Buster Keaton: The Return of the Man in the Porkpie Hat
Buster Keaton, more so than Charlie Chaplin, always impressed me as the representative comedian of the silent era. Where Chaplin's bits espoused a Victorian-era sensibility, Keaton's adventurous gambits struck a modernist chord: his derring-do and placid expression epitomized the hectic yet nonchalant verve of 1920s society. Once the talkies came around, Keaton floundered, only to find salvation of sorts on television from the late 1940s on with his eponymous variety show and regular guest appearances. I worked closely with the Damfinos and other Keaton appreciators, as well as Keaton's widow, Eleanor, in pulling this exhibition together. Kevin Brownlow, who along with the late David Gill produced a three-part documentary on Keaton, was also an enormous asset.
Buster Keaton on the MGM backlot, 1965. Photograph by Lawrence Schiller.
LEFT: "The Silent Partner" (Screen Director's Playhouse, 1955). In a scenario close to his heart, Keaton played a forgotten showbiz legend who gets a shot at a second act. RIGHT: Advert for Alka-Seltzer. Keaton's revival in the 1950s led to a plethora of endorsement work—print ads and television commercials for Alza-Seltzer, Northwest Orient Airlines, Simon Pure Beer, RCA, and others. As a shill, he was hands-on: rather than follow the script, he'd concoct elaborate sight gags.