BUSTER KEATON: Cut to the Chase by Marion Meade

BUSTER KEATON: Cut to the Chase

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Meade (Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?, 1988, etc.) returns to the Jazz Age with this bio of the great filmmaker and actor Joseph Frank ""Buster"" Keaton, timed to coincide with the centennial of his birth. Warning readers from the outset that she is focusing on his life rather than his films, Meade retells Keaton's story in somewhat more detail than previous biographers. The actor was born to Joe and Myra Keaton, unsuccessful medicine-show performers who became unsuccessful parents. But Keaton (and the physically violent stunts his father performed on him) enlivened their moribund act and made them vaudeville stars. Meade goes into copious detail in recounting the comedian's literally knockabout infancy and childhood and offers perfunctory attempts to situate him in a world before mass media. She chronicles his meteoric rise in the nascent movie industry, his working relationship with Roscoe ""Fatty"" Arbuckle, and Arbuckle's decline in the wake of his trials in the alleged manslaughter of starlet Virginia Rappe. Meade closely traces the consequences of Keaton's disastrous marriage to Natalie Talmadge and the sordid history of his in-laws. She recounts the harrowing downfall that accompanied his ill-advised decision to sign with MGM at the end of the silent era (and reconfirms the belief that Irving Thalberg deserved some blame for the destruction of Keaton's career). After the dismal times of the late '30s and '40s, Keaton rebounded thanks in no small part to the advent of television. Meade is the first Keaton biographer to detail his prickly relationship with film buff Raymond Rohauer; to give the devil his due, the obnoxious Rohauer emerges with considerable credit for saving Keaton's films from oblivion. One wishes that despite her warning Meade would talk more about the films and their making. The failure to do so leaves a large hole in the center of this account. A competent biography, seldom stirring but highly informative.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: HarperCollins