rudi blesh

“The act had to change. But Joe was changing too. Not like the old man any more. Mad most of the time, and could look at you as if he don’t know you. But he could become the father quick enough–those lickings for things that had happened before. No more private spankings. In front of a thousand people. Finally I’d get sore, and we’d start trading. And still keep it funny. 

"Funny? People should have felt the wallops we were handing out. Like the time he found the pipe in my jacket down in the dressing room and stalked out, and I said to one of the actors, ‘Now I’ll catch it. If you want some excitement, just watch from the wings.’ What a beating, and I’m nineteen! … 

"Myra told me, 'Joe’s not punishing you.’

"I said, 'It feels like it.’

"She said, 'No, he’s not mad at you or anyone else. It’s old Father time he’d like to get his hands on. Man or woman,’ she said, 'some can take getting old, some can’t.’

"It made it more understandable, no more standable. Anyway, like the Indian said, it went on like that for a while, then it got worse. When I smelled whiskey across the stage, I got braced.”

- Buster Keaton from “Keaton” by Rudi Blesh

[photo 1911, Buster 16, Joe 44]

With no more ado they were married and drove away in his station wagon. As to where, Eleanor had not the faintest idea. It was dark, and she was asleep, curled up in the seat, long before they got there. The sun, coming level through the windshield, awakened her. Buster was not in the car. Then she saw him, shading his eyes with a hand, scanning the far horizons. All around them were the trackless desert, Joshua trees, and the pallid ghost bushes. There was not a road in sight.

“Where are we?” she called.

“Lost,” he said.

Then he was back in the car, laughing and hugging her. “Twenty minutes from the best breakfast you ever ate,” he said. “Then we’re going fishing in the mountains. Did I scare you?”

“No,” said Eleanor. “I was kind of glad.”

Excerpt from “Keaton” by Rudi Blesh


Buster filmed the broom and knothole gag in The Playhouse (1921).  Here Buster describes the inception of the gag with his dad as part of The Three Keatons:

“Then I found that knothole in the floor in Columbus.  Stopped and looked at it with that alley broom in my hand and walked away.  Walked back and looked at it again, jabbed at it with the broom handle and missed.  Gave up and walked away again.  Just then Joe started his recitation and needed a noise obbligato.  So I walk over and really go to work on it.  Jab and miss, jab and miss.  Get into every crazy position-even on my head-to aim better but still miss.  Sounded like the Light Brigade; no one could hear a word Joe was saying.  He picked up the gag, stopping and starting over, doing the slow burn.

"Then he begins to really wonder, ‘What the hell is that over there?’ walks over, and I point at the hole as serious as if God only knows what’s down there.  I keep missing.  So I get sore, take off my coat, roll up my sleeves, spit on my palms, take the broom in both hands, sight down the handle, take aim-Joe bending over watching me-shake my head, line it up again, take a fresh aim.  More of a production, for Crissake, than Palmer lining up a thirty-foot putt.  Finally I let fly.  Hit the hole at last; the broom goes in up to the bristles, and I go smack on my face with my feet up in the air.  A beautiful fall.  After all that buildup the audience is absolutely killing itself.  All over a hole in the floor!

- Rudi Blesh, Keaton (1966, The Macmillan Company) p.78

“He began the bombardment–letters, telegrams, long-distance calls. ‘Marry me. Marry me.’ But Natalie wouldn’t say yes and she wouldn’t say no. Then he saw the headline of a syndicated article:


Will It Be Butter and Eggs Or Custard Pie?

He read on. The son of a wealthy Chicago dairyman was in New York courting Natalie Talmadge.

So! He had to shoot the works. Without a word to Natalie he packed to rush east. Swearing his family and a few intimates to secrecy, he said that his wedding with Natalie was all set … He was reaching for The Miracle.

… at Alburquerque, New Mexico, he wired ahead: 'On my way for our wedding. Please set date. Wire reply.’  …

They crossed into Texas and were at Amarillo when the club car porter brought the wire. He and Lou were playing bridge … Buster summoned Crane from the chair where he was dozing. 'Play out my hand, Ward.’ …

… he flew on his crutches for his car, his compartment. He sank onto the unmade berth and tore the envelope open. 'Yes,’ it read, 'wedding here May 31.’

… At last the date registered on his brain. It was Joe and Myra’s wedding anniversary. Their twenty-eighth. Was it coincidence or Natalie’s sentimental thoughtfulness? Buster Keaton has never known for sure.”

Excerpt from “KEATON” by Rudi Blesh