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Room 1219 (Oddball) [Hardcover]

G Merritt

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Book Description

15 Sep 2013 Oddball
In 1921, one of the biggest movie stars in the world was accused of killing a woman. What followed was an unprecedented avalanche of press coverage, the original "trial of the century," and a wave of censorship that altered the course of Hollywood filmmaking. It began on Labor Day, when comic actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, then at the pinnacle of his fame and fortune, hosted a party in San Francisco's best hotel. As the party raged, he was alone in room 1219 with Virginia Rappe, a minor actress. Four days later, she died, and he was charged with her murder. Room 1219 tells the story of Arbuckle's improbable rise and stunning fall--from Hollywood's first true superstar to its first pariah. Simultaneously, it presents the crime story from the day of the "orgy" through the three trials. Relying on a careful examination of documents, the book finally reveals, after almost a century of wild speculation, what most likely occurred in room 1219. In addition, Room 1219 covers the creation of the film industry--from the first silent experiments to a studio-based system capable of making and, ultimately, breaking a beloved superstar.

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"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 "Aside from bringing honesty and clarity to the case, Merritt has written an engaging story of early Hollywood, especially in light of the legacy of Arbuckle's murder trial." "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 "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

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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Complete Account of the Arbuckle Trials 1 Sep 2013
By Greg Hatfield - Published on
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. He was loved by everyone; on screen he was one of us. Arbuckle had just completed the film, Freight Prepaid, for Paramount and was working on his next feature film. He needed a break and took a small entourage to San Francisco, where they would have a party in the suites of the Hotel St. Francis.

Throughout the weekend, people would come and go. There was alcohol and plenty of it. On Monday, an actress whom Arbuckle knew slightly, Virginia Rappe, came up to the party and after a few drinks, began talking to Arbuckle.

One of the strengths of Room 1219 is its most thorough biography of Virginia Rappe. Previous books on the Arbuckle case portray her as a desperate actress or prostitute. Merritt shows she actually had some success in Hollywood and had other opportunities. When she was talking to Arbuckle, it would make sense that she would ask him for work.

She was also pretty, Arbuckle was flirty, drinks were being served, it was a party. The two of them slipped away into Room 1219.

What followed changed the lives of both of them. Rappe was injured, her bladder ruptured. No one at the time knew how serious it was. Arbuckle left her in the care of others and the party broke up.

Rappe died four days later. Based on the testimony of others at the party, including Rappe companion Maude Delmont who never testified in open court, Arbuckle was arrested for the murder in an attempt to perpetrate rape of Virginia Rappe.
The charge was eventually reduced to manslaughter and the trial of the century was on and on and on. There would be three trials in all. Merritt breaks down each one, showing the lame attempts by the show-boating prosecution to introduce hearsay evidence, twisted testimony and wild speculation. Of course, the defense did Arbuckle no favors, at least during the first two trials. They seemed unprepared at times, believing that no jury could find it in them to convict one of America's greatest clowns. Merritt provides the pertinent transcripts of the trials, showing where the evidence is favorable to Arbuckle, but also shows the holes in his alibi.

At the third trial, Arbuckle was acquitted in less than 10 minutes. But the damage had already been done. His career was over. His films were still banned practically all over the country. Will Hays had been appointed head of the new Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which, basically, was a self-serving reform group. Hays was the puppet of the studio heads and one of his first edicts was to ban Arbuckle permanently from working in any studio in Hollywood.

Room 1219 details Arbuckle's exile from Hollywood; Hays' reversal; and Arbuckle's subsequent comeback as a director, stage performer and, ultimately, his return to acting in film. Using all the evidence put into place in the book, Merritt provides a good, logical theory on what really happened that day in San Francisco. It was an event that should have ended differently. The lives of two people were ruined that day. Rappe lost her life and Arbuckle lost everything.

Room 1219 will be welcomed by all film buffs as the most complete account of the Arbuckle trials. It's hard to believe 92 years later, there is still new evidence being discovered and new theories advanced. Fascinating and full of new information about the case, its participants and victims, Room 1219 engages the reader from start to finish with no happy endings in sight.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unbridled Righteousness and Profit 16 Mar 2014
By David Valentino - Published on
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.

As you read Merritt's account that includes a pile of newspaper headlines and stories, you'll get a distinct sense you've heard all this before. And you have, for the Arbuckle case is something like the granddaddy of not only today's celebrity media but also of how the vast unedited media that includes the Internet cover stories. Given free rein, as Merritt illustrates, people will say and believe anything they want, facts be damned.

In addition to the incident and the trials, Merritt provides plenty of biographical information about Arbuckle, his wives, and the stars of the day, and the kind of behavior that rankled some people. Well footnoted, with an extensive bibliography, and useful index.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent research 3 Nov 2013
By Stephanie H. Huthmacher - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Finally, a well researched book on the railroading of Roscoe Arbuckle and it's career-ending aftermath... Imagine the genius that could have been.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed Room 1219 7 Nov 2013
By Speedy Gonzalez - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Very much enjoyed learning more than I ever did about Rappe's death and Arbuckle's trial. This book explained a lot of what was previously taken for granted or misrepresented. I had been told before buying it that it was the clearest book on the subject but I still went in with a skeptical mind. It turned out I was told correctly.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Objective look at the Arbuckle scandal, trial, and effects on film industry 26 Sep 2013
By CJS - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the late teens and early 20's, Fatty Arbuckle was a well known and much loved silent film comedian, making more films in a year than Chaplin. By the end of 1921, he was accused of the death of a little known actress by rape. The author examines the rise of film and Arbuckle's early life while also examining what was going on at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco on Labor Day Weekend, 1921. At times, going back and forth between the history and the events of the weekend was a bit confusing but overall it worked well. Once the first trial started, the book unfolded as the events did over three trials. I felt the author was extremely objective in providing all of the evidence, the events that unfolded, and the backlash to Arbuckle, his career, and the film industry in general. From the bibliography and footnotes, it was evident that a great deal of research was done. Since no one will ever know what really happened, the author does provide some scenarios at the end of the book with evidence of why or why not that scenario would work. An excellent look at the Arbuckle scandal and the results that caused the rise of Will Hays and later, the Motion Picture Production Code. I would have liked more information on what happened to Arbuckle's main accuser, Maude Delmont, who did not testify at any of the three trials. I would have liked more information on Virginia Rappe's "fiance", Henry Lehrman, who actually married another after Rappe's death but yet is buried next to Rappe. I would have liked the author to tie up the loose ends with what happened to each of Arbuckle's three wives (he did this a bit but not as thorougly as I would have liked). However, this is the most objective book I have read on this subject and highly recommend it to anyone interested in this period of film or in Arbuckle.
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