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Buster Keaton
The Man Who Wouldn’t
Lie Down

By Tom Dardis

 

BOOK REVIEW

Buster Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down
By Tom Dardis

University of Minnesota Press : Minneapolis, Minnesota : 2002
ISBN 0-8166-4001-7 : 340 pages : trade paperback : $18.95

Reviewed by Carl Bennett
Tom Dardis’ biography has been an essential volume on Buster Keaton since its initial publication in 1979. The University of Minnesota Press has published this latest paperback edition of this respected work (with a new, but brief, preface by Dardis) in a facsimile of the first hardback edition.

Dardis researched and wrote on the life of Buster Keaton with an enthusiasm that began with a 1975 viewing of The Cameraman (1928). Not taking for granted preceeding biographical works (including Buster’s own autobiography), Dardis attempted to reach his own conclusions about the circumstances that shaped Keaton’s childhood, his apprenticeship in vaudeville, his silent-era film career, the emotional impact of his lean golden-era film years, and artistic vindication in Buster’s working retirement. On occasion, Dardis points out inconsistencies between the facts and biographers’ liberties or Buster’s own memories. Often, Dardis captures something of the feel of Buster’s personal and professional challenges. On the fun side, we love the behind-the-scenes accounts of Keaton offscreen. For example, Buster’s practical joke on studio mogul Adolph Zukor, posing as a waiter at a private dinner party. Other hysterical jokes on Marcus Loew and Pauline Frederick have also been recounted. The reader will find this book to be a fast, compelling and informative read.

With all that said, though, does the reader put down the book with a deeper understanding of who Buster Keaton was? To an extent, yes. But we feel that this volume serves best as an adjunct to several other books written on the complex subject of Buster Keaton. (Among the other books are My Wonderful World of Slapstick by Buster Keaton with Charles Samuels, Buster Keaton by David Robinson, Keaton by Rudi Blesh, and Buster Keaton Remembered by Jeffrey Vance and Eleanor Keaton.)

Among the book’s appendices is a brief farcical play by Federico Garcia Lorca, bibliographic notes, and a Keaton filmography by Maryann Chach. (Note: A number of the Keaton films listed by Chach as lost films in 1979 have, in fact, survived for all of us to enjoy.) For researchers, this volume fortunately replicates the layout and page numbering of the first edition, and includes all of the photographic illustrations of that edition.

We extend our respect to Tom Dardis (who passed away in 2001) for writing this valuable installment in the growing iconography of Buster Keaton, and we recommend this book.

 
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