There was no bigger comedy star in 1917 than Fatty Arbuckle. Arguably the biggest celebrity of the time, Arbuckle starred in and directed comedy shorts that were widely distributed and much loved. Until the third night of a three day party in 1921, during which starlet Virginia Rappe died.
Arbuckle was accused of raping her, though later acquitted at the third attempt to convict him, which led to his career and personal downfall.
But that would come later; on this night, October 1, 1917, Vancouver’s Globe Theatre was showing the double bill of Arbuckle, Canadian film legend Buster Keaton, and Al St John in ‘His Wedding Night’, paired up with Peggy Hyland and Marc McDermott in the comedy-drama feature, ‘The Sixteenth Wife’.
Arbuckle’s movie is about a lazy gas station soda jerk who wants to marry his boss’ daughter, but she’s being pursued by the villainous St John, while Keaton, a wedding dress delivery guy trying on the gown, gets confused for the bride and kidnapped.
The short has endured far better than the feature, which Turner Classic Movies describes thus:
Olette, an American dancer who is the star of the Russian ballet, attracts the attention of Kadir El Raschid. Engaging the dancer for an appearance in Turkey, Raschid offers her the honor of becoming his sixteenth wife. When she refuses, he imprisons her in his harem where her presence ignites a mutiny among his other fifteen wives. Olette escapes by jumping from a window and returns to America where she encounters reporter Jimmy Warburton, who knew her when she was merely Mary Ann and worked on a weekly newspaper. When Raschid follows her to America, Jimmy and Olette concoct a wild goose chase for the Kadir. Olette boards an ocean liner to Europe, followed by Raschid. As soon as the ship leaves the harbor, she drops aboard the tugboat and returns to New York where she marries Jimmy, leaving Raschid to continue his voyage alone.
On the night we’re rolling back to, in 1917 at Vancouver’s 851 Granville Street, moviegoers would have slipped in to the Globe Theatre and taken a sumptuous seat to enjoy a laugh or two.
Theatres at the time were literal movie palaces, and this section of Granville has plenty of them.
Today, the old Globe building looks a little different, having gone through a few renovations over the last century. It’s now bookended by a movie theatre that’s been vacant for about ten years, and a nightclub with the most boring facade since the Sears building was renovated.