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Buster Keaton


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Joseph Frank “Buster” Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966)[1] was an American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer.[2]

He was best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoicdeadpan expression, earning him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”.[3][4]

Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton’s “extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, [when] he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor–director in the history of the movies”.[4]

His career declined afterward with a dispiriting loss of his artistic independence when he was hired by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and he descended into alcoholism, ruining his family life. He recovered in the 1940s, remarried, and revived his career to a degree as an honored comic performer for the rest of his life, earning an Academy Honorary Award.

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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 1924)

Many of Keaton’s films from the 1920s, such as Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), and The Cameraman (1928), remain highly regarded,[5] with the second of these three widely viewed as his masterpiece.[6][7][8]

Among its strongest admirers was Orson Welles, who stated that The General was cinema’s highest achievement in comedy, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.[9] Keaton was recognized as the seventh-greatest film director by Entertainment Weekly,[10] and in 1999, the American Film Institute ranked him the 21st greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema.[11]

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Buster Keaton in The General (Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton, 1926)

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Buster Keaton in The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton, 1928)

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Career

Early life in vaudeville

Keaton was born into a vaudeville family in Piqua, Kansas,[12] the small town where his mother, Myra Keaton (néeCutler), was when she went into labor.

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Buster Keaton 6 months old

He was named “Joseph” to continue a tradition on his father’s side (he was sixth in a line bearing the name Joseph Keaton)[1] and “Frank” for his maternal grandfather, who disapproved of his parents’ union.

Later, Keaton changed his middle name to “Francis”.[1] His father was Joseph Hallie “Joe” Keaton, who owned a traveling show with Harry Houdini called the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, which performed on stage and sold patent medicine on the side.[citation needed]

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Buster Keaton 3 years old

According to a frequently repeated story, which may be apocryphal,[13] Keaton acquired the nickname “Buster” at about 18 months of age. Keaton told interviewer Fletcher Markle that Houdini was present one day when the young Keaton took a tumble down a long flight of stairs without injury.

After the infant sat up and shook off his experience, Houdini remarked, “That was a real buster!” According to Keaton, in those days, the word “buster” was used to refer to a spill or a fall that had the potential to produce injury. After this, Keaton’s father began to use the nickname to refer to the youngster. Keaton retold the anecdote over the years, including a 1964 interview with the CBC‘s Telescope.[14]

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Buster Keaton Aged 5 ready for a performance with his parents on stage – in The Three Keatons

At the age of three, Keaton began performing with his parents in The Three Keatons. He first appeared on stage in 1899 in Wilmington, Delaware.

The act was mainly a comedy sketch. Myra played the saxophone to one side, while Joe and Buster performed on center stage. The young Keaton would goad his father by disobeying him, and the elder Keaton would respond by throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, or even into the audience.

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The Three Keatons – Joe, Myra and Buster Keaton

A suitcase handle was sewn into Keaton’s clothing to aid with the constant tossing.

The act evolved as Keaton learned to take trick falls safely; he was rarely injured or bruised on stage. This knockabout style of comedy led to accusations of child abuse, and occasionally, arrest.

However, Buster Keaton was always able to show the authorities that he had no bruises or broken bones. He was eventually billed as “The Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged”, with the overall act being advertised as “The Roughest Act That Was Ever in the History of the Stage”.[15]

Buster Keaton as a child with his parents Joe and Myra

The Three Keatons – Joe, Myra and Buster Keaton

Decades later, Keaton said that he was never hurt by his father and that the falls and physical comedy were a matter of proper technical execution. In 1914, Keaton told the Detroit News: “The secret is in landing limp and breaking the fall with a foot or a hand. It’s a knack. I started so young that landing right is second nature with me. Several times I’d have been killed if I hadn’t been able to land like a cat. Imitators of our act don’t last long, because they can’t stand the treatment.[15]

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Buster Keaton in one of his early roles with The Three Keatons

Keaton claimed he was having so much fun that he would sometimes begin laughing as his father threw him across the stage. Noticing that this drew fewer laughs from the audience, he adopted his famous deadpan expression whenever he was working.[16]

The act ran up against laws banning child performers in vaudeville. According to one biographer, Keaton was made to go to school while performing in New York, but only attended for part of one day.

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Keaton Family Portrait – Joe, Myra, Louise, Harry and Buster

Despite tangles with the law and a disastrous tour of music halls in the United Kingdom, Keaton was a rising star in the theater. Keaton stated that he learned to read and write late, and was taught by his mother.

By the time he was 21, his father’s alcoholism threatened the reputation of the family act,[15] so Keaton and his mother, Myra, left for New York, where Buster Keaton’s career swiftly moved from vaudeville to film.[17]

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Keaton Family Portrait – Joe, Myra, Harry and Buster Keaton

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Buster Keaton with his brother Harry

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Keaton Children – Harry, Louise and Buster Keaton

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Buster Keaton portrait in his early performance outfit

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Buster Keaton – early stage roles with The Three Keatons

Keaton served in the United States Army in France with the 40th Infantry Division during World War I. His unit remained intact and was not broken up to provide replacements, as happened to some other late-arriving divisions. During his time in uniform, he suffered an ear infection that permanently impaired his hearing.[18][19]

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Buster Keaton in the Middle with the 40th Division Sunshine Players – WW1

 

Silent film 

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Buster Keaton at 21, making his first film “The Butcher Boy” (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1917)

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In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract to Joseph M. Schenck.
Joe Keaton disapproved of films, and Buster also had reservations about the medium. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He took the camera back to his hotel room and dismantled and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work.
He was hired as a co-star and gag man, making his first appearance in The Butcher Boy. Keaton later claimed that he was soon Arbuckle’s second director and his entire gag department. He appeared in a total of 14 Arbuckle shorts, running into 1920. They were popular, and contrary to Keaton’s later reputation as “The Great Stone Face”, he often smiled and even laughed in them.
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Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Al St. John and Alice Lake in The Cook (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1918)
Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends, and Keaton was one of few people, along with Charlie Chaplin, to defend Arbuckle’s character during accusations that he was responsible for the death of actress Virginia Rappe. (Arbuckle was eventually acquitted, with an apology from the jury for the ordeal he had undergone.)[20]

In 1920, The Saphead was released, in which Keaton had his first starring role in a full-length feature. It was based on a successful play, The New Henrietta, which had already been filmed once, under the title The Lamb, with Douglas Fairbanks playing the lead. Fairbanks recommended Keaton to take the role for the remake five years later, since the film was to have a comic slant.

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Poster for The Saphead, Buster Keaton’s first starring role in a full feature film (Herbert Blache, Winchell Smith, 1920)

After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Comedies. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including One Week (1920), The Playhouse (1921), Cops (1922), and The Electric House (1922). Keaton then moved to full-length features.

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Poster for One Week (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

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Buster Keaton and cast on the set of One Week (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

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Poster for The Playhouse (Edward C Cline, Buster Keaton 1921)

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Buster Keaton in The Playhouse (Edward C Cline, Buster Keaton 1921)

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Lobby card for Cops (Edward S Cline, Buster Keaton, 1922)

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Buster Keaton in Cops (Edward S Cline, Buster Keaton, 1922)

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Swedish film poster for The Electric House (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1922)

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Buster Keaton in The Electric House (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1922)

Keaton’s writers included Clyde Bruckman, Joseph Mitchell, and Jean Havez, but the most ingenious gags were generally conceived by Keaton himself.
Comedy director Leo McCarey, recalling the freewheeling days of making slapstick comedies, said, “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him![21] The more adventurous ideas called for dangerous stunts, performed by Keaton at great physical risk.
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Buster Keaton discussing gags with Clyde Bruckman on the set
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Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin meet with executives of the Balboa Film Studio
During the railroad water-tank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck when a torrent of water fell on him from a water tower, but he did not realize it until years afterward. A scene from Steamboat Bill, Jr. required Keaton to run into the shot and stand still on a particular spot.
Then, the facade of a two-story building toppled forward on top of Keaton. Keaton’s character emerged unscathed, due to a single open window. The stunt required precision, because the prop house weighed two tons, and the window only offered a few inches of clearance around Keaton’s body. The sequence furnished one of the most memorable images of his career.[22]
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 Buster Keaton on the set of Steamboat Bill Jr. (Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton, 1928)

Aside from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), Keaton’s most enduring feature-length films include Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), Seven Chances (1925), The Cameraman (1928), and The General (1926).

Buster Keaton 39 Poster for Our Hospitality (John G Blystone, Buster Keaton, 1923)
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Buster Keaton with Natalie Talmage in Our Hospitality (John G Blystone, Buster Keaton, 1923)
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French poster for The Navigator (Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton, 1924)
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Buster Keaton and Kathryn McGuire in The Navigator (Donald Crisp, Buster Keaton, 1924)
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Poster for Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
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Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
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Poster for Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925)
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Buster Keaton and Ruth Dwyer Seven Chances (Buster Keaton, 1925)
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Poster for The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton, 1928)
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Buster Keaton in The Cameraman (Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton, 1928)
The General, set during the American Civil War, combined physical comedy with Keaton’s love of trains, including an epic locomotive chase. Employing picturesque locations, the film’s storyline reenacted an actual wartime incident. Though it would come to be regarded as Keaton’s greatest achievement, the film received mixed reviews at the time. It was too dramatic for some filmgoers expecting a lightweight comedy, and reviewers questioned Keaton’s judgment in making a comedic film about the Civil War, even while noting it had a “few laughs.”[23]
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Poster for The General (Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton, 1926)
It was an expensive misfire, and Keaton was never entrusted with total control over his films again.

His distributor, United Artists, insisted on a production manager who monitored expenses and interfered with certain story elements. Keaton endured this treatment for two more feature films, and then exchanged his independent setup for employment at Hollywood’s biggest studio, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films (although he was interested in making the transition) and mounting personal problems, and his career in the early sound era was hurt as a result.[24]

 

Buster Keaton in The General (Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton, 1926)

Sound era and television

Keaton signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1928, a business decision that he would later call the worst of his life. He realized too late that the studio system MGM represented would severely limit his creative input.

For instance, the studio refused his request to make his early project, Spite Marriage, as a sound film and after the studio converted, he was obliged to adhere to dialogue-laden scripts. However, MGM did allow Keaton some creative participation on his last originally developed/written silent film The Cameraman, 1928, which was his first project under contract with them, but hired Edward Sedgwick as the official director.

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Buster Keaton, Jimmy Durante and Polly Moran in The Passionate Plumber (Edward Sedgwick, 1932)

 

Keaton was forced to use a stunt double during some of the more dangerous scenes, something he had never done in his heyday, as MGM wanted badly to protect its investment. “Stuntmen don’t get laughs,” Keaton had said.

Some of his most financially successful films for the studio were during this period. MGM tried teaming the laconic Keaton with the rambunctious Jimmy Durante in a series of films, The Passionate PlumberSpeak Easily, and What! No Beer?[25] The latter would be Keaton’s last starring feature in his home country. The films proved popular. (Thirty years later, both Keaton and Durante had cameo roles in It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, albeit not in the same scenes.)

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Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in Speak Easily (Edward Sedgwick, 1932)

In the first Keaton pictures with sound, he and his fellow actors would shoot each scene three times: one in English, one in Spanish, and one in either French or German. The actors would phonetically memorize the foreign-language scripts a few lines at a time and shoot immediately after. This is discussed in the TCM documentary Buster Keaton: So Funny it Hurt, with Keaton complaining about having to shoot lousy films not just once, but three times.

Keaton was so demoralized during the production of 1933’s What! No Beer? that MGM fired him after the filming was complete, despite the film being a resounding hit. In 1934, Keaton accepted an offer to make an independent film in Paris, Le Roi des Champs-Élysées. During this period, he made another film, in England, The Invader (released in the United States as An Old Spanish Custom in 1936).[25]

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Buster Keaton and Jimmy Durante in What-No Beer? (Edward Sedgwick, 1933)

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Buster Keaton in Le Roi Des Champs-Elysees (Max Nosseck, 1934)

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Buster Keaton and Lupita Tovar in The Invader or An Old Spanish Custom (Edwin Greenfield, 1936)

Educational Pictures

Upon Keaton’s return to Hollywood, he made a screen comeback in a series of 16 two-reel comedies for Educational Pictures. Most of these are simple visual comedies, with many of the gags supplied by Keaton himself, often recycling ideas from his family vaudeville act and his earlier films.[26] The high point in the Educational series is Grand Slam Opera, featuring Buster in his own screenplay as an amateur-hour contestant. When the series lapsed in 1937, Keaton returned to MGM as a gag writer, including the Marx Brothers films At the Circus (1939) and Go West (1940), and providing material for Red Skelton.[27] He also helped and advised Lucille Ball in her comedic work in films and television.[28]

Columbia Pictures[edit]

In 1939, Columbia Pictures hired Keaton to star in ten two-reel comedies, running for two years. The director was usually Jules White, whose emphasis on slapstickand farce made most of these films resemble White’s Three Stooges comedies.

Keaton’s personal favorite was the series’ debut entry, Pest from the West, a shorter, tighter remake of Keaton’s little-viewed 1935 feature The Invader; it was directed not by White but by Del Lord, a veteran director for Mack Sennett.

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Buster Keaton in Pest From the West (Del Lord, 1939)

Moviegoers and exhibitors welcomed Keaton’s Columbia comedies, proving that the comedian had not lost his appeal. However, taken as a whole, Keaton’s Columbia shorts rank as the worst comedies he made, an assessment he concurred with in his autobiography.[29] The final entry was She’s Oil Mine, and Keaton swore he would never again “make another crummy two-reeler.”[29]

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Buster Keaton in She’s Oil Mine (Jules White, 1941)

1940s and feature films

Keaton’s personal life had stabilized with his 1940 marriage, and now he was taking life a little easier, abandoning Columbia for the less strenuous field of feature films.

Throughout the 1940s, Keaton played character roles in both “A” and “B” features. He made his last starring feature El Moderno Barba Azul (1946) in Mexico; the film was a low budget production, and it may not have been seen in the United States until its release on VHS in the 1980s, under the title Boom in the Moon.

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Buster Keaton in Boom in the Moon (Jaime Salvador, 1946)

Critics rediscovered Keaton in 1949 and producers occasionally hired him for bigger “prestige” pictures. He had cameos in such films as In the Good Old Summertime (1949), Sunset Boulevard (1950), and Around the World in 80 Days (1956). In In The Good Old Summertime, Keaton personally directed the stars Judy Garland and Van Johnson in their first scene together where they bump into each other on the street.

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Buster Keaton and Judy Garland in In the Good Old Summertime (Robert Z Leonard, 1949)

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Buster Keaton and Gloria Swanson on the set of Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder, 1950)

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Buster Keaton in Around the World in 80 Days (Michael Anderson and John Farrow, 1956)

Keaton invented comedy bits where Johnson keeps trying to apologize to a seething Garland, but winds up messing up her hairdo and tearing her dress.

Keaton also had a cameo as Jimmy, appearing near the end of the film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). Jimmy assists Spencer Tracy‘s character, Captain C. G. Culpepper, by readying Culpepper’s ultimately-unused boat for his abortive escape. (The restored version of that film, released in 2013, contains a restored scene where Jimmy and Culpeper talk on the telephone.

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Buster Keaton in It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)

Lost after the comedy epic’s “roadshow” exhibition, the audio of that scene was discovered, and combined with still pictures to recreate the scene.) Keaton was given more screen time in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). The appearance, since it was released after his death, was his posthumous swansong.

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Buster Keaton, Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford in A Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Forum (Richard Lester, 1966)

Keaton also appeared in a comedy routine about two inept stage musicians in Charlie Chaplin‘s Limelight (1952), recalling the vaudeville of The Playhouse. With the exception of Seeing Stars, a minor publicity film produced in 1922, Limelight was the only time in which the two would ever appear together on film.

In 1949, comedian Ed Wynn invited Keaton to appear on his CBS Television comedy-variety show, The Ed Wynn Show, which was televised live on the West Coast. Kinescopes were made for distribution of the programs to other parts of the country since there was no transcontinental coaxial cable until September 1951.

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Buster Keaton and Charles Chaplin in Limelight (Charles Chaplin, 1952)

1950s–1960s and television

In 1950, Keaton had a successful television series, The Buster Keaton Show, which was broadcast live on a local Los Angeles station.

Life with Buster Keaton (1951), an attempt to recreate the first series on film and so allowing the program to be broadcast nationwide, was less well received. He also appeared in the early television series Faye Emerson’s Wonderful Town.

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Buster Keaton with a television camera at the Hesse State Radio studios in Frankfurt in February, 1962

A theatrical feature film, The Misadventures of Buster Keaton, was fashioned from the series. Keaton said he cancelled the filmed series himself because he was unable to create enough fresh material to produce a new show each week. Keaton also appeared on Ed Wynn’s variety show. At the age of 55, he successfully recreated one of the stunts of his youth, in which he propped one foot onto a table, then swung the second foot up next to it, and held the awkward position in midair for a moment before crashing to the stage floor. I’ve Got a Secret host Garry Moore recalled, “I asked (Keaton) how he did all those falls, and he said, ‘I’ll show you’. He opened his jacket and he was all bruised. So that’s how he did it—it hurt—but you had to care enough not to care.”

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The Misadventures of Buster Keaton (Arthur Hilton, 1950)

Unlike his contemporary Harold Lloyd, who kept his films from being televised, Keaton’s periodic television appearances helped to revive interest in his silent films in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1954, Keaton played his first television dramatic role in “The Awakening”, an episode of the syndicated anthology series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Presents. About this time, he also appeared on NBC‘s The Martha Raye Show.

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Buster Keaton in The Awakening / Douglas Fairbanks Jr Presents (1954)

Keaton as a time traveller in a 1961 episode of The Twilight Zone, “Once Upon a Time

Also in 1954, Keaton and his wife Eleanor met film programmer Raymond Rohauer, with whom the couple would develop a business partnership to re-release Keaton’s films. Around the same time, after buying the comedian’s house, the actor James Mason found numerous cans of Keaton’s films.

Among the re-discovered films was Keaton’s long-lost classic The Boat.[30] The Coronet Theatre art house in Los Angeles, with which Rohauer was involved, was showing The General, which “Buster hadn’t seen … in years and he wanted me to see it,” Eleanor Keaton said in 1987. “Raymond recognized Buster and their friendship started.”

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Buster Keaton and Raymond Rohauer in 1950’s

[31] Rohauer in that same article recalls, “I was in the projection room. l got a ring that Buster Keaton was in the lobby. I go down and there he is with Eleanor. The next day I met with him at his home. I didn’t realize we were going to join forces. But I realized he had this I-don’t-care attitude about his stuff.

He said, ‘It’s valueless. I don’t own the rights.'”[31] Keaton had prints of the features Three AgesSherlock Jr.Steamboat Bill, Jr.College (missing one reel) and the shorts “The Boat” and “My Wife’s Relations“, which Keaton and Rohauer then transferred to safety stock from deteriorating nitrate film stock.

Unknown to them at the time, MGM also had saved some of Keaton’s work: all his 1920–1926 features and his first eight two-reel shorts.[31]

On April 3, 1957, Keaton was surprised by Ralph Edwards for the weekly NBC program This Is Your Life. The half-hour program, which also promoted the release of the biographical film The Buster Keaton Story with Donald O’Connor, summarized Keaton’s life and career up to that point.[32]

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Poster for The Buster Keaton Story (Sidney Sheldon, 1957)

In December 1958, Keaton was a guest star as Charlie, a hospital janitor who provides gifts to sick children, in the episode “A Very Merry Christmas” of The Donna Reed Show on ABC. He returned to the program in 1965 in the episode “Now You See It, Now You Don’t”. The 1958 episode has been included in the DVD release of Donna Reed‘s television programs.[33] One of the show’s cast-members, Paul Peterson, recalled that Keaton “put together an incredible physical skit. His skills were amazing. I never saw anything like it before or since.”[34]

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Buster Keaton on Donna Reed Show (1958)

In August 1960, Keaton played mute King Sextimus the Silent in the national touring company of the Broadway musical Once Upon A Mattress. Eleanor Keaton was cast in the chorus. After a few days, Keaton warmed to the rest of the cast with his “utterly delicious sense of humor”, according to Fritzi Burr, who played opposite him as his wife Queen Aggravain. When the tour landed in Los Angeles, Keaton invited the cast and crew to a spaghetti party at his Woodland Hills home, and entertained them by singing vaudeville songs.[35]

In 1960, Keaton returned to MGM for the final time, playing a lion tamer in a 1960 adaptation of Mark Twain‘s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Much of the film was shot on location on the Sacramento River, which doubled for the Mississippi River setting of Twain’s original book.[36]

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Michael Curtiz, 1960)

In 1961, he starred in The Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time“, which included both silent and sound sequences. Keaton played time-traveller Mulligan, who travelled from 1890 to 1960, then back, by means of a special helmet.

In January 1962, he worked with comedian Ernie Kovacs on a television pilot tentatively titled “Medicine Man,” shooting scenes for it on January 12, 1962—the day before Kovacs died in a car crash. “Medicine Man” was completed but not aired.[37] It can, however, be viewed, under its alternative title A Pony For Chris on an Ernie Kovacs DVD set.

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Buster Keaton in The Twilight Zone (1961)

Keaton also found steady work as an actor in TV commercials, including a series of silent ads for Simon Pure Beer made in 1962 by Jim Mohr in Buffalo, New York in which he revisited some of the gags from his silent film days.[38]

In 1964, Keaton appeared with Joan Blondell and Joe E. Brown in the final episode of The Greatest Show on Earth, a circus drama starring Jack Palance.

In November, 1965, he appeared on the CBS television special A Salute To Stan Laurel which was a tribute to the late comedian (and friend of Keaton) who had died earlier that year.

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A Salute to Stan Laurel – Harvey Korman, Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton (1965)

The program was produced as a benefit for the Motion Picture Relief Fund and featured a range of celebrities, including Dick Van DykeDanny KayePhil SilversGregory PeckCesar Romero, and Lucille Ball. In one segment, Ball and Keaton do a silent sketch on a park bench with the two clowns wrestling over an oversized newspaper, until a policeman (played by Harvey Korman) breaks up the fun. The skit called “A Day in the Park” was filmed and broadcast in color. It marked the only time Ball and Keaton worked together in front of a camera.[39]

Keaton starred in four films for American International Pictures: 1964’s Pajama Party and 1965’s Beach Blanket BingoHow to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Sergeant Deadhead. As he had done in the past, Keaton also provided gags for the four AIP films in which he appeared. Those films’ director, William Asher, who cast Keaton, recalled,

I always loved Buster Keaton. I thought, what a wonderful person to look on and react to these young kids and to view them as the audience might, to shake his head at their crazy antics. … He loved it. He would bring me bits and routines. He’d say, ‘How about this?’ and it would just be this wonderful, inventive stuff. A lot of the audience seemed to be seeing Buster for the first time. Once the kids in the cast became aware of who he was, they all respected him and were crazy about him. And the other comics who came in—Paul LyndeDon RicklesBuddy Hackett—they hit it off with him great.[40]

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Buster Keaton in Pajama Party (Don Weis, 1964)

In 1965, Keaton starred in the short film The Railrodder for the National Film Board of Canada. Wearing his traditional pork pie hat, he travelled from one end of Canada to the other on a motorized handcar, performing gags similar to those in films he made 50 years before. The film is also notable for being Keaton’s last silent screen performance. The Railrodder was made in tandem with a behind-the-scenes documentary about Keaton’s life and times, called Buster Keaton Rides Again, also made for the National Film Board, which is twice the length of the short film.[41]

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Buster Keaton in The Railroader (Gerald Potterton, Buster Keaton, 1965)

He played the central role in Samuel Beckett‘s Film (1965), directed by Alan Schneider; he had previously declined the role of Lucky in the first American stage production of Waiting for Godot, having found Beckett’s writing baffling.[citation needed] Also in 1965, he traveled to Italy to play a role in Due Marines e un Generale, co-starring alongside the famous Italian comedian duo of Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia. In 1987 Italian singer-songwriters Claudio Lolli and Francesco Gucciniwrote a song, “Keaton”, about his work on that film.[citation needed]

notfilm010.onsetbeckettschneiderkeaton

Buster Keaton and Samuel Beckett on the set of Film (Alan Schneider, 1965)

Keaton’s last commercial film appearance was in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), which was filmed in Spain in September–November 1965.

He amazed the cast and crew by doing many of his own stunts, although Thames Television said his increasingly ill health did force the use of a stunt double for some scenes. His final appearance on film was a 1965 safety film produced in Toronto, Canada, by the Construction Safety Associations of Ontario in collaboration with Perini, Ltd. (now Tutor Perini Corporation), The Scribe. Keaton plays a lowly janitor at a newspaper. He intercepts a request from the editor to visit a construction site adjacent to the newspaper headquarters to investigate possible safety violations. Keaton died shortly after completing the film.[42]

MEP2913150

Buster Keaton and Richard Lester on the set of A Funny Thing Has Happened on the Way to the Forum (Richard Lester, 1966)

Style and themes

Use of parody

Keaton started experimenting with parody during his vaudeville years, where most frequently his performances involved impressions and burlesques of other performers’ acts. Most of these parodies targeted acts with which Keaton had shared the bill.[43] When Keaton transposed his experience in vaudeville to film, in many works he parodied melodramas.[43] Other favourite targets were cinematic plots, structures and devices.[44]

Buster Keaton in The Frozen North (1922)

Buster Keaton in The Frozen North (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1922)

 

One of his most biting parodies is The Frozen North (1922), a satirical take on William S. Hart‘s Western melodramas, like Hell’s Hinges (1916) and The Narrow Trail (1917). Keaton parodied the tired formula of the melodramatic transformation from bad guy to good guy, through which went Hart’s character, known as “the good badman”.[45]

He wears a small version of Hart’s campaign hat from the Spanish–American War and a six-shooter on each thigh, and during the scene in which he shoots the neighbor and her husband, he reacts with thick glycerin tears, a trademark of Hart’s.[46] Audiences of the 1920s recognized the parody and thought the film hysterically funny. However, Hart himself was not amused by Keaton’s antics, particularly the crying scene, and did not speak to Buster for two years after he had seen the film.[47] The film’s opening intertitles give it its mock-serious tone, and are taken from “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” by Robert W. Service.[47]

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Lobby card for The Playhouse (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1921)

In The Playhouse (1921), he parodied his contemporary Thomas H. Ince, Hart’s producer, who indulged in over-crediting himself in his film productions. The short also featured the impression of a performing monkey which was likely derived from a co-biller’s act (called Peter the Great).[43] Three Ages (1923), his first feature-length film, is a parody of D. W. Griffith‘s Intolerance (1916), from which it replicates the three inter-cut shorts structure.[43] Three Ages also featured parodies of Bible stories, like those of Samson and Daniel.[45] Keaton directed the film, along with Edward F. Cline.

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Buster Keaton and Margaret Leahy in the Roman Age segment of Three Ages (Edward F Cline, Buster Keaton, 1923)

Body language

The traditional Buster stance requires that he remain upstanding, full of backbone, looking ahead… [in The General] he clambers onto the roof of his locomotive and leans gently forward to scan the terrain, with the breeze in his hair and adventure zipping toward him around the next bend.

It is the anglethat you remember: the figure perfectly straight but tilted forward, like the Spirit of Ecstasy on the hood of a Rolls-Royce… [in The Three Ages], he drives a low-grade automobile over a bump in the road, and the car just crumbles beneath him. Rerun it on video, and you can see Buster riding the collapse like a surfer, hanging onto the steering wheel, coming beautifully to rest as the wave of wreckage breaks.”[51]

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Film critic David Thomson later described Keaton’s style of comedy: “Buster plainly is a man inclined towards a belief in nothing but mathematics and absurdity … like a number that has always been searching for the right equation. Look at his face—as beautiful but as inhuman as a butterfly—and you see that utter failure to identify sentiment.”[49]

Gilberto Perez commented on “Keaton’s genius as an actor to keep a face so nearly deadpan and yet render it, by subtle inflections, so vividly expressive of inner life. His large, deep eyes are the most eloquent feature; with merely a stare, he can convey a wide range of emotions, from longing to mistrust, from puzzlement to sorrow.”[50] Critic Anthony Lane also noted Keaton’s body language:

Film historian Jeffrey Vance wrote:

Buster Keaton’s comedy endures not just because he had a face that belongs on Mount Rushmore, at once hauntingly immovable and classically American, but because that face was attached to one of the most gifted actors and directors who ever graced the screen. Evolved from the knockabout upbringing of the vaudeville stage, Keaton’s comedy is a whirlwind of hilarious, technically precise, adroitly executed, and surprising gags, very often set against a backdrop of visually stunning set pieces and locations—all this masked behind his unflinching, stoic veneer.”[52]

Keaton has inspired full academic study.[53]

Buster Keaton 83

Personal life

 

On May 31, 1921, Keaton married Natalie Talmadge, sister-in-law of his boss, Joseph Schenck, and sister of actresses Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge.

She co-starred with Keaton in Our Hospitality. The couple had two sons, Joseph, aka Buster Keaton Jr. (June 2, 1922 – February 14, 2007),[54] and Robert Talmadge Keaton (February 3, 1924 – July 19, 2009),[55] later both surnamed Talmadge.[56] After the birth of Robert, the relationship began to suffer.[13]

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Buster Keaton and Norma Talmage wedding day

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Buster Keaton and Norma Talmage wedding day

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Buster Keaton, Norma Talmage and their children

Influenced by her family, Talmadge decided not to have more children, and this led to the couple staying in separate bedrooms. Her financial extravagance (she would spend up to a third of his salary on clothes) was another factor in the breakdown of the marriage. Keaton dated actress Dorothy Sebastian beginning in the 1920s and Kathleen Key[57] in the early 1930s.

After attempts at reconciliation, Talmadge divorced Keaton in 1932, taking his entire fortune and refusing to allow any contact between Keaton and his sons, whose last name she had changed to Talmadge. Keaton was reunited with them about a decade later when his older son turned 18. With the failure of his marriage and the loss of his independence as a filmmaker, Keaton lapsed into a period of alcoholism.[13]

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Entrance to Buster Keaton Estate

In 1926, Keaton spent $300,000 to build a 10,000-square-foot (930 m2) home in Beverly Hills designed by architect Gene Verge, Sr., which was later owned by James Mason and Cary Grant.[58] Keaton’s “Italian Villa” can be seen in Keaton’s film Parlor, Bedroom and Bath. Keaton later said, “I took a lot of pratfalls to build that dump.”

The house suffered approximately $10,000 worth of damage from a fire in the nursery and dining room in 1931. Keaton was not at home at the time, and his wife and children escaped unharmed, staying at the home of Tom Mix until the following morning.[59]

Keaton was at one point briefly institutionalized; according to the TCM documentary So Funny it Hurt, Keaton escaped a straitjacket with tricks learned from Harry Houdini.

In 1933, he married his nurse, Mae Scriven, during an alcoholic binge about which he afterwards claimed to remember nothing (Keaton himself later called that period an “alcoholic blackout”). Scriven herself would later claim that she didn’t know Keaton’s real first name until after the marriage.

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Buster Keaton and Mae Scriven

The singular event that triggered Scriven filing for divorce in 1935 was her finding Keaton with Leah Clampitt Sewell (libertine wife of millionaire Barton Sewell) on July 4 the same year in a hotel in Santa Barbara.[60] When they divorced in 1936, it was again at great financial cost to Keaton.[61]

On May 29, 1940, Keaton married Eleanor Norris (July 29, 1918 – October 19, 1998), who was 23 years his junior. She has been credited by Jeffrey Vance with saving Keaton’s life by stopping his heavy drinking and helping to salvage his career.[62]

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Eleanor Norris and Buster Keaton applying for their marriage license May 1940

The marriage lasted until his death. Between 1947 and 1954, they appeared regularly in the Cirque Medrano in Paris as a double act. She came to know his routines so well that she often participated in them on TV revivals.

 

Buster Keaton 90

Eleanor Norris and Buster Keaton

Death

Keaton died of lung cancer on February 1, 1966, aged 70, in Woodland Hills, California.[63] Despite being diagnosed with cancer in January 1966, he was never told that he was terminally ill or that he had cancer; Keaton thought that he was recovering from a severe case of bronchitis.

Confined to a hospital during his final days, Keaton was restless and paced the room endlessly, desiring to return home. In a British television documentary about his career, his widow Eleanor told producers of Thames Television that Keaton was up out of bed and moving around, and even played cards with friends who came to visit the day before he died.[64]

Keaton was interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood HillsCalifornia.

Buster Keaton 91

Influence and legacy

Buster Keaton  93.jpg

Keaton’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

 

Keaton was presented with a 1959 Academy Honorary Award at the 32nd Academy Awards, held in April 1960.[65] Keaton has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 6619 Hollywood Boulevard (for motion pictures); and 6225 Hollywood Boulevard (for television).

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Buster Keaton receives honorary Academy Award Apr 4, 1960

Jacques Tati is described as “taking a page from Buster Keaton’s playbook.”[66]

A 1957 film biography, The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O’Connor as Keaton was released.[27] The screenplay, by Sidney Sheldon, who also directed the film, was loosely based on Keaton’s life but contained many factual errors and merged his three wives into one character.[67] A 1987 documentary, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, directed by Kevin Brownlowand David Gill, won two Emmy Awards.[68]

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Poster for The Buster Keaton Story (Sidney Sheldon, 1957)

The International Buster Keaton Society was founded on October 4, 1992 – Buster’s birthday. Dedicated to bringing greater public attention to Keaton’s life and work, the membership includes many individuals from the television and film industry: actors, producers, authors, artists, graphic novelists, musicians, and designers, as well as those who simply admire the magic of Buster Keaton. The Society’s nickname, the “Damfinos,” draws its name from a boat in Buster’s 1921 comedy, “The Boat.”

In 1994, caricaturist Al Hirschfeld penned a series of silent film stars for the United States Post Office, including Rudolph Valentino and Keaton.[69] Hirschfeld said that modern film stars were more difficult to depict, that silent film comedians such as Laurel and Hardy and Keaton “looked like their caricatures”.[70]

Buster Keaton 96

Buster Keaton by Al Hirschfeld

Keaton’s physical comedy is cited by Jackie Chan in his autobiography documentary Jackie Chan: My Story as being the primary source of inspiration for his own brand of self-deprecating physical comedy.

Comedian Richard Lewis stated that Keaton was his prime inspiration, and spoke of having a close friendship with Keaton’s widow Eleanor. Lewis was particularly moved by the fact that Eleanor said his eyes looked like Keaton’s.[71]

At the time of Eleanor Keaton’s death, she was working closely with film historian Jeffrey Vance to donate her papers and photographs to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.[72][73] The book Buster Keaton Remembered, by Eleanor Keaton and Vance, published after her death, was favorably reviewed.[74][75][76]

Buster Keaton 97

The book Buster Keaton Remembered, by Eleanor Keaton and Vance

In 2012, Kino Lorber released The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection, a 14-disc Blu-ray box set of Keaton’s work, including 11 of his feature films.[77]

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Kino Lorber released The Ultimate Buster Keaton Collection 2012

Pork pie hats

Keaton designed and modified his own pork pie hats during his career. In 1964, he told an interviewer that in making “this particular pork pie”, he “started with a good Stetson and cut it down”, stiffening the brim with sugar water.[78]

The hats were often destroyed during Keaton’s wild film antics; some were given away as gifts and some were snatched by souvenir hunters. Keaton said he was lucky if he used only six hats in making a film. Keaton estimated that he and his wife Eleanor made thousands of the hats during his career. Keaton observed that during his silent period, such a hat cost him around two dollars; at the time of his interview, he said, they cost almost $13.[78]

Buster Keaton 99

 

Filmography

Starring Roscoe Arbuckle, featuring Buster Keaton

Release date Title Credited as Notes
Writer Director Role
April 23, 1917 The Butcher Boy Buster
June 25, 1917 The Rough House Yes Yes Gardener / Delivery Boy / Cop Co-directed and co-written by Roscoe Arbuckle
August 20, 1917 His Wedding Night Delivery boy
September 30, 1917 Oh Doctor! Junior Holepoke
October 29, 1917 Coney Island Rival / Cop with mustache
December 10, 1917 A Country Hero Vaudeville artist No copies are known to exist
January 20, 1918 Out West Sheriff / Saloon owner
March 18, 1918 The Bell Boy Bellboy
May 13, 1918 Moonshine Revenue agent
July 6, 1918 Good Night, Nurse! Dr. Hampton / Woman with umbrella
September 15, 1918 The Cook Waiter
September 7, 1919 Back Stage Stagehand
October 26, 1919 The Hayseed Manager, general store
January 11, 1920 The Garage Mechanic / Fireman

Starring Buster Keaton

Release date Title Credited as Notes
Writer Director Role
September 1, 1920 One Week Yes Yes The groom
October 27, 1920 Convict 13 Yes Yes Gardener / Golfer turned prisoner / Guard
December 22, 1920 Neighbors Yes Yes The boy
December 22, 1920 The Scarecrow Yes Yes Farmhand
February 10, 1921 The Haunted House Yes Yes Bank clerk
March 14, 1921 Hard Luck Yes Yes Suicidal boy
April 12, 1921 The High Sign Yes Yes Our hero
May 18, 1921 The Goat Yes Yes Buster Keaton
October 6, 1921 The Playhouse Yes Yes Audience / Orchestra / Mr. Brown – First Minstrel / Second Minstrel / Interlocutors / Stagehand
November 10, 1921 The Boat Yes Yes The boat builder
January 1922 The Paleface Yes Yes Little Chief Paleface
March 1922 Cops Yes Yes The young man
May 1922 My Wife’s Relations Yes Yes The husband
July 21, 1922 The Blacksmith Yes Yes Blacksmith’s assistant
August 28, 1922 The Frozen North Yes Yes The bad man
October 1922 The Electric House Yes Yes
November 1922 Daydreams Yes Yes The young man
January 22, 1923 The Balloonatic Yes Yes The young man
March 1923 The Love Nest Yes Yes Buster Keaton

Starring Buster Keaton, for Educational Pictures

Release date Title Credited as Notes
Writer Director Role
March 16, 1934 The Gold Ghost Yes Wally
May 25, 1934 Allez Oop Yes Elmer
January 11, 1935 Palooka from Paducah Jim Diltz
February 22, 1935 One Run Elmer Yes Elmer
March 15, 1935 Hayseed Romance Elmer Dolittle
May 3, 1935 Tars and Stripes Yes Apprentice seaman Elmer Doolittle
August 9, 1935 The E-Flat Man Elmer
October 25, 1935 The Timid Young Man Milton
January 3, 1936 Three on a Limb Elmer Brown
February 21, 1936 Grand Slam Opera Yes Yes Elmer Butts
August 21, 1936 Blue Blazes Yes Elmer
October 9, 1936 The Chemist Elmer Triple
November 20, 1936 Mixed Magic Yes Elmer “Happy” Butterworth
January 8, 1937 Jail Bait
February 12, 1937 Ditto The forgotten man
March 26, 1937 Love Nest on Wheels Yes Elmer

Starring Buster Keaton, for Columbia Pictures

Release date Title Credited as Notes
Writer Director Role
June 16, 1939 Pest from the West Yes Sir
August 11, 1939 Mooching Through Georgia Yes Homer Cobb
January 19, 1940 Nothing But Pleasure Clarence Plunkett
March 22, 1940 Pardon My Berth Marks Elmer – Newspaper Copyboy
June 28, 1940 The Taming of the Snood Buster Keaton
September 20, 1940 The Spook Speaks Buster
December 13, 1940 His Ex Marks the Spot Buster – the husband
February 21, 1941 So You Won’t Squawk Eddie
September 18, 1941 General Nuisance Peter Lamar – Jr.
November 20, 1941 She’s Oil Mine Buster Waters, plumber

Starring Buster Keaton, for independent producers

Release date Title Credited as Notes
Writer Director Role
October 15, 1952 Paradise for Buster Buster
October 2, 1965 The Railrodder The man
January 8, 1965 Film The man
January 8, 1966 The Scribe Journalist

Feature films

Starring Buster Keaton

With Buster Keaton, in featured or cameo roles

Television appearances

References

  1. Jump up to:a b c Meade, Marion (1997). Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. Da Capo. p. 16. ISBN 0-306-80802-1.
  2. Jump up^ Obituary Variety, February 2, 1966, page 63.
  3. Jump up^ Barber, Nicholas (8 January 2014). “Deadpan but alive to the future: Buster Keaton the revolutionary”The Independent. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  4. Jump up to:a b Ebert, Roger (November 10, 2002). “The Films of Buster Keaton”Archived from the original on November 3, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
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  6. Jump up^ Sight & Sound Critics’ Poll (2002): Top Films of All Time”Sight & Sound via Mubi.comArchived from the original on January 29, 2016. Retrieved January 29,2016.
  7. Jump up^ “Votes for The General (1924)”. British Film Institute. Retrieved September 29,2016.
  8. Jump up^ Andrew, Geoff (January 23, 2014). “The General: the greatest comedy of all time?”Sight & SoundArchived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
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  10. Jump up^ “The 50 Greatest Directors and Their 100 Best Movies”Entertainment Weekly. April 19, 1996. p. 2. Archived from the original on June 26, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
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  12. Jump up^ Stokes, Keith (ed.). “Buster Keaton Museum”. KansasTravel.org. Archivedfrom the original on January 16, 2016. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  13. Jump up to:a b c McGee, Scott. “Buster Keaton: Sundays in October”Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved October 19, 2017. Note: Source misspells Keaton’s frequent appellation as “Great Stoneface”.
  14. Jump up^ Telescope: Deadpan an interview with Buster Keaton, 1964 interview of Buster and Eleanor Keaton by Fletcher Markle for the CBC.
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  17. Jump up^ “Part II:The Flickers”. International Buster Keaton Society. October 13, 1924. Archived from the original on March 3, 2015. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  18. Jump up^ Martha R. Jett. “My Career at the Rear / Buster Keaton in World War I”. worldwar1.com.
  19. Jump up^ Master Sergeant Jim Ober. “Buster Keaton: Comedian, Soldier”California State Military Museum.
  20. Jump up^ Yallop, David (1976). The Day the Laughter Stopped. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 978-0-312-18410-0.
  21. Jump up^ Maltin, Leonard, The Great Movie Comedians, Bell Publishing, 1978
  22. Jump up^ “Reviews : The General/Steamboat Bill Jr”. The DVD Journal. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  23. Jump up^ “Moving Pictures: Buster Keaton’s ‘General’ Pulls In To PFA. Category: Arts & Entertainment from The Berkeley Daily Planet – Friday November 10, 2006”. Berkeleydaily.org. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  24. Jump up^ “Buster-Keaton.com”. Buster-Keaton.com. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  25. Jump up to:a b Everson, William K. American Silent Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. p. 274-5.
  26. Jump up^ Gill, David, Brownlow, Kevin (1987). Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow. Thames Television. pp. Episode three.
  27. Jump up to:a b Knopf, Robert The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton By p.34
  28. Jump up^ Kathleen Brady (May 31, 2014). “Lucille The Life of Lucille Ball – Kathleen Brady”kathleenbrady.net.
  29. Jump up to:a b Okuda, Ted; Watz, Edward (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers. p. 139. ISBN 0-89950-181-8.
  30. Jump up^ “The House Next Door: 5 for the Day: James Mason”. http://www.slantmagazine.com. August 24, 2009. Retrieved July 15, 2014.
  31. Jump up to:a b c Lovece, Frank (June 1987). “Where’s Buster? Despite Renewed Interest, Only a Handful of Buster Keaton’s Classic Comedies Are on Tape”VideoArchived from the original on August 31, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  32. Jump up^ “Series Details”. Cinema.ucla.edu. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  33. Jump up^ “”The Donna Reed Show” A Very Merry Christmas (1958)”. Us.imdb.com. Retrieved February 17, 2010.
  34. Jump up^ Peterson, Paul, The Fall of Buster Keaton (2010, Scarecrow Press)
  35. Jump up^ Meade, Marion (1997). Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. Da Capo. p. 284. ISBN 0-306-80802-1.
  36. Jump up^ Crowther, Bosley (August 4, 1960). “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1960)”The New York Times.
  37. Jump up^ Spiro, J. D. (February 8, 1962). “Ernie Kovacs’ Last Interview”The Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved October 16, 2010.
  38. Jump up^ “Buster Keaton For Simon Pure Beer – Brookston Beer Bulletin”Brookston Beer Bulletin. 2015-10-04. Retrieved 2016-10-11.
  39. Jump up^ This is mentioned on p. 202 in The Lucy Book by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman (Renaissance Books).
  40. Jump up^ Lovece, Frank (February 1987). “Beach Blanket Buster”VideoArchived from the original on August 31, 2013. Retrieved August 31, 2013.
  41. Jump up^ “Buster Keaton Rides Again: Return of ‘The Great Stone Face'”DangerousMinds.
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  43. Jump up to:a b c d Knopf, Robert The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton By p.27
  44. Jump up^ Mast, Gerald (1979) The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Moviesp.135
  45. Jump up to:a b Balducci, Anthony (2011) The Funny Parts: A History of Film Comedy Routines and Gags p.231
  46. Jump up^ “Laurel & Hardy”google.com.
  47. Jump up to:a b Keaton, Eleanor, and Vance, Jeffrey. Buster Keaton Remembered, H.N. Abrams, 2001, pp. 95
  48. Jump up^ “Interview with Buster Keaton”Studs Terkel Radio Archive. Retrieved September 29, 2016.
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  50. Jump up^ Perez Gilberto ‘The Material Ghost—On Keaton and Chaplin’ 1998
  51. Jump up^ Lane, Anthony, Nobody’s Perfect, Knopf Publishing, 2002, pgs. 560–561
  52. Jump up^ Vance, Jeffrey. “Introduction.” Keaton, Eleanor and Jeffrey Vance. Buster Keaton Remembered. Harry N. Abrams, 2001, pg. 33. ISBN 0-8109-4227-5
  53. Jump up^ Trahair, Lisa. “The Narrative-Machine: Buster Keaton’s Cinematic Comedy, Deleuze’s Recursion Function and the Operational Aesthetic”. 2004. http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2004/33/keaton_deleuze/
  54. Jump up^ James Talmadge at the United States Social Security Death Index via FamilySearch.org. Retrieved on December 7, 2015.
  55. Jump up^ Robert Talmadge at the United States Social Security Death Index via FamilySearch.org. Retrieved on December 7, 2015.
  56. Jump up^ Cox, Melissa Talmadge, in Bible, Karie (May 6, 2004). “Interviews: Melissa Talmadge Cox (Buster Keaton’s Granddaughter)”Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved December 7, 2015My Dad was christened Joseph Talmadge Keaton.
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  58. Jump up^ The City of Beverly Hills: Historic Resources Inventory (1985–1986)
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  66. Jump up^ “Vladamir Nabokov”jacquestati.com.
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  68. Jump up^ “Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow (American Masters)”. Emmys.com. Retrieved June 22, 2014.
  69. Jump up^ Associated Press, Polly Anderson, January 20, 2003. “Famed Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld Dies”.
  70. Jump up^ Leopold, David. Hirschfeld’s Hollywood, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, p. 20.
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  72. Jump up^ “Buster Keaton Papers”Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  73. Jump up^ Kehr, Dave (August 24, 2001). “At the Movies > Keaton Close-Up”The New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  74. Jump up^ Loos, Ted (April 8, 2001). “A Hat Comes With It”The New York Times. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  75. Jump up^ Lax, Eric (August 2, 2001). “The Genius and Pain of a Stone-Faced Comic”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  76. Jump up^ Hames, James (May 25, 2001). “Review: ‘Buster Keaton Remembered'”Variety. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
  77. Jump up^ Rafferty, Terrence (January 2013). “DVD Classics: Laugh Out Loud”DGA Quarterly. Winter. Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  78. Jump up to:a b How To Make A Porkpie Hat. Buster Keaton, interviewed in 1964 at the Movieland Wax Museum by Henry Gris”. Busterkeaton.com. Retrieved February 17, 2010.

Further reading

  • Agee, James, “Comedy’s Greatest Era” from Life (September 5, 1949), reprinted in Agee on Film (1958) McDowell, Obolensky, (2000) Modern Library
  • Keaton, Buster (with Charles Samuels), My Wonderful World of Slapstick (1960) Doubleday, (1982) Da Capo Press ISBN 0-306-80178-7
  • Blesh, RudiKeaton (1966) The Macmillan Company ISBN 0-02-511570-7
  • Lahue, Kalton C., World of Laughter: The Motion Picture Comedy Short, 1910–1930 (1966) University of Oklahoma Press
  • Lebel, Jean-Patrick (fr)Buster Keaton (1967) A.S. Barnes
  • Brownlow, Kevin, “Buster Keaton” from The Parade’s Gone By (1968) Alfred A. Knopf, (1976) University of California Press
  • McCaffrey, Donald W., 4 Great Comedians: Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon (1968) A.S. Barnes
  • Robinson, DavidBuster Keaton (1969) Indiana University Press, in association with British Film Institute
  • Robinson, David, The Great Funnies: A History of Film Comedy (1969) E.P. Dutton
  • Durgnat, Raymond, “Self-Help with a Smile” from The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image (1970) Dell
  • Maltin, LeonardSelected Short Subjects (first published as The Great Movie Shorts, 1972) Crown Books, (revised 1983) Da Capo Press
  • Gilliatt, Penelope, “Buster Keaton” from Unholy Fools: Wits, Comics, Disturbers of the Peace (1973) Viking
  • Mast, GeraldThe Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies (1973, 2nd ed. 1979) University of Chicago Press
  • Kerr, WalterThe Silent Clowns (1975) Alfred A. Knopf, (1990) Da Capo Press ISBN 0-394-46907-0
  • Anobile, Richard J. (ed.), The Best of Buster: Classic Comedy Scenes Direct from the Films of Buster Keaton (1976) Crown Books
  • Yallop, DavidThe Day the Laughter Stopped: The True Story of Fatty Arbuckle (1976) St. Martin’s Press
  • Byron, Stuart and Weis, Elizabeth (eds.), The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy (1977) Grossman/Viking
  • Moews, Daniel, Keaton: The Silent Features Close Up (1977) University of California Press
  • Everson, William K.American Silent Film (1978) Oxford University Press
  • Maltin, Leonard, The Great Movie Comedians (1978) Crown Books
  • Dardis, TomKeaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down (1979) Scribners, (2004) Limelight Editions
  • Benayoun, RobertThe Look of Buster Keaton (1983) St. Martin’s Press
  • Staveacre, Tony, Slapstick!: The Illustrated Story (1987) Angus & Robertson Publishers
  • Edmonds, Andy, Frame-Up!: The Shocking Scandal That Destroyed Hollywood’s Biggest Comedy Star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1992) Avon Books
  • Kline, Jim, The Complete Films of Buster Keaton (1993) Carol Pub. Group
  • Meade, MarionBuster Keaton: Cut to the Chase (1995) HarperCollins
  • Rapf, Joanna E. and Green, Gary L., Buster Keaton: A Bio-Bibliography (1995) Greenwood Press
  • Oldham, Gabriella, Keaton’s Silent Shorts: Beyond the Laughter (1996) Southern Illinois University Press
  • Horton, Andrew, Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1997) Cambridge University Press
  • Bengtson, John, Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton (1999) Santa Monica Press
  • Knopf, Robert, The Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton (1999) Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-00442-0
  • Keaton, Eleanor and Vance, Jeffrey Buster Keaton Remembered (2001) Harry N. Abrams ISBN 0-8109-4227-5
  • Mitchell, Glenn, A–Z of Silent Film Comedy (2003) B.T. Batsford Ltd.
  • McPherson, Edward, Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat (2005) Newmarket Press ISBN 1-55704-665-4
  • Neibaur, James L., Arbuckle and Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations (2006) McFarland & Co.
  • Neibaur, James L., The Fall of Buster Keaton: His Films for MGM, Educational Pictures, and Columbia (2010) Scarecrow Press
  • Neibaur, James L. and Terri Niemi,Buster Keaton’s Silent Shorts (2013) Scarecrow Press
  • Oderman, Stuart, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: A Biography of the Silent Film Comedian (2005) McFarland & Co.
  • Keaton, Buster, Buster Keaton: Interviews (Conversations with Filmmakers Series) (2007) University Press of Mississippi
  • Brighton, Catherine, Keep Your Eye on the Kid: The Early Years of Buster Keaton (2008) Roaring Brook Press (An illustrated children’s book about Keaton’s career)
  • Smith, Imogen Sara, Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy (2008) Gambit Publishing ISBN 978-0-9675917-4-2
  • Carroll, Noel, Comedy Incarnate: Buster Keaton, Physical Humor, and Bodily Coping (2009) Wiley-Blackwell

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Buster Keaton 101

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Harold Lloyd


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Harold Clayton Lloyd Sr. (April 20, 1893 – March 8, 1971) was an American actor, comedian, director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer who is best known for his silent comedy films.[1]

Lloyd ranks alongside Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the most popular and influential film comedians of the silent film era. Lloyd made nearly 200 comedy films, both silent and “talkies“, between 1914 and 1947. He is best known for his bespectacled “Glasses” character,[2][3] a resourceful, success-seeking go-getter who was perfectly in tune with 1920s-era United States.

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His films frequently contained “thrill sequences” of extended chase scenes and daredevil physical feats, for which he is best remembered today. Lloyd hanging from the hands of a clock high above the street (in reality a trick shot) in Safety Last! (1923) is one of the most enduring images in all of cinema.[4]

Lloyd did many dangerous stunts himself, despite having injured himself in August 1919 while doing publicity pictures for the Roach studio. An accident with a bomb mistaken as a prop resulted in the loss of the thumb and index finger of his right hand[5] (the injury was disguised on future films with the use of a special prosthetic glove, though the glove often did not go unnoticed).

Although Lloyd’s individual films were not as commercially successful as Chaplin’s on average, he was far more prolific (releasing 12 feature films in the 1920s while Chaplin released just four), and made more money overall ($15.7 million to Chaplin’s $10.5 million).[citation needed]

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Early life

Harold Clayton Lloyd was born on April 20, 1893 in Burchard, Nebraska, the son of James Darsie Lloyd and Sarah Elisabeth Fraser. His paternal great-grandparents were Welsh.[6]

In 1910, after his father had several business ventures fail, Lloyd’s parents divorced and his father moved with his son to San Diego, California. Lloyd had acted in theater since a child, but in California he began acting in one-reel film comedies around 1912.

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Young Harold Lloyd

Career

Silent shorts and features

Lloyd worked with Thomas Edison‘s motion picture company, and his first role was a small part as a Yaqui Indian in the production of The Old Monk’s Tale.

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Harold Lloyd in The Old Monk’s Tale (J.Searle Dawley, 1913)

At the age of 20, Lloyd moved to Los Angeles, and took up roles in several Keystone comedies. He was also hired by Universal Studios as an extra and soon became friends with aspiring filmmaker Hal Roach.[7]

Lloyd began collaborating with Roach who had formed his own studio in 1913. Roach and Lloyd created “Lonesome Luke”, similar to and playing off the success of Charlie Chaplin films.[8]

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Hal Roach

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Harold Lloyd as Lonesome Luke

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Harold Lloyd as Lonesome Luke

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Harold Lloyd as Lonesome Luke

Lloyd hired Bebe Daniels as a supporting actress in 1914; the two of them were involved romantically and were known as “The Boy” and “The Girl”. In 1919, she left Lloyd to pursue her dramatic aspirations. Later that year, Lloyd replaced Daniels with Mildred Davis, whom he would later marry. Lloyd was tipped off by Hal Roach to watch Davis in a movie. Reportedly, the more Lloyd watched Davis the more he liked her. Lloyd’s first reaction in seeing her was that “she looked like a big French doll”.[9]

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Bebe Daniels

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Bebe Daniels

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Bebe Daniels

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Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels in Look Pleasant, Please (Alfred J Goulding, 1918)

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The Rolin Film Company – 1915

Bebe Daniels (1rst row, middle), Harold Lloyd (2nd Row, middle – in Lonesome Luke costume), Snub Pollard to his left, Hal Roach (3rd row, middle)

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Harold Lloyd and Bebe Daniels

By 1918, Lloyd and Roach had begun to develop his character beyond an imitation of his contemporaries. Harold Lloyd would move away from tragicomic personas, and portray an everyman with unwavering confidence and optimism.

The persona Lloyd referred to as his “Glass” character[10] (often named “Harold” in the silent films) was a much more mature comedy character with greater potential for sympathy and emotional depth, and was easy for audiences of the time to identify with.

The “Glass” character is said to have been created after Roach suggested that Harold was too handsome to do comedy without some sort of disguise. To create his new character Lloyd donned a pair of lensless horn-rimmed eyeglasses but wore normal clothing;[3] previously, he had worn a fake mustache and ill-fitting clothes as the Chaplinesque “Lonesome Luke”.

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Harold Lloyd – The Glass Character

“When I adopted the glasses,” he recalled in a 1962 interview with Harry Reasoner, “it more or less put me in a different category because I became a human being. He was a kid that you would meet next door, across the street, but at the same time I could still do all the crazy things that we did before, but you believed them. They were natural and the romance could be believable.”

Unlike most silent comedy personae, “Harold” was never typecast to a social class, but he was always striving for success and recognition. Within the first few years of the character’s debut, he had portrayed social ranks ranging from a starving vagrant in From Hand to Mouth to a wealthy socialite in Captain Kidd’s Kids.

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Harold Lloyd and Peggy Cartwright in From Hand to Mouth (Alfred J Goulding, Hal Roach, 1919)

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Poster for Captain Kidd’s Kids (Hal Roach, 1919)

 

Lloyd’s career was not all laughs, however. In August 1919, while filming Haunted Spooks (Alfred J Goulding, Hal Roach, 1919) posing for some promotional still photographs in the Los Angeles Witzel Photography Studio, he was seriously injured holding a prop bomb thought merely to be a smoke pot.

It exploded and mangled his hand, causing him to lose a thumb and forefinger. The blast was severe enough that the cameraman and prop director nearby were also seriously injured.

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Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis in Haunted Spooks (Alfred J Goulding, Hal Roach, 1919)

Lloyd was in the act of lighting a cigarette from the fuse of the bomb when it exploded, also badly burning his face and chest and injuring his eye. Despite the proximity of the blast to his face, he retained his sight. As he recalled in 1930, “I thought I would surely be so disabled that I would never be able to work again. I didn’t suppose that I would have one five-hundredth of what I have now. Still I thought, ‘Life is worth while. Just to be alive.’ I still think so.”[11]

Beginning in 1921, Roach and Lloyd moved from shorts to feature-length comedies. These included the acclaimed Grandma’s Boy, which (along with Chaplin’s The Kid) pioneered the combination of complex character development and film comedy, the highly popular Safety Last!(1923), which cemented Lloyd’s stardom (and is the oldest film on the American Film Institute‘s List of 100 Most Thrilling Movies), and Why Worry? (1923).

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Poster for Grandma’s Boy (Fred C Newmayer, 1922)

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Harold Lloyd and Dick Sutherland in Grandma’s Boy (Fred C Newmayer, 1922)

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Poster for Safety Last (Fred C Newmeyer, 1923)

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Harold Lloyd in Safety Last (Fred C Newmeyer, 1923)

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Harold Lloyd in Why Worry? (Fred C Newmeyer, 1923)

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Harold Lloyd in Why Worry? (Fred C Newmeyer, 1923)

Lloyd and Roach parted ways in 1924, and Lloyd became the independent producer of his own films.

These included his most accomplished mature features Girl ShyThe Freshman (his highest-grossing silent feature), The Kid Brother, and Speedy, his final silent film. Welcome Danger (1929) was originally a silent film but Lloyd decided late in the production to remake it with dialogue.

All of these films were enormously successful and profitable, and Lloyd would eventually become the highest paid film performer of the 1920s.[12] They were also highly influential and still find many fans among modern audiences, a testament to the originality and film-making skill of Lloyd and his collaborators. From this success, he became one of the wealthiest and most influential figures in early Hollywood.

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Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston (Fred C Newmeyer, 1924)

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Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston (Fred C Newmeyer, 1924)

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Poster for The Freshman (Fred C Newmeyer, 1925)

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Harold Lloyd in The Freshman (Fred C Newmeyer, 1925)

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Poster for The Kid Brother (Ted Wilde, Harold Lloyd, 1927)

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Harold Lloyd and Jobyna Ralston in The Kid Brother (Ted Wilde, Harold Lloyd, 1927)

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Lobby card for Speedy (Ted Wilde, 1928)

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Harold Lloyd and Ann Christy in Speedy (Ted Wilde, 1928)

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Poster for Welcome Danger (Clyde Bruckman, Malcolm St.Clair, 1929)

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Harold Lloyd and Barbara Kent on the set of Welcome Danger (Clyde Bruckman, Malcolm St.Clair, 1929)

Talkies and transition

In 1924, Lloyd formed his own independent film production company, the Harold Lloyd Film Corporation, with his films distributed by Pathé and later Paramount and Twentieth Century-Fox. Lloyd was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

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 Harold Lloyd

Released a few weeks before the start of the Great DepressionWelcome Danger was a huge financial success, with audiences eager to hear Lloyd’s voice on film. Lloyd’s rate of film releases, which had been one or two a year in the 1920s, slowed to about one every two years until 1938.

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Promotional poster for Welcome Danger (Clyde Bruckman, Malcolm St.Clair, 1929)

The films released during this period were: Feet First, with a similar scenario to Safety Last which found him clinging to a skyscraper at the climax; Movie Crazy with Constance CummingsThe Cat’s-Paw, which was a dark political comedy and a big departure for Lloyd; and The Milky Way, which was Lloyd’s only attempt at the fashionable genre of the screwball comedy film.

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Lobby card for Feet First (Clyde Bruckman, Harold Lloyd, 1930)

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Poster for Movie Crazy (Clyde Bruckman, Harold Lloyd, 1932)

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Lobby card for The Cat’s Paw (Sam Taylor, Harold Lloyd, 1934)

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Lobby card for The Milky Way (Leo McCarey, Ray McCarey, 1936)

To this point the films had been produced by Lloyd’s company. However, his go-getting screen character was out of touch with Great Depression movie audiences of the 1930s. As the length of time between his film releases increased, his popularity declined, as did the fortunes of his production company. His final film of the decade, Professor Beware, was made by the Paramount staff, with Lloyd functioning only as actor and partial financier.

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Lobby card for Professor Beware (Elliott Nugent, 1938)

On March 23, 1937, Lloyd sold the land of his studio, Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Company, to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The location is now the site of the Los Angeles California Temple.[13]

Lloyd produced a few comedies for RKO Radio Pictures in the early 1940s but otherwise retired from the screen until 1947. He returned for an additional starring appearance in The Sin of Harold Diddlebock, an ill-fated homage to Lloyd’s career, directed by Preston Sturges and financed by Howard Hughes.

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Lobby card for The Sin of Harold Diddlebock AKA Mad Wednesday (Preston Sturges, 1947)

This film had the inspired idea of following Harold’s Jazz Age, optimistic character from The Freshman into the Great Depression years. Diddlebock opened with footage from The Freshman (for which Lloyd was paid a royalty of $50,000, matching his actor’s fee) and Lloyd was sufficiently youthful-looking to match the older scenes quite well.

Lloyd and Sturges had different conceptions of the material and fought frequently during the shoot; Lloyd was particularly concerned that while Sturges had spent three to four months on the script of the first third of the film, “the last two thirds of it he wrote in a week or less”.

The finished film was released briefly in 1947, then shelved by producer Hughes. Hughes issued a recut version of the film in 1951 through RKO under the title Mad Wednesday. Such was Lloyd’s disdain that he sued Howard Hughes, the California Corporation and RKO for damages to his reputation “as an outstanding motion picture star and personality”, eventually accepting a $30,000 settlement.

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German poster for The Sin of Harold Diddlebock AKA Mad Wednesday (Preston Sturges, 1947)

Radio and retirement

In October 1944, Lloyd emerged as the director and host of The Old Gold Comedy Theater, an NBC radio anthology series, after Preston Sturges, who had turned the job down, recommended him for it. The show presented half-hour radio adaptations of recently successful film comedies, beginning with Palm Beach Story with Claudette Colbert and Robert Young.

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Rehearsing the script for “The Palm Beach Story” are Robert Young, Harold Lloyd and Claudette Colbert – The Old Gold Comedy Theatre

Some saw The Old Gold Comedy Theater as being a lighter version of Lux Radio Theater, and it featured some of the best-known film and radio personalities of the day, including Fred AllenJune AllysonLucille BallRalph BellamyLinda DarnellSusan HaywardHerbert MarshallDick PowellEdward G. RobinsonJane Wyman, and Alan Young.

But the show’s half-hour format—which meant the material might have been truncated too severely—and Lloyd’s sounding somewhat ill at ease on the air for much of the season (though he spent weeks training himself to speak on radio prior to the show’s premiere, and seemed more relaxed toward the end of the series run) may have worked against it.

The Old Gold Comedy Theater ended in June 1945 with an adaptation of Tom, Dick and Harry, featuring June Allyson and Reginald Gardiner and was not renewed for the following season. Many years later, acetate discs of 29 of the shows were discovered in Lloyd’s home, and they now circulate among old-time radio collectors.

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Harold Lloyd and Dick Powell – The Old Gold Comedy Theatre

Lloyd remained involved in a number of other interests, including civic and charity work. Inspired by having overcome his own serious injuries and burns, he was very active as a Freemason and Shriner with the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children.

He was a Past Potentate of Al-Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles, and was eventually selected as Imperial Potentate of the Shriners of North America for the year 1949–50.[14] At the installation ceremony for this position on July 25, 1949, 90,000 people were present at Soldier Field, including then sitting U.S. President Harry S Truman, also a 33° Scottish Rite Mason.[15] In recognition of his services to the nation and Freemasonry, Bro. Lloyd was invested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honour in 1955 and coroneted an Inspector General Honorary, 33°, in 1965.

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Harold Lloyd in 1946, when he was appointed to the Shriners’ publicity committee

He appeared as himself on several television shows during his retirement, first on Ed Sullivan‘s variety show Toast of the Town June 5, 1949, and again on July 6, 1958. He appeared as the Mystery Guest on What’s My Line? on April 26, 1953, and twice on This Is Your Life: on March 10, 1954 for Mack Sennett, and again on December 14, 1955, on his own episode. During both appearances, Lloyd’s hand injury can clearly be seen.[16]

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Harold Lloyd on This is Your Life in 1950’s

Lloyd studied colors and microscopy, and was very involved with photography, including 3D photography and color film experiments. Some of the earliest 2-color Technicolor tests were shot at his Beverly Hills home (These are included as extra material in the Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection DVD Box Set).

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Harold Lloyd’s 3 D Photography Album

He became known for his nude photographs of models, such as Bettie Page and stripper Dixie Evans, for a number of men’s magazines. He also took photos of Marilyn Monroe lounging at his pool in a bathing suit, which were published after her death. In 2004, his granddaughter Suzanne produced a book of selections from his photographs, Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Nudes in 3D! (ISBN 1-57912-394-5).

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Harold Lloyd’s 3 D Photography Album

Lloyd also provided encouragement and support for a number of younger actors, such as Debbie ReynoldsRobert Wagner, and particularly Jack Lemmon, whom Harold declared as his own choice to play him in a movie of his life and work.

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Marilyn Monroe photographed by Harold Lloyd

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Marilyn Monroe photographed by Harold Lloyd during a photo session with Philippe Halsman, 1952

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Marilyn Monroe photographed by Harold Lloyd

Renewed interest

Lloyd kept copyright control of most of his films and re-released them infrequently after his retirement.

Lloyd did not grant cinematic release because most theaters could not accommodate an organist, and Lloyd did not wish his work to be accompanied by a pianist: “I just don’t like pictures played with pianos.

We never intended them to be played with pianos.” Similarly, his features were never shown on television as Lloyd’s price was high: “I want $300,000 per picture for two showings. That’s a high price, but if I don’t get it, I’m not going to show it. They’ve come close to it, but they haven’t come all the way up”.

As a consequence, his reputation and public recognition suffered in comparison with Chaplin and Keaton, whose work has generally been more available. Lloyd’s film character was so intimately associated with the 1920s era that attempts at revivals in 1940s and 1950s were poorly received, when audiences viewed the 1920s (and silent film in particular) as old-fashioned.

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Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis in 1935

In the early 1960s, Lloyd produced two compilation films, featuring scenes from his old comedies, Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy and The Funny Side of Life.

The first film was premiered at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where Lloyd was fêted as a major rediscovery. The renewed interest in Lloyd helped restore his status among film historians.

Throughout his later years he screened his films for audiences at special charity and educational events, to great acclaim, and found a particularly receptive audience among college audiences: “Their whole response was tremendous because they didn’t miss a gag; anything that was even a little subtle, they got it right away.”

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Lobby cards for Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy (Harold Lloyd, 1962)

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Poster for The Funny Side of Life (Harry Kerwin, 1963)

Following his death, and after extensive negotiations, most of his feature films were leased to Time-Life Films in 1974.

As Tom Dardis confirms: “Time-Life prepared horrendously edited musical-sound-track versions of the silent films, which are intended to be shown on TV at sound speed [24 frames per second], and which represent everything that Harold feared would happen to his best films”.[citation needed]

Time-Life released the films as half-hour television shows, with two clips per show. These were often near-complete versions of the early two-reelers, but also included extended sequences from features such as Safety Last! (terminating at the clock sequence) and Feet First (presented silent, but with Walter Scharf‘s score from Lloyd’s own 1960s re-release).

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Belgian poster for Safety Last (Fred C Newmeyer, Sam Taylor, 1923)

Time-Life released several of the feature films more or less intact, also using some of Scharf’s scores which had been commissioned by Lloyd. The Time-Life clips series included a narrator rather than intertitles. Various narrators were used internationally: the English-language series was narrated by Henry Corden.

The Time-Life series was frequently repeated by the BBC in the United Kingdom during the 1980s, and in 1990 a Thames Television documentary, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius was produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill, following two similar series based on Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.[17] Composer Carl Davis wrote a new score for Safety Last! which he performed live during a showing of the film with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to great acclaim in 1993.[18]

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Harold Lloyd, The Third Genius (Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, 1990)

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Harold Lloyd, The Third Genius (Kevin Brownlow, David Gill, 1990) – VHS Release

The Brownlow and Gill documentary was shown as part of the PBS series American Masters, and created a renewed interest in Lloyd’s work in the United States, but the films were largely unavailable.

In 2002, the Harold Lloyd Trust re-launched Harold Lloyd with the publication of the book Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian by Jeffrey Vance and Suzanne Lloyd[19][20] and a series of feature films and short subjects called “The Harold Lloyd Classic Comedies” produced by Jeffrey Vance and executive produced by Suzanne Lloyd for Harold Lloyd Entertainment.

Harold Lloyd - by Witzel

The new cable television and home video versions of Lloyd’s great silent features and many shorts were remastered with new orchestral scores by Robert Israel. These versions are frequently shown on the Turner Classic Movies(TCM) cable channel.

A DVD collection of these restored or remastered versions of his feature films and important short subjects was released by New Line Cinema in partnership with the Harold Lloyd Trust in 2005, along with theatrical screenings in the US, Canada, and Europe. Criterion Collection has subsequently acquired the home video rights to the Lloyd library, and have released Safety Last!,[21] The Freshman,[22] and Speedy.[23]

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Safety Last – Criterion Collection Blu Ray Special Edition

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The Freshman – Criterion Collection – Dual Format Edition

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The Freshman – Criterion Collection – Blu Ray Special Edition

In the June 2006 Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Silent Film Gala program book for Safety Last!, film historian Jeffrey Vance stated that Robert A. Golden, Lloyd’s assistant director, routinely doubled for Harold Lloyd between 1921 and 1927. According to Vance, Golden doubled Lloyd in the bit with Harold shimmy shaking off the building’s ledge after a mouse crawls up his trousers.[24]

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Harold Lloyd Comedy Collection – DVD Release

Personal life

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Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis in a publicity photo for High And Dizzy (Hal Roach, 1920)
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Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis and Douglas Fairbanks 

They had two children together: Gloria Lloyd (1923-2012)[26][27] and Harold Clayton Lloyd Jr. (1931–1971).[28] They also adopted Gloria Freeman (1924—1986) in September 1930, whom they renamed Marjorie Elizabeth Lloyd but was known as “Peggy” for most of her life.

Lloyd discouraged Davis from continuing her acting career. He later relented but by that time her career momentum was lost. Davis died from a heart attack in 1969, two years before Lloyd’s death.

Though her real age was a guarded secret, a family spokesperson at the time indicated she was 66 years old. Lloyd’s son was gay and, according to Annette D’Agostino Lloyd (no relation) in the book Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian, Harold Sr. took this in good spirit. Harold Jr. died from complications of a stroke three months after his father.

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Harold Lloyd and Mildred Davis

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The Lloyds in 1936. From left to right: Peggy and Harold Jr., Harold, Gloria, and Mildred

In 1925, at the height of his movie career, Lloyd entered into Freemasonry at the Alexander Hamilton Lodge No. 535 of Hollywood, advancing quickly through both the York Rite and Scottish Rite, and then joined Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles. He took the degrees of the Royal Arch with his father. In 1926, he became a 32° Scottish Rite Mason in the Valley of Los Angeles, California. He was vested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honor (KCCH) and eventually with the Inspector General Honorary, 33rd degree.

 

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Harold Lloyd and Freemasons

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Harold Lloyd at Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles

Lloyd’s Beverly Hills home, “Greenacres“, was built in 1926–1929, with 44 rooms, 26 bathrooms, 12 fountains, 12 gardens, and a nine-hole golf course. A portion of Lloyd’s personal inventory of his silent films (then estimated to be worth $2 million) was destroyed in August 1943 when his film vault caught fire. Seven firemen were overcome while inhaling chlorine gas from the blaze.

Lloyd himself was saved by his wife, who dragged him to safety outdoors after he collapsed at the door of the film vault. The fire spared the main house and outbuildings. After attempting to maintain the home as a museum of film history, as Lloyd had wished, the Lloyd family sold it to a developer in 1975.

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Harold Lloyd house fire

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Harold Lloyd Estate

The grounds were subsequently subdivided but the main house and the estate’s principal gardens remain and are frequently used for civic fundraising events and as a filming location, appearing in films like Westworld and The Loved One. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Greenacres was built in the 1920s in Beverly Hills, one of Los Angeles’ all-white planned communities.[29] The area had restrictive covenants prohibiting non-whites (this also included Jews[30]) from living there unless they were in the employment of a white resident (typically as a domestic servant).[31]:57

In 1940, Lloyd supported a neighborhood improvement association in Beverly Hills that attempted to enforce the all-white covenant in court after a number of black actors and businessmen had begun buying properties in the area.

However, in his decision, federal judge Thurmond Clarke dismissed the action stating that it was time that “members of the Negro race are accorded, without reservations or evasions, the full rights guaranteed to them under the 14th amendment.”[32] In 1948 the United States Supreme Court declared in Shelley v. Kraemer that all racially restrictive covenants in the United States were unenforceable.[33]

Death

Lloyd died at age 77 from prostate cancer on March 8, 1971, at his Greenacres home in Beverly Hills, California.[12][34][35]

He was interred in a crypt in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.[36] His former co-star Bebe Daniels died eight days after him and his son Harold Lloyd Jr.died three months after him.[citation needed]

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The crypt of Harold Lloyd, in the Great Mausoleum, Forest Lawn Glendale

Honors

In 1927, his was only the fourth concrete ceremony at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, preserving his handprints, footprints, and autograph, along with the outline of his famed glasses (which were actually a pair of sunglasses with the lenses removed).[37][38] The ceremony took place directly in front of the Hollywood Masonic Temple, which was the meeting place of the Masonic lodge to which he belonged.[39]

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Harold Lloyd hand and foot prints

Lloyd was honoured in 1960 for his contribution to motion pictures with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 1503 Vine Street.[40] In 1994, he was honoured with his image on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.[41][42]

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In 1953, Lloyd received an Academy Honorary Award for being a “master comedian and good citizen”. The second citation was a snub to Chaplin, who at that point had fallen foul of McCarthyism and had his entry visa to the United States revoked. Regardless of the political overtones, Lloyd accepted the award in good spirit.

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Filmography

Harold Lloyd 79

See also

References

  1. Jump up^ Obituary Variety, March 10, 1971, page 55.
  2. Jump up^ Austerlitz, Saul (2010). Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy. Chicago Review Press. p. 28. ISBN 1569767637.
  3. Jump up to:a b D’Agostino Lloyd, Annette. “Why Harold Lloyd Is Important”. haroldlloyd.com. Retrieved November 12, 2013.
  4. Jump up^ Slide, Anthony (September 27, 2002). Silent Players: A Biographical and Autobiographical Study of 100 Silent Film Actors and Actresses. Univ. Press of Kentucky. p. 221. ISBN 978-0813122496.
  5. Jump up^ An American Comedy; Lloyd and Stout; 1928; page 129
  6. Jump up^ “Comedy in the 1920’s – 1950’s”alphadragondesign.com. Retrieved April 13,2015.
  7. Jump up^ “Encyclopedia of the Great Plains – Lloyd, Harold (1893-1971)”unl.edu. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  8. Jump up^ “Hal Roach article”Silentsaregolden.com. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  9. Jump up^ Pawlak, Debra Ann (January 15, 2011). Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded the Academy. New York: Pegasus Books. p. 62. ISBN 978-1605981376.
  10. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd biography”. haroldlloyd.com. Retrieved November 12, 2013.
  11. Jump up^ Hall, Gladys (October 1930). “Discoveries About Myself”Motion Picture Magazine. New York: Brewster Publications. Retrieved October 23, 2015.
  12. Jump up to:a b “Died”Time. March 22, 1971. Retrieved June 8, 2008Harold Lloyd, 77, comedian whose screen image of horn-rimmed incompetence made him Hollywood’s highest-paid star in the 1920s; of cancer; in Hollywood. He usually played a feckless Mr. Average who triumphed over misfortune. ‘My character represented the white-collar middle class that felt frustrated but was always fighting to overcome its shortcomings,’ he once explained. Lloyd usually did his own stunt work, as in Safety Last (1923), in which he dangled from a clock high above the street; he was protected only by a wooden platform two floors below.
  13. Jump up^ “Los Angeles California Temple”The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Retrieved June 8, 2008The land for the Los Angeles California Temple was purchased from Harold Lloyd Motion Picture Company on March 23, 1937.
  14. Jump up^ “Harold LLoyd” Archived January 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. “In 1949, Harold’s face graced the cover of TIME Magazine as the Imperial Potentate of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, their highest-ranking position. He devoted an entire year to visiting 130 temples across the country giving speeches for over 700,000 Shriners. The last twenty years of his life he worked tirelessly for the twenty-two Shriner Hospitals for Children and in the 1960s, he was named President and Chairman of the Board.”
  15. Jump up^ Lloyd, Harold. “Phoenix Masonry Masonic Museum”Masonic Research. Phoenix Masonry. Retrieved July 29, 2012.
  16. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd”IMDB. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  17. Jump up^ Documentary: Harold Lloyd — The Third Genius.
  18. Jump up^ https://issuu.com/fm_fortissimo/docs/faber_silents_catalogue_2016
  19. Jump up^ Loos, Ted (2002-07-21). “Books in Brief – Nonfiction – A Matter of Attitude”New York Times. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  20. Jump up^ “Behind the Laughter”latimes. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  21. Jump up^ “Safety Last!”The Criterion Collection. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  22. Jump up^ “The Freshman”The Criterion Collection. Retrieved April 13, 2015.
  23. Jump up^ “Speedy”The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2017-05-19.
  24. Jump up^ “”Safety Last!: Notes on the Making of the Film” : Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra Silent Film Gala program book, June 3, 2006 revised and reprinted as “Safety Last!” San Francisco Silent Film Festival program book, July 18–21, 2013″Silentfilm.org. Retrieved 2016-07-21.
  25. Jump up^ Los Angeles, California, County Marriages 1850-1952
  26. Jump up^ “Gloria Lloyd, daughter of Harold Lloyd, dies”Variety. February 11, 2012. Retrieved 2012-02-11.
  27. Jump up^ Brownlow, Kevin (27 February 2012). “Obituaries: Gloria Lloyd: Actress who had a gilded life as Harold Lloyd’s daughter”The Independent. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  28. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd Jr. Dies. Actor, Son of Comedy Star”The New York Times. June 10, 1971. Retrieved June 8, 2008.
  29. Jump up^ James W. Loewen (September 29, 2005). Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension Of American Racism. The New Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-1-59558-674-2. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  30. Jump up^ Andrew Wiese (December 15, 2005). Places of Their Own: African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century. University of Chicago Press. p. 42. ISBN 978-0-226-89625-0. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  31. Jump up^ Michael Gross (November 1, 2011). Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 978-0-7679-3265-3. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
  32. Jump up^ Stephen Grant Meyer (October 1, 2001). As Long As They Don’t Move Next Door: Segregation and Racial Conflict in American Neighborhoods. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 76. ISBN 978-0-8476-9701-4. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  33. Jump up^ Steve Sheppard (April 1, 2007). The History of Legal Education in the United States: Commentaries And Primary Sources. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 948n. ISBN 978-1-58477-690-1. Retrieved August 19, 2012.
  34. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd, Bespectacled Film Comic, Dies of Cancer at 77”Los Angeles Times. March 9, 1971. Retrieved June 8, 2008Comedian Harold Lloyd, 77, who bumbled through more than 300 films as a bespectacled victim of life’s difficulties, died of cancer Monday at his Beverly Hills home.
  35. Jump up^ Illson, Murray (March 9, 1971). “Horn-Rims His Trademark; Harold Lloyd, Screen Comedian, Dies at 77”The New York Times. Retrieved June 8, 2008A pair of inexpensive, horn-rimmed eyeglass frames without lenses, the shy expression of a somewhat bewildered adolescent and a single-track ambition made Harold Clayton Lloyd the highest-paid screen actor in Hollywood’s golden age of the nineteen twenties.
  36. Jump up^ Harold Lloyd at Find a Grave
  37. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd’s Prints At Mann’s Chinese Theatre”Getty Images. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  38. Jump up^ Bengtson, John (2011-05-21). “Harold Lloyd – lasting impressions at Grauman’s Chinese”Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more). Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  39. Jump up^ Ridenour, Al (2002-05-02). “A Chamber of Secrets”Los Angeles Times. pp. 1–2. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  40. Jump up^ “Harold Lloyd | Hollywood Walk of Fame”http://www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2017-06-27.
  41. Jump up^ Hirschfeld, Al (2015). The Hirschfeld Century: Portrait of an Artist and His Age. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 291, 293. ISBN 9781101874974OCLC 898029267.
  42. Jump up^ McAllister, Bill (1994-04-15). “Hirschfeld’s ‘Silent’ Stars”The Washington PostISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-06-27.

harold lloyd - pub still for feet first 1930

Further reading

  • Agee, James (2000) [1958]. “Comedy’s Greatest Era” from Life magazine (9/5/1949), reprinted in Agee on FilmMcDowell, Obolensky, Modern Library.
  • Bengtson, John. (2011). Silent Visions: Discovering Early Hollywood and New York Through the Films of Harold Lloyd. Santa Monica Press. ISBN 978-1-59580-057-2.
  • Brownlow, Kevin (1976) [1968]. “Harold Lloyd” from The Parade’s Gone By. Alfred A. Knopf, University of California Press.
  • Byron, Stuart; Weis, Elizabeth (1977). The National Society of Film Critics on Movie Comedy. Grossman/Viking.
  • Cahn, William (1964). Harold Lloyd’s World of Comedy. Duell, Sloane & Pearce.
  • D’Agostino, Annette M. (1994). Harold Lloyd: A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-28986-7.
  • Dale, Alan (2002). Comedy is a Man in Trouble: Slapstick In American Movies. University of Minnesota Press.
  • Dardis, Tom (1983). Harold Lloyd: The Man on the Clock. Viking. ISBN 0-14-007555-0.
  • Durgnat, Raymond (1970). “Self-Help with a Smile” from The Crazy Mirror: Hollywood Comedy and the American Image. Dell.
  • Everson, William K. (1978). American Silent Film. Oxford University Press.
  • Gilliatt, Penelope (1973). “Physicists” from Unholy Fools: Wits, Comics, Disturbers of the Peace. Viking.
  • Hayes, Suzanne Lloyd (ed.), (1992). 3-D Hollywood with Photography by Harold Lloyd. Simon & Schuster.
  • Kerr, Walter (1990) [1975]. The Silent Clowns. Alfred A. Knopf, Da Capo Press.
  • Lacourbe, Roland (1970). Harold Lloyd. Paris: Editions Seghers.
  • Lahue, Kalton C. (1966). World of Laughter: The Motion Picture Comedy Short, 1910–1930. University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Lloyd, Annette D’Agostino (2003). The Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-1514-2.
  • Lloyd, Annette D’Agostino (2009). Harold Lloyd: Magic in a Pair of Horn-Rimmed Glasses. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-332-6.
  • Lloyd, Harold; Stout, W. W. (1971) [1928]. An American Comedy. Dover.
  • Lloyd, Suzanne (2004). Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Nudes in 3-D. Black Dog & Leventhal. ISBN 978-1-57912-394-9.
  • Maltin, Leonard (1978). The Great Movie Comedians. Crown Publishers.
  • Mast, Gerald (1979) [1973]. The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies. University of Chicago Press.
  • McCaffrey, Donald W. (1968). 4 Great Comedians: Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon. A.S. Barnes.
  • McCaffrey, Donald W. (1976). Three Classic Silent Screen Comedies Starring Harold Lloyd. Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-1455-8.
  • Mitchell, Glenn (2003). A–Z of Silent Film Comedy. B.T. Batsford Ltd.
  • Reilly, Adam (1977). Harold Lloyd: The King of Daredevil Comedy. Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-601940-X.
  • Robinson, David (1969). The Great Funnies: A History of Film Comedy. E.P. Dutton.
  • Schickel, Richard (1974). Harold Lloyd: The Shape of Laughter. New York Graphic Society. ISBN 0-8212-0595-1.
  • Vance, Jeffrey; Lloyd, Suzanne (2002). Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian. Harry N Abrams. ISBN 0-8109-1674-6.

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Harold Lloyd 91

Roscoe ”Fatty” Arbuckle


Roscoe Arbuckle 4

Roscoe Conkling “Fatty” Arbuckle (March 24, 1887 – June 29, 1933) was an American silent film actor, comedian, director, and screenwriter.

Starting at the Selig Polyscope Company he eventually moved to Keystone Studios, where he worked with Mabel Normand and Harold Lloyd. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. Arbuckle was one of the most popular silent stars of the 1910s, and soon became one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, signing a contract in 1920 with Paramount Pictures for US$1 million (equivalent to approximately $14,000,000 in 2017 dollars[1]).

Between November 1921 and April 1922, Arbuckle was the defendant in three widely publicized trials for the rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in September 1921; she died four days later. Arbuckle was accused by Rappe’s acquaintance of raping and accidentally killing Rappe. After the first two trials, which resulted in hung juries, Arbuckle was acquitted in the third trial and received a formal written statement of apology from the jury.

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Roscoe Arbuckle Trial – Chicago Herald Examiner Newspaper Coverage

Despite Arbuckle’s acquittal, the scandal has mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian. Following the trials, his films were banned and he was publicly ostracized. Although the ban on his films was lifted within a year, Arbuckle only worked sparingly through the 1920s. He later worked as a film director under the alias William Goodrich. He was finally able to return to acting, making short two-reel comedies in 1932 for Warner Bros.

He died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1933 at age 46, reportedly on the same day he signed a contract with Warner Brothers to make a feature film.[2]

Roscoe Arbuckle 5

 

Early life

Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born on March 24, 1887 in Smith Center, Kansas, one of nine children of Mary E. “Mollie” Gordon (d. February 19, 1898) and William Goodrich Arbuckle.[3] He weighed in excess of 13 lb (5.9 kg) at birth and, as both parents had slim builds, his father believed the child was not his. Consequently, he named the baby after a politician (and notorious philanderer) whom he despised, Republican senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. The birth was traumatic for Mollie and resulted in chronic health problems that contributed to her death 12 years later.[4] When Arbuckle was nearly two his family moved to Santa Ana, California.[5]

Roscoe Arbuckle 7

Young Roscoe Arbuckle

Arbuckle had a “wonderful” singing voice and was extremely agile. At the age of eight, with his mother’s encouragement, he first performed on stage with Frank Bacon’s company during their stopover in Santa Ana.[5]

Arbuckle enjoyed performing and continued on until his mother’s death in 1899 when he was 12.

Roscoe Arbuckle 6

Young Roscoe Arbuckle in his stage performance outfit 

His father, who had always treated him harshly,[6] now refused to support him and Arbuckle got work doing odd jobs in a hotel. Arbuckle was in the habit of singing while he worked and was overheard by a customer who was a professional singer.

The customer invited him to perform in an amateur talent show. The show consisted of the audience judging acts by clapping or jeering with bad acts pulled off the stage by a shepherd’s crook. Arbuckle sang, danced, and did some clowning around, but did not impress the audience. He saw the crook emerge from the wings and to avoid it somersaulted into the orchestra pit in obvious panic. The audience went wild, and he not only won the competition but began a career in vaudeville.[4]

Roscoe Arbuckle 8

Roscoe Arbuckle – from vaudeville to motion pictures

Career

In 1904, Sid Grauman invited Arbuckle to sing in his new Unique Theater in San Francisco, beginning a long friendship between the two.[7][8] He then joined the Pantages Theatre Group touring the West Coast of the United States and in 1906 played the Orpheum Theater in Portland, Oregon in a vaudeville troupe organized by Leon Errol. Arbuckle became the main act and the group took their show on tour.[9]

Roscoe Arbuckle 9

The Pantages Theatre Group at the Savoy Theatre, Palace Grand Theatre, Yukon

On August 6, 1908, Arbuckle married Minta Durfee (1889–1975), the daughter of Charles Warren Durfee and Flora Adkins.

Durfee starred in many early comedy films, often with Arbuckle.[10][11] They made a strange couple, as Minta was short and petite while Arbuckle tipped the scales at 300 lbs.[4] Arbuckle then joined the Morosco Burbank Stock vaudeville company and went on a tour of China and Japan returning in early 1909.[12]

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Minta Durfee in a promotional photo for an early Mack Sennett film

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Minta Durfee in Fatty’s Chance Acquaintance (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1915)

Arbuckle began his film career with the Selig Polyscope Company in July 1909 when he appeared in Ben’s Kid.

Arbuckle appeared sporadically in Selig one-reelers until 1913, moved briefly to Universal Pictures and became a star in producer-director Mack Sennett‘s Keystone Cops comedies (However, according to the Motion Picture Studio Directory for 1919 and 1921, Arbuckle began his screen career with Keystone in 1913 as an extra for $3 a day (equivalent to approximately $74 in 2017 dollars[1]), working his way up through the acting ranks to become a lead player and director.)

Keystone Cops

Roscoe Arbuckle in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops

Although his large size was undoubtedly part of his comedic appeal Arbuckle was self-conscious about his weight and refused to use it to get “cheap” laughs. For example, he would not allow himself to be stuck in a doorway or chair.[citation needed]

Arbuckle was a talented singer. After famed operatic tenor Enrico Caruso heard him sing, he urged the comedian to “…give up this nonsense you do for a living, with training you could become the second greatest singer in the world.”[13]

Roscoe Arbuckle 13

Roscoe Arbuckle in Mack Sennett’s Keystone Cops

Screen comedian

 

Despite his physical size, Arbuckle was remarkably agile and acrobatic. Director Mack Sennett, when recounting his first meeting with Arbuckle, noted that he “skipped up the stairs as lightly as Fred Astaire“; and, “without warning went into a feather light step, clapped his hands and did a backward somersault as graceful as a girl tumbler”.

His comedies are noted as rollicking and fast-paced, have many chase scenes, and feature sight gags. Arbuckle was fond of the “pie in the face“, a comedy cliché that has come to symbolize silent-film-era comedy itself. The earliest known pie thrown in film was in the June 1913 Keystone one-reeler A Noise from the Deep, starring Arbuckle and frequent screen partner Mabel Normand.

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in A Noise from the Deep (Mack Sennett, 1913)

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in  Fatty’s Wine Party (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1914)

In 1914, Paramount Pictures made the then-unheard-of offer of US$1,000-a-day plus 25% of all profits and complete artistic control to make movies with Arbuckle and Normand. The movies were so lucrative and popular that in 1918 they offered Arbuckle a three-year, $3 million contract (equivalent to about $49,000,000 in 2017 dollars[1]).[14]

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in Fatty and Mabel Adrift (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1916)

By 1916, Arbuckle was experiencing serious health problems. An infection that developed on his leg became a carbuncle so severe that doctors considered amputation. Although Arbuckle was able to keep his leg, he became addicted to the pain killer morphine.

Following his recovery, Arbuckle started his own film company, Comique, in partnership with Joseph Schenck. Although Comique produced some of the best short pictures of the silent era, in 1918 Arbuckle transferred his controlling interest in the company to Buster Keaton and accepted Paramount’s $3 million offer to make up to 18 feature films over three years.[4]

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in Good Night, Nurse! (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1918)

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in Coney Island (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1917)

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in The Garage (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1920)

Arbuckle disliked his screen nickname. “Fatty” had also been Arbuckle’s nickname since school; “It was inevitable”, he said. He weighed 185lb (13st 3lb, 84kg) when he was 12. Fans also called Roscoe “The Prince of Whales” and “The Balloonatic”.

However, the name Fatty identifies the character that Arbuckle portrayed on-screen (usually a naive hayseed)—not Arbuckle himself. When Arbuckle portrayed a female, the character was named “Miss Fatty”, as in the film Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers.

Arbuckle discouraged anyone from addressing him as “Fatty” off-screen, and when they did so his usual response was, “I’ve got a name, you know.”[15]

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Roscoe Arbuckle in Miss Fatty’s Seaside Lovers (Roscoe Arbuckle, 1915)

Scandal

This 1922 Vanity Fair caricature by Ralph Barton[16] shows the famous people who, he imagined, left work each day in Hollywood; use cursor to identify individual figures.

On September 5, 1921, Arbuckle took a break from his hectic film schedule and, despite suffering from second-degree burns to both buttocks from an accident on set, drove to San Francisco with two friends, Lowell Sherman and Fred Fishback.

Lowell Sherman 1

Lowell Sherman

Fread Fishbach 1

Fred Fishbach (on the left) with Fred Hibbard and Edith Roberts

The three checked into three rooms at the St. Francis Hotel: 1219 for Arbuckle and Fishback to share, 1221 for Sherman, and 1220 designated as a party room.

Several women were invited to the suite. During the carousing, a 26-year-old aspiring actress named Virginia Rappe was found seriously ill in room 1219 and was examined by the hotel doctor, who concluded her symptoms were mostly caused by intoxication, and gave her morphine to calm her. Rappe was not hospitalized until two days after the incident.[2]

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Virginia Rappe

Virginia Rappe 2

Virginia Rappe

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Virginia Rappe

Virginia Rappe 4

 Suite 1221 of St. Francis Hotel shortly after Arbuckle’s party

Virginia Rappe suffered from chronic cystitis,[17] a condition that liquor irritated dramatically. Her heavy drinking habits and the poor quality of the era’s bootleg alcohol could leave her in severe physical distress.

She developed a reputation for over-imbibing at parties, then drunkenly tearing at her clothes from the resulting physical pain. But by the time of the St. Francis Hotel party, her reproductive health was a greater concern. Despite reports trying to paint her in a bad light, the autopsy revealed she never had any abortion nor was pregnant.

At the hospital, Rappe’s companion at the party, Bambina Maude Delmont, told Rappe’s doctor that Arbuckle had raped her friend.

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Roscoe Arbuckle Trial

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Roscoe Arbuckle Trial

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Police photos of Roscoe Arbuckle

The doctor examined Rappe but found no evidence of rape. Rappe died one day after her hospitalization of peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Delmont then told police that Arbuckle raped Rappe, and the police concluded that the impact Arbuckle’s overweight body had on Rappe eventually caused her bladder to rupture.[2]

Rappe’s manager Al Semnacker (at a later press conference) accused Arbuckle of using a piece of ice to simulate sex with her, which led to the injuries.[18] By the time the story was reported in newspapers, the object had evolved into being a Coca-Cola or champagne bottle, instead of a piece of ice. In fact, witnesses testified that Arbuckle rubbed the ice on Rappe’s stomach to ease her abdominal pain. Arbuckle denied any wrongdoing. Delmont later made a statement incriminating Arbuckle to the police in an attempt to extort money from Arbuckle’s attorneys.[19]

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Newspaper coverage of the Arbuckle trial

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Newspaper coverage of the Arbuckle trial

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Newspaper coverage of the Arbuckle trial

Arbuckle’s trial was a major media event; William Randolph Hearst‘s nationwide newspaper chain exploited the situation with exaggerated and sensationalized stories.

The story was fueled by yellow journalism, with the newspapers portraying him as a gross lecher who used his weight to overpower innocent girls. Hearst was gratified by the profits he accrued during the Arbuckle scandal, and later said that it had “sold more newspapers than any event since the sinking of the Lusitania.[20]Morality groups called for Arbuckle to be sentenced to death. The resulting scandal destroyed Arbuckle’s career and his personal life.

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Newspaper coverage of the Arbuckle trial and sensationalist reporting

Arbuckle was regarded by those who knew him closely as a good-natured man who was shy with women; he has been described as “the most chaste man in pictures”.[4] However, studio executives, fearing negative publicity by association, ordered Arbuckle’s industry friends and fellow actors (whose careers they controlled) not to publicly speak up for him.

Charlie Chaplin, who was in Britain at the time, told reporters that he could not (and would not) believe Roscoe Arbuckle had anything to do with Virginia Rappe’s death; having known Arbuckle since they both worked at Keystone in 1914, Chaplin “knew Roscoe to be a genial, easy-going type who would not harm a fly.”[21]

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Charles Chaplin

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Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton reportedly did make one public statement in support of Arbuckle’s innocence which earned him a mild reprimand from the studio where he worked.

Film actor William S. Hart, who had never met or worked with Arbuckle, made a number of damaging public statements in which he presumed that Arbuckle was guilty. Arbuckle later wrote a premise for a film parodying Hart as a thief, bully, and wife beater, which Keaton purchased from him.

The following year in 1922, Keaton co-wrote, directed and starred in The Frozen North, the resulting film, and as a result, Hart refused to speak to Keaton for many years.[22][23]

William S Hart 1

William S Hart

Buster Keaton 1

Buster Keaton in The Frozen North (Edward F Cline and Buster Keaton, 1922)

Trials

The prosecutor, San Francisco District Attorney Matthew Brady, an intensely ambitious man who planned to run for governor, made public pronouncements of Arbuckle’s guilt and pressured witnesses to make false statements. Brady at first used Delmont as his star witness during the indictment hearing.[2]

The defense had also obtained a letter from Delmont admitting to a plan to extort payment from Arbuckle. In view of Delmont’s constantly changing story, her testimony would have ended any chance of going to trial.

Ultimately, the judge found no evidence of rape. After hearing testimony from one of the party guests, Zey Prevon, that Rappe told her “Roscoe hurt me” on her deathbed, the judge decided that Arbuckle could be charged with first-degree murder. Brady had originally planned to seek the death penalty. The charge was later reduced to manslaughter.[2]

Roscoe Arbuckle 33

 

First trial

On September 17, 1921, Arbuckle was arrested and arraigned on the charges of manslaughter, but arranged bail after nearly three weeks in jail.

The trial began November 14, 1921, in the city courthouse in San Francisco.[2] Arbuckle’s defense lawyer was Gavin McNab, a professional and competent local attorney that Arbuckle hired as his lead defense counsel.

The principal witness was Ms. Zey Prevon, a guest at the party.[24] At the beginning of the trial Arbuckle told his already-estranged wife, Minta Durfee, that he did not harm Rappe; she believed him and appeared regularly in the courtroom to support him. Public feeling was so negative that she was later shot at while entering the courthouse.[20]

Brady’s first witnesses during the trial included Betty Campbell, a model, who attended the September 5 party and testified that she saw Arbuckle with a smile on his face hours after the alleged rape occurred; Grace Hultson, a local hospital nurse who testified it was very likely that Arbuckle raped Rappe and bruised her body in the process; and Dr. Edward Heinrich, a local criminologist who claimed he found Arbuckle’s fingerprints smeared with Rappe’s blood on room 1219’s bathroom door.

Roscoe Arbuckle 34

Dr. Arthur Beardslee, the hotel doctor who had examined Rappe, testified that an external force seemed to have damaged the bladder. During cross-examination, Betty Campbell, however, revealed that Brady threatened to charge her with perjury if she did not testify against Arbuckle. Dr. Heinrich’s claim to have found fingerprints was cast into doubt after McNab produced the St. Francis hotel maid, who testified that she had cleaned the room before the investigation even took place and did not find any blood on the bathroom door.

Dr. Beardslee admitted that Rappe had never mentioned being assaulted while he was treating her. McNab was furthermore able to get Nurse Hultson to admit that the rupture of Rappe’s bladder could very well have been a result of cancer, and that the bruises on her body could also have been a result of the heavy jewelry she was wearing that evening.[2] During the defense stage of the trial, McNab called various pathology experts who testified that although Rappe’s bladder had ruptured, there was evidence of chronic inflammation and no evidence of any pathological changes preceding the rupture; in other words, there was no external cause for the rupture.[citation needed]

Roscoe Arbuckle 35

Roscoe Arbuckle and his defence team in the Courtroom

On November 28, Arbuckle testified as the defense’s final witness. Arbuckle was simple, direct, and unflustered in both direct and cross examination. In his testimony, Arbuckle claimed that Rappe (whom he testified that he had known for five or six years) came into the party room (1220) around noon that day, and that some time afterward Mae Taub (daughter-in-law of Billy Sunday) asked him for a ride into town, so he went to his room (1219) to change his clothes and discovered Rappe in the bathroom vomiting in the toilet.

Arbuckle then claimed Rappe told him she felt ill and asked to lie down, and that he carried her into the bedroom and asked a few of the party guests to help treat her. When Arbuckle and a few of the guests re-entered the room, they found Rappe on the floor near the bed tearing at her clothing and going into violent convulsions. To calm Rappe down, they placed her in a bathtub of cool water. Arbuckle and Fischbach then took her to room 1227 and called the hotel manager and doctor. After the doctor declared that Rappe was just drunk, Arbuckle then drove Taub to town.

Roscoe Arbuckle 38

During the whole trial, the prosecution presented medical descriptions of Rappe’s bladder as evidence that she had an illness. In his testimony, Arbuckle denied he had any knowledge of Rappe’s illness. During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Leo Friedman aggressively grilled Arbuckle over the fact that he refused to call a doctor when he found Rappe sick, and argued that he refused to do so because he knew of Rappe’s illness and saw a perfect opportunity to rape and kill her.

Arbuckle calmly maintained that he never physically hurt or sexually assaulted Rappe in any way during the September 5 party, and he also claimed that he never made any inappropriate sexual advances against any woman in his life. After over two weeks of testimony with 60 prosecution and defense witnesses, including 18 doctors who testified about Rappe’s illness, the defense rested. On December 4, 1921, the jury returned five days later deadlocked after nearly 44 hours of deliberation with a 10–2 not guilty verdict, and a mistrial was declared.[2]

Arbuckle’s attorneys later concentrated their attention on one woman named Helen Hubbard who had told jurors that she would vote guilty “until hell freezes over”. She refused to look at the exhibits or read the trial transcripts, having made up her mind in the courtroom. Hubbard’s husband was a lawyer who did business with the D.A.’s office,[25] and expressed surprise that she was not challenged when selected for the jury pool.

Roscoe Arbuckle 39

Roscoe Arbuckle Trial – Newspaper Coverage

While much attention was paid to Hubbard after the trial, some other jury members felt Arbuckle was guilty but not beyond a reasonable doubt, and various jurors joined Hubbard in voting to convict, including – repeatedly at the end – Thomas Kilkenny.

Arbuckle researcher Joan Myers describes the political climate and the media attention to the presence of women on juries (which had only been legal for four years at the time), and how Arbuckle’s defense immediately singled out Hubbard as a villain; Myers also records Hubbard’s account of the jury foreman August Fritze’s attempts to bully her into changing her vote. While Hubbard offered explanations on her vote whenever challenged, Kilkenny remained silent and quickly faded from the media spotlight after the trial ended.[26]

Second trial

The second trial began January 11, 1922, with a new jury, but with the same legal defense and prosecution as well as the same presiding judge.

The same evidence was presented, but this time one of the witnesses, Zey Prevon, testified that Brady had forced her to lie. Another witness who testified during the first trial, a former security guard named Jesse Norgard, who worked at Culver Studios where Arbuckle worked, testified that Arbuckle had once shown up at the studio and offered him a cash bribe in exchange for the key to Rappe’s dressing room. The comedian supposedly said he wanted it to play a joke on the actress. Norgard said he refused to give him the key.

Roscoe Arbuckle 36

Roscoe Arbuckle Trial – Second Trial Jury

During cross-examination, Norgard’s testimony was called into question when he was revealed to be an ex-convict who was currently charged with sexually assaulting an eight-year-old girl, and who was also looking for a sentence reduction from Brady in exchange for his testimony. Further, in contrast to the first trial, Rappe’s history of promiscuity and heavy drinking was detailed. The second trial also discredited some major evidence such as the identification of Arbuckle’s fingerprints on the hotel bedroom door: Heinrich took back his earlier testimony from the first trial and testified that the fingerprint evidence was likely faked. The defense was so convinced of an acquittal that Arbuckle was not called to testify. Arbuckle’s lawyer, McNab, made no closing argument to the jury. However, some jurors interpreted the refusal to let Arbuckle testify as a sign of guilt. After over 40 hours of deliberation, the jury returned February 3, deadlocked with a 10–2 not guilty verdict, resulting in another mistrial.[2]

Third trial

By the time of the third trial, Arbuckle’s films had been banned, and newspapers had been filled for the past seven months with stories of alleged Hollywood orgies, murder, and sexual perversion. Delmont was touring the country giving one-woman shows as “The woman who signed the murder charge against Arbuckle”, and lecturing on the evils of Hollywood.

Roscoe Arbuckle 37

Roscoe Arbuckle Trial – Third Trial

The third trial began March 13, 1922, and this time the defense took no chances. McNab took an aggressive defense, completely tearing apart the prosecution’s case with long and aggressive examination and cross-examination of each witness. McNab also managed to get in still more evidence about Virginia Rappe’s lurid past and medical history. Another hole in the prosecution’s case was opened because Zey Prevon, a key witness, was out of the country after fleeing police custody and unable to testify.[2]

As in the first trial, Arbuckle testified as the final witness and again maintained his denials in his heartfelt testimony about his version of the events at the hotel party. During closing statements, McNab reviewed how flawed the case was against Arbuckle from the very start and how District Attorney Brady fell for the outlandish charges of Maude Delmont, whom McNab described as “the complaining witness who never witnessed”.

Roscoe Arbuckle 40

The jury began deliberations April 12, and took only six minutes to return with a unanimous not guilty verdict—five of those minutes were spent writing a formal statement of apology to Arbuckle for putting him through the ordeal; a dramatic move in American justice. The jury statement as read by the jury foreman stated:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed. The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and woman who have sat listening for thirty-one days to evidence, that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Roscoe Arbuckle 41

Roscoe Arbuckle in Court

After the reading of the apology statement, the jury foreman personally handed the statement to Arbuckle who kept it as a treasured memento for the rest of his life. Then, one by one, the entire 12-person jury plus the two jury alternates walked up to Arbuckle’s defense table where they shook his hand and/or embraced and personally apologized to him. The entire jury even proudly posed in a photo op with Arbuckle for photographers after the verdict and apology.

Some experts later concluded that Rappe’s bladder might also have ruptured as a result of an abortion she might have had a short time before the September 5 party. Rappe’s organs had been destroyed and it was now impossible to test for pregnancy. Because alcohol was consumed at the party, Arbuckle was forced to plead guilty to one count of violating the Volstead Act, and had to pay a $500 fine. At the time of his acquittal, Arbuckle owed over $700,000 (equivalent to approximately $10,200,000 in 2017 dollars[1]) in legal fees to his attorneys for the three criminal trials, and he was forced to sell his house and all of his cars to pay some of the debt.[2]

The scandal and trials had greatly damaged his popularity among the general public, and in spite of the acquittal and the apology, his reputation was not restored, and the effects of the scandal continued. Will H. Hays, who served as the head of the newly formed Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) Hollywood censor board, cited Arbuckle as an example of the poor morals in Hollywood. On April 18, 1922, six days after Arbuckle’s acquittal, Hays banned Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in U.S. movies again. He had also requested that all showings and bookings of Arbuckle films be cancelled, and exhibitors complied.

Will Hays  3.jpg

Will Hays – On April 18, 1922, six days after Arbuckle’s acquittal, Hays banned Roscoe Arbuckle from ever working in U.S. movies again

In December of the same year, under public pressure, Hays elected to lift the ban. However, Arbuckle was still unable to secure work as an actor.[2] Most exhibitors still declined to show Arbuckle’s films, several of which now have no copies known to have survived intact.

One of Arbuckle’s feature-length films known to survive is Leap Year, which Paramount declined to release in the United States due to the scandal.[27] It was eventually released in Europe.[28] With Arbuckle’s films now banned, in March 1922, Buster Keaton signed an agreement to give Arbuckle 35 percent of all future profits from his company, Buster Keaton Productions, to ease his financial situation.[23]

Roscoe Arbuckle 43

Roscoe Arbuckle in Leap Year (James Cruze/Roscoe Arbuckle, 1924)

Similar concurrent scandals

Although it was regarded as Hollywood’s first major scandal,[2] the Arbuckle case was one of five major Paramount-related scandals of the period. In 1920, silent film actress Olive Thomas died after accidentally drinking mercury bichloride, which her husband, matinee idol Jack Pickford, had been using as a topical treatment for syphilis; there were rumors that it had been a suicide.[29]

Olive Thomas 1

Olive Thomas

Jack Pickford 1

Jack Pickford

In February 1922, the murder of director William Desmond Taylor severely damaged the careers of actresses Mary Miles Minter and former Arbuckle screen partner Mabel Normand. In 1923, actor/director Wallace Reid‘s dependency on morphine resulted in his death.[30] In 1924, actor/writer/director Thomas H. Ince died mysteriously, aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht.[31]

William Desmond Taylor 1William Desmond Hurst

Mary Miles Minter  5.jpg

Mary Miles Minter

Mabel Normand 1.jpg

Mabel Normand

Wallace Reid 1

Wallace Reid

Thomas H Ince 1

Thomas H Ince

Aftermath

After the trials, Hollywood shunned Arbuckle, and he could no longer find work. A secondary effect, for archive history, was the determined destruction of copies of films starring Arbuckle.[32]

In November 1923, Minta Durfee filed for divorce, charging grounds of desertion.[33] The divorce was granted the following January.[34]

Minta Durfee 1

Minta Durfee, Roscoe Arbuckle’s first wife

They had been separated since 1921, though Durfee always claimed he was the nicest man in the world and that they were still friends.[35] After a brief reconciliation, Durfee again filed for divorce, this time while in Paris, in December 1924.[36]

Arbuckle married Doris Deane on May 16, 1925.[37]

Roscoe Arbuckle 46

Roscoe Arbuckle and Doris Deane wedding ceremony

Arbuckle tried returning to filmmaking, but industry resistance to distributing his pictures continued to linger after his acquittal.

He retreated into alcoholism. In the words of his first wife, “Roscoe only seemed to find solace and comfort in a bottle”. Buster Keaton attempted to help Arbuckle by giving him work on his films. Arbuckle wrote the story for a Keaton short called Daydreams (1922).

Daydreams  1.jpg

Daydreams (Edward S Cline/Buster Keaton, 1922)

Arbuckle allegedly co-directed scenes in Keaton’s Sherlock, Jr. (1924), but it is unclear how much of this footage remained in the film’s final cut.

In 1925, Carter Dehaven made the short Character Studies. Arbuckle appeared alongside Buster Keaton, Harold LloydRudolph ValentinoDouglas Fairbanks, and Jackie Coogan.[38]

Character Studies 1

Character Studies (Carter Dehaven,1926)

The same year, in Photoplays August issue, James R. Quirk wrote “I would like to see Roscoe Arbuckle make a comeback to the screen.” He also said “The American nation prides itself upon its spirit of fair play. We like the whole world to look upon America as the place where every man gets a square deal. Are you sure Roscoe Arbuckle is getting one today? I’m not.”[39]

William Goodrich pseudonym

Eventually, Arbuckle worked as a director under the alias William Goodrich. According to author David Yallop in The Day the Laughter Stopped (a biography of Arbuckle with special attention to the scandal and its aftermath), Arbuckle’s father’s full name was William Goodrich Arbuckle.

Another tale credited Keaton, an inveterate punster, with suggesting that Arbuckle become a director under the alias “Will B. Good”. The pun being too obvious, Arbuckle adopted the more formal pseudonym “William Goodrich”.[40] Keaton himself told this story during a recorded interview with Kevin Brownlow in the 1960s.[41]

Roscoe Arbuckle 47

Roscoe Arbuckle as William Goodrich

Between 1924 and 1932, Arbuckle directed a number of comedy shorts under the pseudonym for Educational Pictures, which featured lesser-known comics of the day. Louise Brooks, who played the ingenue in Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (1931), told Kevin Brownlow of her experiences in working with Arbuckle:

He made no attempt to direct this picture. He just sat in his director’s chair like a dead man. He had been very nice and sweetly dead ever since the scandal that ruined his career. But it was such an amazing thing for me to come in to make this broken-down picture, and to find my director was the great Roscoe Arbuckle. Oh, I thought he was magnificent in films. He was a wonderful dancer—a wonderful ballroom dancer, in his heyday. It was like floating in the arms of a huge doughnut—really delightful.[20]

Roscoe Arbuckle 48

Windy Riley Goes Hollywood (William Goodrich – Roscoe Arbuckle, 1931)

Among the more visible directorial projects under the Goodrich pseudonym was the Eddie Cantor feature Special Delivery (1927), which was released by Paramount and co-starred William Powell and Jobyna Ralston. His highest-profile project was arguably The Red Mill, also released in 1927, a Marion Davies vehicle.

Roscoe Arbuckle 49

Special Delivery (William Goodrich – Roscoe Arbuckle, 1927)

Red Mill 1

The Red Mill (William Goodrich – Roscoe Arbuckle, 1927)

Second divorce and third marriage

In 1929, Doris Deane sued for divorce in Los Angeles, charging desertion and cruelty.[42]

On June 21, 1931, Roscoe married Addie Oakley Dukes McPhail (later Addie Oakley Sheldon, 1905–2003) in Erie, Pennsylvania.[43]

Roscoe Arbuckle 50

Roscoe Arbuckle and Addie McPhail after their wedding ceremony

Brief comeback and death

In 1932, Arbuckle signed a contract with Warner Bros. to star under his own name in a series of six two-reel comedies, to be filmed at the Vitagraph studios in Brooklyn.

These six short films constitute the only recordings of his voice. Silent-film comedian Al St. John (Arbuckle’s nephew) and actors Lionel Stander and Shemp Howard appeared with Arbuckle. The films were very successful in America,[43] although when Warner Bros. attempted to release the first one (Hey, Pop!) in the United Kingdom, the British Board of Film Censors cited the 10-year-old scandal and refused to grant an exhibition certificate.[44]

Roscoe Arbuckle 51

Hey, Pop! (Alfred J.Goulding, 1932)

On June 28, 1933, Arbuckle had finished filming the last of the two-reelers (four of which had already been released). The next day he signed a contract with Warners to star in a feature-length film.[45] That night he went out with friends to celebrate his first wedding anniversary and the new Warner contract when he reportedly said: “This is the best day of my life.”

He suffered a heart attack later that night and died in his sleep.[9] He was 46. His widow Addie requested that his body be cremated as that was Arbuckle’s wish.[46]

Roscoe Arbuckle 32

Roscoe Arbuckle’s death report

Roscoe Arbuckle 52

Legacy

Many of Arbuckle’s films, including the feature Life of the Party (1920), survive only as worn prints with foreign-language inter-titles. Little or no effort was made to preserve original negatives and prints during Hollywood’s first two decades.

Roscoe Arbuckle 53

The Life of the Party (Joseph Henabery, 1920)

By the early 21st century, some of Arbuckle’s short subjects (particularly those co-starring Chaplin or Keaton) had been restored, released on DVD, and even screened theatrically. Arbuckle’s early influence on American slapstick comedy is widely recognised.[47]

For his contributions to the film industry, Arbuckle has a motion pictures star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at 6701 Hollywood Boulevard.[48]

Roscoe Arbuckle 54

Roscoe Arbuckle – Walk of Fame

In popular culture

The James Ivory film The Wild Party (1975) has been repeatedly but incorrectly cited as a film dramatization of the Arbuckle–Rappe scandal.

In fact it is loosely based on the 1926 poem by Joseph Moncure March.[49] In this film, James Coco portrays a heavy-set silent-film comedian named Jolly Grimm whose career is on the skids, but who is desperately planning a comeback.

Raquel Welch portrays his mistress, who ultimately goads him into shooting her. This film was loosely based on the misconceptions surrounding the Arbuckle scandal, yet it bears almost no resemblance to the documented facts of the case.[50]

Wild Party 1

The Wild Party (James Ivory, 1975)

In Ken Russell‘s 1977 biopic ValentinoRudolph Nureyev as a pre-movie star Rudolph Valentino dances in a nightclub before a grossly overweight, obnoxious, and hedonistic celebrity called “Mr. Fatty” (played by William Hootkins), a caricature of Arbuckle rooted in the public view of him created in popular press coverage of the Rappe rape trial.

In the scene, Valentino picks up starlet (Jean Acker played by Carol Kane) off a table in which she is sitting in front of Fatty and dances with her, enraging the spoiled star, who becomes apoplectic.[51]

Valentino 1

Valentino (Ken Russel, 1977)

The caricature of Arbuckle as a boor continued to be promulgated in the seventies by film writers such as Kenneth Anger in his seminal work Hollywood Babylon.

In an episode of the Mathnet segment of the children’s public-television television series Square One Television (Season 2, Episode 1, “The Case of the Willing Parrot,” presented in five sections over the course of a week of the overall show), fictitious deceased celebrity Roscoe “Fatty” Tissue was written as a parody of Arbuckle.

Before his death in 1997, comedian Chris Farley expressed interest in starring as Arbuckle in a biography film. According to the 2008 biography The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts, Farley and screenwriter David Mamet agreed to work together on what would have been Farley’s first dramatic role.[52]

In 2007, director Kevin Connor planned a film, The Life of the Party, based on Arbuckle’s life. It was to star Chris Kattan and Preston Lacy.[53] However the project was shelved.[54] Like Farley, comedians John Belushi and John Candy also considered playing Arbuckle, but each of them died before a biopic was made. Farley’s film was signed with Vince Vaughn as his co-star.[55]

In 2005, jazz trumpet player Dave Douglas released the album “Keystone”, dedicated to the work of Roscoe Arbuckle. It contains a DVD which features the movie Fatty and Mabel Adrift (1916/ Keystone – Triangle), starring Roscoe Arbuckle, Mable Normand, Al St. John, and Luke the Dog.

Roscoe Arbuckle 55

Dave Douglas, Keystone (2005)

In April and May 2006, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City mounted a 56-film, month-long retrospective of all of Arbuckle’s known surviving work, running the entire series twice.[56]

Arbuckle is the subject of a 2004 novel titled I, Fatty by author Jerry StahlThe Day the Laughter Stopped by David Yallop and Frame-Up! The Untold Story of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle by Andy Edmonds are other books on Arbuckle’s life.[57] The 1963 novel, Scandal in Eden by Garet Rogers,[58] is a fictionalized version of the Arbuckle scandal.

Roscoe Arbuckle 56

The Day the Laughter Stopped (David Yallop, 1976)

Fatty Arbuckle’s was an American-themed restaurant chain in the UK prominent during the 1980s and named after Arbuckle.

Stoneface, a 2012 play by Vanessa Claire Stewart about Buster Keaton, depicts Keaton’s and Arbuckle’s friendship and professional relationship.

Arbuckle is played by actor Brett Ashy in the motion picture Return to Babylon (2013).

The scandal is described during the climax of the film Middle Man.

Filmography

Roscoe Arbuckle 1

Actor

Roscoe Arbuckle 57

Director

Roscoe Arbuckle, Fatty
Roscoe Arbuckle, Fatty
Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle

Vitagraph shorts

See also

References

  1. Jump up to:a b c d Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Community Development Project. “Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–”. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  2. Jump up to:a b c d e f g h i j k l m Noe, Denise. “Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe”Crime Library at truTV. Archived from the original on September 17, 2008. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
  3. Jump up^ “Year: 1900; Census Place: Santa Clara, Santa Clara, California; Roll: 111; Page: 7A; Enumeration District: 0077; FHL microfilm: 1240111”Ancestry.com. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  4. Jump up to:a b c d e Ellis, Chris & Julie (April 10, 2005). The Mammoth Book of Celebrity Murder: Murder played out in the spotlight of maximum publicity. Constable & Robertson. ISBN 978-0786715688. Retrieved 2015-01-30. (Subscription required (help)).
  5. Jump up to:a b Lowrey, Carolyn (1920). The First One Hundred Noted Men and Women of the Screen. New York: Moffat, Yard & Co. p. 6. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  6. Jump up^ “Roscoe Always Jolly But Weak: Stepmother”. San Jose: The Evening News. September 12, 1921. pp. 1–2. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  7. Jump up^ Saperstein, Susan. “Grauman’s Theaters”. San Jose, California Guides. Retrieved June 5, 2011.
  8. Jump up^ “She Must Use 7 Mirrors”The Evening News. January 31, 1905. p. 3. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  9. Jump up to:a b “Dies in His Sleep. Film Comedian, Central Figure in Coast Tragedy in 1921, Long Barred From Screen. On Eve of his Comeback. Succumbs at 46 After He and Wife Had Celebrated Their First Wedding Anniversary”The New York Times. June 30, 1933. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (Subscription required (help)). Roscoe C. (Fatty) Arbuckle, film comedian, died of a heart attack at 3 o’clock … Roscoe Conkling Arbuckle was born at Smith Centre, Kansas, on March 24, 1887.
  10. Jump up^ “Minta Durfee, actress, 85, Dies; Former Wife of Fatty Arbuckle”The New York Times. September 12, 1975. Retrieved January 30, 2015. (Subscription required (help)). Minta Durfee, the actress who was married to Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle and became Charlie Chaplin’s first motionpicture leading lady, died Tuesday in Woodland Hills, a Los Angeles suburb.
  11. Jump up^ Del Olmo, Frank (September 12, 1975). “Fatty Arbuckle’s First Wife Dies”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 3, 2008.
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  15. Jump up^ “Interesting facts about Roscoe Arbuckle”. Arbucklemania. Retrieved January 30, 2015Alice Lake called him Arbie. To Mabel Normand he was Big Otto, after an elephant in the Selig Studio Zoo near Keystone. Buster Keaton called him Chief. Fred Mace called him Crab. And for some unexplained reason fellow comic Charlie Murray referred to him as My Child the Fat. His three wives always called him Roscoe
  16. Jump up^ “When the Five O’Clock Whistle Blows in Hollywood”Vanity Fair. September 1922. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
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  18. Jump up^ Hopkins, Ernest J. (September 25, 1921). “Miss Rappe’s Manager Tells Worst He Knows of Arbuckle”The Pittsburgh Press. p. 3. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
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  26. Jump up^ Myers, Joan (March 18, 2009). “The Case of the Vanishing Juror”Feminism 3.0. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  27. Jump up^ Oderman 2005, p. 199.
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  29. Jump up^ Whitfield, Eileen (August 31, 2007). Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 224. ISBN 978-0813191799. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
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  35. Jump up^ “Excerpts of Interview with Minta Durfee Arbuckle by Don Schneider and Stephen Normand”The Movie Museum. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  36. Jump up^ “Milestones: December 8, 1924”Time. June 29, 1931. Retrieved January 30,2015.
  37. Jump up^ Donnelley, Paul (2003). Fade to Black: A Book of Movie Obituaries. Music Sales Group. p. 37. ISBN 978-1849382465. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  38. Jump up^ Leider, Emily W. (May 6, 2003). Dark Lover: The Life and Death of Rudolph Valentino. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 198. ISBN 978-0374282394. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  39. Jump up^ Quirk, James R. (August 1925). “Speaking of Pictures”Photoplay. New York: Photoplay Publishing Company. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  40. Jump up^ Oderman 2005, p. 201.
  41. Jump up^ Sweeney, Kevin W. (2007). Buster Keaton Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. pp. 192–193. ISBN 1578069637.
  42. Jump up^ “Milestones September 8, 1929”Time. September 30, 1929. Retrieved January 30, 2015Sued for Divorce. By Mrs. Doris Deane Arbuckle minor cinemactress, Roscoe Conkling (“Fatty”) Arbuckle, onetime cinema funnyman; at Los Angeles; for the second time. Grounds: desertion, cruelty.
  43. Jump up to:a b Oderman 2005 p.212
  44. Jump up^ Liebman, Roy (1998). From Silents To Sound: A Biographical Encyclopedia Of Performers Who Made the Transition To Talking Pictures. McFarland. p. 5. ISBN 978-0786403820. (Subscription required (help)).
  45. Jump up^ “Arbuckle, Star Film Comedian, Dies in Sleep”St. Petersburg TimesAssociated Press. July 1, 1933. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  46. Jump up^ Chermak, Steven M.; Bailey, Frankie Y., eds. (October 30, 2007). Crimes and Trials of the Century: From the Black Sox scandal to the Attica prison riots, Volume 1. Glenwood. p. 69. ISBN 978-0313341106.
  47. Jump up^ Eagan, Daniel (November 26, 2011). “More on Fatty Arbuckle: His Films and His Legacy”Smithsonian. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  48. Jump up^ King, Susan; Welkos, Robert (April 12, 2001). “Hollywood Star Walk: Roscoe Arbuckle”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  49. Jump up^ Long, Robert Emmet (December 11, 2006). James Ivory in Conversation: How Merchant Ivory Makes Its Movies. University of California Press. p. 126. ISBN 978-0520249998.
  50. Jump up^ Mayo, Mike (February 1, 2008). American Murder: Criminals, Crimes and the Media. Visible Ink Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-1578591916. Retrieved January 30,2015.
  51. Jump up^ “Valentino. 1977. Rudolph Nureyev Dances”. YouTube. Retrieved December 24,2014.
  52. Jump up^ Farley, Tom; Colby, Tanner (May 6, 2008). The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts. Penguin. p. 262. ISBN 978-1616804589. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  53. Jump up^ King, Susan (November 15, 2007). “Screening Room”Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
  54. Jump up^ Schanie, Andrew (2010). Movie Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in the Film Industry. Clerisy Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-1578603541.
  55. Jump up^ Bovsun, Mara (September 1, 2012). “Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, acquitted for murder of Virginia Rappe in 1922, never recovered from all the bad press”Daily News. Retrieved August 12, 2015.
  56. Jump up^ “Rediscovering Roscoe: The Careers of “Fatty” Arbuckle”. moma.org.
  57. Jump up^ Paulus, Tom; King, Rob, eds. (April 21, 2010). Slapstick Comedy. Routledge. p. 86. ISBN 978-0415801799.
  58. Jump up^ Rogers, Garet (1963). Scandal in Eden. Dial Press. Retrieved May 15, 2015.

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Further reading

  • Atkins, Ace (2009). Devil’s Garden. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. ISBN 978-0-399-15536-9.
  • Edmonds, Andy (1991). Frame-Up!: The Untold Story of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. New York: William Morrow & Company. ISBN 978-0-688-09129-3.
  • Merritt, Greg (2013). Room 1219: The Life of Fatty Arbuckle, the Mysterious Death of Virginia Rappe, and the Scandal That Changed Hollywood. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. ISBN 978-1-613-74792-6.
  • Neibaur, James L. (December 2006). Arbuckle and Keaton: Their 14 Film Collaborations. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 0-7864-2831-7.
  • Oderman, Stuart (2005). Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle: A Biography of the Silent Film Comedian, 1887–1933. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0-899-50872-6.
  • Stahl, Jerry (2004). I, Fatty: A Novel. New York: Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-582-34247-4.
  • Yallop, David (1976). The Day the Laughter Stopped. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 978-0-312-18410-0.
  • The New York Times; September 12, 1921; pg. 1. “San Francisco, California; September 11, 1921. “Roscoe (“Fatty”) Arbuckle was arrested late last night on a charge of murder as a result of the death of Virginia Rappe, film actress, after a party in Arbuckle’s rooms at the Hotel St. Francis. Arbuckle is still in jail tonight despite efforts by his lawyers to find some way to obtain his liberty.”
  • The New York Times; September 13, 1921; pg. 1. “San Francisco, California; September 12, 1921. “The Grand Jury met tonight at 7:30 o’clock to hear the testimony of witnesses rounded up by Matthew Brady (District Attorney) of San Francisco to support his demand for the indictment of Roscoe (“Fatty”) Arbuckle for the murder of Miss Virginia Rappe.”
  • Ki LongfellowChina BluesEio Books 2012, ISBN 0-9759255-7-1 Includes historical discussion of the merits of the Arbuckle case.

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Charley Chase


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Charley Chase promotional photo 1920’s

Charley Chase (born Charles Joseph Parrott, October 20, 1893 – June 20, 1940) was an American comedian, actor, screenwriter and film director, best known for his work in Hal Roach short film comedies. He was the older brother of comedian/director James Parrott.

Life and career

Born Charles Joseph Parrott in Baltimore, Maryland, Charley Chase began performing in vaudeville as a teenager and started his career in films by working at the Christie Film Company in 1912.[1]

He then moved to Keystone Studios, where he began appearing in bit parts in the Mack Sennett films, including those of Charlie Chaplin.

His New Profession 2

Poster for His New Profession (Charles Chaplin, 1914) with Chaplin and Charley Chase

His New Profession 3

His New Profession (Charles Chaplin, 1914) with Chaplin and Charley Chase

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His New Profession (Charles Chaplin, 1914) with Chaplin and Charley Chase

By 1915 he was playing juvenile leads in the Keystones, and directing some of the films as Charles Parrott. His Keystone credentials were good enough to get him steady work as a comedy director with other companies; he directed many of Chaplin imitator Billy West‘s comedies, which featured a young Oliver Hardy as villain.

Hobbo, The 1

Charley Chase, Billy West and Oliver Hardy in The Hobbo (Arvid L Gillstrom, 1917)

Playmates 1

Charley Chase, Billy West and Oliver Hardy in Playmates (Charley Chase, 1918)

He worked at L-KO Kompany during its final months of existence. Then in 1920, Chase began working as a film director for Hal Roach Studios.

Among his notable early works for Roach was supervising the first entries in the Our Gang series, as well as directing several films starring Lloyd Hamilton; like many other silent comedians, Chase is reported to have regarded Hamilton’s work as a major influence on that of his own. Chase became director-general of the Hal Roach studio in late 1921, supervising the production of all the Roach series except the Harold Lloyd comedies.

Our Gang 1

Charley Chase and Our Gang 1920s – Hal Roach Studios

Moonshine 1

Moonshine (Charley Chase, 1920) Charley Chase with Lloyd Hamilton

Following Lloyd’s departure from the studio in 1923, Chase moved back in front of the camera with his own series of shorts, adopting the screen name Charley Chase.

Chase was a master of the comedy of embarrassment, and he played either hapless young businessmen or befuddled husbands in dozens of situation comedies. His screen persona was that of a pleasant young man with a dapper mustacheand ordinary street clothes; this set him apart from the clownish makeups and crazy costumes used by his contemporaries. His earliest Roach shorts cast him as a hard-luck fellow named “Jimmie Jump” in one-reel (10-minute) comedies.

April Fool 1

Charley Chase as Jimmy Jump in April Fool (Ralph Ceder, 1924)

The first Chase series was successful and expanded to two reels (20 minutes); this would become the standard length for Chase comedies, apart from a few three-reel featurettes later.

Direction of the Chase series was taken over by Leo McCarey, who in collaboration with Chase formed the comic style of the series—an emphasis on characterization and farce instead of knockabout slapstick. Some of Chase’s starring shorts of the 1920s, particularly Mighty Like a MooseCrazy Like a FoxFluttering Hearts, and Limousine Love, are often considered to be among the finest in silent comedy.

Chase remained the guiding hand behind the films, assisting anonymously with the directing, writing, and editing.

Mighty Like A Moose 1

Mighty Like A Moose (Leo McCarey, 1926) with Charley Chase, Vivien Oakland and Ann Howe

Mighty Like A Moose 2

Mighty Like A Moose (Leo McCarey, 1926) with Charley Chase, Vivien Oakland and Ann Howe

Crazy Like A Fox 1

Crazy Like A Fox (Leo McCarey, 1926) Charley Chase with Martha Sleeper and William V Mong

Crazy Like A Fox 2

Crazy Like A Fox (Leo McCarey, 1926) Charley Chase with Martha Sleeper and William V Mong

Fluttering Hearts 1

Fluttering Hearts (James Parrot, 1927) Charley Chase with Oliver Hardy, Martha Sleeper and Eugene Paltette

Fluttering Hearts 2

Fluttering Hearts (James Parrot, 1927) Charley Chase with Oliver Hardy, Martha Sleeper and Eugene Paltette

Limousine Love 1

Limousine Love (Fred Guiol, 1928) Charley Chase with Edna Marion, Edgar Kennedy and Viola Richard 

Limousine Love 2

Limousine Love (Fred Guiol, 1928) Charley Chase with Edna Marion, Edgar Kennedy and Viola Richard 

Chase moved with ease into sound films in 1929, and became one of the most popular film comedians of the period.[2]

He continued to be very prolific in the talkie era, often putting his fine singing voice on display and including his humorous, self-penned songs in his comedy shorts. The two-reeler The Pip from Pittsburg, released in 1931 and co-starring Thelma Todd, is one of the most celebrated Charley Chase comedies of the sound era.[3]

Pip from Pittsburg The 1

The Pip From Pittsburg (James Parrott, 1931) Charley Chase with Thelma Todd and Dorothy Granger 

Pip from Pittsburg The 2

The Pip From Pittsburg (James Parrott, 1931) Charley Chase with Thelma Todd and Dorothy Granger 

Throughout the decade, the Charley Chase shorts continued to stand alongside Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang as the core output of the Roach studio. Chase was featured in the Laurel and Hardy feature Sons of the Desert; Laurel and Hardy made cameo appearances as hitchhikers in Chase’s On the Wrong Trek.

Sons of the Desert 1

Sons of the Desert (William A Seiter, 1933) Charley Chase with Laurel and Hardy, Mae Busch and Dorothy Christie

Sons of the Desert 2

Sons of the Desert (William A Seiter, 1933) Charley Chase with Laurel and Hardy, Mae Busch and Dorothy Christie

On the Wrong Trek was supposed to be the final Charley Chase short subject; by 1936 producer Hal Roach was now concentrating on making ambitious feature films.

On the Wrong Treck 1

On the Wrong Treck (Charley Chase and Harold Law, 1936) Charley Chase with Rosina Lawrence, Clarence Wilson and Laurel and Hardy

Chase played a character role in the Patsy Kelly feature Kelly the Second, and starred in a feature-length comedy called Bank Night, lampooning the popular Bank Night phenomenon of the 1930s.

Chase’s feature was plagued with a host of production problems and legalities, and the film was drastically edited down to two reels and finally released as one last Charley Chase short, Neighborhood House. Chase was then dismissed from the Roach studio.

Kelly the Second 1

Kelly the Second (Gus Meins, 1936) Charley Chase with Patsy Kelly and Guin Williams

Neighborhood House 1

Neighborhood House (Charley Chase and Harold Law 1936) Charley Chase with Rosina Lawrence and George Meeker

Later years and death

In 1937, Chase began working at Columbia Pictures, where he spent the rest of his career starring in his own series of two-reel comedies, as well as producing and directing other Columbia comedies, including those of The Three Stooges and Andy Clyde.

He directed the Stooges’ classic Violent Is the Word for Curly (1938); although he is often credited with writing the film’s song “Swinging the Alphabet“,[4] the tune actually originates with 19th-century songwriter Septimus Winner.

Violent is the Word For Curly 1

Violent is the Word For Curly (Charley Chase, 1938) with Three Stooges

Recent research asserts that the Chase family’s maid introduced the song to Chase and taught it to his daughters.[5] Chase’s own shorts at Columbia favored broader sight gags and more slapstick than his earlier, subtler work, although he does sing in two of the Columbias, The Grand Hooter and The Big Squirt (both 1937).

Many of Chase’s Columbia short subjects were strong enough to be remade in the 1940s with other comedians; Chase’s The Heckler (1940) was remade with Shemp Howardas Mr. Noisy (1946) while The Nightshirt Bandit (1938) was remade with Andy Clyde as Go Chase Yourself (1948) and again in 1956 as Pardon My Nightshirt.

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Charley Chase 11

Charley Chase promotional material 1920s

Chase reportedly suffered from depression and alcoholism for most of his professional career, and his tumultuous lifestyle began to take a serious toll on his health. His hair had turned prematurely gray, and he dyed it jet-black for his Columbia comedies.

His younger brother, comedy writer-director James Parrott, had personal problems resulting from a drug treatment, and died in 1939. Chase was devastated. He had refused to give his brother money to support his drug habit, and friends knew he felt responsible for Parrott’s death.

James Parrott 1

James Parrott with Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy

He coped with the loss by throwing himself into his work and by drinking more heavily than ever, despite doctors’ warnings. The stress ultimately caught up with him; just over a year after his brother’s death, Charley Chase died of a heart attack in Hollywood, California on June 20, 1940. He is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery near his wife Bebe Eltinge in Glendale, California.[6][7] Brother James Parrott is also interred at Forest Lawn.[8]

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Charley Chase received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6630 Hollywood Boulevard on February 8, 1960.[9][10]

Charley Chase 13

Renewed interest

Since the 1990s, there has been a revival of interest in the films of Charley Chase, due in large part to the increased availability of his comedies. An extensive website researching his life and work, The World of Charley Chase, was created in 1996, and a biography, Smile When the Raindrops Fall, was published in 1998.

Charley Chase 14

Smile When The Raindrops Fall was the theme song of Whispering Whoopee, a two-reeler from 1930, starring Charley Chase

Chase’s sound comedies for Hal Roach were briefly televised in the late 1990s on the short-lived American cable network the Odyssey Channel. Retrospectives of Chase’s work organized by The Silent Clowns Film Series were held in 1999, 2001, 2006, and 2008 in New York City.

A marathon of selected Charley Chase shorts from the silent era was broadcast in 2005 on the American cable television network Turner Classic Movies. In late 2006, Turner Classic Movies began to air Charley Chase’s sound-era comedies. In January 2011, several of his sound shorts were featured during Turner Classic Movies’ tribute to Hal Roach Studios.

Charley Chase 3

 

In 2007, Mighty Like a Moose (1926) was selected for inclusion in the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry, solidifying its reputation as one of the most celebrated comedies of the silent era and cementing Chase’s status as a pioneer of early film comedy.[11]

Kino International released two Charley Chase DVD volumes in 2004 and 2005 for their Slapstick Symposium series. The films came from archives and collectors around the world. In July 2009, VCI Entertainment released Becoming Charley Chase, a DVD boxed set of Charley Chase’s early silent films.

Charley Chase 15

Kino Lorber Charley Chase Collection on DVD

Columbia Pictures has prepared digital restorations of its twenty Charley Chase shorts, in the same manner as its Buster Keaton DVD restorations. On January 1, 2013 Sony Home Entertainment released Charley Chase Shorts Volume 1, part of its “Columbia Choice Collection” MOD DVD-R library. The 1-disc release contains eight of Chase’s starring shorts, and one Smith & Dale short which he directed, A Nag in the Bag (1938). On November 5, 2013 Sony Home Entertainment released Charley Chase Shorts Volume 2, another in their MOD DVD-R series, which contained the remaining twelve Chase shorts.

Charley Chase 1

Charley Chase MGM promotional photo

Selected filmography

Charley Chase 16

Release poster for Why Men Work (Leo McCarey, 1924)

See also

References

  1. Jump up^ Anthony, Brian and Edmonds, Andy (1998). Smile When the Raindrops Fall: The Story of Charley Chase. The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 23. ISBN 0-8108-3377-8
  2. Jump up^ Lahue, Kalton C. and Gill, Samuel (1970). Clown Princes and Court Jesters. A.S. Barnes and Company, 94.
  3. Jump up^ Solan, Yair. “Many Big Squawks.” The World of Charley Chase. “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 2010-01-26. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  4. Jump up^ Okuda, Ted and Watz, Edward (1986). The Columbia Comedy Shorts: Two-Reel Hollywood Film Comedies, 1933–1958. McFarland & Company, Inc., 27. ISBN 0-7864-0577-5.
  5. Jump up^ Finegan, Richard. “Swingin’ the Alphabet Composer Finally Identified.” The Three Stooges Journal (Winter 2005): 4.
  6. Jump up^ “Charley Chase (1893–1940) – Find A Grave Memorial”http://www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  7. Jump up^ “BeBe Chase (1888–1948) – Find A Grave Memorial”http://www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  8. Jump up^ “James Parrott (1897–1939) – Find A Grave Memorial”http://www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  9. Jump up^ “Charley Chase | Hollywood Walk of Fame”http://www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  10. Jump up^ “Charley Chase”latimes.com. Retrieved 2016-06-28.
  11. Jump up^ “National Film Registry 2007.” https://www.loc.gov/film/nfr2007.html
  12. Jump up^ ARABIAN TIGHTS(1933)“, Turner Classic Movies

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Charley Chase

Barbara Stanwyck


Barbara Stanwyck 7

 

Barbara Stanwyck (born Ruby Catherine Stevens; July 16, 1907 – January 20, 1990) was an American actress, model and dancer.

She was a film and television star, known during her 60-year career as a consummate and versatile professional with a strong, realistic screen presence, and a favorite of directors including Cecil B. DeMilleFritz Lang, and Frank Capra.

After a short but notable career as a stage actress in the late 1920s, she made 85 films in 38 years in Hollywood, before turning to television.

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Orphaned at the age of four and partially raised in foster homes, by 1944 Stanwyck had become the highest-paid woman in the United States.

She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress four times, for Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1944) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). For her television work, she won three Emmy Awards, for The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1961), The Big Valley (1966) and The Thorn Birds (1983).

Her performance in The Thorn Birds also won her a Golden Globe. She received an Honorary Oscar at the 1982 Academy Award ceremony and the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award in 1986. She was also the recipient of honorary lifetime awards from the American Film Institute (1987), the Film Society of Lincoln Center (1986), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (1981) and the Screen Actors Guild (1967).

Stanwyck received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, and was ranked as the 11th greatest female star of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.[1]

Barbara Stanwyck 4

As Sugarpuss O’Shea in Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941) Promo