Buster Keaton

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Buster Keaton
Joseph Frank Keaton
BirthplacePiqua, Kansas, USA
Actor, director, producer, writer

Keaton, Buster

(Joseph Francis Keaton), 1895–1966, American movie actor, b. Piqua, Kans. Considered one of the greatest comic actors in film history, Keaton used his considerable acrobatic skills, which he had developed as a child in vaudeville, in many silent comedies in which he portrayed a deadpan hero who survived against incredible odds. Among these movies are The Navigator (1924), The General (1926), and Steamboat Bill Junior (1927). He made a comeback as a supporting actor in such films as Sunset Boulevard (1950), Limelight (1952), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).


See biographies by R. Blesh (1960), M. Meade (1995), and E. McPherson (2005); J. E. Rapf, Buster Keaton: A Bio-Bibliography (1995); J. Kline, The Complete Films of Buster Keaton (2003); studies by G. Wead and G. Lellis (1977), G. Oldham (1996), and R. Knopf (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Keaton, Buster


(real name, Joseph Francis Keaton). Born Oct. 4, 1896, in Pickway; died Feb. 1, 1966, in Hollywood. American comic actor and motion picture director.

Keaton began playing in movie shorts with the well-known comic R. (Fatty) Arbuckle. In the 1920’s, Keaton’s film comedies The Three Ages, Our Hospitality (both 1923), Sherlock Junior, The Navigator (both 1924), and The General (1926) became world famous. Keaton played the leads in these films and was usually director as well. The comic essence of Keaton’s acting consisted in the incongruity of his deadpan expression with the exciting pace of events in the film. After the advent of sound films, Keaton lost his popularity and thereafter acted only occasionally in featured roles.


Kaluzhinskii, Z. “Baster Kiton.” In Komiki Mirovogo ekrana. Moscow, 1966.
Robinson, D. Buster Keaton [2nd ed.]. London [1970].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Keaton, (Joseph Francis) Buster

(1895–1966) film actor, screenwriter, producer; born in Piqua, Kans. The son of medicine show performers, he joined their acrobatic comedy act at age three; they moved on to vaudeville when he was six and already an accomplished acrobat. He entered films in 1917 with The Butcher Boy, and after brief service in World War I, he made a series of short movies, along with his first feature, The Saphead (1920). By 1923 he was exercising complete artistic control over his films and he had established his persona as a deadpan and agile Everyman undaunted by the most extreme situations. Some of his productions were almost surreal, such as Sherlock, Jr. (1924), in which he played a film projectionist who became involved in the action on the screen; other masterworks include The Boat (1921), The Navigator (1924), and The General (1927). After Keaton signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc. in 1928 he lost some control over his films, and not only did his marriage to Natalie Talmadge break up, but he was also troubled by alcoholism and mental illness. He hung on at the margins of the Hollywood film world, but it was his appearances at the circus in Paris in 1947 and then in Chaplin's Limelight (1952) that led to the reappreciation of his comic artistry. His last decade saw him all but overwhelmed by the constant demands on his time and tributes to his genius.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.