Just as Fatty Arbuckle was plagued by substance-related issues, so was his mentee, comedian Buster Keaton.
Keaton had a rough and strange childhood, according to a recent article by Judith Sanders and Daniel Lieberfeld in Film Quarterly. His father was an alcoholic who beat him regularly, though Keaton subsequently downplayed the abuse. He was an accident-prone kid, dubbed "Buster" after he fell down a flight of stairs.
He lost a finger in a clothes wringer and once got sucked out a second-story window by a cyclone. Eventually, his vaudevillian parents decided to bring him on stage with them so they could keep a better eye on their troublesome toddler.
The three-year-old future comedian stood behind his father and imitated him the entire act—and audiences loved it. That was the start of an accomplished comic career.
After 20 years with the Three Keatons, the future film star met Fatty Arbuckle and was introduced to the world of silent movie stardom, according to Turner Classic Movies. After a few movies with Arbuckle and a brief stint in the military in World War I, Keaton eventually went out on his own and released a slew of well-remembered films in the 1920s, including Our Hospitality and The General. Then, in 1928, he came under contract with studio giant MGM—and it ruined him.
On his own, Keaton had perfected a comedic formula. But under the strict studio system, he didn’t have the freedom he needed to thrive. By the start of the 1930s, he’d slipped into an alcoholic haze—and worse was yet to come. The Great Depression hit, his finances were failing, his talkies were bombing, his marriage fell apart in 1932 and he got fired from the studio in 1933.
Though he struggled with the drink for the rest of his life, he had a happier marriage starting in 1940 and eventually made a showbiz comeback after his earlier work was rediscovered by movie lovers.
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