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Don't confuse memoirs with mythology
on 1 May 2005
This is a very entertaining memoir and I think gives a good picture of Buster's personality, although his memory of details of his career isn't always reliable; and since he was quite a raconteur and told his favorite stories many times, I have no doubt that many of them took on new details over the years and shouldn't be taken literally. That doesn't make him a liar; he's an entertainer and a showman. He was also a remarkably modest, unassuming and generous person. He clearly didn't like to badmouth other people or dwell on self-pity, and he doesn't mention a lot of things for that reason.
However, part of the reason the memoir doesn't cover his "clinical depression" and his "abuse by his father" as some have complained, is because those didn't exist in the first place. Some extremely misleading biographies have been written about Keaton by people imposing their own morbid fantasies on this poor guy. Meade is notable for inventing nonsense, but she's not the only one. Except for a period of some five years in his life when he was understandably depressed after having lost the creative independence he had always been used to having, and becoming instead a trained dog at MGM, and despite several bouts of alcoholism which he eventually got control over, he was not a bitter or depressive man. Many people who met him in later life confirm this.
Furthermore, he had a very close relationship with his family through his entire life. He supported his mother and siblings even when he was broke himself, and lived with them during lean times. Also, he was in fact quite straightforward in his memoirs and in interviews about the rough time he did have with his father around the time that he reached his 20's, when his father's drinking led to a breakup of the Keaton act and the Keaton family, and it's also very clear that both before that and later on they were on good terms. Keaton's father acted in many of Buster's movies, sometimes with self-referential jokes that show how much they cracked each other up.
The fact that their vaudeville act was rough does not mean that Keaton was a victim of child abuse. If he had been, both his attitude and his career would have been entirely different. It's quite clear that Keaton enjoyed the rough stuff and gave as good as he got. He's also quite clear in his memoir that when the rough stuff did become abusive or dangerous because of his father taking to drink, Keaton didn't put up with it; he ended the act. And he didn't hold a grudge.
Keaton's a bigger and better person than any of his small-minded, dirt-obsessed biographers. We're still waiting for a really good, thorough, and objective biography. One of the best introductions to Keaton, though, if you can find it, is the three-part series "A Hard Act to Follow" done for Thames television by Kevin Brownlow. As far as books go, the beautiful picture book and memoir "Buster Keaton Remembered" by Jeffrey Vance and Eleanor Keaton, his wife of 26 years, is a fair-minded assessment although brief. Eleanor was an admirable and unsentimental lady. The other book that captures the man best (though it probably promulgates a few myths), is Rudi Blesh's "Keaton." He knew Buster personally and understood him. It's not that hard to find - read it instead of Marion Meade's spin. She should save that for her own autobiography.