Buster Keaton Stone FaceDubbed "The Great Stone Face" , Buster Keaton was perhaps the silent cinema's greatest comedian. The top three were Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd.
Born Joseph Frank Keaton, he was called Buster after he fell down a flight of stairs without injury at the age of six months and Harry Houdini exclaimed: "That's some buster your baby took!" to Keaton's parents Myra and Joe, fellow-performers on the vaudeville circuit.
Keaton entered into this world on October 4, 1895, practically between acts, in a boarding house next door to where his parents were appearing in the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company in Piqua, Kansas. From the age of two he took part in their shows, a family knockabout act.
When The Three Keatons broke up in 1917, he joined comedian Roscoe "Fatty Arbuckle, the man who gave him his first chance in the movies. Together they made a long series of two-reelers, in which the Keaton persona was gradually formed, at a point when silent movies were becoming a major industry.
Movies And Marriage to Natalie TalmadgeIn 1920 the former Chaplin Studios were reopened as the Keaton Studios and the unsmiling little man with the soul filled eyes started directing sometimes wiring and acting in his own features.
Over the next eight years he produced his most important features, at the rate of two per year. Costing on an average well under $200 000, they each grossed up to $2million.
The 35 silent comedies made from 1917-1923 established Keaton as a master of comedy.
In the days of silent movies the Talmadge sisters were extremely popular. There was Norma, Constance and Natalie. They had been raised by a very determined stage mother ever since they were infants. Now Norma Talmadge was queen of the dramatic movies who also began producing, while Constance had made a name for herself as a comedienne, and married millionaire film producer Joseph Schenck, and they successfully created their own production company. The only problem now was Natalie. She was not as creative, pretty or determined as her sisters, and mama Talmadge was wondering how she was going to unload her ugly duck. Some time in 1921 Buster Keaton met Natalie and the pressure was on. Natalie was given parts in Buster's films and they were married, with the birth of their two sons keeping Natalie home and Buster on the set.
Almost instantly, the marriage was falling apart and his career was skyrocketing. The early to the mid 20's were Buster Keaton's most creative years. His masterpiece, The General was released in 1927, and from that moment on it seemed that by age 33 Keaton's creative period had practically ended.
Decline and More MarriageHis decline was accelerated by the birth of sound and worsened by his battles with the movie moguls. Although he produced and wrote more films, he worked mainly as a performer, controlled by the big studios.
|Buster & Natalie Talmadge|
Keaton lost his mansion, his family, and his entire fortune. Natalie would never let their sons visit Buster, and this further drove Keaton into a drinking depression.
He married Mae Scriven in 1933 in an alcoholic haze. He did not even remember what had happened. The marriage lasted only two years. Buster Keaton's life continued to spiral downhill until 1940 when he married his soul mate, actress Eleanor Noris, who remained with Buster throughout the remainder of his life.
The Buster Keaton StoryDuring the 1940's after his marriages, he acted as gag man to the Marx Brothers and to Abbott and Costello. Probably his most notable bit part was his very brief appearance in the classic, Sunset Boulevard, in which he and other aging actors including Anna Q. Nilsson were seen playing cards with Norma Desmond. In the 1950s he made a slow comeback with featured roles, a television show, and a series of praised performances in the ring at the Cirque Medrano in Paris, and some of the old Keaton brilliance shone through his brief appearance in Chaplin's Limelight in 1952.
The Buster Keaton Story was released in 1957, starring Donald O' Connor as Keaton, and helped to restore his former prominence and lost finances. In 1959 he received a special Academy Award for his "unique talents which brought immortal comedies to the screen"
In 1961 he made an episode of The Twilight Zone, in which he resides in 1890 and travels to 1961 via a time machine. Once he arrives in the modern times he decides he wants to go back home. The episode was silent during the 1890 scenes, giving Buster to re create his silent screen persona.
His career took a distinct upturn in the 1960s during which he made. a dozen feature films, most notably, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World in 1963, and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The forum in 1966.
At the Venice Film Festival, where his silent-film "Film" written by Samuel Beckett for solo performance by Keaton, was presented as an entity. The movie and its star received a five minute standing ovation. "This is the first time I've been invited to a film festival, "said Keaton, "but I hope it won't be my last."
Three months later Keaton died of lung Cancer at the age of 70.