Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Out West -- February 28, 2018

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
"Out West" was an ambitious and funny western starring Roscoe Arbuckle, his nephew Al St John and his friend Buster Keaton. Scenes were shot in the desert and in a wild canyon near Long Beach.

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
"...a whole Western village with its gambling 'hells,' saloons, stores, etc., was built for the picture."

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
"'Fatty' Arbuckle a 'Gun Man.'"

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

I Cannot Tell a Lie -- February 27, 2018

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
Billy West closely imitated Charlie Chaplin in a long series of comedies for different studios. While Chaplin was making the excellent Mutual comedies, West was making imitations of Chaplin's Essanay comedies. When Chaplin moved on to First National distribution, Billy West was still making comedies for King-Bee. This ad was inspired by George Washington's birthday.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
Here we see Billy West out of makeup.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
King-Bee President Louis Burstein would soon receive a demonstration of a method of projecting backgrounds with a magic lantern.  Probably not back projection as we know it.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Coming of Tarzan of the Apes -- Febraury 25, 2018

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
Tarzan first appeared in Tarzan of the Apes, serialized in All-Story Magazine in 1912. The novel by American Edgar Rice Burroughs was published as a book in 1914. The first film adaption was Tarzan of the Apes, released in 1918. "5 million people sat up all night to finish reading the book." 

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
"Much Publicity for /'Tarzan of the Apes.'"  No kidding.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
"Special Stunts" refers to publicity rather than action in the movie.  "The real novelty, however was a man-sized ape that was dressed the part and served as a ticket-taker.  Eight apes darted around in cages in the lobby, and there were also many monks capering around in the jungle scenery that framed the picture on the stage." 

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
"Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of 'Tarzan of the Apes,' has not written another 'Robinson Crusoe' or that other classic of adventure, 'Cast Up By the Sea,' but he has given to fiction a novel and interesting tale that loses none of its grip from the fact that it never did and never could happen."  Cast Up By the Sea was an 1869 novel by British explorer Sir Samuel White Baker.  Reviewer Edward Weitzel thought Elmo Lincoln, who played Tarzan as an adult, leaves "nothing to be desired."

Moving Picture World, 23-February-1918
"7 degrees below zero -- during wild sleet storm -- the Broadway Theatre was packed -- every seat sold and 300 standing at each performance and at prices ranging up to $1.50 at all performances." 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Rin-Tin-Tins -- February 24, 2018

Motion Picture Magazine, June, 1927
In honor of the Lunar New Year, the Year of the Dog, here is Rin-Tin-Tin, the biggest dog star of all.  Lee Duncan, an American soldier who loved dogs, found Rinty and his sister with their dying mother in a damaged German kennel.  Duncan tried to bring the puppies to America, but the female died.  Duncan trained Rinty and got him into the movies, where he showed great natural talent.

This item shows Rinty, his mate Nanette, and five of their puppies.

The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is tonight. The parade has taken place since the 1860s.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Even a Fire Fails to Drive Out an Audience When Harold Lloyd is On the Screen -- February 23, 2018

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
Harold Lloyd had been successfully appearing in the Lonesome Luke comedies for Hal Roach's Rolin since 1915. He felt dissatisfied with the unrealistic Luke, who had started as an imitation of Charley Chaplin, and looked for a new character. Lloyd came up with what he called the "Glass Character."

Harold had only a half page ad 100 years ago this month.  The ad mentions a fire that occurred during a showing of "Love, Laughs and Lather," a late Lonesome Luke movie, at the Palace Theater in Schenectady, New York. The audience wanted to stay and see the end of the movie.

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
Pathé announced that, starting in February, it would release a Harold Lloyd one-reeler every week.  "It was felt that Lloyd in one-reel comedies exclusively would have a wider distribution than would be possible with the longer films."

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
"The output has been increased in response to a demand for which the popularity of the two-reel "Lukes," now discontinued, and the one-reel Rolin has been responsible."

Thursday, February 22, 2018

George Washington (1984) -- February 22, 2018
Today is George Washington's birthday.  I remember when I read in 1984 that Barry Bostwick would play Washington in a television miniseries, I didn't have much hope.  I enjoyed the episodes that I was able to see.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Charlie Chaplin -- Little, But Oh My! -- February 21, 2018

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
100 years ago this month, First National was offering rights to book Charlie Chaplin's new "Signature Protected" comedies.  Note the signature, which would appear on legitimate posters and movies.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
Chaplin's new studio was ready to use.  "Charlie started work to-day.  Will deliver first comedity in usual six weeks."  -- Probably didn't happen.

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
Chaplin poses with Sir Harry Lauder, a famous Scottish entertainer.  They have traded parts of their costumes.

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
Charlie Chaplin had left Mutual, which was releasing the last of his 12 masterful two-reelers, but Mutual was offering the "Chaplin-Mutual Specials." "There's a barrel of money in the new booking plan..."

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
An ad for Detroit's Madison Theater says "If you think Charlie Chaplin's previous pictures were funny -- see this one."  "The Adventurer" was the last Chaplin-Mutual Special.

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
Two years after Chaplin left, Essanay continued to re-release a Chaplin film every month.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
"This is the sixth of Essanay's reissues of Chaplin's early successes." 

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
"Charlie Chaplin in The Films That Made Him Famous."

Motion Picture Magazine, February, 1918
"...a really handsome, charming young man."

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lassie Lou Ahern, RIP -- February 20, 2018
Lassie Lou Ahearn, who appeared in many Hal Roach movies as a child, has died.  She appeared in some Our Gang movies, but I don't think she was a member of the gang.  Her credits are usually listed as "Little girl in the attic" or "Circus performer."  In any event, she appeared in at least two movies with Will Rogers and Charley Chase.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Six-Shooter Andy -- February 19, 2018

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918
Tom Mix had left the Selig Polyscope Corporation, where he made a series of short westerns, at the end of 1916. Throughout 1917, he made short films for the Fox Film Corporation. In January, 1918, Fox released his first feature film, Cupid's Roundup. Six-Shooter Andy, directed by Sydney Franklin, was Tom's second feature for Fox.  Tom Mix was on his way to becoming the biggest cowboy star in silent movies.

Moving Picture World, 09-February-1918

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Who Will Win? -- February 17, 2018

Moving Picture World, 17-March-1912
Jack Johnson was one of the greatest heavyweight champions.  Racists hated that he was African-American.  This ad offers a film of Johnson and Fireman Jim Flynn preparing for Johnson's July title defense against Flynn. Johnson had beaten Flynn in 1908, and would beat him again on 04-July-1912 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, earning a TKO in the 9th.  Fireman Jim's later claim to fame is that he was the only boxer who ever knocked out Jack Dempsey.

Tacoma Times, 04-July-1912

Friday, February 16, 2018

Strongheart -- February 16, 2018

Motion Picture News, 26-August-1922
In honor of the beginning of Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dog, here is Strongheart, the Wonder-Dog. Strongheart was born in Germany and trained to work for the police and the Red Cross during World War One.  After the war, the dog's owner could not afford to keep him, so he placed him with a kennel in the United States.  Director Lawrence Trimble saw Strongheart and persuaded screenwriter Jane Murfin to purchase him.   Trimble trained Strongheart and directed him in four movies.  Strongheart got burned by a studio light in 1929 and died from a tumor caused by the burn.  Strongheart was one of the first dogs to star in a movie.

Trimble and Murfin co-directed Brawn of the North.

If you were born in 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 or 2006, then it is your year.  Or if you're a dog. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Vernon Castle Killed in Airplane Fall -- February 15, 2018

Seattle Star, 15-February-1918
Vernon and Irene Castle were popular ballroom dancers before the war.  In 1915, they starred in a film called The Whirl of Life.  Also in 1915, Vernon began studying to be a pilot.  After he received his license in 1916, he returned to the land of his birth and volunteered to join the Royal Flying Corps.  He flew 300 combat patrols over the Western Front and had two confirmed victories.  He was assigned to train pilots in Canada, and then his unit went to Texas for the winter.  100 years ago today, on 15-February-1918, he was landing and had to maneuver to avoid another airplane.  Castle's plane crashed and he died the same day.  Irene had been appearing in movies on her own.  Irene Castle became an animal-rights activist. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers played the Castles in their last movie as a team for RKO, The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.

Here are some other posts about Irene Castle:

Vernon Castle Killed in Airplane Fall


He Was Veteran of Air Battles in France —- Made 300 Trips Over German Lines —- Wanted to Die in Action

FORT WORTH, Tex., Feb. 15. -— Capt. Vernon Castle, of the British royal flying corps, famous dancer, was killed by a short fall with his aeroplane in a flight at Benbrook field, 15 miles west of here, today.

Trying to land while instructing an American cadet, Castle swerved his machine to avoid collision with another American flier who was landing at the same time. The cadet riding with Castle was not injured.

Castle came to Fort Worth last October, with Lord Wellesley's squadron, and immediately went into quarters at Benbrook, where he was an instructor. He had seen long and sensational service on the Western front, in France.

Was Battle Veteran

He had made more than 300 flights over the German lines in Flanders, and had had many thrilling fights with the boches, but had never been injured while at the front.

His friends in Texas declared today, when they heard he had been killed, "That is the way Castle wanted to die. He had said many times, 'I have had honors enough. I want to die In the flying service of Great Britain.'"

Castle and R. Peters were only 4S feet from the ground when their machine started to fall. Castle was driving from the front seat, which is unusual, as the instructor nearly always drives from the back seat and places the cadet in front.

Wanted to Return

Friends of Castle said today that he recently had been worried by the long training courses here, and was anxious to return to the firing line. Vernon Castle was born in England, S3 years ago. His real name was Vernon Blythe. His sister is Mrs. Lawrence Grossmith, the well-known theatrical producer.

Castle was first seen In the United States in one of the old Lew Fields' productions, at the Herald Square theatre, when he took the part of a waiter in "The Girl Behind the Counter." He appeared in 'The Sun Dodgers," and it was in one of the Fields' productions that he met Mrs. Castle.

Following his Broadway career, the Castles went to Paris, where they took up dancing. It was while they were appearing In Paris that they were seen by Charles W. Dillingham who brought them to the United States.

Dillingham starred the Castles in "Watch Your Step."

Castle was the highest paid dancer in all dramatic history, according to Dillingham. During the height of the dancing craze. Castle's salary averaged $6,000 per week.


Castle's Widow Faints at News

NEW YORK, Feb 15. -— Mrs. Vernon Castle received official notice of her husband's death shortly after noon.

After that, according to her secretary, Mrs. Cattle lapsed into a semi-conscious condition. She had telephoned Fort Worth and will order the body sent to New York for burial.

Capt. Lawrence Grossmith. husband of Mrs. Castle's sister, went to the Castle home shortly after hearing of Castle's death and remained with Mrs. Castle. He also la a captain In the British army.

Earlier in the day Mrs. Castle had refused to believe the report, struggling bravely against collapse.



Vernon Castle dead!

His pretty young wife—his dancing life partner—can't believe it. The rest of us, too, will find it difficult.

Vernon Castle, the gay young fellow who, with his bob-haired girl-wife, set Broadway and the nation giddy with fancy two-steps, killed in the world struggle for humanity? Yes, the very same.

That light-hearted, light-footed young chap, who whirled and whirled about on every famous cabaret floor in New York?

The very one.

Broadway was amused when Vernon Castle announced three years ago that he was going to England to join the aviation corps. Some of the bright-light habitués laughed openly. Others snickered up their sleeves. The newspaper paragraphers joked about it. Castle at the war front? Ho! Ho! That was rich. He'd teach 'em the Castle walk, eh, what? Make the Kaiser substitute a side-step for the goose-step, maybe? The cartoonists found new joy in life at the very thought.

But the war has wrought many changes. It has wrought them materially, economically, politically. It wrought the most wonderful change of all when the souls of men were kindled with new fires, with new ideals, with new devotion to liberty, to humanity. Mere youths saw a philosophy of life, after experiencing the rigors and hardships of the trenches, that is seldom given to the view of men in their prime. Men who had wallowed only in the sordid alleys of the world, in a short space of time realized a loftier, nobler aspect of things. They learned that to sacrifice for fellow men was wealth to which gold could not compare. They learned that service to humanity meant more than mere fame.

And so, happy, buoyant, gay young Vernon Castle, at the pinnacle of the dance game, threw down his crown of terpsichorean glory, cast aside the opportunities for amassing more and more gold, and hurried to England and joined the aviation corps.

As a struggling young actor, this boy dreamed his dreams. It was to be the best dancer on Broadway. It was to have his name and his wife's name blaze brilliantly on Broadway. It was to grow rich. He gave every ounce of himself, in brain and energy, toward that. And he was achieving his dream, when the war changed it all.

Broadway could snicker. Broadway lights meant nothing. Broadway praise meant nothing. Broadway's treasures meant nothing. The world was bleeding—and he should dance?

Vernon Castle went to war—voluntarily offered himself for service. He flew 300 times over the Flanders front. He mastered aviation like he mastered the dance steps. He was sent back to teach British recruits in America and today he died—in action.

Vernon Castle, dancer, has done his bit. Vernon Castle, dancer, the flippant, gay youth, has given us, who are staying home, much food for serious thought.


Moving Picture World, 13-October-1917


Omaha Daily Bee, 26-April-1914

Orchestra leader James Reese Europe was an African-American who led a pioneering group that was making the transition from ragtime to jazz.

Irene Castle was a technical consultant.  She was unhappy that Ginger Rogers refused to bob her hair or darken it.  

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Saint Valentine's Day, 2018 -- February 14, 2018
Happy Saint Valentine's Day, everyone.

Actress Anita Page, who passed away in 2008, was a big star in the late silent and early sound period. She appeared in Our Dancing Daughters and The Broadway Melody.

Today is also Ash Wednesday.  This is an odd combination.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Abbott and Costello Go to Mardi Gras -- February 13, 2018
In the 1953 film Abbott and Costello Go to Mars, the boys get on a rocket ship which they think will take them to Mars.  Instead they wind up in New Orleans, during Mardi Gras and mistake it for Mars.  Bank robbers force them to take them away on the rocket ship, which goes to Venus.  They never reach Mars.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Buster Keaton Goes to War -- February 12, 2018
This post is part of the Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Lea at Silent-ology.  For the first annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster Keaton's time in vaudeville: The 3-4-5 Keatons.   For the second annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster Keaton and the Passing Show of 1917, the show he signed for after leaving vaudeville.  For the third annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster's transition from vaudeville to the movies, Buster Keaton: From Stage to Screen. This time I chose to write about Buster Keaton's time in the US Army and its effect on his films.

Be sure to click on most images to see larger versions.  

I first became interested in Buster Keaton when I watched The General with my grandfather and he told me how much he had always liked Buster Keaton.

When I discovered that the Anza Branch Library had a shelf of books about movies, I found two books about Buster Keaton, Buster's memoir My Wonderful World of Slapstick and Rudi Blesh's Keaton.   I read both and I enjoyed learning about his career in vaudeville and his career in the movies.

Variety, 15-May-1909
Buster had been part of the family's rough-house acrobatic comedy act since he was a young child. The Three Keatons were very successful, but by 1916 Buster's father Joe had decided to devote more time to his interest in drinking. Bad timing in an act like the Keatons' could cause serious injury. In early 1917, in San Francisco, Buster and his mother Myra decided to break up the act. Buster and Myra took a train to Los Angeles and sent Joe a telegram letting him know about their decision. Joe must have been a mean drunk.

New York Evening World, 26-April-1917
In February, Buster was in New York. He visited agent Max Hart and told him he was trying to find work as a single act. Hart was enthusiastic; he took Buster to see JJ Shubert, who offered Keaton a part in a big Broadway revue, The Passing Show of 1917, at $250 a week. Buster started to try to figure out how to do a single act.

Before The Passing Show of 1917 started rehearsals, Buster met Lou Anger, a former comedian whom he had known in vaudeville.  Anger introduced Buster to Roscoe Arbuckle, who had recently left Mack Sennett's Keystone studio, and who was preparing to make his own movies for the Comique Company, which would release through Paramount. Comique films would be produced by Joe Schenk, who would later be Buster's brother-in-law. Lou Anger managed the studio.

Roscoe invited Buster to visit his new studio. As they say, the rest is history. Roscoe offered Buster a job. Buster didn't ask about a salary, but it turned out to be far less than $250 a week.

Moving Picture World, 20-October-1917
Buster took to the picture business, and had a great time performing with Roscoe, Roscoe's nephew, Al St John, and Roscoe's dog, Luke.  By December, 1917, Comique had moved production to Los Angeles.

Washington Herald, 03-April-1917
The Great War -- it wasn't called World War One until World War Two -- started in August, 1914.  The United States did not join the war until April, 1917. American soldiers didn't begin to arrive in Europe in significant numbers until the beginning of 1918.

The Selective Service Act of 1917 required men aged 21 to 30 to register for a potential draft.  Buster registered with millions of other men on the first registration day, 05-June-1917.
Thanks to the National Archives, we have Buster's registration card.  It is a little hard to read, but this is what I could make out (my comments in italics):
(front) Registration Report 
1.  Name in Full: Joseph F Keaton  Age in Yrs: 21
2.  Home Address: 368 W50 NY NY (368 West 50th Street -- at 9th Avenue)
3.  Date of Birth: 10 4 1895 
4.  Are you (1) a natural-born citizen, (2) a naturalized citizen, (3) an alien, (4) or have you declared your intention (specify which)? Native Born
5.  Where were you born? Picquy Kan. U.SA (Piqua, Kansas)
6.  If not a citizen, of what country are you a citizen or subject?
7.  What is your present trade, occupation, or office?  Motion Picture Perf. 
8.  By whom employed?  Rosco Arbuckle
Where employed?  435 Bway (435 Broadway -- must have been Comique's offices)
9.  Have you a father, mother, wife, child under 12, or a sister or brother under 12, solely dependent on you for support (specify which)? 
10.  Married or single (which)? Single  Race (specify which)?  (hard to read, may be an attempt to spell "Caucasian")
11.  What military service have you had?  Rank ; branch ;
years ; Nation or State
12.  Do you claim exemption from draft (specify grounds)? 

I affirm that I have verified above answers and that they are true.
Joseph F Keaton (signed)
(Signature or mark)
If person is of African descent, tear off this corner

(back) Registrar's Report
1.  Tall, medium, or short (specify which)?  Medium Slender, medium or stout (which)? Slender
2.  Color of eyes? Brown  Color of hair?  Brown  Bald?  No
3.  Has person lost arm, leg, hand foot or both eyes, or is he otherwise disabled (specify)? 

I certify that my answers are true, that the person registered has read his own answers, that I have witnessed his signature, and that all of his answers of which I have knowledge are true, except as follows:

(can't read it)
(Signature of registrar)
Precinct: 11
City or County: NY
State: NY
Jun 5 1917 (stamped)
(Date of registration)

I like the way Buster spelled "Rosco."  Note the famous (to historians) "If person is of African descent, tear off this corner."  It made discrimination and segregation much more efficient.

Note:  Two commenters have said that they don't think Buster filled out the front of the card, because the writing does not resemble his signature.  I agree with them and I figure the registrar, whose name I still can't read, probably filled it out for him and spelled "Roscoe" incorrectly.  Thank you to Silent Echoes and Lea for the suggestion.  

from Buster's My Wonderful World of Slapstick: "In June 1918 I was drafted into Uncle Sam's World War I Army as a thirty-dollar-a-month private and assigned to the infantry.  My salary by that time had been raised to $250 a week, and Joe Schenk generously sent my parents twenty-five dollars a week during all of the time I was in the Army." 

Moving Picture World, 31-August-1918
Notice that "Buster" was still printed in quotes.  "'Buster' Keaton, one of the brightest lights in the Paramount-Arbuckle comedies, once a member of the vaudeville family of Keatons, is now wearing khaki, and what is more is on his way with Company C, 159th Infantry of Uncle Sam's forces."  Buster's friends from the studio gave him a big sendoff. "...a wallet was presented to the department comedian..." -- I'll bet they meant "departing." 

"Our outfit was the Fortieth Division, which was nicknamed the Sunshine Division. I was sent to Camp Kearney (Kearny - JT), near San Diego, where I had one of the briefest spells of boot training in American military history. After a few days in quarantine I was given shots in double doses. We were to be shipped to France, everyone said, as soon as transportation could be provided. They weren't kidding. I had only ten days of drilling on the Awkward Squad, or just long enough for me to learn to obey the commands of 'Salute!' 'Halt!' and 'Forward March!' This with arms benumbed by those high-powered injections."

This shoulder patch was worn by a member of the Sunshine Division during World War II.  The name "Sunshine Division" refers to the division's original home in sunny Southern California. The 159th Infantry Regiment of the California National Guard has been inactive since 2000.  The 40th Infantry Division is still active as part of the California National Guard.

Soldiers drilling at Camp Kearny during World War I.

"I was then put in with my regular squad.  I might have done fine there if some impulsive officer had not given a command I had never heard of.  It was: 'To the rear, march!'  I went forward as everyone else turned and went backward.  Immediately I got hit on the chin and knocked down by somebody's gun butt.  I wasn't unconscious, but I might as well have been -- because I couldn't get up. While I lay there in a dazed condition, my brothers-in-arms, my dear buddies, either had to jump over me or step to one side to avoid kicking me.

"Unable to understand what was causing all that jumping and stepping aside several officers came running up along the side of our company. Only after bending down and looking through the legs of the men were they able to see my small crumpled figure.

"'Company, halt!' the most alert of the officers shouted. They then ran in, dragged me to my feet, and asked, 'Are you hurt?'

"Hurt! I was far ahead of them. I imagined l had been wounded and downed in battle with the German Army. 'Did we win?' I asked.

"I spoke in all seriousness. But nobody knew that, and everyone laughed, which is the sort of thing  that often gets a man an undeserved reputation for being a wit."

Camp Upton, in Yaphank, New York, where many soldiers were processed before embarking for Europe. While stationed at Camp Upton, Irving Berlin wrote the song "Oh How I Hate to Get Up In the Morning" for Yip, Yip, Yaphank, a musical performed by soldiers to raise money for recreation facilities.

"We were shipped East and quartered at Camp  Upton, Long Island. There we were kept up for three days and three nights while being equipped  for overseas duty. We also received additional medical shots."

Puttees were strips of cloth which were wrapped around the legs from the tops of the shoes to the knees. Infantry soldiers were issued shoes rather than boots. The puttees helped to keep mud out of the shoes.

"I also resented my uniform which made me look and feel ridiculous.  Apparently, the Quartermaster General had never anticipated that anyone five feet five inches tall would be allowed to join the United States Army. My pants were too long, my coat looked like a sack, and wrapping Army puttees around my legs was a trick I never mastered. The size eight shoes handed me were far too big for my size six and one-half feet. The shoes also were hobnailed and made of leather as tough as a rhinoceros's hide. Old-timers in our outfit had long given up hope of ever getting uniforms that fit them. They had theirs altered at civilian tailor shops.   They also bought sturdy workmen's shoes, which they managed to disguise well enough to pass inspection."

Typical round army tents, like the ones that Buster slept in when he wasn't sleeping in "mills, barns, and stables."  All were drafty.

When Buster and his unit arrived in France, they marched to a rest camp.  "In the French rest camp we slept in circular tents, our feet in the center and our heads close to the drafts from the great outdoors...

"During my seven months in France as a soldier I slept every night but one on the ground or on the floor of mills, barns, and stables. There is always a draft close to the floor of such farm buildings, and I soon developed a cold which imperiled my hearing."

Ogden Daily Standard, 11-November-1918
Before Buster could get sent to the front line, the Armistice took effect at 11am on 11-November-1918.  This was not actually the end of the war, which was settled by the Treaty of Versailles ,on 28-June-1919, but it was the end of fighting.  The Allied nations worried that Germany might start fighting again, so they did not send their soldiers home right away.

"After the Armistice we were shipped from Amiens to a little town near Bordeaux. Along with our infantry division, two others -- engineers and machine gunners -- were quartered in that town whose population was about 12,000. That meant 45,000 American soldiers;. We waited there for months to go home and again had to sleep on the ground or on the floors of barns, mills, and cellars.

"We organized a few entertainments built around our regimental band. I did a burlesque snake dance and other routines in these hastily thrown together shows. One day an officer read me a Headquarters directive instructing me to do my snake dance at a dinner being given for a brigadier general at his Headquarters about ten miles away.

"I had to walk there. When I finished the show a lieutenant asked how I was going to get back to town. On hearing I'd have to walk, he managed to borrow the general's official car for me."

General Black Jack Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, with his official car.  Buster may have ridden in a car like this.

An overseas cap.  US soldiers first wore them during the Great War.  They were easy to remove and stow away when a soldier had to put on his helmet.  US Army soldiers did not wear them after the war until 1939 when they were called garrison caps.  Soldiers wore them until recent times, when everyone in the Army started wearing berets.

"I might point out here that all of that sleeping on the ground had done nothing to improve my appearance. My trousers were still too long, sagged in the seat, and my puttees were full of knots. My once jaunty overseas cap had shrunk in the rain. Unfortunately, the size eight shoes on my size six and one-half feet had not shrunk at all. And they now had horseshoe plates over the hobnails.

"The general's insignia (one star for a brigadier general - JT) was, of course, on the door of the car, and an American flag flew bravely above it. All of this gave me an idea. If the general's orderly, who was driving, would co-operate, I could surprise any buddies of mine who happened to be in the town square that night. They all figured to be there."

It was payday, so the square was full of boisterous soldiers.  Buster asked the general's orderly to drop him at the Hotel Grand.  Everyone who saw the car thought a general was coming for a surprise inspection.  The orderly jumped out of the car and opened the door for Buster, standing at attention.  Buster made it a few feet before his pals started cursing at him and throwing things.

The next morning, Buster was ordered to report to the captain.  The captain said he could court-martial Buster, but he enjoyed the show for the officers and the show in the town square.  The captain said it was a good thing for his young officers, who were becoming complacent.

Moving Picture World, 18-November-1918
Meanwhile back at Comique, Roscoe continued to produce two-reelers.  Please forgive the racism in this quote: "A little darkey, who supports the name of Snowball, and a willing and intelligent dog who answers to the name of Luke, do their best to fill Buster Keaton's place, and make a good showing by their efforts."  The young man of color may have been Ernie Morrison, Jr, who was often billed as "Sunshine Sammy," but the Internet Movie Database lists Ernie Morrison, Sr and not Jr as a member of the cast.

Moving Picture World, 08-March-1919
"Love" was one of the movies Roscoe made without Buster.  As part of a longer interview, Roscoe "Pays Tribute to Associate."  

"'Where's 'Buster' Keaton?' the stout comedian was asked.

"'Still over in France, waiting to be sent back.  We are making every effort to get him started.  It is utterly impossible to replace him.  To my mind, 'Buster' is the coming comedian of the movies and will be a very successful star.'"

As Roscoe said, Buster was still in France.  "By that time I had become almost stone deaf due to my being exposed to floor drafts each night. Before I was overseas a month my superiors had to shout orders at me. Late one night I had a narrow escape while coming back from a card game. A sentry challenged me, and I didn't hear his demand for the password or the two warnings he gave me after that. Then he pulled back the breech of his gun, prepared to shoot. My life was saved by my sixth sense which enabled me to hear that gun click and stopped me dead in my tracks. After bawling me out the sentry listened to my explanation and got me past a second guard."

After the Siegel-Cooper Department Store on Sixth Avenue in New York went out of business in 1918, the armed services used the building to house Military Debarkation Hospital Number 3.  Note the big skylights on the roof.  The building still stands.

A portion of the staff of Military Debarkation Hospital Number 3 poses by one of the big skylights.  This gives an idea of the size of the hospital.

"From that day on the fear of  losing my hearing drove me half-crazy permanently. On getting back to New York I was sent to a receiving hospital which originally had been the Siegel-Cooper Department  Store.   Specialists told me I would have to remain under observation for a while.  But they assured me that with proper treatment my hearing would be  restored.
"I prayed they were right."

Patients in the auditorium of Military Debarkation Hospital Number 3.  Perhaps Buster is somewhere in this group.

Buster visited future brother-in-law Joe Schenk, who was appalled by Buster's appearance.  Schenk gave Buster all the money in his wallet.  Buster bought a uniform and shoes that fit.  He had dinner with his fiancée, Natalie Talmadge, and her mother.

Johns Hopkins Hospital is a famous teaching hospital in Baltimore.  Buster was in good hands when he went there.

"Shortly afterward the Army sent me to Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, for observation. The doctors there found my hearing and my health generally so improved they kept me there for only three days."

Buster did not mention the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed 3-5% of the world's population.  Buster was lucky to escape it.

NVA Yearbook, 1926
Buster's friend Artie Mehlinger.  The NVA was the National Vaudeville Artists.

"While I was in New York I had found it impossible to believe I was really home. Then one day in Baltimore the doctors let me take a walk. l headed straight for the local Keith Theatre which Pop, Mom, and I had played dozens of times in the old days.

"1 walked through that stage door, and the house manager, the crew, the orchestra boys, and the acts greeted me like a long lost pal. Then I knew I was indeed safe home at last. On the bill was one of my best friends, Artie Mehlinger, the singer. I stood in the wings and watched his act -- Step, Mehlinger, and King -- hoping with all my heart that I would never again have to leave show business and its bubbling, joy-filled. gifted people."

I love Buster's description of the people in show business.

Camp Custer, near Battle Creek, Michigan, is still an active base. Note that "base ball" is spelled as two words.  This was common until the 1920s.  Buster probably didn't stay long enough to play baseball.

"When I became strong enough to travel I couldn't wait to get back to California and my job. I had been mustered into the service at Camp Kearney, and I should have been mustered out there. But the discharge clerk made a mistake. He sent me to Camp Custer, Michigan, because I had given Muskegon, Michigan, as my home on joining the Army.

"Needless to say, this caused considerable confusion at Camp Custer, but the clerk kindly gave me the fare to go on to Los Angeles. The mistake enabled me to see my folks and our old neighbors, but I was so eager to get back to work that I stayed in Muskegon for only three days."

The military usually discharges soldiers where they went through intake, but Buster wound up in Michigan, where his family had kept a summer home for many years.

Buster reunited with his friends at Comique and would have gone right back to work, but the studio appears to have been taking a break.

Moving Picture World, 24-May-1919
The "Screen Shots" column reported many people returning from the war.  Buster said his comedy training made him good at dodging bullets.

Buster and Roscoe were both baseball fans.  While Buster was away, Roscoe bought the Vernon Tigers, a team in the Pacific Coast League.

Moving Picture World, 31-May-1919
Roscoe, Buster, Al St John and leading lady Molly Malone put on a comedy exhibition before a double header against the San Francisco Seals.  The Tigers and the Seals split the double header.

Moving Picture World, 09-August-1919
Molly Malone in uniform as mascot of Roscoe's team, the Vernon Tigers.

Moving Picture World, 12-July-1919
"Buster Keaton is back in the cast..."  "Back Stage" is one of the funniest Comiques.

Moving Picture World, 30-August-1919
"Back Stage" launched a new season of Paramount-Arbuckle comedies.  Buster Keaton (no quotes around "Buster") is mentioned by name and appears in both of the stills.  In the top one, he is doing an Egyptian dance, which probably resembled the snake dance that he did while in the Army.
How did Buster's career in the Army influence his movies?  In both his classic The General and "Mooching Through Georgia," a Columbia short, Buster is caught up in the American Civil War.  In The General, Buster's character Johnny Gray wants to join the Confederate Army, but gets rejected because, as a locomotive engineer, he has what was later called a vital occupation.  Trying to recover his stolen locomotive, Johnny impersonates a Union Army soldier, and eventually wins a commission  in the Confederate Army.  In "Mooching Through Georgia," Buster's character Homer joins the Confederate Army, but then learns that his brother Cyrus, played by Monte Collins, has joined the Union Army.  The two men wind up switching back and forth several times.  I love The General and I like "Mooching Through Georgia," but I don't think either film shows much about what life is like for soldiers.

(spoiler) In The Navigator, Buster and his leading lady are rescued by a US Navy submarine.  I don't think this reflects any of Buster's military experiences.  (end spoiler)

Hobart Mercury, 27-December-1930
Buster appeared in two films that reflect his experience in the Army.  The first was released in 1930 It was released in the United States as Doughboys and in the British Empire as Forward March.  "Doughboy" was a popular term in the US for a soldier.  No one has come up with a good explanation for its origin, but it was used during the Mexican-American War and continued to be used until World War II, when it was gradually replaced by "GI."  British soldiers in World War One were often called "Tommy Atkins" or "Tommies."

"When Buster Keaton Bests Charlie Chaplin at his Own Game" refers to Chaplin's 1918 short comedy "Shoulder Arms." "He was shellshocked by a kiss!"  Good line.

Buster had a lot of input into the writing of the script and felt that Doughboys was his best movie made at M-G-M. Doughboys was directed by Eddie Sedgwick, who had directed many silent comedies, and went on to direct other talking comedies with Buster Keaton.
Buster plays a stupid rich guy named Elmer J Stuyvesant, Jr.  In talkies, Buster frequently played a guy named Elmer.  Elmer's family owns a department store.  Every day after hours, Elmer waits for Mary, played by Sally Eilers.  Every day he asks her for a date.  Every day she turns him down.  Every time, his butler, Gustav takes the flowers from Elmer.

Elmer is so smitten with Mary that he does not notice that soldiers are marching down the street and that there are rallies to get men to enlist in the army.  Elmer's chauffeur enlists and Elmer and Gustav, neither of whom can drive the car, head to an employment agency to hire a new chauffeur.  Elmer does not notice that the employment agency is now a recruiting office.  Gustav notices and walks away.  Elmer winds up enlisting in the army.

After arriving at training camp, the new recruits draw their uniforms and equipment.  Elmer asks for a smaller pair of shoes.  He doesn't get them.  In their first drill, Elmer misses an about face command and runs into the other soldiers.  Sergeant Brophy, played by Ed Brophy, spends a lot of time yelling at Elmer and the others.

Elmer's best friend is Cliff, played by Cliff Edwards, Ukulele Ike.  Edwards is best remembered today as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney's Pinocchio.

A note of realism in the movie is the endless sea of mud in France.  Elmer's unit is billeted (ordered to live and sleep) in a barn, just as Buster Keaton's was.

Elmer performs in a show for the troops as a last-minute replacement.  He joins the chorus line of men in drag but doesn't know the routine.  Then he discovers that he is the partner in an Apache dance.  An Apache dance represents a pimp abusing a prostitute.  This dance devolves into a wrestling match before a German bomber hits the hall.

Elmer's battalion is ordered to the front.  Cliff is sent into No Man's Land to capture a German prisoner.  Buster follows him and returns with an unconscious prisoner.  The prisoner turns out to be Cliff.  When Cliff wakes up, he asks "Are we winning?"  This must have been inspired by Buster's marching incident.  I like the way he gave the line to another actor.

The war ends and Buster's army friends are the board of the Stuyvesant Manufacturing Company.  Sergeant Brophy is the janitor.  Mary arrives for a visit.  On a nearby construction site, someone starts riveting.  Everyone in the boardroom, showing signs of PTSD, hits the ground.  Elmer lands on top of Sergeant Brophy and the movie ends with Brophy yelling.

The second movie that reflected Buster's experiences was a sort-of remake of Doughboys, a 1941 Columbia short, "General Nuisance."  This movie is set at training camp and the cast includes Elsie Ames, who was a less-subtle Martha Raye.  "General Nuisance" was directed by Jules White, who started in silent comedies and is best remembered today for introducing the Three Stooges to the old ulta-violence.

This time the stupid rich guy is named Peter Hedley Lamar, Jr.  Blazing Saddles fans will like that.  Peter's car has a flat tire and he appeals to two young ladies to fix it for him.  The driver, Dorothy is offended, but the passenger, Elsie, is happy to help.  Peter is smitten with Dorothy and Elsie is smitten with Peter.  After Dorothy drives away, Elsie explains that they are nurses at Camp Cluster, which must have been named after the post where Buster got discharged.  Buster asks about Dorothy and Else says "You've got to wear a uniform to make a hit with her."  Buster goes to the base and enlists.

So in this movie, Peter enlists on purpose.  Buster redoes a scene where his character does not want to disrobe for a physical exam.  I think the scene is better paced in this movie.

In a later scene, Peter is assigned to polish a huge pile of spittoons.  There is a similar scene in Doughboys where Elmer has to peel potatoes.  The scene works better in "General Nuisance."  It concludes with Buster and Elsie doing a cute song and dance.

Buster spent time in military hospitals, but I doubt he wound up in this situation.

I'll let Buster conclude this:
"It was not always possible to take that war seriously. In the first place I could not understand why we, the French, and the English were fighting the Germans and the Austrians. Being in vaudeville all of my life had made me international-minded. I had met too many kindly German performers -- singers and acrobats and musicians -- to believe they could be as evil as they were being portrayed in our newspapers. Having known Germans, Japanese jugglers, Chinese magicians, Italian tenors, Swiss yodelers and bell-ringers, Irish, Jewish, and Dutch comedians, British dancers, and whirling dervishes from India, I believed people from everywhere in the world were about the same. Not as individuals, of course, but taken as a group."

This post is part of the Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by Lea at Silent-ology. Thank you to Lea for all the hard work.  Thank you to everyone who visited and I encourage you to read and comment on as many posts as you can. Bloggers love comments. 

This post is my first blogathon post of 2018 and my 50th since 2007. This is my 33rd blogathon. This page has a list of all my blogathon posts.

Over the Top by Arthur Guy Empey
If you are interested in learning more about what life was life for a soldier during the First World War, in my other blog I ran the book Over the Top, by Arthur Guy Empey, an American who joined the British Army when he thought Woodrow Wilson took too long to enter the war: