The Edmond Sun


August 13, 2013

AGAINST THE GRAIN: Buster Keaton savored his Oklahoma ties

OKLA. CITY — William Friedkin has been one of the most influential filmmakers in the United States since the early 1970s. His movies include “The Exorcist,” “To Live and Die in LA” and “The French Connection.” The latter film includes a dramatic chase scene in which a New York City Police detective played by Gene Hackman commandeers a citizen’s car and follows the path of a an elevated train in pursuit of a Frenchmen who is involved in the importation of large amounts of heroin into the U.S.

In his recently published memoirs, “The Friedkin Connection,” the filmmaker writes that he was glad that he had not seen the silent film made by Buster Keaton titled “The General” before he made the “French Connection,” because if he had, he would have been tempted to replicate the chase scene contained in that silent classic into the “French Connection.”

And while Buster Keaton’s name is known today primarily by filmmakers and students of film history, he, along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd were the three great comedians of the silent film era. Joseph Frank Keaton was born in 1895 in Kansas, but spent some of his early years in Perry. He and his parents spent much of their time on the vaudeville circuit where they performed a comedy act, but his grandparents also had a home in Perry and lived with them when his parents were performing without him.  

According to Keaton’s most recent biographer, Marion Meade, he retained fond memories of Perry and considered it to be his home town. He also made his stage debut there as a child at the Perry Opera House. A young magician who appeared in vaudeville performance with the Keaton family, Harry Houdini, is credited with giving the younger Keaton the nickname of “Buster.”  

Keaton began to act in films in New York City in the 1920s with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and later made his way to Hollywood where he made a series of films that are now classics of the silent film genre. They included “Sherlock Holmes Junior” in which a character comes of off a film screen and begins to interact with patrons in the theater that may have inspired the Woody Allen movie “The Purple Rose of Cairo” that has a similar plot line. The movie “The General” was a comedy about the theft of a train during the Civil War by a Confederate sympathizer played by Keaton. While that film is recognized as a classic today, it was not successful when it was released in 1926, and its dismal box office performance, according to Meade, resulted in Keaton losing creative control over the movies in which he starred. The late Pauline Kael, who spent several decades as film critic for the New Yorker Magazine, thought that “The General” may have been too perfect a film for the time in which it was released. “The General” is now on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest movies. The advent of talking movies also adversely affected the career of Keaton, as it did Chaplin and Lloyd, and Keaton began a slow descent into depression and alcoholism in the 1930s. But in the late 1950s Keaton’s career was revived to an extent and he appeared in films such as “Sunset Boulevard,” and “It’s a Mad, Mad, World.” He also was featured in several episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and made television commercials. He died in 1966.

In 1957, Keaton returned to Perry for the premier of a film based on his life  titled “The Buster Keaton Story” that featured Donald O’Connor as Keaton. It was reported that when the comedian entered the Perry Theater and saw many of the people that he had known there that he cried.  

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is an Oklahoma City attorney.

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  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
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    July 23, 2014

  • New Orleans features its own “Running of the Bulls”

    On July12, the streets of the Warehouse District of New Orleans were filled with thousands of young men who were seeking to avoid being hit with plastic bats wielded by women on roller skates as part of the annual “Running of the Bulls” that takes place in New Orleans.
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    July 22, 2014

  • OTHER VIEW: Newsday: Lapses on deadly diseases demand explanation

    When we heard that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had created a potentially lethal safety risk by improperly sending deadly pathogens — like anthrax — to other laboratories around the country, our first reaction was disbelief.

    July 22, 2014


If the Republican runoff for the 5th District congressional seat were today, which candidate would you vote for?

Patrice Douglas
Steve Russell
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