Bit Player #7: Albert Martin, Arbuckle’s cellmate (if he had only written a book)

Soon after he was arraigned in San Francisco’s Hall of Justice, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle didn’t return to the room that he had taken at the Palace Hotel, where the rest of his entourage were staying. Instead, he spent that first night in cell number 12 of the San Francisco County Jail.

During the night before and into the early morning, the comedian suffered the indignity of being under arrest. Nevertheless, Arbuckle had no trouble falling asleep after his long day, which included a long drive from Los Angeles that began around three that morning.

When the comedian woke, he surely noticed what the Morris DeHaven Tracy (M. D. in his bylines), West Coast correspondent for the United Press, described as “cabalistic marks” on the cell walls made by previous occupants. One composition in yellow chalk featured a figure labeled “Gloom” shaking hands with “Joy.” Under another drawing, which was left to readers’ imaginations, the artist had written “Little Mary and her lamb.”[1]

Arbuckle summoned the warden and complained about the darkness of his new accommodations—and the loneliness. He asked for a cellmate and was given the privilege of selecting one from among eighty inmates. Arbuckle chose Albert Martin, a handsome young man with dark hair and brown eyes and the photogenic looks of an actor. Martin also looked clean, tailored, normal, like someone else who shouldn’t be in jail.[2]

The Los Angeles Record published one of the few photographs taken of Albert Martin in cell 12 (Newspapers.com)

Martin was a traveling salesman. He had recently been arrested for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” under Section 268 of the Penal Code. Whether Arbuckle knew or found out later, he probably deduced that Martin was a pedophile. But that likely made little difference to the comedian. Arbuckle knew gay actors, extras, and crew in the movie business and he was tolerant and even protective toward them. He may have been protecting Martin, who was surely grateful for being moved from the general population who knew the real nature of his crime—he had allegedly raped a boy.

Soon Martin found himself the recipient of Arbuckle’s good will, eating catered meals, getting shaved by a visiting barber, and listening to the comedian’s jokes, high talk, and troubles. Martin, in kind, attended to Arbuckle as his jailhouse valet. In October, Albert’s case went to trial and he was convicted of sodomy. In November, he was sentenced to serve an “indeterminant term” in San Quentin Prison.[3] He was still there, in the prison’s asylum, as late as 1926.

Imagine the book Martin could have written about his two weeks with “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Albert Martin, San Quentin mugshot, November 1921 (Ancestry.com)

[1] United Press, “Prosecutor to Ask Murder Indictment in Arbuckle Case,” St. Louis Star, 12 September 1921, 1.

[2] Erroneously identified as “Fred Martin” in some newspapers.

[3] “Fatty’s Cellmate Is Sent to Prison,” San Francisco Examiner, 8 November 1921, 10.

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