Buster Keaton

By: Joe Alterio
October 4, 2009


At one point in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), we find washed-up silent film stars literally and figuratively playing out their last hands. A small ashen-faced man declines to bid on consecutive hands, and with just a small movement of the head and a wrinkled brow, he manages to signal that he’s a former film giant reduced to playing for his keep. When he was a star, BUSTER KEATON (1895-1996) played the ingenue and the boyscout with heartbreaking aplomb. That signature Keaton look — brow furrowed, big eyes looking desperately to the heavens — is a perfect manifestation of his appeal. Where Chaplin was the coy clown, Keaton was the believable underdog. Where Lloyd was a show-off, Keaton was a craftsman. He was supposedly hardest on himself, and worked endless hours to get things exactly right. In the end, far from his showy tumbling antics and daring risks as a performer — he was the original Jackie Chan — Keaton’s genius lay in small, seemingly effortless movements made possible by a lifetime of ceaseless labor.

— Text and illustration by Joe Alterio. To view a gallery of Alterio’s HiLobrow illustrations, click here.


HUMORISTS at HILOBROW: Michael O’Donoghue | Jemaine Clement | Andy Kaufman | Danny Kaye | George Ade | Jimmy Durante | Jack Benny | Aziz Ansari | Don Rickles | Godfrey Cambridge | Eric Idle | David Cross | Stewart Lee | Samuel Beckett | Jerry Lewis | Joanna Lumley | Jerome K. Jerome | Phil Silvers | Edward Lear | Tony Hancock | George Carlin | Stephen Colbert | Tina Fey | Keith Allen | Russell Brand | Michael Cera | Stan Laurel | Ricky Gervais | Gilda Radner | Larry David | Chris Pontius | Dave Chappelle | Jimmy Finlayson | Paul Reubens | Peter Sellers | Buster Keaton | Flann O’Brien | Lenny Bruce | Sacha Baron Cohen | Steve Coogan | PG Wodehouse | A.J. Liebling | Curly Howard | Fran Lebowitz | Charlie Kaufman | Stephen Merchant | Richard Pryor | James Thurber | Bill Hicks | ALSO: Comedy and the Death of God

READ MORE about the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


Haw-Haw, HiLo Heroes, Movies