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:


  1. Beautifully written and your research is astonishing. Excellent post 😊

    1. Thank you, Katrina. I learned some things while researching and writing it.

  2. Wow-- lost of research o your part! Nice post. Great end quote!

    1. Thank you, Diana. I'm glad you liked that final quote from Buster.

  3. Thank you for all of this great information and research. I wonder if that draft registration card was filled out by someone else, misspelling "Rosco," and that Buster merely signed the filled out form. The handwriting for his signature looks different then how his name is filled out at the top.

    1. You're welcome. It is quite possible that someone else, perhaps the registrar whose name I can't read, filled it out and had Buster sign it. We're lucky that so many things like this are available to study. I have to find my grandfather's registration.

  4. I really liked what Buster K. said about those in show business: "bubbling, joy-filled. gifted people." What a beautiful thing to say!

    Thanks for sharing all this research. I haven't done much reading about Buster K's experiences in WWI, so I was glad to read your essay. I didn't realize there had been a problem with his hearing – also glad to read it was sorted out.

    1. Thank you, Silver Screenings. I thought that was a beautiful quote about show business. I didn't say it in the post but I wonder if the hearing problems had an effect on the way he spoke in movies. He sounded like some of my old deaf relatives.

  5. I look forward to your thoroughly-researched posts every year, Joe, and you did not disappoint! Thank you so much for all the care and work you put into this, it's fascinating to see you flesh out details of Buster's war experience (complete with photos!) that we tend to gloss over when we read the accounts.

    I agree with the above poster that the info on Buster's draft card was likely the result of him answering questions while someone else did the writing--the handwriting looks a bit different from his signature!

    Thank you again for this year's contribution to the blogathon, this was wonderful!

    1. Thank you, Lea. I look forward to doing this every year. I appreciate all the work that you do organizing it. As I wrote this one, I kept thinking things like how many people know what puttees are, or an overseas cap? The only people who know what round Army tents look like are probably Civil War reenactors. I was very lucky to find pictures of the debarkation hospital. Thank you for the kind words. I'm thinking about a post for next year...

  6. Great post, loved all the clippings.
    It was Elsie Ames, not Elsie Janis, who co-stars in "General Nuisance." She was in five of Buster's Columbia shorts (and I see she wound up her career in two John Cassavetes films!). Elsie Janis was a legendary star who entertained US troops during WWI. (My 94 year-old mother is named for her!) Elsie Janis still has "it" when you see her in clips; Elsie Ames is more of an acquired taste but I do like Buster's dance with her in "Nuisance."

    1. Thank you, Greg. I'm glad you enjoyed it and I'm grateful that you caught my mistake. It must have been a Freudian pratfall. I have fixed it. I find Else Ames not so bad in "General Nuisance" but indigestible in others like "His Ex Marks the Spot." The dance was really nice.

  7. Thank you for the kind words. I put a lot of time into writing and revising. It would be interesting to go to the National Archives and find the regimental history of the 159th Infantry. It would show what they were doing and perhaps the name Keaton shows up in there somewhere.

  8. Grat article! It waas very interesting to read Buster's own words about his time at the army. His autobiography is one of the best I've read.
    I haven't watched Doughboys, but I intend to.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

  9. Hi Lê: I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I like Buster's book better than Harold Lloyd's or Chaplin's. You will enjoy Doughboys.


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