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.

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