Buster Keaton and his children

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kndy

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Buster Keaton and his children

PostSun Nov 07, 2010 9:54 am

For those who have studied and researched Buster Keaton, I've read about how Natalie Talmadge took all his money and his children away from him.

But I wondered if his children ever got a chance to know their father? I've only read the 2005 interview with Melissa Talmadge Cox about memories of her grandfather:

http://www.filmradar.com/weblog/entry/m ... ddaughter/

So, the fact that she did go visit her grandfather is a plus, and it was so good to read. But yet, I found it interesting the grandchildren were really not told about his career and literally found out more of him after he had died.

Anything learned from the most recent Kansas Silent Film Festival where she was a special guest at?

The other is regarding Keaton's final years. I know he went through some major rough challenges after his divorce but I hoped that towards the latter end of his life, he found happiness and was not broke or an alcoholic.

And last...what is the best Buster Keaton book to read?

Thanks in advance.
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kndy

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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 10:00 am

Found the following article on a viewing of the anniversary of "The General" in which Melissa appeared with her son and she was asked about her father, if he ever wanted to change his name back from Talmadge to Keaton:

http://www.classicimages.com/articles/2 ... ralthe.txt

I noticed Buster’s granddaughter Melissa and her son Brady sitting alone. Wanting to make these honored guests feel welcome, I invited them to join Gary Lacher and me at our table. They graciously accepted the invitation. Rarely in my life as a film buff have I been so pleased to meet the descendants of a celebrity. Here were two unassuming, well-spoken individuals who have direct blood-ties to one of the most iconic figures in film history, and yet they felt no need to put on airs or demand special treatment.

Since she was seventeen when her grandfather died in 1966, Melissa has vivid memories of the man she knew as “Grandpa Buster.” Instead of being free with hugs and kisses, he showed affection for Melissa by teaching her his favorite game of bridge and letting her play with his electric train set. This occurred during her many visits to the Woodland Hills ranch house that Buster shared with his third and final wife, Eleanor.

There were Hollywood mementos on display in Buster’s den, but Melissa was more interested in gathering eggs from the chicken coop located on the property. In truth, she hardly thought of her grandfather as a star. She was aware that he was on television, of course, (on variety shows, in commercials and on Candid Camera), but she does not recall seeing any of his silent films until well after his death. Two cherished heirlooms currently in Melissa’s possession are the Eastman Awards presented to Buster and his former sister-in-law, Norma Talmadge.

Much has been written about Buster’s troubled marriage with Norma’s sister Natalie, and the speculation regarding their relationship has been a bit harsh, Melissa feels. She loved her grandmother “Nat” and does not remember her as the deeply unhappy recluse of the Keaton biographies. It was, nevertheless, a bitter divorce that ended the Keaton-Talmadge union in 1932. Natalie, in fact, obtained full custody of their two sons, Jimmy and Bobby, and even changed the boys’ last name from Keaton to Talmadge. I asked if Melissa’s father had ever considered changing it back once Natalie had passed away.

“I don’t think it ever occurred to him,” Melissa answered.

Brady, a twenty-six-year-old realtor, ate his lunch and listened to our conversation. I asked him his impression of his great-grandfather, a man who had died some fourteen years before his birth. Brady impressed me with his insights. He has great respect for Buster’s skills as a physical comic, and frequently watches the stunts he performed. But despite the fact that we were surrounded by a roomful of people who are obsessed with his great-grandfather, Brady did not feel that most people his age even know who Buster Keaton was. Nor did he feel that his films would impress younger audiences who have been weaned on computer-generated special effects. Anybody can do anything now, or so it seems. That Buster was genuinely performing such feats as running atop moving trains or falling off buildings is lost on today’s generation of jaded moviegoers. It was a cogent thought, and a sobering one.
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 11:27 am

I've recently read that his sons did come to visit him once they were in school and a bit outside the Talmadge women's influence. It didn't really say whether they became close again. Keaton seemed to adjust to the life he had, and be grateful for it. He was far from living the life of a tragic clown. It's true that in the 40's and 50's he was writing gags for others (favorites were Lucille Ball and Red Skelton; he didn't care for Abbot and Costello or the Marx Brothers) instead of making his own films, but he was apparently happy simply to be working. There's a quote: "People are always telling me I'm immortal. I just might prove them right. Hell, the way I feel, I just might live forever."

I enjoyed his "autobiography" My Wonderful World of Slapstick, (ghostwritten by Charles Samuels) for the way it covered his vaudeville life. It glosses over much of the later sadness... I don't think it even mentions his second wife. It has a list of his film and TV appearances. No index, though.

I just finished Buster Keaton: The Persistence of Comedy, and enjoyed it very much. Without being a biography or filmography, it covers his entire life and all the work he did. Chapters are loosely tied to films, but only loosely. The last chapter covers the last years of his life, during which he was "rediscovered." The book includes lots of endnotes and a good bibliography, but doesn't include an index. The author, Imogen Sara Smith, surveyed as many previous Keaton books and articles as she could (including some hilariously pretentious French philosopher stuff). She notes the problems that some of them have, such as relying too much on the great stone face cliche. She likes the Rudi Blesh book while noting that it overemphasizes the sad clown.

I'm working my way through Arbuckle and Keaton by James Neibaur. This book focuses on the 14 films they did for Comique, and traces the development of both comics. It goes film by film, and I find that after I read a chapter, I need to dig out my DVDs and watch the film I just read about.

Waiting on and weighing down my coffee table is Buster Keaton Remembered, a large format book with lots of photos and plenty of text. It includes a long essay by Keaton's third and last wife Eleanor, and she was involved in creating this book that was published shortly after her death. The book has a bibliography, an extensive filmography that includes TV appearances and commercials, an index, and an appendix, "How to Make a Porkpie Hat."

All of these books are written well and easy to read.
Scott Cameron
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 12:36 pm

sc1957 wrote:I'm working my way through Arbuckle and Keaton by James Neibaur. This book focuses on the 14 films they did for Comique, and traces the development of both comics. It goes film by film, and I find that after I read a chapter, I need to dig out my DVDs and watch the film I just read about.


Thanks SC,

I was wondering if the book (I suppose if it is mentioned) does go into the later relationship of Arbuckle and Keaton. The reason why I ask is that in this upcoming release of "Sherlock Jr.", there is a featurette on whether or not Arbuckle did direct "Sherlock Jr." (and how much of it did he direct).

And Keaton paints Arbuckle in somewhat of a negative way as a director while Arbuckle's wife had a different opinion. So, I'm wondering if they managed to stay as friends after "Sherlock Jr." in 1924.
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 1:27 pm

Marion Meade's book Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase (1995) is often an exasperating read, with the author making several rash assumptions and undocumented claims. However, it's still valuable for some of the original research material — I believe it's the only book to include interview material with one of Buster's sons: James Talmadge. Grandchildren Melissa Talmadge Cox and Jim Talmadge were also interviewed for the book. A few excerpts:

Jimmy Talmadge decided to look up his father. ”A friend of mine pushed me, that’s all,” he said. Fifteen years old, a student at Santa Monica High School, he was not yet old enough to drive. His friend offered to take him to the house and wait while he knocke don the door. By now he had few memories of living at the Italian Villa, even fewer memories of his Keaton relatives. During those years, he recalled, ”we didn’t see Myra or Joe or Louise. My mother wouldn’t have allowed it.”

After Jimmy turned sixteen in the summer of 1938 and earned his driver’s license, he drove to Cheviot Hills with his younger brother. For Keaton, who had not seen his sons for five years, it was one of ”the thrills of my lifetime.”

”I didn’t tell Mother,” Jimmy said, ”Hell no.” She strictly forbade any contact.


As his sons strengthtened the relationship, by the fifties visits became more regular, and the grandchildren would be babysat by Buster and Eleanor or by Buster’s mother Myra.

From his sons, Keaton could not help hearing snippets of news about the Talmadges. Accordingly, he knew that Natalie’s hatred of him continued to burn... Twenty-five years after the divorce, she would not permit his name to be spoken in her house. Within the family it had become a joke. The grandchildren delighted in deliberately mentioning Buster’s name. Natalie would glare and fly into a rage. ”She just hated the man to death,” said her grandson Jim.



My favorite Keaton Books are:

Keaton by Rudi Blesh, 1966
Buster Keaton by David Robinson, 1969
Silent Echoes: Discovering Early Hollywood Through the Films of Buster Keaton by John Bengtson, 1999
Buster Keaton Remembered by Eleanor Keaton and Jeffrey Vance, 2001

For all its inherent limitations, Buster's "as-told-to" autobiography, My Wonderful World of Slapstick (1960) is of course an essential read.
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 3:43 pm

Eleanor Keaton didn't want me to interview anyone (or utilize any of the interviews I had conducted independently prior to my knowing her) for BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED as it would be inconsistent with it being her memory book of Buster Keaton. The exception was Jim Talmadge. She had wanted the two of us to drive to his home and spend the day with him to get his point of view on Natalie Talmadge.

Sadly, Eleanor's illness and death prevented the visit with Jim Talmadge from happening.

However, Jim, and his daughter Melissa Talmadge Cox, came to the Academy's Margaret Herrick Library not long after Eleanor's death and spent several hours examining Eleanor's collection of photos and answering my questions. Although he isn't quoted verbatim, his point of view shaped the text of BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED and provided many details used in the book. His contribution was invaluable.

His ideas were my only alteration of the book's text after Eleanor died as I knew she had wanted Jim's point of view represented.

The hours spent at the Margaret Herrick Library must have left a good impression on both he and Melissa (whom I had met before with Eleanor) as they later donated Norma Talmadge's photos to the Academy Library.

Jeffrey Vance
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 3:43 pm

kndy wrote:I was wondering if the book (I suppose if it is mentioned) does go into the later relationship of Arbuckle and Keaton. The reason why I ask is that in this upcoming release of "Sherlock Jr.", there is a featurette on whether or not Arbuckle did direct "Sherlock Jr." (and how much of it did he direct).

And Keaton paints Arbuckle in somewhat of a negative way as a director while Arbuckle's wife had a different opinion. So, I'm wondering if they managed to stay as friends after "Sherlock Jr." in 1924.


In Arbuckle and Keaton, Neibaur talks about this briefly. He says: "Actually, Arbuckle was asked to direct [Sherlock, Jr.], but his despondency over his failed career was too overwhelming, and his creative differences with Buster were at a level that never occurred during the filming of the Comique series. This time, Buster was boss, and perhaps Arbuckle attempted a certain level of creative control that was not his to have. Whatever the reason, Buster felt his friendship was too strong to let it be hindered by creative difficulties. Arbucle was replaced by Keaton himself before any filming began."

In The Persistence of Comedy, Imogen Smith refers to the aftermath of Arbuckle's rape trials and says "Buster helped him find jobs, and with Joe Schenck's [producer at Comique] approval he drew up an agreement by which thirty-five percent of the profits from every Keaton film were paid directly to Roscoe... At times this was his main financial support, and the arrangement went on until Arbuckle's premature death in 1933."

There are no citations to indicate where Neibaur or Smith got this information, but I'd say that, if Keaton was willing to give up 35%, that's a pretty good indication of how he felt about Arbuckle.

Both authors speak of Arbuckle catering to an audience of twelve-year-olds, while Keaton wanted to aim higher. And that Arbuckle focused on getting laughs, while Keaton was more interested in what you could do with the film medium.
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 5:38 pm

sc1957 wrote:In Arbuckle and Keaton, Neibaur talks about this briefly. He says: "Actually, Arbuckle was asked to direct [Sherlock, Jr.], but his despondency over his failed career was too overwhelming, and his creative differences with Buster were at a level that never occurred during the filming of the Comique series. This time, Buster was boss, and perhaps Arbuckle attempted a certain level of creative control that was not his to have. Whatever the reason, Buster felt his friendship was too strong to let it be hindered by creative difficulties. Arbucle was replaced by Keaton himself before any filming began."


From what I understand about their friendship and working relationship, this makes a lot of sense to me.

By coincidence, I bought a 1925 copy of`Photoplay' over the weekend, and the topic of James Quirk's editorial is `Now that all the fuss has died down, we should let Fatty Arbuckle resume his film career'.

This was August '25, just over a year after `Sherlock Jr' came out and a little under a year since Arbuckle's first credited work as `William Goodrich'. Quirk must surely have known about the Goodrich pseudonym, so the subtext of his article, at least within the industry, might have been `We all know this guy's working again - can't we at least give him the dignity of letting him use his own name?'.

You could easily imagine the progress of events from early 1924 to late 1925. Roscoe attempts to restart his career in a number of ways, of which going back to work with Buster is simply the first and least successful. It's noteworthy that the either the idea of working under a pseudonym, or the pseudonym itself, is usually attributed to Buster. You can imagine him wanting to use his influence in some way that helped a friend who was probably in a delicate state of mind.

Everything I've ever read leads me to believe they were close friends to the end of Arbuckle's life - including the fact that Buster stuck by him at a time when doing so could easily have destroyed his own career, and that he reportedly had a picture of Arbuckle in his office right to the end of his own life.
Last edited by Brooksie on Sun Nov 07, 2010 8:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Keaton & Arbuckle

PostSun Nov 07, 2010 6:49 pm

A few years ago Classic Images did a lengthy story on the Arbuckle/Rappe court case which, I seem to remember, went over three issues. Maybe we can see this on these pages sometime??? I don't have the editions or at least can't now find them due to an archive fire years ago.
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PostSun Nov 07, 2010 10:06 pm

Re: Classic Images -

You can search the index on their site:

http://www.classicimages.com/


Rick
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PostMon Nov 08, 2010 9:55 am

Jeffrey Vance wrote:Eleanor Keaton didn't want me to interview anyone (or utilize any of the interviews I had conducted independently prior to my knowing her) for BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED as it would be inconsistent with it being her memory book of Buster Keaton. The exception was Jim Talmadge. She had wanted the two of us to drive to his home and spend the day with him to get his point of view on Natalie Talmadge.


I've always wondered when it came to Buster and his feelings towards Natalie, I wonder how he felt about her. In terms of...if he was apologetic for what led to the divorce and the breaking down of the family in his later life. Did he not talk about her.

Thank you for letting me know about your book. It would be great to read more about Eleanor Keaton and her memories. Especially to hear more from Jim Talmadge.


====
As for the Arbuckle/Keaton - "Sherlock Jr.", I guess I'll keep my lips zip until the Blu-ray release comes out as the short documentary by David Pearson and Patricia Eliot Tobies (included with the "Sherlock Jr." release) examines that relationship if Arbuckle did in fact direct "Sherlock Jr."... Let's just say Arbuckle's wife said he did. Buster had something different to say obviously. Hmm....
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Re: Keaton & Arbuckle

PostMon Nov 08, 2010 11:48 am

moviepas wrote:A few years ago Classic Images did a lengthy story on the Arbuckle/Rappe court case which, I seem to remember, went over three issues. Maybe we can see this on these pages sometime??? I don't have the editions or at least can't now find them due to an archive fire years ago.


Nitrateville's Frederica is currently working on a book on Virginia Rappe and she has uncovered much previously unknown information about the three court cases.
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PostMon Nov 08, 2010 12:49 pm

Brooksie wrote:You could easily imagine the progress of events from early 1924 to late 1925. Roscoe attempts to restart his career in a number of ways, of which going back to work with Buster is simply the first and least successful.


Arbuckle had already done some successful work for Keaton. I have a 1922 issue of Movie Weekly in which a reporter describes a visit to Keaton's studio. Arbuckle is there, and he talks about having done the scenario for Buster's latest film. Someone else at the studio is quoted, backing that up.

Still, Arbuckle doesn't get screen credit for any of Keaton's releases, and Keaton worked in an improvisational way rather than by following a formal script. But it seems Arbuckle made some real contributions in 1922, and this wasn't a big secret.

Sherlock Jr. underwent big changes in its storyline (as discussed in my blog this week, plug plug), and it might have been simple creative differences that led to Arbuckle's departure from the project. The two didn't have a bitter falling-out.
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PostMon Nov 08, 2010 7:08 pm

kndy wrote:
Jeffrey Vance wrote:Eleanor Keaton didn't want me to interview anyone (or utilize any of the interviews I had conducted independently prior to my knowing her) for BUSTER KEATON REMEMBERED as it would be inconsistent with it being her memory book of Buster Keaton. The exception was Jim Talmadge. She had wanted the two of us to drive to his home and spend the day with him to get his point of view on Natalie Talmadge.


I've always wondered when it came to Buster and his feelings towards Natalie, I wonder how he felt about her. In terms of...if he was apologetic for what led to the divorce and the breaking down of the family in his later life. Did he not talk about her.

Thank you for letting me know about your book. It would be great to read more about Eleanor Keaton and her memories. Especially to hear more from Jim Talmadge.


====
As for the Arbuckle/Keaton - "Sherlock Jr.", I guess I'll keep my lips zip until the Blu-ray release comes out as the short documentary by David Pearson and Patricia Eliot Tobias (included with the "Sherlock Jr." release) examines that relationship if Arbuckle did in fact direct "Sherlock Jr."... Let's just say Arbuckle's wife said he did. Buster had something different to say obviously. Hmm....


Patty and I DO discuss the issue of Arbuckle's possible involvement on the Sherlock Jr. disk, and do drop a bombshell or two. And there will be even more revelations on this issue in the long awaited release of Kevin Brownlow's book on Buster. Originally written in conjunction with A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW back in 1987, Mr. Brownlow updated the book last year for release at Pordenone (published in Italian), and hopefully the book will see daylight in English in 2011.
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PostMon Nov 08, 2010 7:41 pm

David that is excellent news!
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PostTue Nov 09, 2010 6:33 am

Melissa Talmadge Cox was at the Shasta County Silent Film Festival last month to introduce Our Hospitality and The Primitive Lover. With a small venue, she was able to come up and talk to everyone, and showed family pictures of both Keaton and the Talmadges.

She told a story of hitchhiking through Scotland as a teenager. At some inn, she was introduced to an older couple. Hearing her last name, the man mentioned that he'd always been "in love" with an actress named Norma Talmadge. Melissa said, "yes, that's my great-aunt." It earned her what amounted to a personal tour around the country, where ever she wanted to go.

And now it's the OTHER grandparent who is now generating her tours to film festivals, and Norma is probably the least remembered of the lot. Melissa is very friendly and out-going, and it was a pleasure to meet her.
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PostThu Dec 09, 2010 4:25 pm

I got question how does Buster Keaton great grandchildren feel about their great grandpa contribution to film that be intersting to readd or they don't give rat you know what about it
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PostThu Dec 09, 2010 7:00 pm

If you read the second post in this thread, at the bottom you'll learn how Brady, one of Keaton's great grandchildren, felt about Buster Keaton's work.
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Kelly

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PostThu Dec 09, 2010 7:44 pm

Hey Brady take from this Generation X Female

I adore your great grandfather

He was da man :lol:
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PostMon Dec 13, 2010 12:06 am

Speaking of A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW, anyone know where on earth I can get a dvd copy of this? Does such an artifact even exist (and, good grief, if not why not)? I taped it off tv 20-some years ago and eventually transferred it to dvd, but the tape quality had deteriorated significantly by then.
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PostMon Dec 13, 2010 12:12 am

A Hard Act to Follow is available in a region 2 DVD if you have an all-region machine.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostFri Aug 15, 2014 9:29 am

Old thread I know but I just stumbled into this place and being a fan of Keaton for decades, since '76, I thought I should post a little info on the legal name changes of Jim and Bobby.
This did not happen until 1942! It wasn't done when the boys were young although they used the Talmadge name for years. I suspect the timing of this, July 1 1942, was done when James was about to join the service at 20 years old, Bobby was 18.

They were both men at the time and could have very well chosen not to do so.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostFri Aug 15, 2014 7:26 pm

Both sons appeared in the "This Is Your Life, Buster Keaton" episode in 1957.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostSun May 15, 2016 5:39 pm

I joined this community just to say someone needs to let Brady know he's very wrong!

Not only do young people love Buster Keaton's films, they're all in love with him, too. In places like Tumblr and Pinterest he's a very popular man, and the pictures and animated gifs that are made in his honor are quite something to see.

The younger generation has definitely discovered him, I think initially through channels like TCM. At any rate, most classic actors you can think of, even the more obscure ones, have pages dedicated to them.

Buster, however, ranks very high up there on stars who have big, active followings. By that I mean to say five to ten pages about him, all showing two to three images, writing about his films, or creating animated images of favorite moments per day and sometimes more.

For someone who's been gone that long to make that kind of impact on girls in the latter half of the teens is, I think, damned impressive.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostSun Jul 24, 2016 8:38 pm

I will eventually learn more about Buster Keaton´s life and I wonder what could he have done to Natalie Talmadge for her to break him in half, literally, taking custody of his children, changing their legal names and forbiding them to speak his name. She sure knew how to carry a grudge to the grave.

Natalie Talmadage epitaph should have read: "Yeah I still hate you".
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostSun Jul 24, 2016 10:41 pm

Buster cheated on Natalie.

But, good Lord, that was the norm rather than the exception. Charlie Chaplin's two sons took his name to their graves. What could have happened in the Keaton/Talmadge marriage that was so exceptional to create such a response? Not having read any of the Keaton bios, is there any explanation?
"This bar of likker is now a bar of justice!"
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostWed Aug 10, 2016 2:35 pm

From what I recall, having read Buster's autobiography, Natalie was never referred to by name.

Remember reading elsewhere: "The only person who could take me away from Natalie was Natalie."
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostThu Aug 11, 2016 4:34 pm

I read somewhere that as soon as the eldest Keaton son had a drivers license, he borrowed the car and he and his brother visited Buster.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostThu Feb 22, 2018 2:24 pm

Mae wrote:Remember reading elsewhere: "The only person who could take me away from Natalie was Natalie."


I read this quote from the Damfinos' website, busterkeaton.com. I'm a newbie Keaton fan, I learned about him a over a month ago and now I absolutely love him. I guess my burning question is why Natalie hated him so much? From what I've read, Buster was allowed to have discreet affairs when Natalie and her family made him move to a separate bedroom (after their second son was born) and didn't want to have another child with him. But I haven't read anything about Buster cheating on her early into their marriage.
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Re: Buster Keaton and his children

PostFri Feb 23, 2018 10:38 am

Serial cheating, and problem drinking, have both separately harmed/ended many marriages. (I've seen such, very close up.)

Dealing with both at once would be no treat.

Of course above all this, is the makeup of individuals involved.

-Craig
(Keaton fan since childhood.)

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