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Photographs of Buster Keaton-“The Great Stone Face”

Ian Harvey

Buster Keaton was best known for his roles in silent films. From these films, he earned his trademark nickname “The Great Stone Face”, in which he performed a style of physical comedy with a consistently deadpan, stoic expression.

Keaton achieved a lot of recognition during his career, including a ranking from Entertainment Weekly as the seventh-greatest film director of all time. In 1999, the American Film Institute recognized Keaton as the 21st greatest male star of Classic Hollywood Cinema. Film critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton and his exceptional acting and directing period from 1920 to 1929 when he worked without a break in a succession of movies.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath Photo Credit

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath Photo Credit

 

Actor Buster Keaton autographing photographs, on page 48 of the January 1921 Film Fun. Photo Credit

Actor Buster Keaton autographing photographs, on page 48 of the January 1921 Film Fun. Photo Credit

 

Buster Keaton and Phyllis Haver in The Balloonatic (1923) – publicity still Photo Credit

Buster Keaton and Phyllis Haver in The Balloonatic (1923) – publicity still. Photo Credit

 

Keaton feigning his foot stuck in the railroad tracks of a train ride at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1956. Photo Credit

Keaton feigning his foot stuck in the railroad tracks of a train ride at Knott’s Berry Farm in 1956. Photo Credit

 

Buster Keaton in comedy Out-West (1918). Photo Credit

Buster Keaton in comedy Out-West (1918). Photo Credit

 

Buster Keaton in Hard Luck (1921) Photo Credit

Buster Keaton in Hard Luck (1921). Photo Credit

 

Informal portrait of Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge standing with their baby, Joseph Keaton, on the platform of a train station with a bridge in the background in Chicago, Illinois. Photo Credit

Informal portrait of Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge standing with their baby, Joseph Keaton, on the platform of a train station in Chicago, Illinois. Photo Credit

This work ethic and the success of his films made him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies. His career declined after this period as he lost much of his artistic freedom working for MGM. His independence taken away, Keaton sank into a debilitating alcoholism that crumbled his family life.

In the 1940s he recovered from his troubles, married again, and somewhat revived his reputation as an esteemed comic performer for the remainder of his career, earning an Honorary Academy Award in 1959.

Publicity photo of Buster Keaton and WAAB radio show host Ruth Moss. The radio station was part of the Yankee Network, which was on the air from 1930 to 1949. Photo Credit

Publicity photo of Buster Keaton and WAAB radio show host Ruth Moss. The radio station was part of the Yankee Network, which was on the air from 1930 to 1949. Photo Credit

 

Published in 1923. Unknown photographer Photo Credit

Published in 1923. Unknown photographer Photo Credit

 

Still with Bartine Burkett and Buster Keaton in the American film The High Sign (1921) Photo Credit

Photo still with Bartine Burkett and Buster Keaton in the American film The High Sign (1921) Photo Credit

 

Buster Keaton in Photoplay, December 1924 Photo Credit

Buster Keaton in Photoplay, December 1924 Photo Credit

The Buster Keaton Story, a film biography, was released in 1957. The movie starred Donald O’Connor as Keaton, and the screenplay was written by Sidney Sheldon. But it contained several errors of documented facts and also merged Keaton’s three wives into one character. The movie, directed by Sidney Sheldon as well, was only loosely based on the life of Keaton.

During his career, Keaton designed and modified his famous “pork pie” hats. In 1964, two years before his death, he told a reporter during an interview that in making this particular “pork pie” hat, he began with a good Stetson, cut it down to size, and solidified the brim with sugar water. These hats were another story in themselves during Keaton’s illustrious career. Sometimes they were destroyed during Keaton’s wild film antics, some were given away as presents, and some were grabbed by souvenir seekers. Keaton said he was lucky when filming if he could get away with using only six hats.

Buster Keaton on Newport Bay in the film College (1927) Photo Credit

Buster Keaton on Newport Bay in the film College (1927) Photo Credit

 

Buster Keaton Photo Credit

Buster Keaton Photo Credit

 

Keaton seated, in costume, wearing his signature pork pie hat, circa 1939. Photo Credit

Keaton seated, in costume, wearing his signature pork pie hat, circa 1939. Photo Credit

 

Virginia Fox and Buster Keaton prop each other up in The Electric House, 1922. Photo Credit

Virginia Fox and Buster Keaton prop each other up in The Electric House, 1922. Photo Credit

It is estimated that Keaton and his wife Eleanor made thousands of hats for him to wear during his career.

Read another story from us: The Life and Legacy of Lillian Gish – The first lady of American cinema and a legendary Silent Era performer

Keaton also noted that during his acting career in the silent movies, these hats cost him approximately two dollars each; at the time of the interview mentioned above, he noted, they cost almost $13 apiece.