Monday, February 18, 2019

Comique: Roscoe, Buster, Al and Luke -- February 18, 2019

Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, 1918
This post is part of the Fifth 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.   For the fourth annual blogathon, I wrote about Buster Keaton's time in the US Army: Buster Keaton Goes to War.

This time I chose to write about the Comique Film Corporation, the production company that gave Buster Keaton his first chance to work in motion pictures.

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.

Buster had been part of the family's rough-house acrobatic comedy act since he was a young child.

Roscoe Arbuckle, who did not like to be called "Fatty," was a skilled comedian who started his movie career with Selig and Universal before he came to Keystone in 1913. While there, he made many movies with Mabel Normand. They were a good team. He also helped Charlie Chaplin learn the ropes of working in movies. Like many of Mack Sennett's stars, Arbuckle left to get a raise.

Motography, 07-October-1916
"The name of Mr. Arbuckle's concern will be the Comique Film Corporation and J. M. Schenck of the Loew enterprises be associated with him."  I find this interesting: "Mr. Arbuckle has a rather new idea in the starting of a company in that he is not going to have any stock company of players.  His entire force is going to consist of three people, himself, Al St. John and a girl -- and he didn't tell who the girl was, perhaps he doesn't know himself.  The rest of the players will be picked up as needed and dropped again after they have served their purpose."

New Movie Magazine, March, 1932
Joe Schenck was born in Russia.  He came to the US in 1892.  Joe and his brother Nick went into the amusement business, eventually owning the famous Palisades Park in New Jersey.  Joe and Nick became partners with Marcus Loew in operating movie theaters.
In 1916, Joe married Norma Talmadge, who was becoming a big star at Vitagraph and Triangle.  In 1917, Joe became her producer and head of the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation.  They soon formed the Constance Talmadge Film Corporation to make movies with Norma's sister.

Exhibitor's Herald, 10-May-1924
Schenck's studio manager was Lou Anger, who had been a "Dutch" comic in vaudeville.  Dutch comics  used heavy German accents.  Anger persuaded Roscoe Arbuckle to sign a contract with a new production company named Comique.  Comique would share a studio with the two Talmadge companies.  Roscoe's nephew, Al St John, came along.

Motion Picture News, 07-April-1917
The Comique productions would be released through Paramount.  Anticipating big demand, this ad says "All any exhibitor has to do to get my comedies is to pay for them, whether he is now doing business with the Paramount Exchange or not."

Moving Picture World, 25-January-1919
Roscoe's dog Luke had worked with him at Keystone and then appeared in many of the Comiques.

Buster Keaton left his family's vaudeville act in January, 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.

from Buster's My Wonderful World of Slapstick: "But just a day or two before rehearsals were to start, I ran into Lou Anger, a Dutch comedian who had worked on vaudeville bills with us many times. Anger was with Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle, the screen comedian..."

Motography, 21-April-1917
Lou Anger took Buster to the busy studio, where they found Roscoe Arbuckle directing his first Comique production, "The Butcher Boy," set in a general store.  Roscoe gave Buster a role.  He would enter the store, where Roscoe and Al were throwing bags of flour at each other.  Roscoe threw one, Al ducked and Buster got hit in the face.  Roscoe's dog Luke also had a part. Roscoe directed "The Butcher Boy" and all of the other Comiques.

Motion Picture News, 26-My-1917
Buster Keaton did not appear in the second Comique production, "A Reckless Romeo."

Motion Picture News, 12-May-1917
George N Shorey's review of "A Reckless Romeo" is not positive.

Moving Picture World, 07-July-1917

While Buster Keaton did not appear in "A Reckless Romeo," he made up for it by appearing in two different roles in the third Comique film, "The Rough House."  This ad has a nice picture of Roscoe peeling spuds.

Moving Picture World, 14-July-1917
I think Roscoe is supposed to look like an auctioneer with a gavel in this ad.

Motion Picture News, 18-August-1917

"His Wedding Night" was the fourth Comique production.  I like the image of Roscoe, Alice Mann and Al.  Buster played a delivery boy.  .

Motion Picture News, 04-August-1917
Buster appears in drag.  Note that "Buster" is in quotes.

Motion Picture News, 29-September-1917
Moving Picture World, 06-October-1917
The next Comique production was "Oh! Doctor," which is sometimes listed as "Oh Doctor!". Roscoe poses with Alice Mann, who was playing a vamp.

Moving Picture World, 29-September-1917
Roscoe plays a doctor, and Buster plays his son.

Moving Picture World, 13-October-1917
Roscoe is trapped in the coils of the vamp's dress.

Moving Picture World, 13-October-1917
Once Roscoe finished his next movie, set at Coney Island, Comique was going to move to California.

Moving Picture World, 03-November-1917
In this ad for "Fatty at Coney Island," Roscoe poses in drag with Al St John. Roscoe's dog Luke makes a cameo appearance.

Moving Picture World, 20-October-1917
Buster appears in this illustration.  This movie is famous as one where Buster laughs.

Moving Picture World, 10-November-1917
Moving Picture World, 24-November-1917
Comique had moved to California and Roscoe had created an elaborate town set for his next movie. The use of the word "Jazz" in the name of the town is fairly early.

Moving Picture World, 08-December-1917

"A Country Hero," the first Comique production on the West Coast, is thought to be Buster Keaton's only lost film.

Moving Picture World, 08-December-1917
"Clean and Extremely Entertaining."

Moving Picture World, 29-December-1917
Roscoe and Al appear with a locomotive which has mashed an automobile.

Exhibitors Herald, 28-September-1918
The most famous American propaganda movie of World War One is "The Bond," a one-reeler produced and paid for by Charlie Chaplin. It was intended to encourage people to buy Liberty Bonds to support the war effort. I did not know until recently that it was one of a large group of such films starring many Hollywood luminaries including Sessue Hayakawa, Mary Pickford and Roscoe Arbuckle.

Moving Picture World, 05-October-1918
Roscoe's film was "A Scrap of Paper."  According to the IMDB  (, Roscoe confronts the Kaiser and the Crown Prince, played by Al St John, and tells them that scraps of paper (Liberty Bonds) will defeat Germany.  Buster Keaton did not appear in this movie.

Moving Picture World, 16-February-1918
Buster Keaton had a significant role in "Out West," an ambitious and funny western.

Moving Picture World, 12-January-1918
Scenes were shot in the desert and in a wild canyon near Long Beach.

Moving Picture World, 02-February-1918
"'Fatty,' stranded in a desert, subdues the bad men in 'Mad Dog Gulch' and with the help of a pretty girl reforms them all." Alice Lake was the Salvation Army girl.

Motion Picture World, 30-March-1918
"The Bell Boy" is one of my favorite Roscoe Arbuckle/Al St John/Buster Keaton movies. I wrote about half the movie for a blogathon in 2015. Some day I shall have to write about the other half:
Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton in "The Bell Boy"

Motion Picture World, 30-March-1918
I particularly like the horse-drawn streetcar.

Moving Picture World, 13-April-1918
Buster Keaton was given a draft status of 1-A, meaning he was eligible to be drafted. "When Buster goes the screen will lose one its newer favorites; one who has more than made good from the first jump -- and he's more than a powerful jumper."

Hickory NC Daily Record, 20-August-1920
I couldn't find a trade ad for the next Comique production, "Moonshine."  Roscoe and Buster played Internal Revenue agents.  Al St John was a moonshiner.

Moving Picture World, 04-May-1918
Roscoe and his company were stuck in the mountains while making "Moonshine."

Alaska Daily Empire, 26-February-1919
"Good Night Nurse," the next Comique production, was billed above the feature Rimrock Jones which starred Wallace Reid.

Moving Picture World, 20-July-1918
Roscoe's wife commits him to a sanitorium (think rehab) to cure his drinking problem.  Buster Keaton was a doctor and Al St John was his assistant.

Moving Picture World, 20-July-1918
Roscoe gets away by dressing in drag.  Notice that Buster Keaton is smiling.

Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)
Gordon Ramsey might not approve of Roscoe's kitchen in "The Cook."  Buster Keaton is his assistant and Alice Lake is the waitress.  Al St John tries to rob the place.  Roscoe's dog Luke plays a part.

Moving Picture World, 17-August-1918
One of the highlights of "The Cook" is Buster's Egyptian dance.

Moving Picture World, 07-December-1918
The Rialto Theater in Butte, Montana ran this ad for a double bill of Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and Roscoe Arbuckle's "The Cook."

Moving Picture World, 10-August-1918
Lou Anger announced a move to the Diando studios in Glendale "For the production of at least one picture at the plant."

Moving Picture World, 31-August-1918
"The Cook" was Buster's last Comique appearance for \a while as he left to do his duty to his country.
Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)
"The Sheriff" does have Al St John or Buster Keaton.  Roscoe's leading lady is Betty Compson.  Roscoe's dog Luke appears.

Moving Picture World, 19-October-1918
Roscoe gets his law enforcement ideas from the movies of Douglas Fairbanks and William S Hart.

Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)

"Camping Out" featured Roscoe and Al, but not Buster and Luke.

Moving Picture World, 28-December-1918
"Camping Out" was filmed on Catalina Island.

Moving Picture World, 11-January-1919
"The Village Chestnut" was a Mack Sennett production starring Louise Fazenda.

The Maui News, 30-May-1919
I haven't found much about "The Pullman Porter," which featured Roscoe and Al.

Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)
In "Love," Roscoe and Al fight for the hand of Winifred Westover.  Buster was still in the Army and Luke did not appear.  This is the only non-Keaton Comique that I have seen.

Moving Picture World, 04-January-1919
Roscoe Arbuckle's new studio on Alessandro Street.

Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)
I haven't found much about "The Bank Clerk."

Paramount Comedy Releases Press Books (Sep 1918-Sep 1919)
In "A Desert Hero," Roscoe became the sheriff of a town where the sheriffs had a life expectancy measured in minutes.

Moving Picture World, 30-August-1919
Buster was back in "Back Stage," one of the funniest Comique productions.

Moving Picture World, 12-July-1919
"Buster Keaton is back in the cast, with Al St. John, Mollie Malone and others to add to the hilarity."

Moving Picture World, 29-November-1919
"The Hayseed" featured Roscoe, Buster and Luke, but not Al.

Film Daily, 16-November-1919
Roscoe poses with Luke.

Moving Picture World, 17-January-1920
"The Garage" was the last movie featuring Roscoe, Buster and Luke.  Al St John did not appear.  It is one of the funniest Comiques.

Moving Picture World, 10-January-1920
"Things get underway with a high-speed action..."  The movie is very well paced.

Moving Picture World, 24-January-1920
"'The Garage' is the last comedy 'Fatty' made before his sojourn in more serious photodrama."  The higher-ups at Paramount had decided that Roscoe should star in feature films.  Joe Schenck handed the Comique company to Buster Keaton.  Roscoe made successful feature films until his scandal broke.  Buster Keaton made one of the two greatest series of short silent comedies.  The other was Chaplin's Mutual series.  Buster and Roscoe would work together a few more times.  Al St John was starring in short comedies for various producers and went on to become a beloved sidekick in hundreds of B Westerns.  Luke died in 1926.

If you want to see any of the Arbuckle-Keaton movies that are known to survive, I strongly recommend Kino's Arbuckle and Keaton Volume One and Volume Two. They have a nice score by the Alloy Orchestra. Get both volumes if you can.

This post is part of the Fifth 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.


  1. Great research! Like seeing the period ads and articles. Nice addition to the blogathon.

    1. Thank you, Diane. I enjoy digging up old ad and articles.

    2. Just for the record-- I am "Silver 17 Productions" too. Enjoyed re-reading this post!

    3. Your post was one of the highlights of the blogathon. Thanks again for sharing it with us.

  2. After reading your detailed – and fab – review, I think I'm finally going to splurge on those Kino releases, Vol I and Vol II. I've only seen a few of the Keaton/Arbuckle films, and your essay is prompting me to see as many as I can! So, thank you in advance.

    1. Thank you, Silver Screenings. I had a great time writing it and I hope you'll enjoy the Kino discs. It is nice to see how Buster's roles grow.

  3. These are some of my all time favorite movies :)

    I was interested to to read about Schenck, since I've seen his name come up so often in connection with a lot of films but never new exactly how he fit in.

    FYI, there's a couple of local Keaton screenings coming up: "Our Hospitality" will be showing at Niles this Saturday, and in March "Cinequest" will be showing some of his films in SJ (with Wurlitzer organ accompaniment!):

    1. Hi Nick. I'm glad you found it interesting. The story of the Schencks (hard to type) and the Talmadges would make an interesting movie. Thank you for mentioning the upcoming shows.

  4. Wow - awesome post - great research and so fascinating. Arbuckle and Keaton were wonderful - such a great platform for Buster. And thanks for the shout out to Luke!

    1. Thank you, FlickChick. I'm glad you liked it. It is interesting to see how Arbuckle influenced Keaton and Keaton influenced Arbuckle. Until I wrote this, I thought Luke was in more of the Comiques. He is one of my favorite silent movie dogs.

  5. Being one of the biggest Comique fans on the planet, I of course ADORED this. You have quite the collection of image gems here--a couple that are new to me, too!

    That Motography clipping near the beginning is sure interesting--stating that Arbuckle wasn't going to have a stock company and would let supporting actors come and go. That idea sure went out the window the moment he ran into Buster walking down Broadway. :-D

    A RECKLESS ROMEO was apparently a Keystone release, later sold to Paramount so Arbuckle would have enough releases early in his solo career. And according to historian Paul Gierucki, if I'm remembering what he told me correctly, a few of Arbuckle's Comique-without-Buster shorts were announced but were never filmed (I think A PULLMAN PORTER and THE BANK CLERK were a couple of them). Thought you might find this trivia interesting!

    Thanks for all your hard work creating this post for our blogathon--it's much appreciated!

    1. Thank you, Lea. I'm very grateful to you for organizing this every year. If we do it again in 2020 (that is fun to type), I already have something planned. I'm glad you liked that Motography item. Developing a stock company must have made life easier for filmmakers. Interesting about "Reckless Romeo" and the maybe unmade movies. There is always more for us to learn.

  6. A few years ago I wrote about Keaton's and Roscoe's friendship for this very same blogathon. Seeing and reading all these notes and ads for their films adds a new layer to my view of the duo.

    1. Hi Lê. I remember your article about Roscoe and Buster, and I'm glad you liked the items that I dug up. I enjoyed your post about The Saphead. I'm sorry it took me a while to get there.


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