AMERICAN MASTERS: BUSTER KEATON: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW {EPISODE 3} (TV)

Summary

One in this documentary series that explores the lives and achievements of America's most celebrated native-born and adopted artists and performers. This three-part documentary examines the life of legendary screen comedian Buster Keaton (1895-1966), and is highlighted by vintage film footage and still photos; interviews with family, friends, and colleagues; and 1960s interviews with Keaton himself. Episode three examines the latter half of Keaton's life -- from the lowest point of his career through the personal and artistic renaissance he enjoyed late in his life. The following topics are discussed: Keaton's series of low-budget two-reelers for Educational Pictures in the 1930s -- films produced in three to five days which helped pay the bills but damaged his reputation; Keaton's adaptations of old routines during this period; Keaton's financial difficulties, worsening alcoholism, and divorce from his second wife, Mae Scriven, in 1935; Keaton's collapse and hospital recuperation, during which time doctors warned him to stop drinking or die -- beginning a five-year period in which Keaton did not touch alcohol; Keaton's inglorious return to MGM in 1937 as a low-salaried "gag writer" for the Marx Brothers and others; the Keaton influence in "A Night at the Opera" (1935); Keaton's recollections of working for the Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello -- a new breed of studio stars who did not seem to share the passion he had always brought to movie-making; Keaton's other activities during the late 1930s, including a forgettable series of two-reelers directed by Jules White for Columbia in which Keaton was hired to imitate the classic routines of contemporaries such as Harold Lloyd; Keaton's life-transforming marriage to a young MGM dancer named Eleanor Norris; the sense of helplessness about Keaton, which engendered parental feelings in those close to him; Keaton's lack of interest in the business side of his career; Keaton's assistance on the MGM remakes of some of his old comedies in the 1940s starring Red Skelton; Keaton's "official rediscovery" in 1949 when a Life magazine profile of silent film comedians put him much in demand on the fledgling new medium of television; Keaton's delight in the live audience and vaudeville-like quality of doing live television in the early 1950s, at which time Eleanor often appeared as his partner in sketches; Keaton's appearances at the Cirque Medrano in Paris, and a tour of the music halls of London which led to his one and only appearance with Charles Chaplin in "Limelight" (1952); Paramount's biopic, "The Buster Keaton Story," which, star Donald O'Connor recalls, bore little resemblance to Keaton's actual life; Keaton's passion for gadgets and machinery, which he indulged at the modest house he shared with Eleanor in the San Fernando Valley during the last ten years of his life; actor James Mason's discovery of a stash of "lost" Keaton silent classics in a former Keaton residence he purchased; the role of Raymond Rohauer -- Keaton's business partner in his final years -- in preserving Keaton's films on safety film and restoring Keaton's worldwide reputation; Keaton's television commercials of the 1950s and appearances on "Candid Camera" in the 1960s; his series of theater roadshows in which he appeared with Eleanor; Keaton's warm reception by a new generation when he toured Germany in 1962 with Rohauer to promote the reissue of "The General"; Keaton's work with young British director Gerald Potterton on "The Railrodder" (1965), a promotional tourism film produced by the National Film Board of Canada; Keaton's work -- while in failing health at age seventy -- on the experimental "Film" (1965), written by Samuel Beckett and directed by Alan Schneider; Keaton's boisterous reception at the Venice Film Festival in 1965; his work in Richard Lester's film of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" (1965); Keaton's last screen appearance in "The Scribe" (1965), an industrial safety film made in Canada; and Keaton's final days and his death from lung cancer in 1966. Includes interviews with and/or footage of the following individuals: Keaton's widow, Eleanor (Norris) Keaton; childhood friend from vaudeville Charles Lamont; director Anthony Simmons; Keaton's sister, Louise Dresser Keaton; Keaton's second wife, Mae Scriven; journalist John Montgomery; writer and friend Bill Cox; Dean Riesner, son of director Charles Riesner; the Marx Brothers; actress Alice Faye; director Al Rogell; sound recordist Ed Bernds; business partner Raymond Rohauer; actor Red Skelton; producer Jack Cummings; Jerome Medrano of the Cirque Medrano; Cirque Medrano clowns Billy Beck and Len (Spider) Austin; actor Donald O'Connor; "Candid Camera" producer/host Allen Funt; actor and friend James Karen; director Gerald Potterton; film historian John Gillett; director Richard Lester; stuntman Mick Dillon; and actor and friend Loyal T. Lucas. Includes footage from all the films mentioned above -- except "Limelight" -- as well as footage from the following: "Le Roi de Champs-Elysees" (1934); "Grand Slam Opera" (1936); "Bell Boy" (1918); "Love Nest on Wheels" (1937); "The Goat" (1921); "Blue Blazes" (1936); "Hollywood Cavalcade" (1939); "Pest From the West" (1939); "Ralph Edwards's 'This is Your Life'" (1957); "College" (1927); "Sherlock Jr." (1924); "A Southern Yankee" (1948); "Bathing Beauty" (1944); "The Ken Murray Show" (1952); "The Buster Keaton Show" (1951); "The Electric House" (1922); "The Boat" (1921); Firebird and Simon Pure beer commercials (1950s); an unaired parody of a popular Barbara Feldon shampoo commercial starring Keaton; "Candid Camera" (1960); a Keaton interview on German television, WDR-TV, Kšln (1962); "Cops" (1922); "Buster Keaton Rides Again" (1965); a Keaton interview on Italian television, RAI-TV (1965); and "The Haunted House" (1921) This program is closed-captioned.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

(This program is followed by a brief short called "A Paul Killiam Film Classic Presentation: Movie Museum," which surveys the meteoric rise and fall of the career of Harry Langdon -- a contemporary of Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd -- who is seen in footage from Mack Sennett's 1924 film, "Feet of Mud.")

Details

  • NETWORK: PBS WNET New York, NY
  • DATE: November 25, 1987 Wednesdasy 9:30 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 0:57:57
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:40931
  • GENRE: Arts documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Alcoholism
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1986-
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • For "American Masters":
    • Susan Lacy … Executive Producer
    • Harlene Freezer … Coordinating Producer
    • Jac Venza … Production (Misc.), Executive Director
    • Cynthia Mitchell … Production (Misc.), Production Manager
    • Herbert Peck … Production (Misc.), Production Controller
    • Debra DiCerto … Production (Misc.), Production Secretary
    • Jonathan Tunick … Theme Music by, Series theme music composed by
    • For "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow":
    • Kevin Brownlow … Producer, Writer
    • David Gill … Producer, Writer
    • Linda Phillips … Researcher
    • Cy Young … Researcher, Film research by
    • Joe Adamson … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Robert S. Birchard … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Bob Borgen … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Joel Goss … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Alan Hoffman … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Frank Holland … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Mark Jungheim … Researcher, Additional research by
    • Carl Davis … Music by
    • Lindsay Anderson … Narrator
    • Abbott & Costello
    • Fred Astaire
    • Austin, Len (Spider)
    • Billy Beck
    • Samuel Beckett
    • Ed Bernds
    • Chaplin, Charles (Charlie)
    • Bill Cox
    • Jack Cummings
    • Mick Dillon
    • Alice Faye
    • Barbara Feldon
    • Allen Funt
    • John Gillett
    • James Karen
    • Buster Keaton
    • Keaton, Eleanor (See also: Norris, Eleanor)
    • Joe Keaton
    • Louise Dresser Keaton
    • Myra Keaton
    • Charles Lamont
    • Richard Lester
    • Harold Lloyd
    • Loyal T. Lucas
    • Marx Brothers, The
    • James Mason
    • Jerome Medrano
    • John Montgomery
    • Ken Murray
    • Donald O'Connor
    • Gerald Potterton
    • Al Rogell
    • Raymond Rohauer
    • Joseph M. Schenck
    • Alan Schneider
    • Scriven, Mae (See also: Keaton, Mae)
    • Anthony Simmons
    • Red Skelton
    • Jules White
    • For "A Paul Killiam Film Classic Presentation: Movie Museum":
    • John Rogers … Producer
    • William K. Everson … Researcher
    • Paul Killiam … Writer, Narrator
    • William P. Perry … Music by
    • Harry Langdon