In the history of salacious Hollywood trials, none have matched the infamy of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle‘s battle against charges that he raped actress Virgina Rappe at a boisterous Hollywood party (who died shortly afterward of peritonitis caused a ruptured bladder). It was essentially the first showbiz trial, one that found Arbuckle prosecuted in the press — and later in court — thanks to the relentless tabloid journalism of William Randolph Hearst‘s chain of newspapers, which painted the silent comedian as a lecher who used his girth to overpower women sexually. After three trials — in which it became apparent that evidence was being manufactured and witnesses were being told to lie in an overzealous pursuit to find him guilty — Arbuckle was eventually acquitted, though his career was in ruins and fearing government intervention in the industry, most of Hollywood refused to work with him. However, in the dawn of the talkies, Warner Bros. signed up him for some two reel shorts and their success led the studio to sign Arbuckle for a feature film. Unfortunately, he would suffer a heart attack and die before he could start work on the project.
It’s a story tailor made for the movies — and it’s a bit surprising it hasn’t really happened yet — but all that is about is to change as Vulture reveals that “Modern Family” star Eric Stonestreet will take on the funny man in a dream project, “The Day the Laughter Stopped” a film that is set up at HBO with Barry Levinson set to direct.
Based on the book of the same name by David A. Yallop, with Kirk Ellis (“John Adams“) penning the screenplay, the story won’t just focus on the details of the trials, but how the event marked a shift in America, from the elation of post-World War I to the sober, conservative air that blanketed the country once Prohibition was passed. The film will also investigate the tricky relationship between Washington and Hollywood, but for Stonestreet, the film is a culmination of a longtime journey and ambition that he has had to play the silent film star.
“…I just always found it to be such a fascinating and tragic story. He went from this jolly person who fell down and entertained people into a sexual deviant. It’s a true story people don’t know about, with a twist,” Stonestreet told Vulture, jokingly adding, “I kept hoping his story was never made so I could be considered for the chance to play him.”
Though he has been chasing any and all leads on Arbuckle-based movies that have cropped up over the years, it was the success of “Modern Family” that opened the door for the and actor and he didn’t waste a moment. Before going to HBO to pitch the movie with veteran producer Christine Vachon and writer Ellis, Stonestreet teamed with some makeup-artist friends who transformed him into Arbuckle and he brought those pictures to the meeting to show he could play the part.
Barry Levinson, who earned huge praise and multiple Emmy nods for HBO for “You Don’t Know Jack,” will take the director’s chair on the project. A script will be finished by early 2012 and we presume if everything looks good, Stonestreet will start filming on the next hiatus from “Modern Family.” It’s certainly one of the “great” Hollywood stories and the wide reaching thematic scope sounds like a great approach. You already know our thoughts on HBO being a home for the sorts of dramas the studios don’t do anymore, and this too looks like another potential winner.