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Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton (October 4, 1895 - February 1, 1966) was a popular American silent-film comic actor and filmmaker. His trademark was physical comedy while keeping a deadpan expression on his face at all times which earned him the nickname of The Great Stone Face. Like his contemporaries, he came from vaudeville.

Keaton grew up in the world of vaudeville, performing with his parents (as "The Three Keatons") from the age of three. His star was rising in the theater, when he became attracted to the newly formed industry of motion pictures. He decided to try his luck in the world of the movies, and joined the filmmaking unit of Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. Keaton's natural talent for physical comedy caught Arbuckle's eye, and Keaton was soon co-starring with Arbuckle, working closely on the production of Roscoe's films. Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends, a bond that would never break -- even after Arbuckle was embroiled in the "Fatty Arbuckle scandal" that cost him his career and his personal life.

Keaton's success encouraged the studio to give him his own production unit, and Buster Keaton began starring in a series of two-reel comedies that rocketed him to fame, including One Week, Cops, The Electric House, and The Playhouse. He reached the peak of his creativity during the early 1920s, and he graduated from short films to full-length features. The initial success of his movies made Keaton one of the most famous comedians in the world. His popularity was eclipsed only by the giant success of Charlie Chaplin.

His filmmaking style employs editing and framing techniques that are more closely aligned with today's sensibilities than the melodrama of other films of the day. His most famous and popular feature-length films included Our Hospitality, The Navigator, Steamboat Bill Jr., and The General. The last film is considered his masterpiece, combining physical comedy with Keaton's love for trains. It is seen by many as a good choice for viewers who are becoming newly acquainted with silent films.

Keaton's filmmaking unit was acquired by MGM in 1928, a business decision that Keaton regretted ever afterwards. He was forced to enter the ranks of the studio system, working at the MGM studios in an environment more controlled than he had previously had. He had difficulty adapting to the studio system, and he lapsed into alcoholism. His career declined within a few years, and he spent most of the 1930s in obscurity, working as a gag writer for various MGM films (including the Marx Bros.' A Night At The Opera).

Buster re-married in the late 1930s, and after playing a role in Billy Wilder's 1950 film Sunset Boulevard, he found work in the movies, performing minor roles in various movies (including It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum). He also found steady work as an actor for TV commercials.

His classic silent films saw a revival in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Shortly before he died, Keaton starred in one final short film called The Railrodder, which saw him returning to the classic "stone face" role he had known during his heyday in the 1920s. He also played the central role in Samuel Beckett's only film project, Film, in 1965.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2003.

Buster Keaton Facts

Birth NameJoseph Francis Keaton VI
BirthdayOctober 4, 1895
BirthplacePiqua, Kansas, USA
Date of deathFebruary 1, 1966 (age 70)
Height5' 6" (1m68)  How tall is Buster Keaton compared to you?
Awards1960 Academy Awards: Honorary Award

Selected Filmography

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
TCM Greatest Classics Legends: Judy Garland
General, The
Steamboat Bill Jr.
Buster Keaton Collection: 14-Disc Set
Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Stolen Jools
Buster Keaton Double Header
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
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