Hollywood's FIRST stuntman...
When it came to gathering ingredients for building Hollywood's foundations .. there were pioneers, moguls, and talent. There were three men who came, & conquered the rest with laser type perfection. (My favorite), Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, & Buster Keaton! While other pioneers were building the foundations of their mega studios - these three built the standard ways & means of entertainment as we know it today. They had their own studios, wrote, shot, directed, & edited the way others in Hollywood only wished they could. Their passion & love for the art in which they created was monumentally legendary, and rings through the foundations of Hollywood even today! This is the legendary story of Buster Keaton. With the normal picture links & witty sarcasm by yours truly!
The date was October 4th, of 1895, when two well-known vaudeville talents delivered a baby boy into the world. They named him - Joseph Frank Keaton. At the time of his birth, the parents were traveling doing show in the small town of Piqua, Kansas, (a fact the small town recognizes.) Young Joseph grew up traveling town to town with his entertainer parents, and from a early age showed signs of talent himself.
Young Joseph was doing just that beside a flight of stairs, at the age of 18 months. He took a slip, couldn't get a grip, and tumbled all the way down the flight of stairs. Harry Houdini, who happened to be on tour with his parents, saw young Joseph get up on the bottom stair and 'shake it off.' To this - he made the statement to Joseph's father .. "That was a real buster!" It stuck & it would be what his father referred to him as from then on. It was also that tumble down the stairs that prompted a new act to include Buster in his parents show. Buster made his stage debut with his parents in 1899 in Wilmington, Delaware. It was a dangerous act that was to be focused on how to discipline your child. Mom would play the sax on one corner of the stage, while Buster would boldly disobey his father. His father would respond by throwing him into stage props, the orchestra pit, or into the audience. It came to be known as the most dangerous act in Vaudeville .. annnnd as you can imagine, the most popular (because people naturally like to see that kinda thing.) A suitcase handle was sewn into Buster's clothing to aid Buster's dad, in getting a better grip, for the constant tossing. As Buster became more skilled in taking tumbles, the routines became more dramatic. This would often prompt protests of child abuse from child advocates, & sometimes would get Buster's father arrested momentarily - until Buster showed them he was unskathed by the act. It could really rightfully be said that Buster was the first stunt performer, & he with his parents - the 'first shock act.'
In fact - manny stunt performers attribute their acts in someway to Buster. Most notably, the most famed stuntman of today, Jackie Chan!
By 1916 - Buster was a top entertainer in Vaudeville & was commanding travelers all over to his shows.
Entertainment was what he knew, ALL he knew, & what he was the best at!! A new fad was taking America by storm .. motion pictures. Buster had heard of it, but was generally fast to stray from it. Nothing was better than stage.
However, friends from Vaudeville acts he knew, were moving into the spectrum of motion-pictures. While in New York in 1917, he met Roscoe Arbuckle, who knew well of Buster from Vaudeville. As Roscoe grabbed for the butter to lather him up for a pitch to give film a shoot ... Buster asked to borrow a motion-picture camera. He took it back to his room, disassembled, examined, and reassembled it. With a general understanding of how the camera worked .. he returned to Roscoe the next day - with camera in hand ready to give it a shoot! Buster and Arbuckle became good friends and Buster was hired. While at first, he stuck with Roscoe, the head mogul they were working for, Joseph M. Schenck, saw 100% gold in Buster, & offered him his OWN production unit. It became Buster Keaton Comedies.
In 1921 .. Buster married the sis of boss Joseph. Things seemed to be looking up for Buster. In a similar deal, but with different financers, he had the same deal as his pal Charlie Chaplin (only Chaplin had a MUCH bigger budget). Nonetheless - he began making his own line of two reel comedies of which he had full creative control of, in his own Buster Keaton Studios.
Today, of course, it no longer stands .. Try to take care not to wake the sidewalk sleepers.. This plaque marks the spot. (kudos to HollywoodLegends.net friend, Robby Cress for the shots!) Alot of great classics came from Buster's studio! Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), The Cameraman (1928), and The General (1927). The General .. though now considered a classic .. was met with mixed review, & those who didn't like it came at it with furious disdain. Most pissing and moaning about the fact that it tried comedy with the Civil War. Others didn't bode well with the fact that the heros were confederates. Buster lost the TOTAL creative control of his pictures .. & the distributor wanted someone there making changes to his films as they were being shot. Buster wanted none of it. His friend Charlie Chaplin, tried to tell him it was a temporary setback and it would pass. Buster was getting offers to come to MGM. He took the advice of his trusted friend, for two more films anyway. He didn't like the censors making changes to his films. While the 'script editors' were assigned to broaden Buster's film quality, ultimately, it wound up slaying Buster's art.. and (going against the advice of pal Charlie, who advised him it would be a MAJOR mistake to switch to MGM), he traded what independence he had making films - to go to MGM where he had no creative control over his films. The loss over creative control, paired with personal problems now at home alot due to trading the wifes brother for MGM, and 'talkie' films coming into play... Resulted in career suicide. Buster had began having an affair & the wife who had hired detectives to follow him.. Caught wind of the affair. In 1932 - she divorced Buster & took all he had .. fortune and children!! He began spiraling toward a drinking binge. Things got so bad one night - he was put in a straitjacket, which he himself, promptly took off thanks to tricks he'd learned in vaudeville. Another night he married his nurse in what he called 'a blackout.' He didn't remember it the next day. They divorced in 1936 - & once again .. he took a hit in finances.
He was at rock drops bottom in 1940 when he married Eleanor Norris, who was 23 years younger. The two lived in Buster's home @ 22612 Sylvan Street, Woodland Hills. Eleanor was many-a-time credited for saving him by stopping his spiraling binge drinking .. by Buster himself. She also assisted in getting his career back on the straight & narrow. He began starring in films again & had a run of success' (crumpled with few failures.) He was happily married & though he never again retained full control of his films - there was enough to keep him moderately, publically satisfied. His last film would be in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He amazed the cast and crew by doing many of his own stunts, although Thames Television said his health proved too exhausting for some scenes & a stunt double was used.
Nearing the end of 1955 - Buster started having extreme pains in his chest, & difficulty breathing. He was misdiagnosed as having bronchitis and confined to a bed for rest. Rather - Buster felt something else was wrong and paced the floor of his hospital room for days. He was released to go home .. and shortly thereafter - confined to his bed. Lung cancer was confirmed but too late to treat by the time it was found. Things took a turn for the worst and Buster passed away at his Woodland Hills home. He was 70.
RIP dear friend! You helped your craft by turning your imagination into what Hollywood dreams are made of!
Leave your virtual flowers & a comment, here at Busters grave.