I am not a fan of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle but I love Buster Keaton and recently watched a lot of Buster shorts, including several he made with Arbuckle (The Cook
(1918) being my favourite of the Buster-Arbuckle shorts). It was through Arbuckle that Buster had his first break in Hollywood. The two met in early 1917 and Arbuckle, who was then at the height of his popularity, took Buster under his wing. Until then Buster had been performing with his parents in a vaudeville act (as The Three Keatons
and had never stood in front of a camera before. When asked by Arbuckle to do a scene for his newest two-reeler The Butcher Boy,
Buster proved to be a natural and Arbuckle immediately hired him. The two men entered into a very successful working relationship, with Buster appearing in a total of 14 Arbuckle shorts.
In 1920, after completing their final film together The Garage, Buster went on to make films on his own, starting with a series of two-reelers including One Week, Convict 13 and Neighbors. Due to his success with Arbuckle, Buster was given his own production unit by independent producer Joseph M. Schenck —Buster Keaton Productions— which first produced two-reelers and later feature films. Arbuckle, in turn, signed a very lucrative contract with Paramount Pictures in 1921 and made several full-length features for the studio before becoming involved in a huge scandal. Accused of the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe, Arbuckle faced three highly publicised trials which —despite his eventual acquittal— destroyed his career, while also leaving him bankrupt.
Apart from being colleagues, Buster and Arbuckle were close friends. Buster was one of the people, along with Charlie Chaplin, who had supported and defended Arbuckle during the scandal. After his acquittal Arbuckle tried to make films again, but he was banned from the screen and could only work behind the camera under a pseudonym. Buster attempted to help his friend by hiring him as co-director on Sherlock Jr. (1924). Arbuckle proved very difficult to work with —a nervous wreck after the trials, he lost his temper easily and screamed at actors on the set— which made Buster end their collaboration. Nevertheless, the two men remained friends and Buster financially supported Arbuckle for the remainder of Arbuckle's life. (In 1933 Arbuckle died of a heart attack, only 46 years old.)
For the letter of this post, let's go back to the period before the scandal. Having completed The Garage (his last short with Buster), Arbuckle was excited to move on and make feature films. He also wanted to give Buster a hand with his solo career, and for that purpose a printed copy of the following letter was sent to 25,000 of Arbuckle's fans. Calling Buster "a worthy successor" and "one who could make you laugh even more than [he] did", Arbuckle encouraged his own fans to go out and see Buster in the theatre.
I am sending you a photograph of "Buster" Keaton, the little sad faced fellow who used to work in my pictures and whom I have selected to follow in my footsteps and make two-reel comedies.
As you know, I am now making five-reel comedy features but I did not desert the two-reelers until I felt perfectly sure I had found a worthy successor -- one who could make you laugh even more than I did.
Up to date "Buster" has made three pictures entitled: "One Week"; "Convict 13" and "The Scarecrow". These pictures are first-class laughing successes.
If you want to see them ask the manager of your favorite moving picture theatre when he is going to play "Buster" Keaton's comedies and he will give you the exact date.
Always your friend,
(signed) Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle