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The International Brotherhood of Magicians

05 Oct

Dennis Anyone? Houdini Source of Buster Keaton Name

Category: Blog   Posted by: C. DENNIS SCHICK

 From the October 4th edition of the Writer’s Almanac:


Today is the birthday of comedian Buster Keaton, born Joseph Frank Keaton in Piqua, Kansas (1895). His parents were vaudevillians, and according to Keaton, he earned his nickname as a toddler, when he fell down a staircase. Harry Houdini picked up the child, dusted him off, and said, "That was a real buster your kid took!"

His parents added him to the act when he was three years old, and he quickly learned that the more serious he looked, the harder the audience laughed. He had a natural ability to take a fall without being injured, and his parents threw him around the stage like a dummy. They were often hauled in on child abuse charges, but Buster would remove his clothes to show no broken bones or bruises, and the charges were dropped. "The funny thing about our act," he told The Detroit News in 1914, "is that dad gets the worst of it, although I'm the one who apparently receives the bruises [...] the secret is in landing limp and breaking the fall with a foot or a hand. It's a knack."

He met film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle in New York in 1917, and Arbuckle took him under his wing, recognizing that the slight, acrobatic Keaton was the perfect complement to the large, bumbling Arbuckle. Keaton successfully made the transition to a solo act in the 1920s, but his deadpan style wasn't as popular as Chaplin's sentimental Little Tramp character, or Harold Lloyd's plucky, optimistic on-screen persona. It was more than 20 years before his feature films - like The Navigator (1924), The General (1926), and The Cameraman (1928) - were recognized as silent comedy classics.

Dennis Schick


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