Sunday, November 13, 2011

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton & Charlie Chaplin were two of the three great silent film comedians (along with Harold Lloyd). Buster Keaton's father owned a traveling vaudeville show with Harry Houdini called the "Mohawk Indian Medicine Company." He started performing with his parents at age 3 in a comedy act called "The Three Keatons." As part of the act, Buster was manhandled and tossed around stage by his father. This is where Buster learned his pratfall techniques. Buster's father was accused of child abuse on stage but Buster showed authorities he had no bruises or broken bones. Buster learned early on that smiling on stage drew fewer laughs from the crowd than a deadpan expression. This is how he acquired his famous "stoneface" demeanor which he used the rest of his life. My favorite Keaton film is "Sherlock, Jr." In the story, Keaton plays a theater projectionist who enters a movie screen and becomes part of the film interacting with the actors on screen. (This is clearly the inspiration for Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo.") The special effects were done in-camera which remain mind-blowing to this day. Sadly, Keaton did not make a successful transition to talking pictures though he does make a classic cameo appearance in "Sunset Boulevard." Keaton made a bit of a comeback later in life with his own television show in the 50's plus stints on Candid Camera and "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World." Buster Keaton died in 1966 at the age of 71. (5" x 6", black ink print)

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