Fatty Arbuckle

Lisa asked me about Fatty Arbuckle in a comment in response to my mentioning that my father worked for him. Fatty was the biggest star of his time. My father was born in 1901, and he was quite a roamer. He went to California from Chester Pennsylvania four times in his youth in Model T’s. He told me that back then the roads across the desert were one lane affairs. Unpaved of course. If he and his buddies happened to meet another car coming in the other direction they would drive off  the road to let the other car pass. They were young men, and they could dig their car out of the soft sand. On the way when they would run out of money, they would go to the local police station and the police would help them find temporary work. When he was in California on those four separate occasions, he would find work in the movie studios. That’s where he worked for Fatty building movie sets. I saw an old letter when I was a kid. He had written it to his mother, my Swedish grandmother, telling her about various things he had been doing, including a girl that he was seeing. He also told her to go to a certain movie and look for a scene that had a background full of roses that he had built. Buster Keaton was a huge vaudeville star when he came to Hollywood. He joined Fatty’s studio and they made films together. Al St. John was also one of the stars. He happened to be Fatty Arbuckle’s nephew. Later in life he was a popular cowboy sidekick in the talkies. My father worked for all three. Buster became a big star, and the two split to separate studios. The crew members were given to chose to go with either Fatty or Buster. My father had seniority, and he chose to stay with Fatty who was the more established star. I don’t know how long after that the Virginia Rappe tragedy occurred. Fatty’s career was destroyed, and my father was out of work. He came back to Chester. If that hadn’t happened I might not be here today.

From My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn:

I was the newest man and had to begin at the bottom — the bottom of the sheep itself — literally.  I was one of four men in a line, an assembly belt for sheep shearing. The first man took the young hogget, as a young lamb was called, and he had to “dag” him; that is, he must get rid of the bluebottle flies and all the accumulated excreta around the tail.  This he did by holding the sheep in his left hand, and his right hand went in and “dagged” the sheep.  He grabbed a handful of the sheep’s [excrement], tossed it aside, and passed the sheep on to the man next to him.

The next man was me.

All I had to do was stick my face into this gruesome mess and bite off the young sheep’s testicles.  Dag a hogget. I had good teeth. I put my nose into this awful-smelling mess, my teeth solidly around the balls of the six-month-old sheep, and took a bite while I held him upside down.  My nose was in fur and ordure.  I bit and spat out the product into a pile of what they called prairie oysters.

…The sheep never let out a bleat.  You bit, you spat out something like a couple of olives, and passed it on. Every day I had my proportion of oysters. The bluebottle flies swarmed all over me.”

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2 Responses to Fatty Arbuckle

  1. John Lucas says:

    Learning about Errol Flynn’s first gig (yikes!) makes my trying Scrapple for the first time look like a maneuver of sheer genius!!!

  2. Lisa Bulger says:

    Thanks for the story about your father. I’d love to know the name of the movie with the roses. I wonder if it survives.

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