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Deadpan: the comedy of Buster Keaton

The Story

By age nine, Buster Keaton already knew he should never smile. "I'd simply learned that I was the type of comic that if I laughed at what I did, the audience didn't," Keaton tells Telescope's Fletcher Markle, reflecting on his early years in vaudeville in this 1964 profile. From his christening as Buster by Harry Houdini to tips on how to throw a pie and keep his saucer-brimmed pork-pie hat in shape, this profile captures the man behind the great stone-face and evokes the long-gone early years of cinematic comedy. 

Medium: Television
Program: Telescope
Broadcast Date: April 17, 1964
Guest(s): Buster Keaton
Host: Fletcher Markle
Duration: 22:24

Did You know?

• Born to vaudeville parents in 1895, Joseph Frank (Buster) Keaton started his professional show business career at the tender age of four. An integral part of the family's touring act, the Three Keatons, he played foil to his father's parenting efforts which usually ended up with the young lad as a projectile flying across the stage. In 17 years on the vaudeville circuit, Keaton learned how to take a fall without getting injured and studied up close some of the great comic masters of early American theatre.

• Teaming up with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, Keaton first took to the silver screen in 1917 in Butcher Boy. Keaton's stone-face and his brand of physical comedy made him a legendary comedic actor and director. He rose quickly in Hollywood, and in fewer than 15 years, he directed and acted in more than 50 silent films, including his top-grossing and critically acclaimed The General and The Navigator.

• After a series of personal challenges in the early 1930s, including divorce, bankruptcy and a severe bout of alcoholism which he refers to in this clip, Keaton made the transition to "talkies" and television. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he found a new generation of fans and regained some of the profile he'd had in the silent film era. The early 1960s also marked a renaissance for silent film, and his early works gained critical recognition at film festivals around the world.

• In 1965 Keaton starred in The Railrodder, a short film produced by the National Film Board in which Keaton travels Canada by rail on a track speeder. Watch it at the NFB website.

• Buster Keaton died of lung cancer on Feb. 22, 1966, just two years after this interview aired. He was 70.



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