Buster Keaton was 3 when he was billed as ‘The Human Mop’ in his family’s knockabout vaudeville act. The act was known to be the roughest in vaudeville, with Keaton’s father throwing him into the scenery … the orchestra pit … and one time at a group of hecklers sitting in the first row.
The nickname ‘Buster’ came from vaudevillian and escape artist Harry Houdini. When Keaton was a baby, he tumbled down a flight of stairs, emerging unscathed and grinning. Houdini scooped him up, remarking to his parents, “That was some buster your baby took!” The name stuck.
‘The Three Keatons’ broke up in 1917, and Buster was to start rehearsals for a new Broadway show. But a chance encounter with comedian Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle introduced Keaton to the movies. And he never looked back.
By the time Keaton joined Arbuckle in 1917, his body control was completely instinctual. When he became a full-fledged star in his own comedy series in 1920, he and his gag-writers went out of their way to devise strange and spectacular stunts. A superb athlete, Keaton still did not escape injuries, and broke nearly every bone in his body at least once.
Never has a filmmaker physically suffered so much for his art.