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Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase Hardcover – October, 1995


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Silent film star Buster Keaton (1895-1966) developed his trademark deadpan expression and acrobatic artistry, according to the author, as a result of the abuse he received from his father, Joe. As part of a vaudeville act, Joe began brutally throwing five-year-old Buster around the stage and beat him at the first sign of fear. When he was 21, Keaton left his uncaring parents and began acting in silents made by comedy star Fatty Arbuckle. His career blossomed from 1920 to '28, when he established his own company and wrote, starred in and directed films like The Navigator (1924). After the company was dissolved, Keaton's career declined until the 1950s, when he made a comeback and appeared in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. Alcoholism hastened the end of his marriages to Natalie Talmadge (the couple had two sons) and Mae Scriven. He achieved control over his drinking, and his third marriage, to Eleanor Norris, was a success. This is an engrossing portrait of a tormented comedic genius, with an extensive filmography (67pp). Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Released to coincide with the centenary of Keaton's birth, this comprehensive biography fills gaps in the silent-film comedian's life history while dispelling a few rumors. Meade (Dorothy Parker, Villard: Random, 1987) rehashes familiar territory with a fresh eye: Keaton's brutal upbringing in a vaudeville family, his liaison with Fatty Arbuckle (whom he eventually upstaged), the unlimited artistic freedom he enjoyed under Joseph M. Schenck, and the subsequent quashing of that creative control when his company was absorbed by MGM in 1928. The lost years of gag writing and bit parts, the wives and women, the chronic drinking are not glossed over but, rather, make his later rediscovery by historians and critics all the more poignant. With journalistic aplomb, Meade reaffirms Keaton's legend as the master of the sight gag and proves that, despite his technical virtuosity as a filmmaker, Keaton's effects are special because they are human. Meade shows that the man himself was just that. Recommended for most collections. [For another recent biography of Keaton, see Larry Edwards's Buster, LJ 4/15/95.?Ed.]?Jayne Plymale-Jackson, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athen.
-?Jayne Plymale-Jackson, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; First Edition edition (October 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060173378
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060173371
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,090,221 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marion Meade is a biographer and novelist.
Her most recent biography is Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney. Other subjects include Eleanor of Aquitaine, Madame Blavatsky, Dorothy Parker, Buster Keaton, and Woody Allen. Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties tells the story of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Edna Ferber becoming writers in the Jazz Age.
She has also written two novels set in medieval France, Stealing Heaven: The Love Story of Heloise and Abelard and Sybille.
Aside from her writing, she edited Dorothy Parker's collected works, The Portable Dorothy Parker; Parker's play The Ladies of the Corridor; and introduced Parker's Complete Poems.

Customer Reviews

2.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By calvinnme HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
On the positive side, this book talks about the lean years in Buster's life, including his second marriage, that are pretty much ignored in other books on Keaton. It offers a complete filmography at the end, and talks about what has happened to Buster's extended family in the years since his death. On the negative side, the author jumps to conclusions or offers her own opinions about what happened as facts. Like everyone else, I vehemently disagree with the functional illiteracy accusation. Did Buster lack formal education? absolutely. Was he illiterate? absolutely not, based on jobs he had at MGM that involved working on scripts and his own diary which prove otherwise. Buster was interested in his craft and had no use for going over contracts and legal issues with a fine-toothed comb, a character trait that was part of his undoing for sure, but not proof he couldn't have read them had he been interested.

The specific errors that the author makes include her claiming that by the late 50's Buster didn't even remember who Dorothy Sebastian was - part of her portrait of Buster as an emotional cripple. However, about the same time, Buster wrote, along with a ghost-author "My Wonderful World of Slapstick" in which he talks about the dilemma he was in when he met his third wife Eleanor while already involved with a woman with which he had an off-and-on relationship for the previous ten years, and how he wanted to break it off with this woman to pursue Eleanor without hurting the woman's feelings. He is obviously talking about Dorothy Sebastian here, but he comes from an era in which he doesn't want to "kiss and tell" and omits her name from the book.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Nancy Beiman on July 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
Why did Ms. Meade write a book about someone whom she clearly dislikes?
More importantly, why did she write such a poorly researched book?
AS soon as I read that Keaton was 'illiterate' I knew that this book was not a keeper.
(Buster Keaton kept a diary when he was seven years old, and wrote screenplays when he was an adult. Any biographer can check this out.)
And any reader can purchase a much, much better biography of Buster Keaton. THE MAN WHO WOULDN'T LIE DOWN or KEATON are both superior to this one.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
It's really a shame that Keaton's 100th birthday was marked by the publication of a book that tries so hard to shoehorn him into the stereotypical Sad Clown mold...Ms. Meade does her best to portray him as a dysfunctional, unhappy, frozen, remote, illiterate wretch, when in fact he was none of those things. The illiteracy allegation is particularly foolish--how could a supposedly meticulous researcher have overlooked the existence of Buster's own (very tidy) diary? Watch the Brownlow/Gill documentary "A Hard Act to Follow", or dig up a used copy of the Blesh biography, but for heaven's sake don't let this dreadfully misguided piece of manufactured pathos be your only impression of Buster!
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Heidi Crabtree on March 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
...the most annoying perhaps eing the myth that Buster Keaton was illiterate. True he was not educated, but to say he was illiterate is false. I've seen photocopies of his journal he kept during WWI, and it's clear he studied his Army manuals and learned Morse code and practiced it. The author also makes the mistake of relaying to us conversations that took place between Buster and his mother-in-law, both deceased of course. How would she know what was said? These were about things Buster would have discussed with no one else. It's an intro to people unfamiliar with Buster, but by no means accurate. She could have skipped the hearsay about his early life "with women" as that is unfounded too.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bruce H. Jensen on January 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is tripe, frankly. It boringly repeats a number of glaring mistakes from earlier efforts (the abused child myth to the nth degree, that alcohol and poor box office lost Keaton his independent status, that he was incapable of smiling, and so forth), and then augments these with the ridiculous assertion that Keaton was functionally illiterate. Pure nonsense! Instead of really contacting the people who know/knew Buster the best and following the leads that they could have supplied to the true story, she followed some half-baked psychological analyses, rumors, insouciant third-hand gossip and those earlier sources to arrive at a thoroughly faulty picture of the talented, humble, resilient and, on average, ultimately happy comic. Buster's real story was already available and fundamentally open to any serious author who asked for it at the time of this writing; why Meade chose to write such a miserable piece of trash is beyond me. Was she motivated by sensationalism? Does she look for the sinister in every shining story, no matter how foolish, and batter her readers with it? Who knows...

There are no great biographies of Keaton to date, although there are hopes that this may change in the not too distant future. The good information is certainly there. For a far better, if still somewhat faulty assay of his life, see the video "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow" by Brownlow and Gill on HBO Home Video, reportedly soon to be released on DVD (Summer 2006). Don't waste your time on Meade, unless you want to read a sorry tome of blatantly false assertions and despicable fiction.
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