In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City….where Arbuckle was under contract to Joseph M. Schenck. During his first meeting with Arbuckle….he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He took the camera back to his hotel room….dismantled and reassembled it….and with this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures….he returned the next day….camera in hand….while asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag man….making his first appearance in The Butcher Boy. Keaton later claimed that he was soon Arbuckle’s second director and his entire gag department. He appeared in a total of 14 Arbuckle shorts….running into 1920. They were popular and, contrary to Keaton’s later reputation as “The Great Stone Face”….he often smiled and even laughed in them. Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends….and Keaton was one of few people to defend Arbuckle’s character during accusations that he was responsible for the death of actress Virginia Rappe.
In 1920, The Saphead was released, in which Keaton had his first starring role in a full-length feature. It was based on a successful play, The New Henrietta, which had already been filmed once, under the title The Lamb, with Douglas Fairbanks playing the lead. Fairbanks recommended Keaton to take the role for the remake five years later….since the film was to have a comic slant.