Buster Keaton

  1. Lionel Barrymore, Grand Hotel, 1931.    Yes, really!   Director Edmund Goulding wanted Buster as the dying baron making his last days as rich and joyous as possible. Could Buster act seriously? Ah, he said, you haven’t seen my films – by the fourth reel I’m always very serious.  Metro’s production genius, Irving Thalberg, did not agree and made Barrymore  the baron. “He was very good,” said Keaton.  “But I would have played it in a different way.”  Buster threatened a send-up, Grand Mills Hotel, in the Bowery with Marie Dressler as Garbo’s  ballerina and Jimmy Durante as the baron. Plus Laurel & Hardy! 
  2. Slim Summerville, Puddin’ Head, 1940.   Most Hollywood dailies listed Keaton for the battle of Fat Cat capitalist versus little Judy Canova of Withering Heights, Aksansas. But he never earned any of her record $750,000 budget. Judy had a bugger battle when suspensed during the shoot for – wait for it! – wanting script, casting and director approval.   Buster could have told her all about them battles!
  3. Jimmy Durante, Two Girls and a Sailor, 1943.   The old-timer was listed in Call Bureau Cast Service for  Billy Kipp  However, The Schnoz was chosen over genius!  In the 30s, MGM had tried – strupidly – to make a double act out of Kedatn and Durante – the comikc gebius and the burlesqued schnoz – in The Passioate Plumber, 1931, Speak Easy,  and What-No-Beer? 
  4. Jimmy Durante, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963.  First set for Smiler Grogan – given to Durante – Keaton became the ex-smuggler forced to help Spencer Tracy  take  off with all the loot.  Among those refusing the comic-packed flop were George Burns, Judy Holliday, Bob Hope, Stan Laurel,  Jackie Mason, Red Skelton – despite or because of  Phil Silvers holding crap games on  the set. 
  5. Benny Rubin, The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini, 1965.   This is historic – the first (indeed, the last) AIP Beach Party movie that does not take place on a beach?  Booked to reprise  his  Pajama Party  beachie, Chicken Feather,  Buster was not well  and died two months before the 1966 premiere. He was subbed by an even older  veteran – 70 years in showbiz as comic, actor and “dialectician.” 
  6. Peter Sellers, The Optimists Of Nine Elms, 1973.   “No problem with script, or with me,” said UK director Anthony Simmonds. “Hollywood just didn’t want toknow about Buster.”Nor about the film when Sellers made it – beautifully Channeling more of Dan Leno, than Keaton.(In 1951, Sellers was part of theLondon Palladium summer show headlined by… Danny Kaye).

    Footnote >>>

    When I was fortunate enough  to meet Buster in 1965 – on the  Madrid  locations of  his 152nd screen role inDick Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum – he was  70 and already very ill, coughing up blood. Yet still performing fearless stunts, such as running through racing chariots… five minutes after his double had been hit by one and  flung up high into the air during the rehearsal and – bang! – down again. We all thought he was dead on landing!   Not Buster. He looked wryly up from his chair, got up, calmly coughed up some more  blood,  said OK he was ready for his take.  He set off and did the entire stunt, himself. And it was perfect.  Of course. What else from a comedy giant.



 Birth year: 1895Death year: 1966Other name: Casting Calls:  5