Remembering Buster Keaton, with Love and Gratitude
Squonk. Squonk. Squonk. The walk to school from my house was five blocks long, and my crepe-soled shoes squeaked more slowly with each passing street. Squonk. Squonk. Stop. Squonk. Stop again. Root around in my bookbag. Maybe I forgot something. Maybe I should go home.
When I was in the third grade, I developed a duodenal ulcer. Not a typical ailment for an 8-year-old, but then my home life wasn’t typical. And all the fear and misery literally ate away at me.
I would miss days, sometimes weeks of school at a time, from sheer pain or from being queasy and dizzy and off-balance, the side effects of my big orange pills. Returning to the classroom, I was always terrified of not being able to catch up, of being made fun of and even left back. I’d slink into my seat, unbundle my pencils and books, and rifle through my reader to find the page we were up to. And if things got really bad, I’d put my hand under the desk, clench my fist hard and hang on.
And that’s what got me through. Holding Buster Keaton’s hand.
I found my gallant friend and protector on late-night television. When I couldn’t sleep, which was often, I’d clamber into the living room, and my Dad would let me sit up and watch old movies with him, knowing I’d just be tossing and turning and worrying if I stayed in bed. (And ulcers hurt more when you lie down.)
The first time I saw Buster Keaton, he was running—still, all these years later, one of my favorite sights in the whole world. I’ve seen him run so many times since—from cops, from bullies, from boulders, from brides—that I don’t even remember what that first movie was. Just that he was beautiful and strong and free, and wherever he was going, I wanted him to take me with him.
When he finally stood still, I just gazed at his face. And well, I don’t have to tell you.
From my first glimpse of him, I’d wait for the TV Guide every week and pore through the listings. Sometimes he’d pop up on public television, sometimes on The CBS Late Show, sometimes on the Saturday morning movie on Channel 5. And always in the film books my Dad then bought for me, so I could see him whenever I needed to.
Up on the TV screen, Buster was usually in some kind trouble, but doing his best to hide it. And not in a maudlin “No, no, don’t worry about me, I’m <sniff> fine!” kind of way, but in an honest and noble way. Watching Buster hurtle down hills, gasp through rapids and narrowly dodge falling houses, you never really knew if everything was going to be okay, which felt real to me. I mean you kinda knew, because these were comedies, but nothing in his face or demeanor ever gave it away. And not because he was a “stoneface.” (Good God, who ever came up with that?) While his face was incredibly expressive, he never buddied up to the camera to wink at you that everything would be alright in the end.
But what you did know—what you always knew—was that he would never let you down.
Even if your family was crazy…
…Or you weren’t much practical help around the house…
…Or much help, well, kinda anywhere.
To be with Buster was to be safe.
And he would do whatever it took to keep you safe.
Even now, decades later, I get a little “Ooh!” when I see Buster listed on TV somewhere. I’ve got all the DVDs, but there’s something about seeing him show up out of the blue that still fills me with so much joy I need to sit down. And so I do, and I watch him again. I see his breathtaking leaps of faith off cliffs and rooftops, which made me soar above my own somewhat broken body. I see his resilience in the face of whatever was thrown at him, which helped me to hang on. And I see his heart, which mine so depended on. I’ll never not be thrilled to see him, and I’ll never stop being grateful to him.
Thank you for staying with me, Buster. Thank you for everything.
- The First Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon | Silent-ology
- Buster and Fatty Vamp and Camp It Up in THE COOK | Sister Celluloid
- TINTYPE TUESDAY: Keaton, Valentino and Nazimova, Ready for Their Arthur Rice Close-Ups | Sister Celluloid
- Saying Goodbye to My Dad and CASABLANCA | Sister Celluloid
- Remembering Buster Keaton, with Love and Thankfulness - Channel 365
- Heroes | Robert Matzen
- Busting Myths About Buster: A Talk with the Author of the Definitive Keaton Bio We’ve All Been Waiting For | Sister Celluloid
I love Buster too! He always makes me think of my Dad!
I wanted to like this post, but I think I liked your blog instead… anyway, beautiful post! I love Buster.
Thank you so much for your kind words! And whatever you ended up “liking” I appreciate it!! 🙂
Clarification: I mean I wanted to “Like” this post, as in press the little button! Sorry about that, haha.
This is a really lovely post!
Thank you, Liz!!
You almost made me cry. I mean it.
I’m so sorry!! I was really nervous about posting this for the blogathon, which is a joyous celebration of Buster, thinking people would read it and say Good Lord, who invited her?!? But I didn’t want to let the event pass by without thanking him.
Beautiful and unforgettable, just like Buster.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Patricia!!
Beautiful “love letter” to Buster. I like the fact that you took us back to your days of discovery. I like reading about others journey into film just as much as I enjoy recalling and writing of my own.
What a lovely thing to say, Mike! Thank you so much for reading and sharing your own love of movies!! ❤
What a lovely piece, and one that really struck a chord with me. I discovered Buster at a different age and in different circumstances, but when I did I also felt a kind of personal connection that I’ve rarely had with other performers.
We’re lucky that, even when separated by nearly a century, we still get let into his world.
Thank you for your very kind words. And yes, there is no better place to be than the world Buster created…
Wonderful tribute and one that I think the humble Buster would’ve approved of. I love hearing about such special personal connections to film stars (although that doesn’t come close to describing what Buster was), it’s such a great insight into how much classic film still means.
Thank you so much!! I feel the same about the connections these films and the people who made them give us and how much they mean to us…
A beautiful tribute to a beautiful man.
That was beautiful. Buster has given me a lift many times when I have been down. I want to keep moving forward the way he does. Thank you for sharing such a personal testament with all of us.
Thank you for your kind words, Joe! I was very nervous about posting this, so all the supportive comments from people who feel the same way has really done my heart good!! ❤
Such a lovely, lovely piece–and yes, it ties in with this blogathon beautifully. “Putting yourself out there” can be very difficult, so I’m glad you joined in and put so much care into this post for us!
Thank you so much, Lea! That really means a lot to me. And thank you for a terrific, very memorable blogathon!! ❤ Starting this blog last spring has led me to so many wonderful people, including you…
This is a lovely tribute, what a pleasure to read!
Thank you so much for your kindness! I’m so happy you liked it.
I have an ulcer, so I felt an immediate bond with you! (ha ha). I want to say thanks you for writing this wonderful, heartfelt piece about how important Buster was/is to you. I am not good with words, but you certainly are, and your words hit me right in the heart. xoxo
You are wonderful with words and I thank you for sharing such kind ones with me!! It really means a lot to me.
Oh, these are my sentiments exactly! I feel like Buster is one of my “soulmates”. Whenever I am down, I can watch a Buster movie and immediately feel better – I can relate to him; a quiet, gentle soul in a crazy, chaotic world; but, he inspires me to keep going. Thank you so much for this!
Like this post very much- you write in much more personal way which makes it even more appealing – Love it.
I’m from Canada and the National Film Board of Canada did an amazing documentary on Buster that my hubby and I really enjoyed. It’s also on youtube if this link won’t play outside Canada. What a fascinating man and incredible talent. I LOVE him in Parlour, Bedroom and Bath.
Thank you so much, Christy, for your kind words and for this link! It does work! And I love that it’s from Canada — my grandmother was from PEI!! ❤
This is such a beautiful story, I *almost* cried (I have a similar support story with Gene Kelly when I was bullied). It’s a beautiful love letter to Buster, he’d be honored to know he was so important to little you.
Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
I’ve read this piece many times, but have yet to comment on it! What a lovely tribute to one of the greats. Buster has helped cheer me up and give me hope in dark times as well. Your tribute to him is just amazing and so heartfelt. I hope you do this blogathon again next year!
Thank you so much for your extremely kind words and for sharing your own feelings about Buster. If Silent-ology’s Lea has another Buster blogathon this year, I will happily take part again!!
This is honestly the sweetest post — and so beautifully written!
Oh wow thank you so much Nicole!! You’re so kind!!
Reblogged this on Sister Celluloid and commented:
Sharing again in honor of Buster’s birthday…thank you, Buster, for just about saving my life.
Powerful writing, Sister C.
Thank you, Robert! He had (and has) a powerful effect on me.
Reblogged this on and commented:
Janet at Sister Celluloid pays tribute to the fabulous Buster Keaton on his birthday.