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Buster Keaton

Buster Keaton

Born: October 4, 1895, Piqua, Kansas. Died: February 1, 1966, Los Angeles, California.

Joseph Frank Keaton was born in Piqua, Woodson County, on October 4, 1895, to Joseph Hallie and Myra Edith Cutler Keaton. A traveling vaudeville family, the Keatons happened to be in the area when Myra went into labor. He reportedly gained the nickname Buster when he was 18 months old, after taking a spill, and Harry Houdini, his father's stage partner, remarked, "That was a real buster!"

Keaton made his first appearance on stage in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1899 when he was just three. The boy joined his parents' act, The Three Keatons. In the slapstick act, his mother played the saxophone, while Keaton's father pretended to reprimand the wayward son. Keaton quickly learned how to take falls and avoid injury. In keeping up the ruse, he adopted the deadpan expression that would become his trademark.

Costarring with another Kansas-born actor, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Keaton appeared in a silent film, The Butcher Boy, in 1917 for Talmage Studios in New York. He served with the 40th Infantry Division during World War I. His second film, The Saphead, was released in 1920. The studio soon gave Keaton his own production unit, and released a series of comedies starring the actor.

The actor performed his own daredevil stunts, as did many of the silent film stars of the day. He was featured in more than 100 films, including Steamboat Bill, Jr., which became a favorite of his fans. The General was considered his greatest film, although fans found the subject matter of the Civil War to be too serious for their expectations.

He starred in a local television series in the 1950s and he made numerous guest appearances on TV shows. Keaton returned to Kansas to host a program for the state's 100th anniversary celebration.

Two stars honor Keaton on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his movies and television. Keaton died in Los Angeles, California, on February 1, 1966.

Entry: Keaton, Buster

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: October 2013

Date Modified: April 2018

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.