Today I signed my first contract with a movie studio. Who’d have thought it. After five years of writing, rejections, publishing my first short story and then several novels, one of my works is going to be made into a movie. It’s been a heady experience, even for a guy who’s been around for so long.
I didn’t have to come all the way out to here to Hollywood to do the signing, but I wanted to. It had been a long time since my last trip out here and I wanted to see how much things had changed.
As usual I waited until evening to make my pilgrimage and began exploring the streets. Eventually I found myself wandering down the Walk of Fame. I hadn’t even realized it at first, which goes to show how much my head was still in the clouds from my movie deal. But when I did notice I couldn’t believe whose name was on the star at my feet.
For a moment I couldn’t move and had to fight back the red-stained tears that wanted to come. But I knew a man crying blood would really cause a commotion, or land me a movie role with my luck. So I held them back and just kept staring at the star.
I remembered the first time I saw him on stage. It was my job that night to man the ‘crook’ (the comedic giant hook) to pull acts that were bombing off the stage (which I sometimes hated). I never liked seeing anyone fail, bu sometimes it was for the performers own good. You never knew what might get thrown at you instead of a rotten tomato. The crowds could get pretty ugly some nights.
But on this night I was told that the performer wanted it to be used. So I did as I was told. Next thing I knew this big, heavy fellow came out on stage and began singing and oh what a voice he had. It was so lovely, but some people in the crowd started booing and tossing things onstage. I didn’t know it at the time, but those people were put there by the stage manager, so Mr. Arbuckle could dodge and tease as he continued his song. The man was so nimble I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like watching someone moving on air, especially when he danced. I was so transfixed I almost forgot to do my job and try to use the oversized hook to get him. But I remembered just in time and almost got him… almost. The man somersaulted out of the way and wound up in the pit with the musicians, making the audience go wild.
Afterwards, I went to find the fellow to congratulate him on a fantastic performance. As I searched for him, I asked one of the other performers where I could find the man. I hadn’t caught Roscoe’s name and had to describe him to which the fellow I was asking said, “Oh you mean Fatty, that’s what we all call him.”
Instinctively, my back stiffened. I’d known a number of soldiers who got unflattering nicknames, which they hated and I refused to repeat. Straightening up I said evenly, “The man has a real name you know?”
As soon as those the words left my lips, a voice behind me said, “Yes I do. It’s Roscoe Arbuckle and I’m pleased to meet you.”
Turning I saw the man I’d been seeking who gave me a big warm smile and a hearty handshake. It was the first of many encounters. I found Roscoe to have a heart bigger than his frame. He’d let me help him practice routines and songs, as well as teaching me how to take pratfalls and do comedy. I had many mentors when it came to learning how to be funny, but Roscoe was the first. I got so good, he wanted to use me out on stage, but I wasn’t ready. Some of his performances took place in the daytime and of course I could only operate at night. This puzzled him at first, but later on he learned my secret (a tale for another time) and quickly understood.
But our friendship continued to grow and blossom, as did I under his guidance. By the time four brothers: Arthur, Julius, Leonard, Milton and Herbert (better known as The Marx Brothers) entered my life I was very well versed in comedy. However, when Hollywood beckoned we had to say farewell for a time. He had wanted me to come with him and I readily agreed. However, the studios insisted on some test footage be shot. Roscoe knew about my condition by this time and insisted on doing the shooting himself. So he and I, along with his cousin Al St. John shot a few scenes only to discover that film could not capture my image. The footage, which I still possess and have carefully had restored, is quite funny. It looks as thought Roscoe and Al are dealing with an invisible ghost who’s handing or tossing things to them. For a brief while Roscoe thought about using me anyway for such a film, but it would’ve meant others finding out about what I was so the idea was scrapped and I went back to Vaudeville.
However, Roscoe and I kept in touch regularly and visited each other frequently. Every so often on a rainy day when he was shooting indoors, I got to visit the set and met his protege’ Buster Keaton. As it turned out I already knew Buster from his early days as a child star when he’d performed with his parents.
I also got to meet Roscoe’s dog and fellow star Luke. Luke was an English Pitbull who belonged to Roscoe’s wife Minta Durfee. She’d gotten the dog as a bonus from one of her producers after she’d pulled off rather dangerous stunt for a movie. Luke was a sweetheart and took to me right away. To this day I still consider Luke one of the most talented animals I’d ever met. I often model my ‘Black Puppies’ after him, especially their behavior. He was such a fun dog.
Looking down at the star I sighed quietly and said, “Well Roscoe, I’m finally making my mark here in Hollywood. I hope I do you proud, old friend.” With that I looked around to make sure no one was around or looking at me. Then I did a few steps from Roscoe’s “Butcher Boy” film, remembering how he’d taught it to me, and then took a bow.
After that I moved on. But as I did so I heard a faint clapping coming from behind me. I turned but didn’t see anyone. Not that they couldn’t have been hidden someplace, but a part of me liked to think Roscoe was giving me the applause he’d always felt I’d been denied so many years ago.
You know, this was quite heartwarming – and touching too. I enjoyed this memory together with you. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, it’s nice to know my reminiscences are appreciated and not a cure for insomnia.