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May 28, 2002

Buster Keaton, the frozen-faced comic from Perry, scaled the heights of popularity during Hollywood’s early years. He is still making news today although he has been dead since February 1966. Buster wasn’t born in Perry but he sort of grew up here. His parents were vaudeville performers and Perry was their home when they were between engagements. (Buster was born in 1895 in Piqua, Kansas.) Many of us remember Buster Keaton primarily because of the 1957 world premiere of the biographical Paramount movie, allegedly based on Keaton’s life. He was one of filmdom’s brightest stars for more than four decades, surviving the transition to “talkies” despite his early ascension in the silent movie era. The Paramount film was not nominated for an Oscar, but that is beside the point. Despite some personal and career problems, Buster Keaton is generally considered to be on the same level with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, and that is pretty respectable company. Perry should do something to make tourists and other visitors aware of this city’s connection with the famous film star. But I digress.

The thing that brings all this into focus now is a clipping from a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal that I received from Ed Kelley, a 1971 graduate of Perry high school and former managing editor of The Daily Oklahoman. Ed is now a member of that newspaper’s editorial department staff. The WSJ piece tells about Buster’s Beverly Hills home, now for sale with an asking price of $30 million. That is not a typo. The opening bid is set at $25 million, so you know the present owners have high hopes.

The Keaton home has been featured in some recent television programs that tell viewers about fabulous “American castles.” For the most part, these are luxurious homes that were built in the 1920s by zillionaire icons in entertainment, industry and other fields. Buster’s Beverly Hills dwelling certainly qualifies. According to the Wall Street Journal piece, it includes carved fireplaces, a 55-foot long kitchen/family room, original screening room with new 35mm projectors, tennis court, swimming pool, 500-foot driveway, formal Italian garden, three rooms above a four-car garage, pool house with three bedrooms, tennis pavilion with two bedroom suites, and new mechanical, electrical, security and plumbing systems. The house itself has 14 bedrooms and 16 bathrooms in 12,000 square feet on a little less than two acres. It’s more than just a snug little cottage in the Hollywood hills.

The WSJ reports that the mansion was built by Keaton in 1926 and that it is one of the last surviving palaces from that era. Later, in the 1940s, it was owned by actor Cary Grant and his wife at the time, heiress Barbara Hutton. In the 1950s it was owned by the actor James Mason and his wife, Pamela. It remained in the Mason family’s hands until 1999 when it was “on the verge of becoming yet another teardown.” Then it was bought by real estate investors John Bercsi and Christopher Bedrosian for $5 million, who spent more than $10 million to restore the house. Beverly Hills brokers believe the property will be eyed by international buyers as well as U.S. interests. The $30 million asking price may not be so unreasonable.

When the Keaton family lived in Perry, their home was in the 600 block on Grove street. It is still standing. Recently it was sold by Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Beier. I saw Marvin the other day and told him about the Keaton home in Beverly Hills. Marvin was pretty sure the house on Grove street brought something less than $30 million. As Ed Kelley notes, “Ol’ Buster did OK after he left Perry.”