Thursday, October 10, 2013

Buster Keaton: Television Icon


In his final years, Buster Keaton acted as a guest star on a number of popular television series. 

What's My Line? (1957)

"A Very Merry Christmas" (The Donna Reed Show, 1958) 

"Once Upon a Time" (The Twilight Zone, 1961)

"Journey to Nineveh" (Route 66, 1962)

 The Scene Stealers (1962)


Salute to Stan Laurel (1965)

Twilight Zone scribe Richard Matheson talked about a tried-and-true comedy routine that Keaton contributed to his script.

Paul Wayne, a staff writer for Bewitched, revealed a long unknown television credit for Keaton.   Wayne wrote a 1965 episode of Bewitched called "The Magic Cabin."  The plot departs from the series' usual settings.  Samantha and Darrin look forward to spending a restful weekend at a cabin in the woods, but they arrive to find the cabin to be so decrepit that it is uninhabitable.  Darrin is desperate to salvage the weekend and relents to Samantha using witchcraft to transform the cabin into a dream home.  The problem is that several unexpected visitors show up at the cabin, which compels Samantha to repeatedly change the cabin back and forth between its old decrepit condition and its new glamorous condition.  Meanwhile, Keaton sets up an easel and canvas on a hill that overlooks the cabin and he gets to work to create an oil painting of the rustic scene below.  Wayne said, "So, of course, every time Buster Keaton saw the cabin, it was a different cabin.  So he threw away one oil [painting] and started another.  And by the end of it he decided he was done with painting.  You can imagine what Keaton had done with it.  It was just absolutely brilliant.  But it was so long it had become unwieldy and they had to cut it."  It's a shame that they couldn't have found room for Keaton's antics.  I personally think that Keaton would have made a great warlock on the series.

Keaton also remained busy promoting products in television and print ads. Madison Avenue took advantage of the fact that Keaton had evolved into a baggy-eyed, craggy-faced media icon.

He remained a beloved figure in the public's eye until his death on February 1, 1966.



Let me close this article with clips from the Donna Reed episode.  I enjoyed Keaton's brief improvisation with the little boy's sling in the hospital scene.     

Reference Source

Lewellen, Scott (2013).  Funny You Should Ask: Oral Histories of Classic Sitcom Storytellers.  Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company.


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