Buster Keaton

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A comedian does funny things. A good comedian does things funny.

Joseph Frank Keaton VI (4 October 18951 February 1966) American actor and filmmaker, often called The Great Stone Face , he was the first person ever called "Buster", acquiring the nickname from Harry Houdini who saw him take a fall down some stairs as an infant.


We used to get arrested every other week — that is, the old man would get arrested.
  • We used to get arrested every other week — that is, the old man would get arrested.
    • On his underage working in stage shows, in The Detroit News (4 December 1914)
  • The funny thing about our act 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. I started so young that landing right is second nature with me. Several times I'd have been killed if I hadn't been able to land like a cat. Imitators of our act don't last long, because they can't stand the treatment.
    • Interview in The Detroit News (4 December 1914)
  • If one more person tells me this is just like old times, I swear I'll jump out the window.
  • Charlie Chaplin and I would have a friendly contest: Who could do the feature film with the least subtitles?
The moment you give me a locomotive and things like that to play with, as a rule I find some way of getting laughs with it.


  • No man can be a genius in slapshoes and a flat hat.
  • Think slow, act fast.
  • The first thing I did in the studio was to want to tear that camera to pieces. I had to know how that film got into the cutting room, what you did to it in there, how you projected it, how you finally got the picture together, how you made things match. The technical part of pictures is what interested me. Material was the last thing in the world I thought about. You only had to turn me loose on the set and I'd have material in two minutes, because I'd been doing it all my life.
  • A comedian does funny things. A good comedian does things funny.
  • Because of the way I looked on the stage and screen, the public naturally assumed I felt hopeless and unloved in my personal life. Nothing could be farther from the fact. As long back as I can remember, I have considered myself a fabulously lucky man.
  • I don't act, anyway. The stuff is all injected as we go along. My pictures are made without script or written directions of any kind.
  • I gotta do some sad scenes. Why, I never tried to make anybody cry in my life! And I go 'round all the time dolled up in kippie clothes-wear everything but a corset! Can't stub my toe in this picture nor anything! Just imagine having to play-act all the time without ever getting hit with anything!
  • I said, "how am I gonna keep from flinching?" He said, "Look away from me. When I say turn, it'll be there." He put my head where my feet were!
    • Recounting how Fatty Arbuckle taught him to take a sack of flour in the face.
  • If they're going to like anything of mine, they'll like The General.
  • In 1928, I made the worst mistake of my career. Against my better judgment I let Joe Schenck talk me into giving up my own studio to make pictures at the booming Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot in Culver City . . . they were picking stories and material without consulting me and I couldn't argue 'em out of it. I'd only argue about so far and then let it go. They'd say, "This is funny," and I'd say, "It stinks." It didn't make any difference. We did it anyhow.
  • Schenck was supposed to be my producer but he never knew when or what I was shooting. He just turned me loose.
    • About Joe Schenck
  • The camera can't catch my blushes!
  • The moment you give me a locomotive and things like that to play with, as a rule I find some way of getting laughs with it.
  • Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.
What a creative genius — what an inventor... A guy like that, you just sit back and say, okay, I'll never get there! ~ Jim Carrey

Quotes about Keaton

  • He was by his whole style and nature so much the most deeply "silent" of the silent comedians that even a smile was as deafeningly out of key as a yell. In a way his pictures are like a transcendent juggling act in which it seems that the whole universe is in exquisite flying motion and the one point of repose is the juggler’s effortless, uninterested face.
    • James Agee in LIFE magazine (5 September 1949)
  • No other comedian could do as much with the dead-pan. He used this great, sad, motionless face to suggest various related things; a one track mind near the track’s end of pure insanity; mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances; how dead a human being can get and still be alive; an awe-inspiring sort of patience and power to endure, proper to granite but uncanny in flesh and blood.
    • James Agee in LIFE magazine (5 September 1949)
  • Perhaps because ‘dry’ comedy is so much more rare and odd than ‘dry’ wit, there are people that never much cared for Keaton. Those who do cannot care mildly.
    • James Agee in LIFE magazine (5 September 1949)
  • The older Keaton got, the more one could see eternity in his look.
    • Robert Benayoun
  • The screen was just a white sheet. They had this flickering machine. That was the first time I saw this angel with a white face and these beautiful eyes. I knew this was something special. It was the first time I saw him. He wore a flat pancake of a hat, and I just couldn't believe the man's grace.
  • I could tell you that those wonderful stories were 90% Buster's... I was often ashamed to take the money, much less the credit.
    • Clyde Bruckman (co-writer on several of Keaton's films)
  • What a creative genius — what an inventor... A guy like that, you just sit back and say, okay, I'll never get there!
  • I just want that one day, when I retire, that people still remember me like they remember Buster. I really want someone to respect me the way they respect Buster.
  • Watch his beautiful, compact body as it pirouettes or pretzels in tortured permutations or, even more elegantly, stands in repose as everything goes crazy around it. Watch his mind as it contemplates a hostile universe whose violent whims Buster understands, withstands and, miraculously, tames. Watch his camera taking his picture (Keaton directed or supervised all his best films); it is as cool as the star it captured in its glass... The medium was still in its infancy; comics were pioneering the craft of making people laugh at moving images. Keaton, it turns out, knew it all — intuitively.
    • Richard Corliss in TIME magazine
  • There are moments in many of his movies that are just poetic... In doing silent movies, no one had done this yet!
  • For me its Buster Keaton's face, with maybe his little hat on... It's being able to look into his eyes and see that sad face.
  • It's said that Chaplin wanted you to like him, but Keaton didn't care. I think he cared, but was too proud to ask.
  • With his dark, sensitive looks, his face in repose evoking years of quiet contemplation, he resembled a mixture of Buddhist monk and fashion model. He offered the ideal face and acting style for motion pictures, proving less is more. He would become a master of knowing when to do nothing at all.
    • Marion Meade
  • Maybe the trouble is that modern comics strive too hard to be sophisticated and knowing. What we've lost over the years is innocence and, as Keaton and company prove, innocence is an integral part of comedy.
    • Barry Norman
  • Buster Keaton... will be around forever, because it's unlikely that human beings will ever go out-of-date the way special effects do. Keaton running and clambering onto a moving Civil War train in The General is infinitely more exciting than Christian Slater jumping from a helicopter onto a speeding locomotive in Broken Arrow because what Keaton does is real, and the camera captures and preserves his feats for posterity. In Broken Arrow we never see Slater (or the stuntman, for that matter) leaping from the helicopter to the train. Instead there are several cuts, and we must suspend our disbelief and assume that the feat has been accomplished. Which means that it's no feat at all.
    • Anthony Puccinelli in Lost Action Hero: Supercop
  • What Keaton did physically, is actually quite startling when you discover that he did all of his own stunts... The famous one is when the house falls. He had to stand on a mark. I'm told it was a nail — if he moved an inch to one side he would have been crushed to death.

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