buster keaton’s failed marriage -- 9/16/22

Today's selection -- from Camera Man by Dana Stevens. By 1927, Buster Keaton was one of Hollywood’s brightest and wealthiest stars, with a lavish Italian-style villa to go with it. But the marriage of Buster and Natalie Keaton was already a failure.
 
"Six years after their wedding the Keatons were at last installed, with two small sons, on the impossibly lavish grounds of the Italian Villa. They had achieved the picture-postcard version of heterosexual Hollywood bliss -- in fact, tinted photographs of their house appeared on real picture postcards for the tourist trade -- yet they were by all accounts sexually and emotionally estranged. The separate bedroom Buster had been exiled to in 1924 had become a whole separate wing.

Natalie and Buster Keaton on their wedding day, May 31, 1921


"The Keatons of the mid-1920s barely shared a life in common: He spent his days on the studio lot or on location, returned home for a quick dinner, and then left to play cards and drink with his friends into the night. Except for the Sunday barbecues they continued to host by the pool, Buster was largely absent from the grand estate whose creation he had so meticulously engineered for his wife.
 
"For her part, Natalie, perhaps tired of being known as the mousy younger sister of the glamorous Talmadges, was gaining a reputation as one of the movie colony's most extravagant shoppers. According to rumor, she spent something like $900 a week -- more than $14,000 in today's dollars -- on clothes. ('Who's the best dresser in Hollywood?' went the joke. 'Buster Keaton, because he dresses Natalie.') Their sons later remembered an early childhood where day-to-day affection came mainly from nurses, governesses, and two doting, childless movie-star aunts. …
 
"Keaton's vision of marriage as the first stop on a sped-up train ride to the grave is a prime example, if in a grimmer register than the comedian's usual, of the stoic philosophy that Robert Sherwood saw in all his work: 'the vitally important fact that life, after all, is a foolishly inconsequential affair.'"


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author:

Dana Stevens

title:

Camera Man

publisher:

Atria Books

date:

Copyright 2022

pages:

208-213
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