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Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood Hardcover – September 1, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“The sensational sex scandal that ended the career of one of Hollywood’s earliest superstars—and generated a tidal wave of public indignation that nearly destroyed the entire film industry—is brought to vivid life in this riveting true crime narrative.  Dispelling the salacious myths and lurid legends that have accumulated around Fatty Arbuckle’s notorious ‘wild party,’ Merritt’s book will surely stand as the definitive work on a case that has fascinated and titillated for nearly a century.” —Harold Schechter, author of The Serial Killer Files and The Devil’s Gentleman

“Those who think they know everything about the tragic rise and fall of silent comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle should read Room 1219. It dissects in painstaking detail the myths surrounding the man who not only came to symbolize the bloated decadence of Hollywood in the 1920's,  but who helped bring the wild partying of an industry and a decade to an abrupt and sobering end.” —Paula Uruburu, author of American Eve

“With the probing eye of a crime reporter and the vividness of Raymond Chandler, Greg Merritt plunges us back into the 1920s hotel suite where Hollywood infamy was born. Room 1219 is the compulsively readable last word on one of the most mythologized nightmares in film history.” — James Gavin, author of Deep in a Dream

“Not just an informed look through the keyhole at Hollywood’s first great scandal, but also a fascinating view of the birth of the movie business and the players who helped create both the industry and the glamour. An enjoyable and instructive read.” —Howard Blum, author of American Lightning 

"Merritt displays great compassion for all involved, especially the two principals, both of whom have suffered at the hands of both formal and informal biographers....The definitive account of one of Hollywood's most notorious scandals." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)


"Lovers of film history, media studies, and true crime will enjoy the parallels between the film boom of the early 20th century and the tech boom of today."—Publishers Weekly


"What Merritt brings to an old story is a look beyond the scandal, showing how it became a contemporary symbol of Hollywood's immorality—and a defining moment for the film industry." —Shelf Awareness

"Merritt’s account of the crime (if there was one), the three trials and the people involved is admirably evenhanded, meticulously researched and compelling." —New York Times Book Review

"There have been many many books and articles written about this scandal and, on the whole, they’re entertaining. But if you’re looking to get past the shock factor of the tale and beyond the Confidential, Hollywood Babylon style expose, then Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood is the book you want to read." —Pretty Clever Films

About the Author

Greg Merritt is the author of Film Production: The Complete Uncensored Guide to Independent Filmmaking and Celluloid Mavericks: A History of American Independent Film. He is a senior writer for American Media, Inc. and has written hundreds of feature articles for numerous magazines. He has an MFA from the American Film Institute. 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (September 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613747926
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613747926
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #635,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Greg Merritt's new book, Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood (September, 2013, Chicago Review Press) is the account of sensational accusations and subsequent trials of Roscoe Arbuckle, following a party held Labor Day weekend in San Francisco.

It would seem there is a small renaissance today in the lives of silent film stars. New biographies are being published of the bigger stars (John Gilbert and Mae Murray) and more obscure film actors (Peg Entwistle and Mary Wickes). There remains huge interest in silent stars such as Harlow and Garbo (who made the transition into sound), Chaplin, Pickford, director William Desmond Taylor, Mabel Normand, Laurel and Hardy and several others.

The life of Roscoe Arbuckle falls into an odd category. On one hand, his films have now become relegated to the pile of silent films that seem to end up in bargain bins of DVDs for $1.00, even while becoming easier to view (YouTube). His story isn't of his success as a comedian and silent film star; it's the story of his being accused, initially of murder, and subsequently, manslaughter, and the salaciousness that followed. The story of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle is legend. It's the nagging details that are muddled.

Thankfully, Merritt's book takes a close look at all the evidence, all the while putting Arbuckle's place in history in perspective. Merritt reviews autopsy reports, trial transcripts, police and coroner testimony, newspaper articles and never before published interviews to give a very balanced analysis of what could have happened that Labor Day of 1921.
Here's the story in brief: By 1921, Arbuckle was big box office. His films were popular all over America and the world.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood by Greg Merritt (a god-awful title by the way) does something that no other book on Roscoe Arbuckle has done before, it presents its subjects, both Roscoe and Virginia, as actual human beings.
If most people know these names at all, and I'd lay 10 to 1 that most people do not, it has to do with scandal, misinformation, and demonization of these two unfairly maligned people.
It's a revelation to read about Roscoe Arbuckle's (he hated the sobriquet "Fatty", and the only injustice this book does him is use his famous but painful nickname in the title) loveless childhood, his struggles as he tried to enter show business, his struggles to get to the top... And his greater struggles once he found himself there. This makes his story a very modern one, because the talented rich and famous continue to struggle with the fame they work so hard to achieve.
Instead of the monster or the poor sucker that Arbuckle is usually painted as, in this book Roscoe is seen as an artist and entertainer. In fact he was one of the greatest of his era and the biggest achievement of Greg Merritt's book is the feeling of loss for what Arbuckle could've accomplished if he continued working in motion pictures.
Of course the other great loss that Merritt captures is the story's other victim, Virginia Rappe. Virginia Rappe, the author, like the papers of the day, doesn't shy away from the fact that even her name sounds frighteningly like the phrase "Virgin Rape", here is at last portrayed as a real person. She was a talented dress designer and a vocal proponent of women's rights in the workplace and in society.
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Format: Hardcover
Who was Fatty Arbuckle? What happened between him and Virginia Rappe in Room 1219 of the St. Francis Hotel? Why should we give a care about an incident nearly 100 years old?

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was one of the most popular (second only to Chaplin) screen comedians of the silent film era. He innovated much of the slapstick still with us today. He was among the highest paid performers of his day. He had it all, fame and power. On September 5, 1921, Arbuckle was at the height of his fame and fortune and still on an upward trajectory.

And then he left for a Labor Day romp with buddies in San Francisco. In a suite of rooms at the St. Francis, he partied with his friends and girls, among them, actress and clothing designer Virginia Rappe. Then something went horribly wrong. Rappe was injured, spent several days in agony, and died. After that, Arbuckle's life became a living hell. He was transformed into a monster, a sexual predator, a drunken sod in the eyes of the nation. He endured three trials, the last acquitting him of manslaughter. In fact, though, he never stopped suffering, having lost his career and his fortune.

What undid Arbuckle, if, as Greg Merritt ably demonstrates, he was innocent of directly killing Rappe, who most likely died as a result of a ruptured bladder weakened by previous illness and alcohol? A couple of forces worked against him, neither of which his fame and money were sufficient to combat. First, there was a righteous uprising of parties who believed Hollywood was a pit of sin, and that it was corrupting the morals of American life. The second was a rabid media delighted to rip Arbuckle apart to sell newspapers, the major medium of the period.
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