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  • Writer's pictureMort Laitner

The Society Meets Buster Keaton

On February 16 members of the SFTOS were captivated by Walt Strony’s accompaniment on the Opus 1616 of the Buster Keaton film “The Cameraman” at Dr. Joel and Pam Jancko’s Backyard Museum. In preparation for the concert, I decided to do some research on the actor and the movie.(Common sense note to readers—preparing for any event usually pays off. Think of how you can impress your friends with little known info about the film.)

Here’s what I learned.

The  MGM film is considered a Drama/Romance, released in 1928. (If you missed the movie, you can watch it for free on YouTube.) It’s so good that it has been added to the National Film Registry in 2005 by the Library of Congress. One critic said, “It is a lucid, beautifully formed dramatic comedy.” The protagonist is a newsreel cameraman. The film’s venue is NYC. The Chinatown war scenes are classic Keaton. A well-trained Josephine, Keaton’s monkey, steals many of his scenes.

Here are the numbers:

Under a two year contract, MGM paid Keaton $3,000 a week. (For 1928 that’s big bucks. Come to think of it, that’s big bucks today.)

MGM assigned 22 writers to work on the film. 

The film grossed $797,000 making it a box office success.

The film ran for 67 minutes on “8” reels. Hard to believe that silent film movie-goers had that many breaks.

Additional points of interest:

The film was considered lost due to a fire in MGM vault but other copies were found.

Keaton’s stoic, deadpan expression earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face.” (Thanks Wikipedia)

Where did the name Buster come from?

“Keaton acquired the nickname “Buster” at about 18 months of age. Keaton told an interviewer 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.” 

Well, a good time was had by all. Thanks to the: 

SFTOS President Susie Tuchklaper, the Janckos, Walt Strony and Buster Keaton.

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