega-star to public enemy overnight. Many called for his death, studio executives issued a gag order prohibiting anyone from speaking up on his behalf, and his films were banned.

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Though yellow journalists portrayed Roscoe as some obese sex fiend who literally threw his weight around with innocent young ladies, Roscoe was extremely shy with women, very sweet-natured, chivalrous, and known as “the most chaste man in pictures.”

Charlie Chaplin, who was in England at the time, positively spoke of Roscoe to reporters, and Roscoe’s best friend Buster Keaton got a mild reprimand for publicly speaking up in his defence. Cowboy actor William S. Hart, however, said some downright nasty, damaging things.

In response, Roscoe wrote a premise for a film parodying him as a wife-beater, bully, and thief, and sold it to Buster. In 1922, Buster made this film as two-reeler The Frozen North. Hart was so pissed, he didn’t speak to Buster for years.

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Prosecutor Matthew Brady, San Fransisco District Attorney, made many public pronouncements of Roscoe’s alleged guilt, and pressured witnesses to lie under oath. During the indictment hearing, Mrs. Delmont was the star witness. Though the judge threatened to dismiss the case, Brady refused to let his own star witness testify by the actual trial.

Like many other liars, Mrs. Delmont was eventually caught. She had a very long criminal record, with numerous convictions for fraud, bigamy, extortion, and racketeering. She also supposedly was making a career out of luring men into compromising situations and taking photographs for use in divorce proceedings.

Roscoe’s lawyers also found a letter in which Mrs. Delmont admitted her plan to extort money from Roscoe.

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During the three trials, Roscoe’s estranged wife Minta regularly came to court to support him. One time, she was shot at while entering the courtroom.

In addition to all the witnesses being caught out as liars, the abovementioned evidence about Virginia’s health also came to light.

Roscoe testified last, saying exactly what had happened at the party and how he’d tried to help.

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A mistrial was declared, and a second trial, with a new jury, began 11 January 1922. More monkey business was uncovered, and there was another mistrial. A third trial began 13 March 1922.

Roscoe’s lawyer was much more aggressive the third time around, and finally, a unanimous not guilty verdict was declared, along with a major apology:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Roscoe Arbuckle Week, Part I (Life before the storm)

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To mark the 95th anniversary of the scandal which changed comedy legend Roscoe Arbuckle’s life forever, I’m doing another theme week. Roscoe was such a wonderful comedian and dear, sweet man who deserves to be remembered truthfully. Though he was completely exonerated, many people judge him guilty based on decades-old lies, and call him “Fatty.” However, I’m hopeful his reputation will continue its gradual rehabilitation and that more people will discover his surviving films.

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born 24 March 1887, in Smith Center, Kansas, weighing over 13 pounds. Since both of his parents were slim people, his father, William Goodrich Arbuckle, foolishly believed another man had to be the father. Thus, the baby was named for NY Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling, a notorious philanderer whom he hated. (What a loving father!)

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Possibly due to his large size, Roscoe’s birth was very traumatic and caused chronic health problems for his mother, Mary (Mollie) E. Gordon Arbuckle. These health problems sadly contributed to her death 12 years later. However, while his mother was still earthside, she encouraged him to join character actor Frank Bacon’s troupe in Santa Ana, California. Roscoe made his stage début at age eight.

Roscoe had a wonderful singing voice and was very graceful in spite of his size. He moved like a ballerina. Roscoe loved performing, though after his mother’s death, his abusive father forced him to retire and wouldn’t even financially support him. Young Roscoe did odd jobs in a hotel, singing while he worked.

One day, a professional singer overheard him and invited him to an amateur talent show. The audience clapped or jeered, and bombing acts were pulled offstage by a hook. Roscoe didn’t impress them, and when he saw the hook coming, he fearfully dove into the orchestra pit. The audience went nuts over this, so much so Roscoe won the contest and began a vaudeville career.

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In 1904, Sid Grauman invited Roscoe to sing by his new Unique Theater in San Francisco. After this, Roscoe joined the touring Pantages Theater Group. Ironically, this group was headed by Greek-born vaudevillian and producer Alexander Pantages, whose career also crashed to a halt after he was accused of rape. (Pantages was also ultimately acquitted, though that’s a whole other story!)

In 1906, Roscoe played by the Orpheum Theater in Portland, Oregon, in a vaudeville troupe headed by Australian-born Leon Errol. Roscoe rose to become the star, and went on tour again.

On 6 August 1908, Roscoe married Araminta (Minta) Estelle Durfee (1 October 1889–9 September 1975), whom he co-starred with many times from 1913 to 1916. In contrast to Roscoe, Minta was short and petite.

After marrying, Roscoe joined the Morosco Burbank Stock vaudeville company, with whom he toured Japan and China. He started his film career in July 1909, after returning to the U.S.

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Roscoe’s first film was Ben’s Kid, shot by the Selig Polyscope Company. He appeared on and off in their one-reelers till 1913, then briefly moved to Universal Pictures. Soon after this, he got picked up by the legendary Mack Sennett, and became one of the famous Keystone Kops.

Though Roscoe knew his weight was part of his appeal, he was very self-conscious about it, and had the dignity to refuse to use it for cheap laughs. For example, he never got stuck in a chair or doorway, and didn’t act winded going up or down stairs. He also hated the screen name “Fatty.”

In 1914, Paramount Pictures offered him $1,000 a day, 25% of all profits, and total creative control. Roscoe’s films were so popular, he was offered a three-year, three million dollar contract in 1918. This was about $47,000,000 in 2016 money.

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Besides wife Minta, Roscoe also frequently co-starred with Mabel Normand (one of the biggest female comedy stars of the era), his nephew Al St. John (the blonde on the right), his best friend Buster Keaton (on the left), and the awesome Luke, his very talented Pit Bull.

Though Roscoe and Minta separated in 1921 (just prior to the scandal) and divorced in 1925, Minta always spoke of him in the most wonderful terms, calling him the most generous person she’d ever met, and that if she had to do it all over again, she’d still marry him. Roscoe also got visitation rights with Luke.

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Roscoe had a health scare in 1916, with an infected carbuncle that almost cost him his leg. Though he lost 80 pounds during recovery and saved his leg, he also became addicted to the drug of the gods, morphine. (I loved getting legally high on morphine after my surgeries and during my hospital stays!)

After his recovery, he started his own film company, Comique. Roscoe continued going from strength to strength, and in 1920, he began making features.

Then, on 5 September 1921, his life changed forever.

WeWriWa—A new kind of atonement

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes from my WIP, The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, and is the conclusion of the first section of Chapter 29, “A New Kind of Atonement.”

It’s September 1945, and my characters have recently moved to Budapest from Abony so they can be in a much larger Jewish community. They’re attending services at the Great Synagogue of Budapest on Dohány Utca (Street), in the uniquely Hungarian Neolog denomination. It’s sort of like liberal Modern Orthodoxy or very, very old-school Conservative Judaism.

Parts of the synagogue are in ruins (along with 80% of the entire city), and about 2,000 people who died in the Budapest Ghetto are buried in the courtyard. There’s also the chilling knowledge that during the occupation, Eichmann had his office in the women’s gallery. Needless to say, the autumn holidays haven’t been very happy so far.

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Dohány Utca Synagogue, Copyright Gabor Dvornik

The sounds of Kol Nidre commingled and competed with the sobs and shrieks they’d come to expect here.  Beyond remembering all the people who’d been with them last year at this time, surely many people were thinking of the promises, vows, and oaths they’d made in the best of faith but been unable to keep because of the forces of evil.

Eszter thought back to one of the film festivals she’d gone to with Mirjam, before the war, when foreign films were still allowed.  The climactic Yom Kippur scene from The Jazz Singer came into her head, as Al Jolson’s character chose his faith over his career, at least for that one night.  He sang with a tear in his voice, his soul and identity laid bare, in spite of his attempts to hide behind blackface and a de-Judaized name.

Perhaps Kálmán was right, and they’d be better-off in their own homeland, without having to resort to similar hiding measures and make the Gentiles think they were better, different, more modern than those people who lived in self-imposed ghettos.  The cataclysm they’d just lived through had struck everyone, the insular as well as assimilated.  Now it was up to them to rebuild the remnants and replant the uprooted trees.

Next autumn, I’ll be doing a series on The Jazz Singer at 90, exploring a lot of different topics related to the film, the transition from silent to sound film, and so much more. I’m really looking forward to researching and writing this series.

Halloween-themed posts begin next week!

A primer on Hebraizing names

Going along with Wednesday’s post and the onomastic plans of some of the characters in my WIP (to be fully realized in the companion book which follows the characters who immigrate to Israel instead of the U.S.), I thought I’d do a post about the Hebraization of names. Future installments in this series will cover Italian, Breton, Irish, Armenian, Finnish, Yiddish, Greek, Swahili, Japanese, Arabic, Chinese, and Korean names. When I’m fairly sure there won’t be any further installments, I’ll turn this series into a book, with expanded name lists and commentaries.

This is the 29th installment in my “A Primer on ________________ Names” series.

Hebraizing a name obviously entails changing one’s given name into a Hebrew equivalent, or adopting a new name entirely. This practice began during the First Wave of Aliyah (1882–1903), and became widespread during the Second Wave (1904–14). It continued during the Third Wave (1919–23), Fourth Wave (1924–8), and Fifth Wave (1929–39). Many Shoah survivors who came to Israel after 1945 also were eager to change their names.

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First Committee of the Hebrew Language, 1912. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, father of the modern Hebrew language, is on the far right in the front row.

Long story short, Hebrew began to be revived during the First Wave, and during the Second Wave, it broke out of the school and home settings to be used in public venues. This is the only language in all of history to be resurrected in this way. Sure there are plenty of folks who know languages like Latin, Sanskrit, and Ancient Greek, but those aren’t national languages, nor did they go from languages without any native speakers to languages with millions of native speakers.

Part of the resurrection of Hebrew included the adoption of empowered new names, and throwing off old names smacking of the shtetl and an oppressed people without their own homeland. Hebrew, not Yiddish, is our lingua franca, as sorry as I am that Yiddish has become an endangered language.

Mendele Mocher Sforim (Mendele the Book Peddler), né Sholem Yakov Abramovich, 1836–1917, one of the founders of modern Hebrew literature

The resurrection of Hebrew went hand-in-hand with the Hebraization of surnames. There were several styles of doing this:

Repurposing a forename. Say, if your belovèd grandpap was named David, you might change your surname to Davidi; if you felt great admiration for the Patriarch Jakob, you could change your surname to Ya’akov; if your mother Mirjam were murdered in the Shoah, you might become Bat Miriam; if you’d lost your belovèd brother Daniel to a pogrom, you could become Daniel.

Translating your birth surname into Hebrew, or giving it a Hebrew twist; e.g., Lebovitz could become Lev; Bergman translates into Harari; Abramowicz becomes Ben Avraham; Rozental is shortened to Rosen; Davidovics is shortened to Davidi; Berg is switched to Barak; Rosen becomes Vardi; Goldberg is Har-Paz.

Taking inspiration from flora and fauna or geography; e.g., Rotem (desert broom), Nitzan (flower bud), Yarden (Jordan), Hermoni, Eilat, Golani, Alon (oak tree), Kineret (the Hebrew name for the Sea of Galilee), Tomer (palm tree).

Words with great personal symbolism; e.g., Shachar (dawn), Amichai (my people are alive), Maor (light), Eyal (strength), Cherut (Freedom), Bat Or (daughter of light), Keshet (rainbow).

It was similar with forenames. Many people adopted names of Biblical and historical figures they admired, took names from their family trees, and chose names with meanings they loved. Other names preserved part of the birth name’s sound; e.g., Adrián becomes Adriel, Aranka becomes Ariella, Csilla becomes Ilana, Móric becomes Mordechai.

First known Hebrew translation of Shakespeare, 1818, Solomon Löwisohn, “Are at this hour asleep!… Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown” monologue from Henry IV

Though Hebraization was all but legally mandatory for many decades (so much so many Sephardic and Mizrachic children were given new surnames in school, without their parents’ knowledge), not everyone supported it. Many people were proud of their surnames and the long histories or famous bearers they represented, such as Sasson, Rothschild, Einstein, Abrabanel, LaPaz, Sasportas, and Saadia.

Others retained names denoting membership in the priestly or Levitical castes, like Kahan, Katz, Levine, Levinsohn, Azoulai, and Kaganovits. A number of Sephardic surnames were Hebrew to begin with. Still others couldn’t bear the thought of erasing their birth names as though they’d never been, effectively severing their entire family history and starting over with an alien identity.

Today, the trend towards Hebraization has not only significantly slowed, but also been reversed. Many new immigrants in recent decades have kept their original names, and many people with long roots in Israel have taken back ancestral names to feel closer to their particular ethnic origins.

Would you change your name (in part or full) if you moved to a country with another language? Do you agree or disagree with how many immigrants in the past (to Israel, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Australia, etc.) changed their names to try to better blend in with the host culture? Are there any altered names in your own family tree?