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I, Fatty: A Novel Paperback – June 16, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582345821
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582345826
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,326,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pushcart Prize-winning author Jerry Stahl has written six books, including the memoir Permanent Midnight (made into a film with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson), and the novels Pain Killers and I, Fatty (optioned by Johnny Depp). Former Culture Columnist for Details, Stahl's widely anthologized fiction and journalism have appeared in a variety of places, including Esquire, The New York Times, Playboy, The Rumpus, and The Believer. He has also written extensively for film and television, including the highest rated episodes of CSI and, most recently, the HBO film Hemingway & Gelhorn, with Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Lilly Marlene on August 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
'A little tramp stops being a tramp when the camera

stops rolling. But a Fatty stays fat'

Until I read Jerry Stahl's almost unbearably

beautiful faux memoir on Fatty Arbuckle, all I knew

about the silent movie star was what I'd read in

'Hollywood Babylon' many years earlier. The first

Movie-star in history, ruined by the accusation that

he raped and murdered a young starlet with the help of

a Coca-Cola bottle. Stahl crawls into the mind of a

battered, dirt-poor little boy, hated by his father.

After ditching school to watch vaudeville shows, he

soon stumbles on the stage himself. But he becomes

famous for what he loathes himself most for: for being

fat. He stuffs himself in baby-clothes and drag and

soon matches Charlie Chaplin's and Buster Keaton's

popularity and public adulation. But he becomes

famous for what he loathes himself most for: for being


It is well known that he drank too much. But his

Heroin-addiction was something that is not that well

known. Even though he was acquitted after three trials,

he never recovered. Stahl draws a brilliant parallel

to the first victim of the media driven Hollywood

scandal. No matter what's the truth; the public has

decided that this fat and disgustingly funny troll did


Stahl makes you feel the anguish and the self-hatred

like nobody else, but he also makes us love Fatty Arbuckle.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Mark #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Jerry Stahl seems to be able to find the sarcastic and sardonic humor in even the most downtrodden lives. "I, Fatty" is a firsthand account of Fatty Arbuckle's tumultuous life. It's written very simply and helps us to imagine the inner turmoil of being an outsider in a judgemental society.
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.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Bill Keeth on February 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
`I love this book,' reads Johnny Depp's comment on the front dust jacket of I, FATTY. `I like it,' is mine. It's a great title for a book and a tremendous tale of early Hollywood, told with a verve and flair reminiscent of that which E L Doctorow's RAGTIME applied to the eastern seaboard of the US of A.

I, FATTY is a first-person narrative fictional reconstruction of the life and times of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, the first Hollywood star to earn $1M a year, only to find his fame turn to infamy and fortune slip from his grasp after a party resulting in the death of a female partygoer in Room 1221 of San Francisco's St Francis Hotel.

Revisionist in the sense that this is Arbuckle's personal take on his career and eventual disgrace, there is still no way the fat boy wasn't "at it" - whatever "at it" may mean, of course. He was not a rapist (for reasons revealed in the book), and he was certainly no murderer. But the precise details of Virginia Rappe's demise remain as unclear as they ever were. Fact: Fatty Arbuckle - a definite dipso and occasional drug addict - is caught in flagrante with a damsel in dire distress who subsequently dies.

So what is Fatty Arbuckle exactly? A voyeur? Maybe. A raver? Well, yes: he's no angel, that's for sure. But neither is Virginia (-in-name-only) Rappe, the professional lady who expires subsequent to Fatty's alleged ministrations with a Coke bottle. And neither are the press and public any more angelic than they.
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