Buster Keaton Bursts Into Stardom, by Grace Kingsley — originally published in the Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1920
“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!”
It was Buster Keaton, bleating out his sorrows about portraying Bertie, the Lamb at Metro. He is appearing in “The New Henrietta,” [“The Saphead“] prior to starting work on his new starring contract in comedies.
“Don’t know why they chose me for the part, anyhow, only I’ve got a blank pan. Saw a nice fluffy pie on the set the other day that would’ve looked good on the hero’s face, but he got away just in time. Winchell Smith watches me all the time. He’s the author, and he’s afraid I’ll do something all wrong. I had to be shaved in a scene, the other day, and Mr. Smith was scared to death. He thought I might try to get funny and eat the soap! Mr. Smith certainly does worry about me.”
From which it will be seen that the role of Bertie the Lamb does cramp Buster’s style something awful! From war and playing in slapstick comedy with Fatty Arbuckle, both extra hazardous professions, Buster’ll tell the world, he went smack into the regular drammy in “The New Henrietta.” When I saw him the other day, he was all dolled up in his moonlights, but he says that when playing the regular drama gets him to feeling kind of numb, he goes over and does funny falls on Nazimova’s high-brow set. That relieves him.
“Fatty won’t speak to me in these clothes,” went on Buster, mournfully, “and neither will Luke, Fatty’s dog. I’m losing all my friends. And on top of all this, I gotta do some love scenes.”
But there’s a bit of consolation. Keaton has his top sergeant working for him now. The top sergeant he had over in France is his property boy now! Buster was in the war nine months, you know. Says he went over for a little peace and quiet, away from Fatty Arbuckle’s studio. Just that he volunteered for service, crossed and got a decoration or so is neither here nor there. What he wanted was more peace than he could ever get in Fatty’s studio, and he declares he got it too! But he never knew that when he came back he’d be called on to play a denatured character like Bertie the Lamb! However, the agony won’t last much longer, because Buster has his own comedy company now, you know. He even has his first comedy all planned out. He says he’s following Fatty Arbuckle’s method, gets a plot first, then builds the picture, leaving all the plot out. He says it works fine. The first story is to be about a portable house and a young married couple, which certainly does sound like a jazzy combination for comedy.
Being a star now, of course, makes everything about Buster Keaton interesting. Mere trifles like the color of his ties and what breed of car he runs are now raised to the dignity of themes for reams of press-agent stuff. Even the paper shortage won’t stop it. And so, delving down into Buster’s past, we find him as a youth a member of the Three Keatons. Maybe you remember him in vaudeville; anyhow, you’ll try to.
“Father didn’t know what a stage whisper was,” explained Buster, “and he was an awful kidder. Speaking of Mme. Nazimova, we traveled on the bill with her when she was playing ‘War Brides.’ I remember one day the famous lady was standing in the wings watching us, father peeped over at her, then at the stage manager beside her. ‘You’ll have to get Mme. Nazimova out of the wings,’ he admonished the stage manager. ‘She annoys us!’ Mme. Nazimova laughed right along with the audience, too!”
When Keaton came to town on one of his vaudeville tours, about four years ago, he heard that Roscoe Arbuckle needed a comedian and he went out to see the rotund star. Next day he started to work. But each had much to learn about the other.
“The first day I worked in the picture comedy we were discussing the action. “‘Shall I fall?’ I asked innocently. ”
‘If it comes natural,’ they answered.
“They threw a safe or something at me and it came natural to fall all right! But they didn’t know what a nice little playmate they’d acquired. When a fight was staged that afternoon I cleaned out the bunch. After that we all got on beautifully together. Oh, yes, and I gotta do some love scenes, too! And I never did make love before in my life. What? Oh, yes, of course, I mean before the camera. But, anyhow,” and Buster loosened the Arrow collar around his neck, “but anyhow, the camera can’t catch my blushes!”