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.

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