Buster Keaton Overview:

Legendary actor, Buster Keaton, was born Joseph Frank Keaton VI on Oct 4, 1895 in Piqua, KS. Keaton died at the age of 70 on Feb 1, 1966 in Los Angeles, CA and was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

Early Life

Buster Keaton was born Joseph Frank Keaton on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas.  He grew up in a show business family, as both his parents were popular vaudevillian performers. Legend has it the young Keaton gained his famous nickname from infamous dare devil Harry Houdini. Busters'™ father was a business partner of Houdini and while visiting the Keaston household he notices the youngster taking a stumble down flight of stairs; landing safe and uninjured. He apparently remarked, "That's some buster your kid took." A "buster "was a slang term used back then to indicate a serious or painful fall. The name stuck and was associated with the boy ever since.


By the age of three, Buster was already performing with his parents. He debuted in Wilmington, Delaware in sketch featuring the tolder as an unruly child whose father punishes him by tossing into the crowds or throwing him about the stage. Although the scene may have looked like borderline child abuse, Buster was already remarkably gifted at pratfalls and physical comedy. Despite the level of danger associated with such acts, he was rarely injured on stage.  The family's act was so convincingly brutal that many thought Buster to be the victim of child abuse. While in New York, authorities were so outraged they damaged Buster goes through a full physical examination for broken bones and bruises. They found none and the mayor of New York gave him permission to work. Keaton continued to work with his family on the vaudeville circuit through out his childhood and teen years. Keaton's father had also been a known drinker and by 1917 his alcohol abuse had was now threatening the family's show-business reputation. Soon after, the age of 21, Keaton and his mother moved to New York.

Early Film Career

Already known with the show business due to his vaudeville acts, Keaton quickly found work on Broadway. He appeared in the show The Passing Show of 1917. He was soon drafted into World War One, where he spent time France in the 40th Infantry Division but never saw combat. He did, however, suffer from permanently impaired hearing sue to a ear infection. Upon returning home Keaton met the infamous comedian filmmaker/actor, Roscoe "fatty" Arbuckle, working together on the short two-reeler The Butcher Boy. The film demonstrated Keaton's extreme slapstick abilities and he was put under contract to Arbuckle. During this time, Keaton acted as somewhat of an apprentice to Arbuckle and was given complete access to the filmmaking process. Between 1917 and 1920, Keaton starred in over a dozen short films produced by Arbuckle, including Out West, The Bell Boy, Moonshine and One Week. In 1920 he starred in his first feature The Saphead. That same year he was given his own production unit under producer Joseph M. Schenck aptly named Buster Keaton Comedies.


In the early 1920's Keaton better his craft on a series of short two-reelers. Between 1920 and 1923, Keaton directed and starred in over 15 short films including The Haunted House, The Boat, The Electric House, and The Love Nest. In these films, he continued to refine his deadpan approach to performance, often contrasting his manic surrounded and life-threatening gags. Keaton directed his first feature length comedy Three Ages, starring opposite Wallace Beery. In 1924 he directed and starred in The Navigator, where Keaton played one of two people accidentally boarded on an empty ship. That year he also starred and directed Sherlock Jr. The films were phenomenally successful, with the movie going public and critics alike falling love with the stone-faced star.  By this time, Keaton's popularity rivaled that of fellow silent comedy star, Charlie Chaplin. His next two films, 1925'sSeven Chances and Go West, out-grossed his last two.

In 1926 Keaton made his personal favorite film The General. In the film, Keaton plays a train engineer who must save a captured Union Army General as his train heads straight into Confederate territory. Rather than use sets, rear-projection and models for the films dangerous stunts, Keaton insisted on doing his stunt-work and spent an unprecedented 42,000 dollars on crashing a real train through a burning bridge. Although the film was a commercial failure at the time, it has since become Keaton's most beloved and is considered to be one of the greatest of the silent era. It was also the final film Buster could exact full creative control. The next year he released College, perhaps his least successful film of the era and certainly the most forgettable.  In 1928 bounced back Steamboat Bill Jr. In the film Keaton performed what has since become his most famous gag. The stunt required him to stand in the 2-foot by 2-foot spot while a two-ton house facade fell around him. Had Keaton been mere inches off mark, he would have been crushed. The scene has since become one of the most memorable and parodies images in film history. Much like The General, Steamboat Bill Jr. was a commercial failure that only achieved success at later time.

Sound Era and Decline

After the box-office failures of his last three films, Keaton's production company was under financial stress. With little money and family pressure, Keaton left his production company in favor of signing MGM. The decision is now considered the worst of his life. Although he earned 3,000 dollars a week under the new contract, he lost nearly all creative control. Soon MGM began to enforce their factory-like method of filmmaking on Keaton. They forced long plotted narrative, gag-ridden scripts upon him, thus losing the spontaneity of his previously heavily improvisational films. The studio also insisted Keaton use a stuntman for his more dangerous gags, as the studio wanted to protect their precious new asset. His first film for studio, The Cameraman, was a critical and commercial success as was his second, 1929's Spite Marriage. The latter film would also marked the actors last silent film, with 1929'sThe Hollywood Revue of 1929 marking his transition to talking films. Although his films of the early 1930's such as Estrellados and Doughboys were his most financially successful of his career, the loss of artistic control over proved too much for Keaton. He began drinking heavily, often disregarding his scheduled shooting dates and responsibilities on the MGM lot. Soon after, he released a series of mediocre films, such as The Passionate Plumber, Buster se marie, and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath, all of which were box-office failures. By the end of 1932, Keaton's alcoholism caused him to nose not only his wife, but also his contract at MGM. 

Career Decline

After being dropped by MGM, Keaton accepted an offer to star in the French comedy Le Roi des Champs-yses. After returning to Hollywood, he signed to Educational Pictures to star in 16 two-reels comedy shorts. After he completed his obligations at Educational, his life a low point. He continued to drink and was in 1935 was temporally admitted to a mental asylum. Although soon released, he still continued to drink heavily. By the late 1930's Out West. In 1939 he signed onto Colombia pictures to star in 10 two-reel shorts over the span of two years. After the experience, Keaton vowed to never make a short film again. After Colombia, he appeared in a few pictures in the 1940's and began to clean-up his personal life, starting with his second marriage.  In 1943 he was a supporting player in the film Forever and a Day and by 1946, he starred in is last feature film Boom in the Moon. Shot a an extremely low budget in Mexico, the film was not seen in the United States until it's VHS release in the 1980's.

Later Career and Life

By the end of the forties Keaton's career was largely forgotten, when LIFE magazine featured an article in tribute to silent film stars. The essay revived interest in Keaton, as well as Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. In 1950 he made a somewhat self-deprecating cameo in Billy Wilder biting Hollywood satire Sunset BLVD. He then made a memorable appearance in Charlie Chaplin's 1952 film Limelight. In the film, the two play vaudevillian stars past their primes, who work on one final act together. It marked the only the two silent film giants shared the screen together.

He made frequent appearances on the new medium of television throughout the 1950's, including his own series, The Buster Keaton Show. In 1958 he made a memorable guest star appearance The Donna Reed Show. Two years later he made this last MGM film appearance in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In 1961, he made an appearance in The Twilight Zone, then followed that up with a small role in 1963 ensemble comedy It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World.  He mid-sixties he appeared in series of teen-surfer movies in Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. He made his final film appearance in the 1966 comedy A Funny Happened on the Way of Forum. That same year he was diagnosed with cancer. Buster Keaton died on February 1st, 1966 of lung cancer in Woodland Hills, California. He was 70 years old.  

(Source: article by Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub).



He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the categories of Television and Motion Pictures. In addition, Keaton was immortalized on a US postal stamp in 1994. Keaton was never nominated for an Academy Award. However he won one Honorary Award in 1959 for his unique talents which brought immortal comedies to the screen .

BlogHub Articles:

Silents are Golden: Fresh From The Vaudeville Stage: Joins The Movies

By Lea Stans on Feb 22, 2024 From Classic Movie Hub Blog

Joins The Movies Even compared to his fellow stars, Buster Keaton?s early life was uniquely colorful. Born to medicine show performers in 1895 and first appearing onstage when he was barely old enough to walk, he became the star of his family?s vaudeville act when he was a child, ma... Read full article

Steals the (Donna Reed) Show

By Virginie Pronovost on Mar 15, 2022 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

Spring is at our doors and is about to begin in about a week (depending on when you read that). And who says “spring!” says… Well certainly doesn’t say “Christmas”. Yet, we’re going to talk about Christmas, at least a little bit. You see, Lea at the excellen... Read full article

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928): The Human Tumbleweed

By 4 Star Film Fan on Mar 9, 2021 From 4 Star Films

Whatever your thoughts on silent movies, be it based on misinformation, overt loathing, or verging on utter veneration, one has to admit there’s something to the simplicity of these films. And by simplicity, I’m referring to the construction of their stories. They rarely seem to get bogg... Read full article

The High Hopes of in ‘Day Dreams’ ( and Edward F. Cline, 1922)

By Virginie Pronovost on Mar 9, 2020 From The Wonderful World of Cinema

It’s that time of the year again! One of my very favourite blogging events, The Annual Blogathon is back for the 6th time! Hosted by the Lea over at Silent-Ology, this is the occasion for Keaton fans like me to share all kind of thoughts about this genius and his prolific on-scre... Read full article

San Diego, I Love You (1944): Featuring

By 4 Star Film Fan on Dec 26, 2019 From 4 Star Films

I came to this movie because it has San Diego in the title: my home away from home for some time. Taking stock of its assets is simple enough.?It’s a B-grade film set during the War Years housing crisis. Judging by film output at the time like More The Merrier (1943) and Standing Room Only (19... Read full article

See all articles

Buster Keaton Quotes:

The Boy: Her father's abused her long enough. I want to marry her and take her home to MY father!

Friendless: [to Ranch owner] She's not going!

His Wife: Where are we?
The Boat Builder: Damfino.

read more quotes from Buster Keaton...

Share this page:
Visit the Classic Movie Hub Blog CMH
Related Travel Sites

See All Related Sites >>
Also a Libra

See All Libras >>
Honorary Award Oscar 1959

See more Academy Awards>>
Buster Keaton on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame

See All Walk of Fame Stars >>
Buster Keaton Facts
Keaton was one of the few actors who welcomed the advent of sound films. He knew his character didn't need dialog, but he looked forward to sound effects. "When somebody goes boom, they really go *boom*" he once said.

He was voted the 35th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Is mentioned in the song "Cinéma" by Paola Del Medico.

See All Related Facts >>
Related Lists
Create a list

See All Related Lists >>