Born Joseph Frank Keaton in Piqua, Kansas into a vaudevillian family, so like Mickey Rooney, he was basically an actor from birth, though his parents, unlike Rooney's, waited until he was three years of age to put him on the stage. He is said to have been given the nickname "Buster" accidentally by Harry Houdini (though his age changes from source to source to anywhere between 6 months to 18 months of age, with 3 years being cited at the oldest age in other sources); when he took a tumble large down a flight of stairs, when he sat up unharmed, Houdini reportedly said "he's a real buster." Another version cites (this with Joseph at the age of 3) that Houdini him picked up and remarked to his father Joe Keaton, "that was a real buster." The story may not be true, or some elements of may not. However, Joseph/Buster's father Joe did have a traveling show with Harry Houdini called "The Mohawk Indian Medicine Show," so it's probable that that at least some or all of it is true. It was his father who liked it as a name, and why not? His son--that is Buster-- was actually Joseph Keaton the 6th! Keaton himself said that this story was true, but he was, after all a serious trickster! Links below can detail some of the elements of his vaudevillian upbringing, including issues with schooling, etc.
|A six year old Buster in stage act with his parents.|
For someone so well remembered as a silent film star and innovator of techniques and gags in films that were not based on film trickery (editing, etc.) his father Joe was well known to have disapproved of the film medium altogether, and Buster obviously had reservations about it as well. This was proven when he met Roscoe Arbuckle (you know Fatty) in 1917 at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, suspicious of the medium he actually asked borrow a camera (no small request at the time) to take a camera to his hotel room. Once there, he actually dismantled it and reassembled it and returned it to Talmadge intact and agreed to embark on film work. His first film appearance came later that year with the release of The Butcher Boy appearing along side Arbuckle. From there on out his notoriety rose amongst filmmakers, and thus this lead to career in the silent era that truly legendary. Can't say much more about such a giant of the silent era is just one post. I will note that he was a defender of Arbuckle in regards to the death of Virginia Rappe (a case for an entirely other post or posts!)
|From The Cameraman (1928)|
|A joke film about his having actually destroyed the camera he borrowed in 1917|
Just as a note: the man famous with a nickname in the first place had at least two other nicknames (nicknames for a nickname?): Malec, and the most famous, and my personal favorite, The Great Stone Face (is that ever true, just google image him!). He claimed that he used the stone face, because in vaudeville as a child he was basically what we would refer to as a "stunt man" today. He was having so much fun he couldn't stop smiling and giggling, so developed deadpan type look (who knows if this was direction from his parents) When his film career was taking off, he said further developed it. He was known for not wanting to be photographed smiling. People who worked with him said he often laughed and smiled.
|From The General, a genuine stunt he directed himself.|
One thing is absolutely sure, he really isn't given the credit that he deserves as a truly original stunt man. That's a another post for sure! I should also not that he served in WWI, losing part of his hearing as a result.He passed away from lung cancer on 1 February 1966.
For silent info IMDb (he has only five credits here for stunts)