Friday, March 31, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt twelve)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

“Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Patty Hearst?” my dad says. He sits down in the study. This is going to be a story. I sit down across from him.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt eleven)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

Finally his eyes descend. He’s done thinking. “I’m not so sure I see the parallels,” he says. “You don’t see the parallels?” Already I’m sure he will not write my recommendation. “Well, she was kidnapped, but it wasn’t in the Scottish Highlands,” he says. “And the Robert Louis Stevenson book was published a hundred years ago.”

How this man is teaching literature is a miracle, a debacle.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt ten)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

The party is at the home of Arabella Gschwind, Maria Fabiola’s godmother, a woman I haven’t met but who my dad says is a well-known interior decorator. “She did the living room of the Decorator Showcase house this year,” my dad told me, clearly impressed. Arabella lives in the Marina. Correction: she lives on the Marina. She lives on the street that borders the water where boats are docked and where everyone runs on the weekend, looking fit and pretending to live in Southern California. Marina Boulevard is the street in San Francisco known for its Christmas decorations. Just last month, in December, my family took a special trip to drive by the houses with all their lights and reindeer and Santas. “Pick your favorite one,” my father said, as though whatever house we chose would be ours.

“Too much,” my mother said. “Too much . . . America.” But her posture revealed the truth—she was tilting forward in the front seat to get a better view.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt nine)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

My dad is no stranger to concerts. He went to see Little Richard across the bay in Richmond when he was in his twenties—he was one of two white men in the audience, he said. But there are noticeable gaps in his career as a music lover. One time I asked him who his favorite Beatle was. “I kind of missed that trend,” he said. Missed that trend, I thought. The Beatles trend. So I don’t know what he’ll think of the Psychedelic Furs. The record’s already on the turntable and I place the needle carefully on “Pretty in Pink.” I figure the title of that song is innocuous, and makes the band seem most appropriate for someone my age.

Monday, March 27, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt eight)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

We go home and sit in the front room next to all the straw goats that Swedes put out at Christmastime. I don’t really understand this tradition, or the fact that in my opinion the traditional straw figures more closely resemble horses than goats. But now is not the time to ask questions—I’m eager to open the presents under the tree. This takes four minutes because not only do we celebrate Christmas the Swedish way, we celebrate it the stingy way. The gifts are soft so I know before opening them that I’ve gotten socks and underwear. From the fireplace hangs my Christmas stocking, with my name misspelled as “Ulabee.” A family friend gave me the stocking years ago and despite the misspelling, which makes me disappointed in the American educational system, we still use it. The stockings are mostly decorative anyway; tomorrow my stocking will be filled with pencils.

“I have a surprise,” my father says. “It was too big to wrap.” From behind the piano, he slides out a rectangular-shaped object, the size of a painting. He carefully removes the protective cloth and reveals it is a painting. It depicts kids playing at the beach.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt seven)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

Mr. London turns to the shelves behind him. There’s a space where a book used to be—its absence from the shelf is like a missing tooth. I try to think what book it could be. Mr. London runs his fingers over the books’ spines.

“Here,” he says. “This is a new novel by a Czech writer. I haven’t read it yet.”

He hands me the hardcover book: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. The cover is just the title and the author’s name in capital letters, no illustration. I read the inside flap to see what it’s about. I try not to let my eyes widen because I don’t think Mr. London has read the book description. It seems a little racy. “Great,” I say before he can change his mind. “I’ll read it over break.”

Saturday, March 25, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt six)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

When they leave, I stare up at my tilting canopy, contemplating the fact that Maria Fabiola is the heir to a sugar fortune. I picture her kitchen pantry, which we used to raid after school and on sleepovers. The pantry did have sugar, but I don’t remember her parents using it more than anyone else.

Friday, March 24, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt five)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

I have stopped walking by Julia’s and Faith’s houses—instead I take a different route, with Svea and her dour friend, who is dourer today because we are late. The Santa Lucia ritual has set us back several minutes. We walk past the castle, past the house that once belonged to Carter the Great, past the pink house that belongs to the woman who went to Palm Springs for the weekend and impulsively got a tummy tuck. “Who gets a tummy tuck on a whim?” I’ve heard other women comment, as though it was the last-minute nature of her procedure that was most shocking. In the distance, foghorns sound, and near us, leaf blowers make their loud leaf-blowing sound. The streets are empty as usual. But at the entrance to the school, there’s a commotion, and causing the commotion are three police cars.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt four)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

On Halloween Maria Fabiola, Julia, Faith, and Lotta come to school dressed like the Go-Go’s on the cover of “Beauty and the Beat.” They’re dressed in white bathrobes (on the album cover, the Go-Go’s wear towels, tucked precariously over their breasts, but this was probably deemed too risqué by my friends’ parents). To their faces they’ve applied masks of a white substance that has hardened and cracked on their cheeks. Their teeth look yellow in comparison. The group outfit was my idea; I shared it with them in September, a century ago. Lotta, the Dutch girl, didn’t know who the Go-Go’s were before she came to America. There are five members of the band, but on Halloween at Spragg there are only four.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt three)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

Friday is officially hot—San Francisco’s summer has finally arrived in the fall. My mother gets off early from work and bikes home and washes and styles her hair and paints her nails. She dresses in all white and I have to admit she looks glamorous, and my father says so, too. “Wow,” he says when she comes downstairs. He stands at a distance, appraising her like art.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt two)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

We meet in the Male Teacher’s Lounge, which is basically his private office because there are no other male teachers except for the P.E. teacher, Mr. Robinson, who uses the Sports Staff office as his lair. He even put an Australian flag on the door to mark his territory. The Female Teacher’s Lounge is crowded and smells like the shallow vase water of dying flowers. The Male Teacher’s Lounge always smells of burnt coffee—the scent of testosterone, I assume.

Today Mr. London and I are meeting to discuss Franny and Zooey. He sits back in his desk chair and strokes his clean-shaven chin. Behind him, on three shelves, are books by Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises, A Moveable Feast), Fitzgerald (Tender Is the Night), and Robert Louis Stevenson (Kidnapped). There’s also an entire shelf devoted to the work of Jack London, which I personally believe he’s included in his “library” to subliminally propel the myth that he’s related to Jack London without having to prove it.

Monday, March 20, 2023

the last book I ever read (Vendela Vida's We Run the Tides, excerpt one)

from We Run the Tides: A Novel by Vendela Vida:

We return to Faith’s house after dinner and a sad slice of cake. Faith gives us a tour because Maria Fabiola hasn’t been inside before. “Never?” Julia asks. “I have a lot of after-school activities,” Maria Fabiola replies. She and I have the same number of after-school activities. We started taking ballet together at the Olenska School of Ballet when puberty began to take over our bodies, making us clumsy and laminating our curves with fat. Not that our instructor, Madame Sonya, thinks there’s much hope for us—she often quotes Isadora Duncan, who said that American bodies aren’t made for ballet. Still, while the dance classes haven’t done much for me, they have helped define Maria Fabiola’s figure. In addition to ballet, we go to dancing school every other Wednesday. All of us at Spragg go to ballroom dancing school because that’s where you meet the boys who go to the all-boys’ schools.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt fifteen)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

The only time Samuel Beckett ever came to the United States was to make a film with Buster Keaton. It wasn’t originally planned that way. The untitled short was to be one of three gathered into a portmanteau feature titled Project One, the other two authors being Harold Pinter and Eugène Ionesco. The entire project had been in the works for more than a year, and a company called Evergreen Theatre, Inc., an unlikely partnership between Grove Press and Four Star Television, had been formed to produce it. Beckett had conceived his portion of the feature as possessing “a stylized comic reality akin to that of a silent movie” and thought in terms of Chaplin or Zero Mostel for it. Chaplin, however, was inaccessible and Mostel was unavailable. Then the preference became actor Jack MacGowran, who had appeared in no fewer than nine Beckett works, including the first English-language production of Endgame. Small and elfin, with a face as distinctive—though certainly not as well known—as Keaton’s, MacGowran was on Beckett’s wavelength in a way Keaton could never be, and it was the loss of MacGowran to a stage commitment that occasioned a last-minute appeal to Keaton and, in England, to Alec Guinness.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt fourteen)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Keaton’s vow to give up touring lasted all of two years. Eleanor, who said she had her fingers crossed, knew the lure of live audiences was more than he could resist. In May 1963, he committed to the Barnes-Carruthers State Fair Tour, which was booked into a circuit of seven midwestern and southern fairs over the months of August and September. With him consistently would be bandleader Warren Covington, with whom he would perform the dueling sketch he last did with Paul Whiteman, and variously, at the larger grandstand venues, Rosemary Clooney, the Smothers Brothers, big band vocalist Johnny Desmond, and country star Molly Bee. “This,” said Keaton, “is the first time I’ve ever done this type of entertainment…. But I love it, and it’s easy work. I’m on fifteen minutes a night and it’s all over until the next night. I never had it so good.”

The tour came to a somber conclusion at the Alabama State Fair in Birmingham just days following the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four children and injured seventeen others. A member of the company, Don Logay, remembered “an armed military escort to our hotel in Birmingham.” The company was advised to remain in place other than for actual performances. “We would be picked up promptly at 6 p.m. and driven to do our show,” said Logay. “We would be returned to the hotel the same way.” It was under such tense circumstances that Keaton observed his sixty-eighth birthday on October 4 by cutting into a seven-layer cake, colored red, white, and blue, with a penknife. Instead of making a little speech in the tent that served as his backstage dressing quarters, he simply looked from one guest to the next with his hands outstretched in a gesture of appreciation.

Friday, March 17, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt thirteen)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

While in Germany, Keaton was so focused on business he was caught unprepared when asked to make a public appearance. “They wanted me on a television show there,” he related, “and I sez, ‘Well, the first thing I gotta do is have a hat. Where’s a hat store?’ They point to one across the street. I went over there. Nobody in the place speaks English. I don’t speak German. So I went down and found the type of fedora I wanted, start tryin’ them on until finally they came to my aid and they found one that fit me. When I found one that fit me, [I] took the price tag off, then took the money out of my pocket and held it out and let them take the money. Well, it was kind of an expensive hat—it amounted to about ten dollars. So now I ask ’em for a pair of scissors, [miming the scissors with his fingers]. They don’t know what the hell I want scissors for, but they go get me a pair of scissors. I immediately started to cut down the brim. Then I reached in and pulled out all the insides of the hat—threw it away, tore it out. Then started to break it down. Well, these people look at me as if I’m absolutely going out of my mind. I pay ten dollars for a hat, an expensive hat, then cut it to pieces, tear out the insides. But when I finally get it down like that, where I wanted it, and put it on, looked in the mirror, all three in the store threw their hands up and said: ‘BOOSTER!’ ”

Thursday, March 16, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt twelve)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

It was producer Mervyn LeRoy’s idea to hire Keaton as a writer on At the Circus, the new Marx Brothers picture at M-G-M. Keaton began work on May 3, drawing $300 a week, but found it a frustrating experience. “The Marx Brothers—it was an event when you could get all three of ’em on the set at the same time. The minute you started a picture with the Marx Brothers, you hired three assistant directors, one for each Marx Brother. Get two of ’em, while you went to look for the third one and the first two would disappear…. They never worried what the next setup was going to be or what the routine… or anything else. ‘We’ll ad lib it when we get there.’ Chico always had his bookie on the phone. Groucho had some other excuse to be missing. Harpo was visiting the other sets to see who was workin’.”

Since Groucho and Chico were essentially verbal comedians, Keaton spent more of his time devising business for Harpo, the silent one, which may have aroused Groucho’s ire. “You think that’s funny?” he demanded after Keaton described a particularly inventive gag in which a single straw causes a camel’s knees to buckle. Another idea had Harpo selling helium-filled balloons with the assistance of a midget who found himself airborne whenever he took charge of the inventory. Keaton’s stretch on At the Circus lasted ten days.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt eleven)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Keaton resolved to do the best he could with Her Cardboard Lover because an infinitely better picture was in the offing, one that could help him break out of the rut of progressively worse comedies. Thalberg and producer Paul Bern were assembling an all-star cast for the movie version of Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, and director Edmund Goulding thought Keaton would make inspired casting for the role of Otto Kringelein, an aging German bookkeeper with only weeks to live.

“In almost every picture I’ve made,” Keaton told Goulding, “I make it a rule to become very serious about the fourth reel or so. That is to make absolutely sure that the audience will really care about what happens to me in the rest of the picture.” Thalberg, especially, knew what a good actor Keaton could be, and multiple tests were made that stretched into the early days of Her Cardboard Lover. Keaton was so pleased he drove home one night in his costume and makeup, bedeviling Jimmy and Bobby, neither of whom could tell it was him. With his heart set on playing the role, he nonetheless knew there was very real concern that audiences conditioned to laugh at him might wreck the picture, something that had happened the previous year to comedienne ZaSu Pitts, who had to be replaced as Paul Bäumer’s dying mother in All Quiet on the Western Front after an unruly preview in San Bernardino.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt ten)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

In September, columnist Frank Scully noted that Keaton was about the only celebrity who passed up Antibes that summer in favor of Biarritz in the French Basque Country, Buster and Natalie having met up with Nat’s sister Norma in Paris. As they were settling in, Gilbert Roland came up from Antibes to join them, and as a foursome they ate, drank, and took in the sights. Roland, who was born in Mexico, wanted to see Oscar Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise. “It was abandoned, forgotten,” he wrote, “lizards crawled all over it, it depressed me, and at the Castiglione Bar with Buster Keaton we got drunk. Buster because he was having trouble with Natalie, and I because lizards crawled on Oscar Wilde’s tomb.”

Norma, Roland recorded, was in bed with the curse, and Natalie stayed with her as the two men crossed into Spain at San Sebastian to attend a bullfight, Keaton’s first. “The standing ovation he received brought tears to his eyes. Then Marquez [the matador] dedicated the bull to him, flung up [his hat], the montera. ‘Great honor, Keaton,’ I said.” Not knowing what to do, Keaton was advised to offer a gift. Cash, he was told, would be considered an insult. Stuffing a wad of bills back into his pocket, Keaton took out a gold cigarette case purchased at Cartier, placed it inside the montera, and threw it back down to Marquez. “Everyone in San Sebastian was happy about Buster Keaton’s gesture except Natalie. She had given him the expensive cigarette case, and he in turn had given it to some ‘lousy bullfighter.’ Buster laughed. It was wonderful to see him laugh; deadpan on the screen, in real life, a happy, humorous, generous man. Natalie at times made his life miserable, was extremely jealous, often unreasonable. I loved them both, refused to interfere with their personal problems, but [it] made me uneasy when she quarreled and cried.”

Monday, March 13, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt nine)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

There are no accounts of Buster’s final day on the Keaton studio grounds, the place where he made eighteen two-reelers and ten features over a period of seven years. If he walked around the compact lot, he would have seen standing sets dating back five years or more, buildings and storefronts and the variegated fence surrounding it all. The great stage where Joe Roberts so affectingly played his final scenes. The laboratory where all the exposed negative was processed, the chemical smells still lingering in the air. The old studio barn, the administration building where Lou Anger had his office and where payroll was made and extras and day workers were processed. Gabe Gabourie’s workshop, where seemingly anything could be fabricated on a moment’s notice. He may even have paused at the plot of land where Captain was buried. And if he walked past the studio’s row of dressing rooms he would have remembered that none of the doors were numbered but rather that each was named for one of the extraordinary comedies he made as an independent. Reading down the line were The Blacksmith, Convict 13, The Scarecrow, The Haunted House, The High Sign, Hard Luck, The Play House, The Goat, The Paleface, and The Boat.

Friday, March 10, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt eight)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Toward the end of their three-week stay, the company lost another two days to weather but were able to finish the morning of September 18, allowing them to leave for Los Angeles the same day. In all, The General had been on location in Oregon nearly thirteen weeks, with scarcely a week of filming left to be done in Los Angeles. Exhilarated, Keaton had the train stopped on the way home so that he and the crew could get off and play baseball.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt seven)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

One of the strongest responses to Go West came from the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Carl Sandburg, who was moonlighting as movie critic for the Chicago Daily News. “It seems rather silly to say that any screen comedy will leave unforgettable impressions on you,” Sandburg wrote, “but that seems exactly what Buster Keaton’s Go West is likely to do at McVickers Theater this week. Although the theater at times is explosive with hearty guffaws, Go West may not be the funniest thing that sour-faced Buster has ever done, but it is by far the most enjoyable bit of humor this writer has seen from the Keaton fun factory. This comedian comes close to the Chaplinesque in his serious comedy. Buster is one of the few comedians of the screen at whom you can laugh without feeling a bit ridiculous yourself.”

Keaton always struggled with Go West, and in later years tended to distance himself from it. “Some parts I like,” he allowed in 1958, “but as a picture, in general, I didn’t care for it.” He always looked upon the roundup with disappointment, but the picture may also have struck too personal a note with him, something very private in his character that he didn’t want revealed. In the end, Go West played to $50,300 during an off week on Broadway, a bit less than Seven Chances. In comparison, Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman was in its seventh week at the much smaller Colony, where it took in $30,500 and looked certain to last a full ten weeks. Where Keaton represented an abstraction to American audiences, Lloyd was the real deal, an energetic boy from the Midwest always eager to make good. However popular Chaplin and Keaton were internationally, it was Lloyd who topped the box office polls in the United States and who would remain a big star until talkies and middle age took their inevitable toll.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt six)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

With Go West completed, Keaton loaned Ray Cannon to Universal for a Reginald Denny comedy and left for New York with Nat, her sister Dutch, and their mother, ostensibly to confer with Joe Schenck and see to release plans for the new picture, but more directly to shuttle between Washington and Pittsburgh for the World Series. Baseball had assumed an increasingly important role in Keaton’s life, and the studio team, known widely as the Buster Keaton Nine, had captured three state championships. The Nine were frequently in the papers, playing municipal teams and athletic clubs as far north as Oxnard and highlighting the standout work of their captain as well as first baseman Ernie Orsatti, who did prop and doubling work around the lot and was trusted with such critical tasks as pumping Buster’s air during the underwater scenes for The Navigator. Other studios had teams as well: Douglas MacLean’s business staff, his writers and visitors, played daily on the FBO lot, and Harold Lloyd had not only a baseball team but a handball crew as well. Yet no Hollywood team seemed to inspire the attention that naturally accrued to the Keaton organization.

Ernie Orsatti was so good that one day in 1925 he arrived at work and found a new set of luggage and a check waiting for him… and he was told that he was fired. Keaton handed him a contract to play for the Vernon Tigers, in which he retained an interest, but Orsatti played just six games with the Tigers before he was sent to Cedar Rapids as part of the Mississippi Valley League. By 1926, he would be fielding in the minor leagues for the St. Louis Cardinals, on his way to the majors, where he would enjoy a career lasting into the mid-1930s.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt five)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Roscoe Arbuckle’s three trials for manslaughter left him owing more than $100,000, including a $50,000 payment reportedly due to lead attorney Gavin McNab. Having lived on cash flow for so long, Arbuckle had little in reserve to meet these obligations and began the dispiriting task of dismantling his former life, selling anything of value for as much as he could get. In May 1922, he was said to be flat broke, having sold his Cadillac touring car to Keaton and his Cadillac speedster to Eddie Cline. He deeded his house on West Adams, which he purchased in 1920, to Joe Schenck as security on loans Schenck had made to cover his legal expenses.

In a statement to Lanning Warren of United Press, Arbuckle said he was so heavily in debt that he had no hope of coming back in any line of work until he could once again make pictures. “I’m not sobbing, however. Hays has said my pictures are banned pending an investigation, and I’m sure he’ll find I’m the victim of persecution. But until he makes his decision, I’m making no plans for the future.” Keaton’s first impulse after the Hays edict was to give Arbuckle work behind the camera, and that, it appeared, couldn’t happen soon enough. A forlorn, almost ghostlike figure, Roscoe had taken to hanging around the United Studios where he had made his Paramount features. “He has nothing to do,” Warren’s article reported, “and walks around the studios watching the people who used to work for him. Since his arrest last fall he has had no income whatever, except a check recently received from the Buster Keaton company for a scenario Fatty wrote.”

Monday, March 6, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt four)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

The first film reflecting Gray’s participation, My Wife’s Relations, was firmly set in “the foreign section of a big city,” possibly Greenpoint, the portion of Brooklyn known as Little Poland. Said Keaton, “My Wife’s Relations—that is, the hazy idea of it—was born when Eddie Cline and I saw a postman in the East, unable to read the inscription on a letter in a foreign settlement, compare it to the lettering on a sign board.” With Buster, for once, was no ingénue but a substantial character actress named Kate Price, who was twenty-three years his senior and nothing at all like the wispy Virginia Fox. In the film’s opening, he gets framed for breaking a window, then, due to the language barrier—the judge doesn’t speak a word of English—finds himself married to the daughter of a family of Irish roughnecks. Buster has a hard time fitting in until they mistakenly think he’s due for a big inheritance and decide to put on the dog. His escape from the liveried digs they’ve all moved to has him climbing out a top-floor window and descending four flights by swinging from awning to awning, a breathtaking stunt he performs in a single shot, typically refusing to cut or cheat the effect in any way.

Friday, March 3, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt three)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

“Personally,” he said in a 1930 interview, “I’ve never had the slightest fear of jumping off into a net from a great height, or doing a dive into water, and the only kick I got out of a net jump was during the filming of The Paleface when I had to drop eighty-five feet from a suspension bridge into a net. The day before we shot the scene, the technician who set up the net—and who claimed to be a former fireman—offered to prove the net was safe by making the jump himself. I told him to go ahead. He jumped and, failing to hit the net properly, broke a leg and a shoulder. When I stood in the same spot the next day with the cameras grinding, I couldn’t think of a thing save that man who was in the hospital. I came darn near not doing that scene, but because I didn’t want to show yellow before my own gang, I did the jump and it was successful.”

Thursday, March 2, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt two)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Following the completion of Love, Arbuckle, bound for New York, converged with Joe Schenck and Adolph Zukor in Kansas City to sign contracts that had been in the works for eight weeks. The new agreement was valued at $3 million over thirty-six months, a figure Zukor confirmed in a wire to Famous Players-Lasky, which would continue to distribute the Fatty Arbuckle comedies under the Paramount name. Two months later, with some of that money burning a hole in his pocket, Arbuckle closed a deal to buy the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League, something he admitted he did just to please Lou Anger, a baseball bug who would act as the team’s general manager. When Buster reappeared in May, having turned down offers from both William Fox and Warner Bros., he was put to work clowning with Roscoe and Al St. John at the season opener, suiting up in team colors and wielding a bat and ball made of plaster. Arbuckle’s replacement for Alice Lake, an actress named Molly Malone, served as the team’s mascot, and those in the stands included stage and screen star Bessie Barriscale, actors Jack Pickford and Lew Cody, and Fox cowboy hero Tom Mix.

Keaton later said he was offered $1,000 a week to jump ship, but his loyalty to Schenck and Arbuckle trumped money, and he stuck with the $150 a week he was getting when he left for Camp Kearny. He knew that big changes were afoot, because Arbuckle was keen to move into features and play more sophisticated roles. Al St. John was also getting restless, and it would be only a matter of time before he went out on his own.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

the last book I ever read (Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life, excerpt one)

from Buster Keaton: A Filmmaker's Life by James Curtis:

Buster was hurtling toward adulthood. He bought his first automobile at the age of thirteen, a lightweight contraption with a one-cylinder engine called a Browniekar, and upgraded to a secondhand Peerless Phaeton—a seven-seater—the year he turned fifteen. He also began to grow, and was taller than his mother by the time he legitimately turned sixteen in October 1911. Sixteen or not, he was still a missile as far as Joe was concerned, although hefting him was becoming more of a strain. Just after Buster’s birthday, Joe famously pitched him for just about the last time. The scene was Poli’s in New Haven, a theater the Keatons knew well. New Haven was notorious in vaudeville for the rowdy Yale students who made great sport of heckling performers, but the place couldn’t be avoided if acts expected to play the lucrative Poli time in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.