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Belated apology to silents star Fatty Arbuckle

SAN FRANCISCO -- A mock court proceeding dusted off the tarnished image of silent film comedian Fatty Arbuckle, whose movie career was ruined by a manslaughter charge following a wild party in 1921.

The Court of Historical Review, a mock session that meets periodically in city hall but rarely gets serious -- it once 'litigated' the issue of who invented the fortune cookie -- took up the Arbuckle case Tuesday.

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When it was over, Superior Court Judge Roy L. Wonder ordered the city's Police Museum to exhibit an official apology to Arbuckle, who was cleared after three 1920s trials of raping and killing a young actress.

Arbuckle was earning $1 million a year making pie-throwing, slapstick two-reelers before he was accused of the death of the young woman during a party in the St. Francis Hotel.

A friend of the victim claimed Arbuckle had raped and beaten the actress but by the time he was cleared of the charge, his career had been ruined and he died penniless in 1933 at the age of 46.

A witness at the mock trial, Arbuckle's nephew, Jim Watkins of Calistoga, told a packed courtroom that his uncle had been 'used as a scapegoat for Hollywood' at a time when people believed movie stars were too wild and lacked discipline.

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'Fatty was a gentle, sensitive man,' Watkins said. 'And he wasn't as fat as people thought. He had a big chest, like Pavarotti. My mother used to tell me me he was hard as a rock.'

San Francisco police commander Frank Jordan testified there was 'no proof anywhere' that Arbuckle had killed the actress and that the case should never have come to trial.

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