Damfinos: International Buster Keaton Society

Fake glass slides, copyright 1998.

Convention, Oct. 9-10, Muskegon, MI.


The short film "The Balloonatic" was released January 22, 1923. It stars Buster Keaton and Phyllis Haver and was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline, who often worked with Keaton. In it, Keaton plays a hapless young man, rejected in love, who is accidentally carried aloft by a balloon, deposited in the wilderness where he has to fend for himself -- and where he again meets up with and ultimately wins the affections of the girl who has rejected him. Open to the public.


"Our Hospitality" was Keaton's first important feature film, released November 19, 1923. It co-stars Natalie Talmadge, Buster's first wife, in her only major film appearance. Playing her father is Big Joe Roberts, a good friend of the Keatons from Muskegon. In a bit part is Joseph Keaton, Buster's older son.

Joe Roberts and his wife were part of Muskegon's Actors Colony. They had appeared in vaudeville doing sketches and musical numbers. Once Buster moved to Hollywood, he brought Roberts out to work with him. Roberts appeared in almost all of Keaton's silent films -- sometimes playing the villain, sometimes the best friend -- whatever was needed. He had suffered a heart attack during filming of Our Hospitality, but returned to work. He died unexpectedly about a month after "Our Hospitality" was completed.

This Keaton is considered by many to be one of his best. The idea came from Keaton, who wanted to make a film about the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud -- called here the Canfields and the McKays. Set in the 1830s, Keaton is the surviving member of the McKay clan, who falls in love with the daughter of the head of the Canfield clan. Neither knows who the other is. She invites him to dinner. The Canfields, of course, want to kill him; however, as long as he is in their house, he is subject to "our hospitality" -- they can't kill him while he's under their roof.


Keaton had always instructed his cameramen to keep shooting no matter what happened -- they might get something better than what had been planned. As Keaton was going down the rapids, he was held back by a retaining wire, which was supposed to keep him going at a safe speed. The wire snapped and Keaton was suddenly plunged into the full force of the Truckee River. The crew scrambled madly to chase after him as he smashed into rocks and was covered in foam. Somehow, he was able to grab onto a branch and one of his crew, Ernie Orsatti, who had been a professional baseball player before starting work with Keaton, barely managed to save him from drowning. The moment when the wire snaps and Keaton is set loose into the raging river is in the final film.

The ending of "Our Hospitality" is spectacular. Buster has been swept down the rapids of a river and is dangling from a log stuck over a waterfall. Coming down the rapids toward him is his girl. How he rescues himself and her is almost not to be believed. It's one of the great moments in movie history.

The film will be shown in the newly restored Frauenthal theater, right across the street from the Holiday Inn Muskegon Harbor. The Frauenthal was built in the 1930s and has just been restored in the last few months. Playing the organ for the performance will be local musician Clif Martin.


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