Rough House (1917)

Wow, what an interesting experience is was to watch The Rough House again this week, knowing that it was 100 years ago exactly that it was released. Watching with awareness that this was Keaton’s second motion picture (ever) and the second endeavor from Fatty Arbuckle’s Comique film enterprise colors the whole experience.

As much fun as it is to watch any movie in the right context, it couldn’t save The Rough House from being a bit of an odd film. It is odd because in some ways (plot, theme, cohesion) it is somewhat poorer an entry in the Keaton / Arbuckle cannon, while in others (cinematography, clarity and cleverness of gags) it may be somewhat better. Ultimately I think the film is important not so much for its independent value as a piece of artistry. . . but rather for all the things it speaks to without intention.

For starters, the Buster Keaton we see in TRH appears to be a much bigger screen persona than he was just a couple short months ago. Unlike the blurry, haphazardly-filmed young vaudeville act on display in the Butcher Boy, this Keaton is now photographed head-on, zoomed in, with shots that announce his presence.

Just as in The Butcher Boy, Keaton enters the film for the first time a quarter of the way through with a solo stunt – probably of his own design. But unlike in TBB, here in TRH, the bit feels like a celebration of talent: an entrance. (Or is it just me that sees this?) Shortly after his entrance, we are treated to Keaton facing the camera in a 3/4 shot, rocking side to side and smiling and flirting with a delighted maid, played by Josephine Stevens. It is a sweet moment that both reminds us of how far he’s come already, and how early in his career he still is — having not yet made the concerted choice to use only his famous deadpan on screen.

So, the story in June 1917 — I mean the larger Keaton story, not the film plot — continues with his clear inculcation into cinema. With The Rough House, Keaton has arrived.  But, though the picture gives the impression of an important slot for Keaton on Arbuckle’s team, Arbuckle is just as clearly still the main man.

* *

Having admitted as much elsewhere on the blog, I have no hesitation in saying that I am not a film scholar, but a dilettante. I have often felt at a loss that I don’t have access to an academic library, research sources, or great professional connections to assist me and am often flying by the seat of my pants when I blog; however, sometimes those pants stumble upon the extraordinary.  I recently found an incredible resource called the Media History Digital Library, which contains an extensive, digitized, searchable bank of publications from throughout cinematic history. To call it a treasure trove is an understatement. It is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

I looked through a number of publications on the site, such as Motion Picture NewsMoving Picture WorldVarietyBillboardMoving Picture WeeklyPhoto Play Journal — some leaning more toward industry data and others more toward fan mags. What I found was that when searching industry publications from April – June of 1917 for the name “Arbuckle” you get a lot of hits. When searching for “Keaton,” the pickings are much slimmer — maybe one “Keaton” for every dozen or more “Arbuckles.” There’s little doubt that Fatty was a well-known persona, and if not quite a “movie star,” certainly a major figure in the industry. Notes and tidbits on more than just his films appear in these publications – his wife, his pastimes, his whereabouts are discussed. Keaton, when mentioned at all, is noted as a player in the Arbuckle film at issue. (I didn’t search on Al St. John; which I probably should have. It might have been interesting to compare Keaton’s press with St. John’s as the latter had been in pictures a lot longer. Maybe I’ll remember to do that next time.) . In any case, although Fatty seems to be a generous performer / director, sharing the screen readily, we can hardly escape the feel that we are still in an Arbuckle Film.

And TRH seems typical of Arbuckle — in good ways and bad. The film enjoys Fatty’s boyish energy, charisma, great creativity and juvenile spirit. It is also marked by a minimal attention to story.  I’m not sure whether it is my fault, as a modern viewer, that I desire a story to make sense? But another thing this film seems to speak to unintentionally is the different entertainment standards separating a 1917 audience from a viewer in 2017.  I think I have a fairly reasonable tolerance for chaotic pointless fun (at least when that involves Al, Buster and Fatty) — but I truly found this film’s lack of coherence to be problematic.

Contrarily, the buzz about the picture from contemporary (1917) sources seemed quite positive.

Here’s one from the Motion Picture News reviewer, George N. Shorey who not only loved it but apparently had no trouble picking through and finding a plot that satisfied, which is summarized as such: “tells of Fatty’s adventures at the seashore. Mother in law butts in. Fatty starts things off by setting fire to his bed with a cigarette; later he takes command of the commissary. More excitement starts when the ‘house is pinched’ and the cops arrive on the job. The climax is Fatty’s decision that two is company and three a crowd. Suiting the deed to the thought, mother-in-law takes an involuntary ocean plunge.”

Unfortunately, the reviewer refers to Buster as “Bud”, repeatedly! I guess we can forgive him if for no other reason than it underscores that Keaton is still very much a newcomer to the industry.

More than just enjoying it, though, Shorey pays the complement of comparing it (“a well directed production getting real humor that intelligent audiences can appreciate”) to your run of the mill slapstick. He thinks of it as an “innovation” and in a “class by itself”. This is not just a compliment to the enjoyment value of The Rough House, but to its cinematic contributions as well. Odd.

I thoroughly agree with Shorey that Fatty’s slicing the potatoes on the electric fan has to be among the highlights (I also like when Fatty, dropping sugar cubes into his coffee, rolls a couple onto the table like dice, and his iconic performance of making the bread rolls dance that predates Charlie Chaplin’s use of the gag in The Gold Rush by about 8 years). Yes, there is plenty of humor here for the intelligent fan, but I also see something that Shorey could not: the influence of young “Bud” Keaton 😉

Several bits in the film that feel particularly intelligent bear Keaton’s stamp. This includes the camera trick / edit Shorey was impressed with where the boys as cops show up magically when summoned. I also see Keaton’s style in the scene where the cops emerge on a subway portal and then scramble down the embankment (anticipating the famous sequence in Seven Chances). The subway bit was visually funny to me; when they emerge at 242nd street, it felt absurd and I laughed. But then I thought about it. Why is this funny? I truly have no idea.

I had to see if I could find out what the joke was. A bit of searching on the internet for the meaning of this bit turned up no real answers, but I did learn that this was/is a real subway platform. (Of course, at this time, Arbuckle’s studio was located in Manhattan). The 242nd Street station, it seems, was the northern terminus for a route connecting lower manhattan with The Bronx. (Here’s a nice article about the West Side Line – IRT). The station where the cops emerge would have been the end of the line and viewers at the time probably were in on more of that humor than a modern one would be.  There is something silly about the action suddenly migrating from a remote vacation lakeside spot to having three bumbling cops surface in the Bronx.

Yes, it’s funny. But its a Keaton kind of funny. Others have suggested that Keaton in fact did co-direct this picture (uncredited). Though I can’t add any validity to that, I can certainly speak to a perceptible jump in Keaton’s apparent involvement on display in The Rough House, compared with what could be perceived from The Butcher Boy, his first.

Keaton’s now been on the scene in New York as a film actor for two months and is beginning to feel like a pro.

I can’t wait till I get to research and review the next picture for the blog, which I’ll be doing in about 2 months (His Wedding Night). In the meantime, happy viewing!

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The Butcher Boy (1917)

[Originally posted to WWBKD on April 23, 2017]

 

Audience matters so much, doesn’t it?

I mean, this is true for filmmakers; this is true for bloggers.

As I set fingertips to keyboard and begin to think about my post on Buster Keaton’s first screen appearance, the main thing on my mind is “who is going to read this?”  The easy answer is, “so few people, that it probably really doesn’t matter.”  haha. I’m not going to fight with the positive truth of that. . . however. . .

Generally speaking I still write to an imagined reader anyway. I know that the folks who do find their way here will mostly be those with a driving interest in the thing I am writing about. But I am also aware that another potential reader may stumble upon my blog: the person who is just starting an interest in Buster Keaton, maybe who has heard about him from a friend of a friend, or maybe saw an image I’m sharing and clicked on it and found themselves here. I keep that second category of potential reader in my mind, as much as I do the first. If I can help kindle a fledgling interest in this really cool guy from the early days of cinema past, I really want to do it.

Audience matters because I might be writing to someone who is a bigger aficionado of silent film than I am (in fact, probably so). But I might also be writing to someone who has never “endured” a silent film in their life. (And that would be their word, not mine.) Imagine the 21st Century kid who hears about Keaton and wants to see what the fuss is about then cues up The Butcher Boy on Youtube. What would they think? – this modern person with little background in classic cinema – this person for whom “classic” might evoke thoughts of Back to the Future (1985), 1977’s Star Wars or maybe even that great original from 1968: Planet of the Apes.

It’s not our fault that we are the product of our times. People nowadays are used to being entertained through onslaught of sophisticated lights, sounds, and actions; we as a people like being hit over the head – but only figuratively. (We are not well-versed in the literal slapstick comedy of people being ‘hit over the head’; but I’m getting ahead of myself.) What I mean to say is that to reach back deep into the past and find joy in the contemporary entertainments of 1917 is not likely to be easy or immediate for most modern people.

While I admit that I’ve often expressed the opinion that Buster Keaton’s work is timeless, I am not so naive to think that that is actually and directly true for most people. There is a learning curve for watching 100-year-old cinema. Those who do cross the divide and discover the roots of cinema to which Keaton belonged have managed something incredible.

And I have to say that I think the easier path to that place of fun is probably through another vehicle, maybe Cops or Steamboat Bill, Jr rather than through Fatty Arbuckle’s brainchild The Butcher Boy. The style Keaton developed for these and other (later) films over which he had creative control is uniquely light, clever, ironic and athletic. And these are qualities that have held up extremely well and to which modern audiences would be more naturally drawn. Keaton also had a masterful eye for technology and cinematography.  As a result, his films often feel beautiful still, and present a visual treat. . . . Which is important when the visual experience is pretty much the whole experience.

But an Arbuckle comedy is different.

Well for starters, watching an Arbuckle movie from 1917 feels like entering a historic world. (Which of course it is.) Women in this world have their hair in buns and wear long dresses with corsets and bustles; men are toothless, have long beards or maybe smoke corn cob pipes; people buy foodstuffs in bulk and may even still ride horses for transportation. But that’s not the half of it. Comedy in Arbuckle’s world is . . . well distinctly different from what we are used to. It is juvenile, unsophisticated. Fatty’s work is silly and a bit chaotic. It involves lots of jumping, throwing and not a whole lot of larger purpose. Think ‘grade school kids creating and writing their own play’, and you’ll get the right sense for pacing, dialog, stage setting and props — not to mention the plots that make some sense but not total sense. On the surface Arbuckle films are marked by these basic features, but on closer inspection, a modern audience should still be able to discern the great comedic talent at play throughout the performances. So, while it takes some getting used to the silly, slapstick, driftless fun, it is worth it, because the reward is seeing comedic talent that is profoundly good — in a style we are just not used to.

Lets cue up The Butcher Boy and let me show you.

As “TBB” opens, we are treated to a wide (square) shot of a dry goods store. That alone might feel bizarre to a modern viewer unless she is rooted in history. The store is actually a pretty cool place, double level, with a great hanging ladder around the perimeter, an open center, a cashier’s counter on the far side, and a variety of barrels and packages adorning the walls. Men are hanging around playing checkers. It’s hard to say what the modern equivalent to such a place would be that sells food and life basics but also serves as the people’s gathering ground. I’m not sure we really have one. The opening shot might feel momentarily jarring, for while we are still getting used to the rather grainy and fuzzy picture, a woman walks up and starts shoving her husband around, kicking him for no apparent reason. We quickly get the sense that the humor here is going to be broad and bawdy.  We start meeting the cast of characters, one by one.

In quick succession we get St. John’s impressive physicality, Fatty Arbuckle’s knife skills and boyish charm, Luke the Dog running on a treadmill to grind pepper and a general feeling of light chaotic fun.  Yes, it might seem strange to modern eyes that all the customers seem slightly ticked off and that so many people are beating – poking kicking pulling etc – each other for no particular reason. “Why?” you might ask. “Because its funny!” is the only answer you’re going to get. As that is the rule of the day, its best to relax and just go with it.

But hush . . . here comes the reason we are watching.  About a quarter of the way in to this 24 minute film, a young man walks into the shop wearing overalls. We see only his back. He is slim and graceful. He stops, picks up a broom from a barrel and inspects it. He pulls out a few bristles and tosses it on the ground then grabs another. After playing with the second broom for a moment, he shows us that he’s one to watch when he lightly lets that broom just sail gently back into the barrel. Its hard to describe why this is so cool. But the modern viewer will do well to remember that there is no cgi, no special effects happening. Whether it is Fatty tossing a knife elegantly over his shoulder so that it comes to rest in the counter, St. John spinning on his bottom on a counter or this new young man somehow getting that broom to sail into the barrel effortlessly in real time, these are just comedians with incredible skills honed from years and years of practice. There is no modern equivalent to this type of work. (Yes, I know, Jackie Chan. I won’t take anything away from Jackie, who is incredible physically talented and a great comedian; but, his style is very different.) No one is doing this so elegantly in the middle of a light silly passel of pointless shenanigans).

But back to the film . . . seconds later our young man does something far more impressive. By simply prodding the broom on the ground with his foot, he invites it into his hand where he then casually tosses it into the barrel, as lightly and effortlessly as you can imagine. From his first few seconds on screen, Buster Keaton has broadcast his talent. He is as good as anything we’ve just seen and he commands our interest and eye as if he weren’t even trying. One can see why Arbuckle signed him on immediately.

For the next several minutes on film, Keaton shines as the focal point of the story. The classic ‘molasses skit’ unfolds with Keaton and Arbuckle showing a natural chemistry that makes it seem as if they already knew each other well — Arbuckle manhandling Keaton and Keaton making that look easy — though they’d just met when this scene filmed. Everything here is childish and fast-paced with physical comedy bits that aren’t meant to leave a lasting impression – but simply to appeal to our inner 12 year old. (A task which Arbuckle intentionally courted).

Its good to pause here and think about how these very old silent film comedies came together. I don’t actually know. . . . I am prepared to speculate though.

Keaton’s role in this section of the film is interesting. The history/narratives tell us that Fatty had started filming TBB, when a chance meeting brought him in contact with Keaton. (For more on this, see my posts here, and here.) Keaton was invited to watch the filming but was promptly solicited to join in with it.  Think about that happening today and your mind will boggle. Especially given that Keaton owns about 4 minutes of screen time (roughly 1/6th of the total run time) with the scenes I described briefly above. I mean, Arbuckle is actively shooting this film, when a brand new acquaintance walks in, and his stylings are instantly included as a major player in the film. Mind blown.

I think this tells us more about the infancy of comedy films then it does about Arbuckle or Keaton. It seems as if such films were more akin to what the loose structure of a music CD, with its agglomerations of songs that may be connected through theme and flow, rather than story continuity — than to a modern, plot-driven film. An Arbuckle comedy, as I’ve already said, is not likely to have a highly developed plot structure, so it feels almost normal that this entirely new act — probably developed on the spot — is simply dropped square into the center of the work.  I’ve often wondered whether Fatty knew his film was running short and needed another bit when Keaton popped into his life? Or whether Fatty had a place in the film for such a character to enter and just hadn’t decided who would do that section.  I tend to think the former? Fatty probably had a rough feel for what they were doing in the butcher shop but needed more customer interaction scenes (just like a group putting together a CD and realizing they could use another song or two, when a talented friend with fresh material shows up). So when Buster, a seasoned performer with a great creative mind, walked on set, I’m sure it was obvious and natural for something to develop organically right there.  In any case, knowing the bits we do about how this film came together allows it to serve as a great case study in early filmmaking.

But back to our viewing!

At the 10 minute mark, almost halfway into the film, we move past the opening fun and into the actual story a bit more. Fatty and the owner’s daughter, Amanda, it seems, want to be together, but a rival (“Slim”) is in the picture. The rivalry blossoms and that’s when sacks of flour and pies start flying, with random customers (like Keaton) getting pulled into the middle of the confrontation. Soon, there is a free for all and we’re back to a wide shot of the store in full chaos. The result, as the camera closes on the end of this “act” is that Amanda goes off to boarding school and Fatty wistfully watches.

The rest of the film is centered around the girls’ school. This is where it really helps to place oneself in the shoes of the viewer in 1917.  The scene, as it opens on the boarding house, might not strike us now as particularly ‘sexy’, but had to have been so for the contemporary audience. A passel of young women gather on an upstairs landing around their stern headmistress; the girls are dressed in a modern style with shorter skirts showing quite a bit of ankle and some with bobbed hair. They flit about seeming girlish and energetic and plop down on their beds to read their mail; we learn that Amanda is under absurd strictures like no letters from anyone but her parents! and no men on the premises! Yikes! What fresh horrors do we have to endure?

Enter Fatty in drag. He’s going to spring her from this jail.

Arbuckle is wonderful and really very pretty as a girl. You know he relishes this stuff, for as “Candy” he channels the spirit and energy of a schoolgirl perfectly — skipping, curtseying, flirting, dancing and showing his petticoat. Whenever possible he steals a kiss from his love. Its bawdy and maybe a bit shocking? This is the kind of stuff that makes watching pre-code movies fun – and full of unexpected delights.

St. John as Slim, next stages his own break-in, in drag, and for a reason that’s never been clear to me, Keaton’s character is now one of Slim’s henchmen/cohort. Slim makes a much uglier and more aggressive looking woman. (And, with glasses on, somehow manages to remind me in these scenes, of Harold Lloyd.)

The rest of the film is centered on playing up for laughs the absurdity of two guys in drag in a girl’s dorm. There is pulling, slapping, tongue sticking, and spanking. (Juvenile slapstick). Then our guys call in for reinforcements, so Keaton and Luke the dog get to enter the fray.  Just as with the end of the first half of this film, things break into great chaos at the end. By the way, speaking of great performance talent, take a look at the superb fall from Keaton at around the 22 minute mark. And, because there’s just not quite enough chaos, we throw in a pillow fight and the headmistress with a gun. As she calls the cops on Al and the gang — and while Luke stands guard — Fatty and Amanda slip off to get married.

This, my friends, is comedy circa 1917.

Despite some of its flaws, The Butcher Boy is truly one of the best Keaton/Arbuckle films, and is also one of my favorites.  It is neither seamless nor timeless – but it is fun and energetic and full of great moments that showcase the talents of an extraordinary team.

Those who are already fans of Keaton and have enjoyed his work but may not have dipped back this far into the catalog, should have a nice treat in store. Those who’ve never seen silent comedies may have a harder hurdle to scale to appreciate and value this one. But I’d still recommend it. I mean, it is just a 24 minute investment. Watch it right the right mindset and you will be impressed.

I look forward to the next release of a Keaton film, in approximately two months. Until then, I wish you happy viewing.

Keaton Arbuckle Collaborations

[Originally posted to WWBKD on April 13, 2017]

I am gearing up for an awesome Buster Film Centennial Celebration! As I’ve been highlighting in my last couple of posts, it was 100 years ago *now* that Buster Keaton began his career in film. Oh my gosh, gives me shivers.

As anyone reading this must know — both in terms of how I feel about it, and probably how they themselves feel about it — this was a momentous event for the future of cinema. Specifically, by a lucky twist of fate, Keaton was on the brink of a solo stage career (having grown up working in an act with his parents), when a chance meeting brought him in contact with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who was shooting a film for a new motion picture company. Arbuckle invited Keaton to see the set at Comique Film Corp., …then asked him to appear in the film, … then to join the team. Keaton ate up the experience, joined forces with Arbuckle immediately and was able to get a toe in cinema with Arbuckle as his great friend and mentor.  It was Arbuckle’s force, talent and support that put Keaton on solid footing from which he was able to springboard into the world of cinema on his own.

Many are aware that film they were shooting that day, The Butcher Boy, was to be young Keaton’s first screen appearance,; however, it seems to go unsaid — and I didn’t realize this myself — but The Butcher Boy was Comique Film Corp’s first film as well.

Here is what I wanted to say next, something short and sweet, like: “Comique went on to make x films, x of which co-starred Keaton,” but the problem is that the film companies are complicated!

In just reading a Wikipedia article, I realized that the same film enterprise (Comique) that produced Fatty’s films, went on to be associated with Keaton’s short films too, though those films were released through different companies. It gets a bit complicated to work out the details. Suffice it to say that these early Comique films were released for Paramount, and these are the ones I associate with Arbuckle — and that number of films appears to be 21, er 20… and includes films ranging from 1917’s The Butcher Boy through 1920’s The Garage. (Though, really, I just never get a break – the data is still messy because of films like “A Reckless Romeo” which was made by Arbuckle for Keystone, but then released as a Comique pictures film just after The Butcher Boy. argh – this stuff can feel very confusing.

The right thing to do is to trust the Damfinos; BusterKeaton.com has a nice section devoted to Arbuckle, and on it I have what I’m going to call “the official” filmography for Arbuckle. From this, I’m going with the count of 20 “Comique Arbuckle” films, and Buster appeared in 14. Al St. John by the way (pictured above on the right) was in almost all of the films too.

Because this took me a while to organize / compile, I’m going to share my spreadsheet here:

Looking at just a slice of this chart, I want to commemorate the Keaton Film Centennial by writing blog posts on all of Keaton’s 1917 films. And just to be clear — the ones in this chart, the ones he made with Fatty and Comique are the only ones Keaton made at that time! At least something in my world is simple 🙂

Lest anyone be worried about the Herculean task at hand for me this year, I have to admit that the catalog of Keaton’s 1917 releases includes just 6 titles, all of them short films:

The Butcher Boy

The Rough House

His Wedding Night

Oh! Doctor

Coney Island

A Country Hero

Though short, this list packs a wallop, and includes two of the most memorable Comique Comedies as well as the only film in all  Keaton’s catalog that is considered “lost” (seriously feeling lucky about that!)

I am looking forward to this project. And will end this post on the hope and belief that on April 23rd, the Centennial of when the film was released in theaters,  I will upload my post on The Butcher Boy.

Where Buster Met Fatty

[Originally posted to WWBKD on March 8, 2017]

In “When Buster Met Fatty,” my post last week, we learned that Buster Keaton arrived in New York in February of 1917 on his own for the first time. He was 21 years old and looking to up his game. A trained vaudevillian, he’d always performed with his parents; but now he was flying solo.

Monday, February 26th is the date (I have surmised) for when Keaton showed up at the office of his agent Max Hart, located near Times Square. Hart set Keaton up with an excellent gig performing with The Passing Show of 1917, which would soon begin its run at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway. It was a sweet position to snag — as it paid $250/week and came with the job security of knowing he would be employed for at least the 6 month New York run and probably for the next year if he chose to travel with the show. Keaton was well pleased with this turn of events.

The next few days must have been a whirlwind. He’d only just relocated in New York, and needed to secure a place to stay and take care of logistics. He needed to write to his mother and let her know the good news and he needed to think about how to adapt his routines for an act of 1 instead of 3. It was a lot for a young man to be getting on with.  The cold, windy weather and the constant news of intensifying international events had to be the counterpoint to what was sure to be an otherwise cheerful outlook on what life was handing him.  I imagine it felt a bit like a crossroads as Keaton hung around New York waiting for rehearsals to begin and thinking about life, his career and the impending war.

One day, not long after the meeting with Hart — on Thursday March 8th* [or, in light of new evidence, Thursday March 15th] (I have deduced in the Holmesian sense) — Keaton was walking down the street thinking about his routine for The Passing Show when he ran smack dab into an old friend, Lou Anger. He’d known Lou from the old vaudeville days and they stopped to chat. Anger was walking (maybe) with another man Keaton knew by reputation only — a movie star. This was Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, a large presence in every sense of the word in the burgeoning film industry. Arbuckle and Anger chatted with Keaton awhile that day, telling him about how Anger had left the world of performing in order to manage a movie studio for Joseph Schenck and how they’d wooed Arbuckle away from Mack Sennett Comedies in order to be the star and director of short comedies for this new endeavor.  The film studio (Colony Studios, it was called) was an umbrella for several production teams, including the one Fatty headed known by the crazy, unpronounceable French name “Comique.”

Lou is on the far right – opposite side of photo from Buster

They delighted Keaton with their stories and of course the conversation wound back around to Buster. Had he ever been on a movie set? they wondered and, would he like to see theirs?

The answers were “no” and “why not,” and the appointment to go see it was set.

The following day (or possibly on Monday depending on which account you believe), Keaton made his way over to Colony Studios to see what all the fuss was about.  When he got there a lot of things happened. Arbuckle, knowing Keaton was a clutch comedian, asked him to do a small part in the film he was shooting — The Butcher Boy. It went extremely well and, by the end of the day, Buster was dying to get inside the film camera, understand the cutting process, the projection room and all of the mechanics. He almost instantly was struck with the enormous potential of this medium and fascinated by it. Fatty, too, was excited about working with Buster and picked away at his reserve. Do another scene? Finish this film with us? Why don’t you just stay on with us? Keaton didn’t need much arm twisting. He was hooked from the moment he first examined the motion picture camera.

Keaton got that first taste of filmmaking, impressed Arbuckle, gained a friend and mentor (even happened to meet his future wife) and began a path of filmmaking genius the likes of which the world would be lucky to ever see again. Soon,  I will start blogging about the films this collaboration produced in celebration of the Centennial anniversary of the release of each! But first, I am taking the time to reconstruct the details of that first meeting.

I previously reported on my research, analysis, sleuthing (and just plain guess work) that led to the unpicking of the exact dates of these fateful meetings, but now, I want to apply my skills to the question, not of when, but of where Buster Met Fatty.

First, there is one preliminary matter to clear up.

I am working with the assumption that Buster and Fatty met while they were walking in the street. Two descriptions of the event appear when Keaton recalls and recounts the details in various biographies and interviews. One is that Buster ran into Lou Anger in the street and that Lou invited Buster back to the studio where he met Arbuckle. If you are a subscriber to this first path, then the question seems much more straightforward! And the answer is pretty clear – they met at 318 E 48th Street – a big loft / warehouse type building – on the 3rd floor where Fatty Arbuckle ran his film company. If you instead like the second path, the idea that Buster ran into both Lou and Fatty in the streets of New York, the question is much more difficult to solve and is probably never going to be knowable with pinpoint accuracy.

Actually, I don’t have a super strong opinion on which of these paths is the right one. I can visualize them both quite nicely, but I would say that the meeting in the street seems to have the weight of the authority in its favor. It comes from several accounts: the Keaton Autobiography “My Wonderful World of Slapstick” and numerous interviews [Pratt, 1958; Bishop, Thomas, 1958; Feinstein, 1960; Brownlow, 1964] compared to the meeting at the studio account which comes mainly from Rudi Blesh’s biography “Keaton”, a book which may have taken a few liberties with the narration of these facts in order to make for a compact and simple story.

If they did bump into each other on the streets of New York City, just where did Buster and Fatty meet?

There are lots of great signposts on the trail.

Colony Film Studio: 318 48th Street

from Smithsonian article

Arbuckle’s film studio is a natural place to start in our investigation.  It was located on the 3rd floor of a warehouse building at 318 48th Street.

A few details are known about this location, and for that I thank others who have visited and blogged about it. It seems that, as recently as 2012, a portion of the building still existed and housed a parking garage. Unfortunately, fairly recently, the government of Singapore bought the building for $30 million – in order to be near the UN which is just down the street.  This warehouse had become primo real estate. Apparently they really gutted it and nothing original remains.

In any case, even if Keaton and Arbuckle did not meet here, this place is interesting for any Keaton fan because it is the place they got to know each other and where Keaton got his start in films. And, I think we have to assume that if Keaton and Arbuckle met in the street, such a meeting would’ve had to have been nearby! First of all, the Blesh account tells us that when they met in the street the studio was “just a few blocks over on 48th.” (p. 85).  We should also consider that Fatty Arbuckle and Lou Anger both worked at this location. They were out walking together, possibly mid-morning (based on Keaton’s account in the Blesh book that he’d sat down to breakfast then was walking around when he bumped into them. The question is how far would men like Anger and Arbuckle have been away from their studio base?

I don’t know. I can just throw a few more facts out there. Lou Anger died of a heart attack at age 68 in 1946. On the date of bumping into Keaton, he was about 39 years old. From the photo above, he looks like a reasonably strappy guy, but he also looks pretty dapper. Would walking around Manhattan have been his thing? Fatty Arbuckle weighed a purported 260 lbs. Now, I am the first to admit that Fatty was fit. Look at him springing about and dancing in his movies. However, that said, I don’t really see him as a big walker.

Truth is, I see this pair as being tethered to the film studio by a distance of about a mile radius from their studio. Obviously that is just a wild guess. But I really do think we should try and come up with a plan to keep them close by.

Keaton’s digs: 368 W. 50th Street

This is super exciting news to report: I found Buster Keaton’s New York address, as it appeared in the May 1917 New York phone directory! 368 W. 50th. (So excited about this).  I don’t know for sure that Keaton was already in this apartment by the date of the meeting, but I think its a good bet. Buster was new to NY when he went to see Max Hart looking for work. From all accounts he meant to stay in NY. Then he got a great job. There would have been no reason to delay and I imagine he would have put time in to finding regular living arrangement and getting out of his hotel right away.

My analysis has him spending over a week in town before he met Arbuckle on March 8th/15th.  Thus, I think he would have had time to have moved into an apartment by day he met Fatty.  Note that he was living in this same location in the October 1917 phone book, thus, this was obviously a quasi-permanent address for him. Even if he didn’t live there yet, the idea that Keaton would have been staying in a hotel somewhere very close by makes a lot of sense too, especially given that the location is perfect!

I’ll show you in a minute on the map, but just know that this address is within an easy walking distance of his agent Max Hart located at 1564 Broadway, (talk about insanely valuable real estate by the way!),  the Winter Garden Theater where he’d be working, and a hub of stores, food, shows and excitement.

Blesh’s account of Keaton’s day that day

Biographer Rudi Blesh describes the day of the meeting with Keaton waking up, going to breakfast at “Childs” then walking around. Blesh tells us that every day it was Keaton’s habit to walk past the Winter Garden Theater. All these details are helpful and some can be pinpointed on a map.

The Winter Garden Theater is located at 1634 Broadway. That’s easy anyway.

“Childs” is another story. I wasn’t expecting to be able to find “Childs” at all (as I’d never heard of it), and instead found way too many Childs’! I was stunned to learn that there are practically dozens of Childs restaurants in New York City in 1917 according to the phone book. I looked for locations of the chain restaurant that were located in the right part of town and one immediately popped out as interesting. It was just a couple blocks from Keaton’s apartment and across the street from Max Hart’s office and a block down from the Winter Garden. It was located at 1546 Broadway.

Although there are about 4 other Childs restaurants that might be in contention in this approximate area of town, it feels like a pretty good bet that the one at 1546 Broadway would have been one Keaton frequented.

Where Buster said he was going –

Buster said he was: “walking down Broadway, down along 8th or someplace” (Bishop interview) when he ran into Fatty and Lou. The Blesh account has Keaton walking the streets and looking at window displays when he turned a corner and heard his name called. (The Pratt interview account also mentions that Keaton was walking along Broadway when he ran into the two men.)

There are a few things to consider here before we look at a map and put it all together.

First, Buster can’t be taken too strictly/literally with street locations. For instance he has referred to the film studio’s location variously as being between 2nd and 3rd and  being between 1st and 2nd. (In fact the later is true). When he says here that he was walking down Broadway “along 8th or someplace,” it is hard to make sense of that. Not being a New Yorker, I’m not sure I’m thinking about this right, but from what I can see on the map, there is an 8th Street and an 8th Avenue in Manhattan. Broadway runs at a gentle diagonal in this area from Central Park (around 58th St) to about 14th St where it straightens out. Broadway and 8th Street is an intersection in the Greenwich Village area, and would almost certainly not be where Keaton meant.

Broadway near 8th Ave. would almost certainly be what Keaton meant, however, it doesn’t really give us a pinpoint location, since the two streets run quasi-parallel for several blocks.

Here, lets take a look at the map:

The base map comes from a 1916 Atlas available online. Each of the grids was expandable and I pulled them up to inspect before pinpointing my markers on it. I don’t know the exact scale of the map, but can tell you that the distance between Max Hart’s office and Colony Studios is exactly 1 mile.

You can see that any further north along Broadway (toward Central Park) is going to make the walk back to the studio (for Lou and Fatty) longer than a mile. And you can see that the further south you get, the harder it is to say you are “along 8th.”

Unfortunately, we can also see that it’s going to be impossible to both be along Broadway and just a few blocks away from the studio.

I think the best we can do is pinpoint the meeting for somewehre along the section of Broadway that slices through grid 76 and grid 71. This area represents the closest that a spot on Broadway gets to Colony Studio — at about a mile.  And, best, it is smack in the middle of the hub of places we’ve been talking about all along: Times Square, Buster’s apartment, Childs’ restaurant, the Winter Garden Theater.

[New evidence came to light for me after drafting this post, while I was reading the preface to a book called “The Best of Buster” ed. Richard Anobile. Anoble simply states that the meeting was “rumored to have been in the vicinity of 46th St and Broadway.” This is awesome, as it totally confirms the location I was centering in on, in grid 71!]

If it were Buster’s habit to wake up, get breakfast at Childs down the street, then walk up, down, in and around Broadway to take in the view of the Winter Garden, he’d be well-positioned to run into Fatty and Lou right in this area and they, in turn, would be reasonably close enough to their place of business to be expected on foot in that area. I think we have a winner!

What fun it has been to apply sleuthing and the cold hard glance of logic to these hazy details from the past! I’ve always been so interested in when and where Buster met Fatty Arbuckle for the first time and taking the time to do this research has made me feel very close to the events.

It has also made me feel desperately interested in taking a road trip to New York to see all of these sites.

But now its time to let all of this slip back into a soft resting place. I’ll let my mental picture drift happily to the hazy black and white image of a young, confident and street savvy Buster Keaton walking along planning for the future he was on the verge of, then stumbling into a path that changed everything. As a fan I’m so grateful that the story unfolded as it did.

When Buster Met Fatty

[Originally posted to WWBKD on March 4, 2017]

This post is born of procrastination. It went like this: I said to myself, “Wow! You have to get started writing about when Buster met Fatty; it’s already March 1st.” (I knew I wanted to aim for a post date for around the centennial of that profoundly important moment: the day they met).  But, I didn’t feel like writing, so I thought, “hmmm, why don’t I see just how long I actually have? What date was it actually when they met?” I figured I might get lucky and be able to wait a week or two. “I’ll just look it up.” Ha. That’s when the fun began.

Despite valiant efforts (by which I mean 10 minutes on Google), I could not find anyone who could name the anniversary date. Worse! by searching, I found that now, even the month was suspect.  Although I had March in my head, some were saying February.  What gives?!

It turns out that in my desire to buy myself more time, I ended up creating a research project instead. [NOTE: After drafting this post, I became aware of a new piece of information. I will address this at the end of the post.]

I’m sorry to say that even after the best sleuthing I could bring to bear on this question, I still don’t know for sure what date to celebrate as their anniversary! But I do have a lot of really interesting information.

Loathe to blame my beloved. . . I have to admit that the uncertainty does seem traceable to the differing accounts the man himself has given of the meeting. I had ready access to several original sources: the 1966 biography by Rudi Blesh,  the autobiography “My Wonderful World of Slapstick” ghost written by Charles Samuels in 1960, and a couple of 1958 interviews with Buster (one with Christopher Bishop for “Film Quarterly” and another with George Pratt for “Image”).  Each of these gives a slightly different account of the time frame surrounding this fateful meeting. (I’m sure any additional sources you’d find would have its own nuanced account.) Maybe another print biographer has addressed this issue in more detail — anyone may feel free to share what they know in comments here — but for me, these sources are going to have to do.

Pretty much all of the accounts I’ve seen of Buster’s entrance into the movies are similar in the following essentials:

It is 1917. Keaton is now 21 years old. Keaton’s dad’s drinking problem has become untenable. The Three Keaton’s act is broken up and dad is left in California while Keaton and his mom travel to Michigan. A short time later, Keaton boards a train alone to New York — in the early months of the year.  Upon arriving, he immediately meets with an agent named Max Hart who gets him a gig (a very lucrative one) on Broadway in a production entitled “The Passing Show of 1917.”  In the short time between that meeting with Hart and the date at which rehearsals are set to begin on TPS1917, Keaton is walking down the street in New York City when he runs into his friend Lou Anger. Anger introduces Keaton to the movie star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who, in turn, introduces him to a movie set, where Arbuckle is shooting “The Butcher Boy.”  Keaton agrees to perform a bit role in that production, then falls in love with the process, the camera and the pictures. He joins Fatty’s team, drops out of TPS1917 and makes magical pictures for many years to come.

A lesser fan might just leave it at that. Really, it’s a pretty nice little story.  But, I’ve always been so fascinated with the particulars. Before we fast forward into the movies this partnership produced, lets rewind a bit and explore the meeting. How and when did it happen?

My sleuthing begins with the Blesh biography “Keaton”, which many still consider to be the bible. The book was written in nuanced detail with Keaton’s direct input and describes that trip to New York with many interesting tidbits of info.

As he describes the scene – it is a Monday morning in March (1917) and a dark, windy, cold, rainy day. A boy is hawking papers by shouting about another sunken ship, when Keaton makes his way to Hart’s office near Times Square (Ch. 9, p. 83).

One might think that the mention of the shipwreck would alone do the trick for pinpointing a date for Keaton’s meeting with Hart, but no; not even close. I was stunned to learn that sunk ships were a continual occurrence at this time. Wikipedia has a running list of sunken ships and it contains many, many entries for February and March 1917. If you (as I did) need a reminder, Europe was already at war and America was hardly safe.  (Wilson led America to officially join the action by declaring war on April 2, 1917). The weeks leading up to that were fraught with international incidents. As I perused newspapers for dates around this time, many of them mentioned U.S. boats (military, commercial, passenger) being sunk. In fact, Wilson lobbied congress for, and eventually won, a law requiring the arming of every U.S. vessel in the Atlantic due to this constant pressure. Pretty interesting stuff for a backdrop.

But I digress. It looks like a ship sinking alone wasn’t going to help me pinpoint a date.

Next I found a calendar. Although I grant that some details in the Blesh/Keaton account are certain to be fuzzy after such a long time, I think that the mentioning of it being a Monday is very helpful. In my estimation, days of the week (especially Mondays) tend to be properly remembered. Of course this is conjecture, but I imagine that Keaton remembered this day as a Monday because his train arrived in New York City on a Sunday. It makes sense to me that upon arriving he’d get the jump right away at start of business on Monday and go see his agent.  So I’d like to take him at his word and trust the Monday.  (Plus that gives me somewhere to start). The calendar shows the four Mondays in March 1917 to be the 5th, 12th, 19th and 26th.

Before we explore those, lets chip away at the other end of the range. Every account agrees that Keaton snagged a part in “The Passing Show” before it started rehearsals for its run.  Good news is that this was a pretty big deal. In fact, the production has an entry in the Internet Broadway Database (IBDB). (Did you even know there was such a thing? I did not!)  The lovely, amazing IBDB tells us that TPS1917 ran from April 26th – October 13th that year.  And all sources agree that Keaton met with Hart some time shortly before (between 4 days and 2 weeks before, depending on the source) rehearsals were set to begin.

found on http://mideastcartoonhistory.com/1917to1928.html

But when would we expect rehearsals to begin on a show of this sort??

Seriously, thank god for the internet. I was able to find a couple of anecdotal sources that point to rehearsals beginning “at least” four weeks prior to the show’s opening. (see Wikipedia article; also see article on Al Jolson related to a different iteration of The Passing Show suggesting he began rehearsals on March 15th that year.)

The good news is that placing the beginning of rehearsals in mid to late March probably rules out a first meeting with Max Hart on March 26th, and even makes the 19th much more dubious, pushing us to the early end of the date range.

So. . . within the Blesh world, I think the prime targets for Buster’s meeting with Hart would be Monday March 5th and Monday March 12th.  Problem is… no sinking ships on those days! Let me get back to that in a minute. For now, lets explore whether the 4-day timeframe for events, as spelled out in that bio, seems plausible. Hint: it doesn’t.

Consider the extraordinary pressures this version puts on the timeframe by having Buster arrive in New York (on a Sunday maybe?), meet with Hart on Monday, get immediately signed to TPS1917, meet with Lou Anger on the street on Thursday, then back to Fatty’s studio that day, make a decision to do the movies instead of Broadway, and do it all before rehearsals begin on TPS1917 on Friday.

I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but the timeline as it plays out in the Blesh book is a bit suspect. I am suspicious of because it seems too conveniently assembled to tell a story and streamline the logistics. Because the biographer’s caution with dates is suspect elsewhere, he does not strike me as the most reliable source for this kind of fact. For instance, just a few pages later (p. 95) Blesh remarks that “The Butcher Boy” (the film Fatty was making and on which Buster first appeared) “was completed in May.” But we know this is not the case. The film was released on April 23rd.  That’s a pretty big error.

I don’t doubt the good intentions of Blesh and Keaton; they were telling a story for the purpose of flow and simplicity. It sounds neat, decisive and quick. Such characteristics suit a book with the great 60s-era charm and compactness that this biography features. Things are smart and swift in this world. But I think the world is a bit off.

The timeline in “My Wonderful World of Slapstick” (published in 1960) is similar but has a couple significant changes. First, Keaton says he arrived in New York in February (rather than Blesh’s March). Further, the timeline is definitely more vague, and slightly suggestive of a more leisurely pace (after the meeting with Hart) for when Buster met Anger/Fatty: “a few days later I got the script of the revue. But just a day or two before rehearsals were to start, I ran into Lou Anger…”. Incidentally, the account is also different from Blesh’s in that it has Keaton running into both Anger and Arbuckle on the street. (Blesh has Keaton walking with Anger back to the studio where he met Arbuckle). Also, in MWWS, Arbuckle invites Keaton to come to the studio “tomorrow” — rather than seeing it that day. I think its possible that the autobiography — though certainly subjected to massaging and wordsmithing by Samuels — may give a more direct account from Keaton’s memories than we get from the embellished story-like Blesh book??

In any case, (I mean, its my blog and no one’s paying me to do this, so I guess I’m entitled to pick and choose as I see fit.) I tend to believe some of the nuanced details — like the Monday, the ship sinking, the weather — from the Blesh account (after all Blesh does state that Keaton “still recalls vividly”), but am more inclined to trust the pacing and the timeframe of the autobiography.

To help support that decision, I appeal to the other interview accounts. The Film Quarterly piece agrees with MWWS in having Keaton meet both Anger and Arbuckle together in the street. However, unlike MWWS (in which Keaton is invited to the studio “tomorrow”), Film Quarterly suggests the invitation was for Keaton to come down to the studio “on Monday.”  Importantly, in the FQ account, Keaton replies: “rehearsals [on TPS1917] don’t start for another week or so, so I’ll be down.”  This is significantly different than the Blesh book that has Keaton going to the studio immediately with Anger and the TPS1917 rehearsals set to begin the next day.  The final account I’ll mention (hang in there! we’re almost done!) is from the “Image” interview. It, too, fits better in the MWWS and FQ world than it does in the Blesh universe.  In it, Keaton states that “I had about ten days to wait for rehearsal to start when I met Roscoe Arbuckle on the street on Broadway.”  Keaton goes on to say that Arbuckle was to begin filming “tomorrow” and invited Keaton to join him at the studio.

I’m not sure we’ll really be able to unpick all of this, but I will say I am inclined to believe the more leisurely pace. I think we should push the initial meeting between Buster and Max Hart back as far as possible into early March or late February to make room for a number of days to pass before Buster runs into Anger (and Fatty) in the street, and for that meeting to take place at a time when the rehearsals for TPS1917 are still 10 days to maybe even 2 weeks in the future.

In short, if we can fairly pin the start of those rehearsals to somewhere between about March 22nd and March 29th, then that would give us a date range of maybe March 8th through March 19th for Buster Keaton to have met Fatty Arbuckle for the first time.

Not one to give up with that large date range quite so easily,  I returned to ship sinkings.  (Remember that this may be the key to pinning down a date for that first meeting with Max Hart). And I’m still sticking with Mondays for that one. I mean, it’s all I got.  This Hart meeting has to precede the Anger/Fatty meeting by at least 3 days in the tightest timeframe we have, so lets now look more closely at the most plausible Mondays: February 26th, March 5th, and March 12th. When we do this, something good happens. (Well, obviously, not really ‘good’ in any larger humanitarian sense, but you get the drift). The Laconia sank. (BTW, not the same boat that sank in WWII).

If we give any credence to the tidbit about the paperboy shouting about a ship sinking (and I’d like to), then I’d say for Keaton to remember that, it was probably a significant sinking.  The Laconia would have been such. And it was sunk on Sunday Feb 25th. The Monday morning News in New York City on Feb 26th 1917 would surely have featured it. (In fact, it did feature it. I looked.)  On the 5th of March, conversely, something else of interest was being reported — Wilson’s inauguration. (I had to double check this, figuring that seemed awfully late for inauguration day? But from what I can gather, accurate).  In any case, if Keaton remembered a ship sinking, then February 26th seems to be a better date than March 5th, when the Inauguration was the top news or the 12th when there was no ship sinking. There is another interesting U.S. ship sinking headline around this time, but it’s on Wednesday March 14th and that date doesn’t work well within anyone’s timeframes, whereas Monday February 26th does.

The only thing that remains is to check the weather.

This was not as easy as I thought it would be. Maybe someone else knows a better way, but since all the historical weather databases I could find dated back only to the mid-1940s, I had to look in the New York newspapers for the weather report. The ones I saw were vague and broad by today’s standards. They reported weather for the whole country on a regional scale, rather than local phenomena.  However, I would say that, from what I can gather by reading the New York Tribune for Monday 2/26 and Tuesday 2/27, Monday’s weather may indeed have been extra cold and rainy in the New York City area –though I’d ultimately love to confirm this with more sources and check the other dates around this time.

That said, I am going to go ahead and declare boldly that February 26th 1917 was the Monday when Keaton set foot in Max Hart’s office in New York City and asked for work. (I myself am perfectly convinced. You can obviously decide if you are). I like the way the date fits the events described in Blesh’s book; I like the way the date allows for time prior to rehearsals of The Passing Show for Buster to meet Arbuckle, visit his studio, take home a camera and tear it apart; return to the studio for good and ask Hart to tear up the contract for The Passing Show.

The only thing I don’t like is that it puts me behind the 8 ball, as it is already March 2nd! and I’m still writing this 🙂

But, wait. Stop! This does not solve the original question: WHEN DID BUSTER MEET FATTY, not Max Hart?

There, my friends, is the rub. If we buy Blesh’s timeframe and date the Keaton/Arbuckle encounter to the coming Thursday, a few days later, that would be March 1st. The problem is we are told in this (Blesh) account that rehearsals (on TPS1917) would start the next day. But, Friday March 2nd is getting to be nearly two months before the start of the production and that is probably too far out. If we instead buy into any one of the other accounts, then we have a lot more time to work with before Buster runs into Anger (and Fatty) on Broadway, but few anchors to pin down any particular day for the meeting.

Nonetheless, . . . (here I go again, borrowing from multiple accounts at will) I’m going to stick with the idea of the meeting taking place on a Thursday. I just like that part. It allows for a “tomorrow” date at the studio to make sense. And it allows for a “Monday” date at the studio to make sense.  How about instead of having the Thursday in question fall on that immediate one (the 1st), we consider that the meeting took place the following Thursday, March 8th.* [New info below]

Here’s why this works. It allows Buster to have over a week in New York, getting the script for TPS1917, taking care of logistics, going to shows and settling in, thinking about life (about impending war!), but not yet getting bored, when he runs into Lou Anger on the street. It comports with the calmer pace on display in most of the interview/personal accounts. And it allows Keaton to tell Lou/Fatty that rehearsals on TPS1917 are set to begin in soon and have this feel perfectly appropriate to the time when rehearsals likely started — maybe March 19th-ish — for a show that was set to begin on April 26th.  Keaton can meet Lou and Fatty in the street, get invited back to the studio, lets say, Friday March 9th or Monday March 11th. It gives the team a month to work on The Butcher Boy before it gets wrapped and released by April 23rd. Everything just falls into place.

YES! Eureka! I have found it. I’m sure this is it! (Despite what I said in the beginning about being unable to unpick it all. I think I just did.  March 8th is the day that Buster met Fatty.* [New info below].

And the very best news in all of this is that I get to take a bit more time to polish this post and make it beautiful before releasing it to the ethers ahead of time 🙂

New Info!

While perusing facebook this morning (3/20/17) I came upon something that stopped me in my tracks. Someone posted a photo taken of a Datebook that had belonged to Keaton and, I learned, is housed in the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles, along with other Buster Keaton papers.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to learn of this resource. I simply had no idea that this type of archive existed. (I certainly smell a road trip coming on and am very hopeful that as a member of the public I will have access to Keaton’s papers. I will certainly update the blog with anything that I find there).

Bottom line, the image is incredibly interesting and bears directly on the issue of When Buster Met Fatty.

It appears to show Buster going to the film studio (for the first time?) on Monday March 19th. It gives an address for the studio on Tuesday and also mentions “The Butcher Boy” on what appears to be Thursday.

As exciting as this is, it is somewhat ambiguous as well. I am dying to lay eyes / hands on the original to examine it for clues. For instance, what if anything is written on the preceding page, or other pages? Did he use this regularly? Did he keep addresses and other info in it? How did he generally notate things? Did other entries seem to bleed into additional days? Does it appear that he wrote these things contemporaneously or that maybe he jotted things down to remember later?

As I look at this, I think it seems possible that all the writing relates to a single event, rather than three different days. It is interesting that he calls the studio “Paramount” on the first writing, then calls it “Norma Talmadge Studio” below that. I am also interested in the scribbling out that’s been done. If I could only see this in person. I’d love a chance to decipher what was underneath this. I’d also love a chance to see if Keaton has other things (and what kinds of things) written on the surrounding pages. But…. until a trip to LA is in my future, I’ll just have to make do with the plot thickening.

But most of all what I like about this diary is that (at least these cryptic notes) fit well into my overall unpicking and understanding of the beginnings of this New York adventure. I am still sticking with 90% of what I said here about Buster arriving in New York, about his meeting with Max Hart and about when rehearsals were likely to begin on The Passing Show. And I am pleased that I tried to slow down the rushed timeframe. The only thing is: maybe I didn’t slow things down quite enough. It turns out that instead of putting the meeting with Fatty on Thursday March 8th, we now have reason to push it back yet another week, to Thursday March 15th!

I’m really quite fine with the adjustment! As it otherwise works even better with the timeframe and just gives Buster a bit more time on his own in Manhattan before his life changed for good.  So in light of this new evidence, I am going on record now as saying that Buster Met Fatty in the streets of New York on Thursday March 15th, 1917! And, if you want to know more about “where” exactly…. see my post on that, here.