Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle Scandal Changes the Film Industry

Lindsay Lohan due in court for robbery charges brought against her. Brad Pitt divorces Jennifer Aniston and is seen with Angelina Jolie. Although some headlines surrounding celebrities are more shocking than others, it is still not a surprise to see these stories circulating all over the media. As much as one tries to not pay attention, somehow it makes its’ way into our lives. Lead actors and actresses weren’t known when silent film was first introduced. Their rise in fame and exposure was usually their downfall. Popular silent film star Roscoe Arbuckle is a prime example of how a negative scandal ultimately ended his career.

Roscoe Arbuckle, also known as Fatty Arbuckle, was signed to Keystone Studios in 1913. Arbuckle had worked with other well known comedians such as Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. He became a favorite among audiences during that time. He was considered to be the highest paid star in 1916. But his popularity didn’t last long.

Arbuckle decided to have a party in celebration of the $1 million deal he sealed with Paramount in 1921.  The party took place in a hotel in San Francisco and actress Virginia Rappe was one of the attendees. The party was said to have lasted throughout Labor Day weekend. Four days later however Virginia Rappe had died in the hospital due to a ruptured bladder.  Newspapers ran stories of Rappe’s death blaming Arbuckle and also mentioned orgies performed at the party. There were several reports of Arbuckle taking Rappe to his bedroom and Rappe heard screaming inside. There were allegations that Arbuckle raped her or harmed her enough to kill her.

Needless to say Arbuckle was charged with rape and murder in 1921. Arbuckle’s films were taken out from the theaters after the charges were brought against him. The press continued to write negative stories, further damaging his reputation, and focusing less on seeking the truth. Even after he was acquitted the damage was done. His contract with Paramount was cancelled and his image was ruined.

As a result the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association was formed in 1922.  Will Hays, director of MPPDA, banned Arbuckles’ films to be screened and forbidden Arbuckle to work in the industry. Film censorship legislation was being imposed on other states and various states such as New York passed state censorship. The main goals of MPPDA after the Arbuckle incident was to internally censor films and use MPPDA as a platform to gain the publics’ trust, to gain a positive outlook on the film industry.

Stars wholesome image was constructed at the time and it was a reflection on the industry. The Arbuckle scandal changed the film industry. Self regulation was used as a means to demonstrate the industry wasn’t as immoral or as bad as the media turned them out to be. These changes in the film industry made an impact on how films are viewed in the present day. A rating system is implemented and films are continuously being censored for the public’s well being.




Works Cited

Barbas, Samantha. The Political Spectator: Censorship, Protest and the Moviegoing Experience, 1912-1922 Film History Vol. 11, No. 2, Émigré Filmmakers and Filmmaking (1999), pp. 217-229

Fine, Gary Alan. Scandal, Social Conditions, and the Creation of Public Attention: Fatty Arbuckle and the “Problem of Hollywood” Social Problems Vol. 44, No. 3 (Aug., 1997), pp. 297-323

Goldman. “Fatty Arbuckle: The fall of a comic giant.” Biography 3.11 (1999): 24. Film & Television Literature Index. EBSCO. Web. 28 Sept. 2011.

Vaughn, Stephen. The Devil’s Advocate: Will H. Hays and the Campaign to Make Movies Respectable Indiana Magazine of History Vol. 101, No. 2 (JUNE 2005), pp. 125-152

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