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Buster Keaton did his best work before 1930, when The Hollywood Reporter began publishing. Both the American Film Institute and Keaton himself considered his finest film to be 1926’s The General, the big-budgeted silent comedy that he co-directed and starred in. But THR was around in 1966 for his final acting appearance, in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, released eight months after his death from lung cancer at 70. (As for Forum, THR said, “To ordinary moviegoers, it may prove a puzzlement.”)
Keaton’s career began in his early 20s when he worked with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle doing two-reel comedies. His work quickly evolved into making his own full-length films. Orson Welles was so impressed by him he once told Peter Bogdanovich that “Keaton was beyond all praise.”
But after The General, his career drifted downward. By the 1950s, Keaton was surviving on small TV roles, commercials and bit parts in films as varied as 1950’s Sunset Boulevard and 1965’s Beach Blanket Bingo.
On June 16, the city of Los Angeles will honor him with Buster Keaton Day: A 4-by-4-foot bronze plaque that the Buster Keaton Society raised $18,107 to commission will be dedicated at the southwest corner of Eleanor Avenue and Lillian Way in Hollywood, where Keaton had his studio. A similar plaque placed nearby but on the wrong corner in 1988 will remain because it’s too expensive to remove.
Film historian Leonard Maltin, on hand for the first plaque installation and set to attend the second, says, “Buster would have loved the irony.”
This story first appeared in the June 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Sir Anthony Hopkins