BUSTER KEATON Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Joseph Frank (Buster) Keaton was born into a family of vaudevillians. Joseph, his father, did an eccentric dance act and his mother, Myra, danced and played the saxophone. He was the oldest of three siblings; he had one brother, Harry (Jingles), and a sister, Louise, both of whom would later appear with the rest of his family in some of his movie shorts. Buster joined his parents’ act at a very early age. It soon developed into the roughest act on vaudeville, with Buster’s father hitting his son with brooms and other objects and throwing him around the stage. This is where Keaton learned his amazing falls and stunts. He also later claimed that that was when he learned to keep a straight face throughout any adversity. The dead pan got more laughs, it also hid the pain.


Buster’s movie career began in 1917. Ten days before he was due to start rehearsals for the Schubert Brothers’ “The Passing Show Of 1917″, a chance meeting with former vaudeville friend Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle changed his life. Arbuckle had been making movie shorts for a while with Sennett, and was just starting production with Joseph Schenck at the Norma Talmadge studio on THE BUTCHER BOY. He asked Buster if he would like to ‘do a scene’ with him. Keaton jumped at the chance, pulled out of “The Passing Show", and the rest is wonderful history.


He continued to work with Arbuckle until Fall 1919. In September of that year, he was given the chance to make his own movies; he made three. In 1920 Schenck bought the old Chaplin studio and renamed it the Keaton studio, giving Buster complete artistic and technical control over his productions. He was contracted to make eight movie shorts a year. He gathered together a technical crew and writers that would stay with him until the end of 1928, when MGM took over the Keaton Studio. In these early films can be seen the germination of many ideas, stunts and technical feats that were to make his feature films the phenomenal artistic achievements they were. He made his first independent feature, THE THREE AGES, in 1923. He had made nine more by 1928, when he lost control to MGM. Among these wonderful movies are THE GENERAL, Keaton’s favorite, OUR HOSPITALITY , which co-starred his first wife, Natalie Talmadge, and featured their first of two sons (James) in the opening sequences. This has the remarkable stunt, when Keaton swings out over a waterfall and grabs the heroine just as she is about to go over the edge. After numerous viewings, it still has me on the edge of my seat! Other classics included STEAMBOAT BILL, JR., GO WEST and, although made after the take over, THE CAMERAMAN, the last real Keaton movie.