The act finished, but Mr. Damar would not allow us to take a bow. The applause kept up and the audience shouted "Bravo!" "Encore!" Billy Gould was standing in the rear of the house with Butt. Billy said to him: "Fine applause. Why don't they allow them a bow?" Mr. Butt replied: "It isn't on the level."

Don't forget, they placed Price and Revost, the steal on Rice and Prevost, trick for trick, right on "No.2"; and shot five-minute turns ahead of us.

Alfred Butt in 1910, Vanity Fair supplement portrait.

Alfred Butt, manager of the Palace Theatre and later the Victoria Palace Theatre (1911), was a young former accountant at Harrod's department store. Famous for bringing American vaudeville to the English music hall ("he has done everything short of flying the Stars and Stripes over Drury Lane" said one Daily Express reporter), he will end by bringing over many landmark musicals such as "Show Boat", and Gershwin's "Lady Be Good", with Fred and Adele Astaire and Cliff Edwards. His appearance is so youthful that clients sometimes demand to see his father, or failing that, his elder brother, and he is known to be "self-opinionated, over-ambitious". He cares nothing for art, only how many seats he sells. Yet even his critics must admit that "his pushfulness is justified". He ends his days having made monumental contributions to popular entertainment, having been the chairman of the Drury Lane theater, the manager of the Queen's Theatre and the Globe, a knight (for food distribution in World War I), a Unionist MP, and finally a baronet in 1929. His youthful ambition had been to end as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

See our reading list for sources.

 
Alfred Butt in 1910, this color portrait from Vanity Fair. The woman in the background is Maud Allan, who appeared on the bill with the Keatons in 1909. Property of the Palace Theatre, London, England. Kindly loaned by Palace archivist, Mr. Graeme Cruickshank. Print provided by Peter W. Burrowes. Used by permission.    

The next morning I was called to Butt's office. With his Damar by his side, Butt said: "I shall ask you. Is that your own son or an adopted one?" I told him Buster was my own son. "My word," said Butt; "I imagined he was an adopted boy and you didn't give a damn what you did to him."

 
Miss Blanche Ring, who was backstage visiting Walter Kelly. According to Buster's autobiography, "My Wonderful World of Slapstick", she and Kelly advised Joe to tone down the act, saying "You actually scared the audience. They think you are hurting Buster. The act is too brutal for them."
Image courtesy Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library, Duke University, North Carolina. Used by permission. To view a larger version, visit their website at:
http://odyssey.lib.duke.edu
  Miss Blanche Ring.  She was a great success in England.
 

 

The same day I purchased three tickets for the first boat sailing. I told Butt the boat would sail Tuesday, not Wednesday. He didn't know the old story. So I told him that. He didn't understand then.

If I had had a contract calling for four weeks or longer my treatment would have been different. I should have waited until Butt put in a stage; I should not have allowed my wife to flash her musical instruments; I should have carried my own props; I should not have made Fred Helf's speech--but I should have taken Hal Godfrey's word for it.

The day we sailed from God's country my father died, and I never knew of it until I came down the gangplank again, once more back home--and believe me I am a better Yankee than ever I was before.

   
 
Joe Keaton in 1908.  From a news photo.
The End
   
 

Credits:

Layout, design and captions by Victoria Sainte-Claire
for The Damfinos: The International Buster Keaton Society, 1999.
Special thanks to:
Peter W. Burrowes for his imaginative and thorough research in London
and his many contributions to this article,
Graeme Cruickshank, Archivist of the Palace Theatre in London,
England, for the images of the playbill and information about
and images of Alfred Butt
(an exhibition of the history of the Palace Theatre is currently
on view in the theater lobby),
Linda McCurdy, Director of Research Services,
Special Collections Library at Duke University for kind permission to
use the song sheets from
their collection,
Patricia Eliot Tobias, Melody Bunting and The Damfinos
for discovering and reprinting the Variety article in The Keaton Chronicle
Eleanor and Myra Keaton for keeping Buster's datebooks,
Vicky Kothari for coordinating communications and research,
and
Sylvie Geigel for maritime research on the big ships.

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