June 4, 2002
Buster Keaton continues to be an object of interest today even though he died in February 1966. He still is an icon to thousands of film fans who know him only through book biographies and classic movie theaters where his restored films have been shown, or through video tape versions of his comic genius. Here in Perry we like to think of him as a local boy who made good, big time, in the early days of the movie industry in Hollywood.
I’ve been writing about some of those books, many of them new releases since Keaton’s centennial birth year in 1995, and more titles are still being brought to my attention. One of them, Buster Keaton Remembered, (Abrams was the publisher) was reviewed by The Washington Post, and it is of special interest because it was written by Buster’s widow, the late Eleanor Keaton, who came to Perry with her husband in 1957 for the world premiere of the Paramount movie based on his life. Jeffrey Vance also is given credit as co-author. The reviewer says: “There are those…who consider Buster Keaton, not Charlie Chaplin, the king of silent-film comedy. Keaton can be considered one of the great American inventors,” the reviewer wrote, because of his visual tricks and breathtaking ingenuity and verve. The writer cites as an example a film titled “The Playhouse,” in which Buster the conductor directs an orchestra composed exclusively of Busters, while in a box yet more Busters listen to the concert.
A friend recently read another book, titled Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase, by Marion Meade, published by Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. Several portions of this book are worthy of note here because they tell small bits and pieces about Buster’s experiences in this part of Oklahoma. Citations include: Chapter one – the Cherokee Strip, the 1893 land run; Buster’s father, Joe, applies to the Cutler Comedy Company, an Indian medicine show, for employment; the town of Perry; Cutler’s daughter, Myra, impressed with Joe; Coulter, folding the show for winter, sends Myra to relatives in Lincoln, Neb.; background of the Keatons; Myra travels to catch up with Joe and marry him in 1894; summer of 1895, Joe and Myra bring Buster, their young son, on stage in Wilmington Del., in 1900; Gerry Society of New York polices theaters to keep young kids off the stage; Joe writes letter from “624 G Street, Perry, Oklahoma,” to Gerry Society on December 27, 1900, and it is quoted in the book; much thereafter is about Buster’s acting and career; “all his life Keaton had dreamed of owning a home in the country; his most vivid memory was of visiting his grandparents in Oklahoma;” later in the chapter, Keaton departs on a promotional tour coast-to-coast “that even included a stopover in Perry, Oklahoma.” Thus the book becomes one of the few Keaton biographical pieces that tells much about his connection to Perry.
Perry is proud to have had a role in the nurturing and rearing of the young Buster Keaton and to have been chosen as a home for the family a century ago. Look for these books. They will help you understand why.