Buster Takes a Dip

My favorite picture of Buster Keaton. On the stairs of the "Italian Villa" in Beverly Hills (AMPAS)

They called him the “Great Stone Face,” but this is, of course, a misnomer. There was nothing stone about the face of Buster Keaton. It was like rubber, able to convey every conceivable emotion using not only his eyes, but all of his face and entire body as well. He simply didn’t smile, but he told you everything he wanted you to know with a look.

If you ever have time you should check out a little film called SAN DIEGO I LOVE YOU from 1944. There you will see one of the rarest moments in motion picture history – The great “Stone Face” breaking into a huge smile and it is a beautiful one too.

Although he died too soon (any time would have been too soon for him!), Buster happily lived long enough to see the birth of the great revival in his reputation when a whole new generation rediscovered him starting around the 1950’s and they kept on and still keep on rediscovering him again and again and loving what they discover.

Buster Keaton was an intensely private man in his personal affairs and seeing evidence of the “Real” Buster away from the studio is a challenge indeed. As I said before, Buster told you what he wanted you to know even when he was at play.

(Sid Avery via mptvimages.com)

That’s why I thought these little snapshots were so intriguing. On the surface, they look no different from the untold millions of similar backyard “snaps” in everyone’s photo albums from the Fabulous Fifties. In the first, a doting and watchful grandpa keeps a wary eye on his grand kids while they cavort in their little blow up kiddie pool. He could be anybody’s grandpa in any backyard anywhere.

But in the second one, when Grandpa jokingly joins the kiddies for a moment, the scene is suddenly transformed from what would have been a mildly amusing little snapshot into a priceless moment of comedy genius.  It is a hilarious little shot, but on a deeper level it makes one wonder if Buster felt that even for such a private audience as his own family he had to “perform.” I’m sure I’m probably reading way too much into it, but with Buster, who was such an introspective fellow, one can never know, that, is other than his beloved Eleanor.

My appallingly unattractive friend Taylor with Mrs. Eleanor Keaton. When Eleanor first walked through my door she said, "This house seems familiar to me." She kept thinking she'd been in it before. It wasn't until after I moved and Eleanor died that I found out it had once been the home of Dorothy Sebastian, Buster's leading lady in SPITE MARRIAGE and FREE AND EASY. She was also, for a time, (Pre-Eleanor) Buster's mistress! If Eleanor had known whose house she was in she would have thought that was hilarious. Buster, it would seem, had gotten there first.

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5 Responses to Buster Takes a Dip

  1. Dee says:

    Only YOU would lovingly describe Taylor as “appallingly unattractive.” I can just imagine her throwing back her head and I can “hear” her out-loud gut-laugh when she reads it.
    I love the Buster Keaton super hero photo.

  2. Pingback: Buster Keaton in a Kiddie Pool « Pretty Clever Films

  3. hubert says:

    in europe they billed him,l as the man who never laughs.

  4. Pingback: Buster Keaton in a Kiddie Pool - Pretty Clever FilmsPretty Clever Films

  5. I love your portion of the article about Buster! He was such an endearing and playfully mysterious fellow! I love that you mention that he was not just a stoneface. You are right in saying so, and yes, he surely told you everything he wanted to say even with a slight lift of his eyebrows😄. Thank you for such a sweet piece on him! God bless your day!

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