From the Stars and Stripes archives

Buster Keaton brings laughs to Germany

By JAMES HALBE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 6, 1962

FRANKFURT — Buster Keaton, the man with the saddest deadpan face in show business and one of its all-time comic greats, arrived in Frankfurt Monday to show Germans why America laughed at him 40 years ago.

For 67-year-old Keaton, it is a triumphal return. He was a little-known vaudeville actor when he sloshed through the mud near Amiens, France, in 1918 as a corporal in the 159th Infantry, 40th Div.

This time, he will chug into 13 German cities in a 100-year-old locomotive to kick off a revival of the silent films which made him famous in the 1920s.

With the same gifted flair for comic pantomime as he had in 1922, he breezed through an unrehearsed television show at he Hesse State Radio here Monday, then sat down with 30 reporters and photographers and told them why there aren't any more comics like him today.

"The nearest thing we have today to what Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and I were in the old days," he said, "is Red Skelton. He could have been a star in the silent days. And there's Jackie Gleason, too, and the late Lou Costello.

"And Ernie Kovacs was getting mighty close to it if he'd just been let alone. But there aren't any real natural comics any more. There are a lot of gag men, like Bob Hope and Jack Benny. But they depend on their gag writers. They'd be lost without them."

Keaton was rehearsing a television show with Ernie Kovacs until 7 o'clock on the night Kovacs was killed last month. Kovacs was driving home on the Los Angeles Freeway when his car struck a tree, killing him instantly.

"In the old days," he said, "we worked entirely without a script. I never made a picture with a script. And most of the time I was my own director. We'd have a story idea. And we'd run through it. We would shoot the first part, then the last part,and then weave the story through the middle.

"I never worried about the middle. It always took care of itself. As long as we had a good story with a good beginning and a hood ending, we never worried."

Most of his film comedies in the 1920s cost less than $250,000 to produce, he said.

"We had a whole studio staff on the payroll 52 weeks a year,"he said. "We made seven or eight 'shorts' or about two features a year. If we didn't like the sequence, we could shoot the whole thing over again for just the cost of the film. A day's shooting cost us maybe $8.50 for film. Today, the minimum cost for reshooting a scene is $12,000. You don't have any freedom when you've got to pay out that kind of money."

Keaton and his wife leave Tuesday for Munich. The rest of their schedule: Ulm, Feb. 7; Stuttgart, Feb. 8; Mannheim, Feb. 9; Frankfurt, Feb. 11; Cologne, Feb. 12; Duesseldorf, Feb. 13; Bremen, Feb. 14; Hamburg, Feb. 15; Hannover, Feb. 16; Berlin, Feb. 19; and Nuernberg, Feb. 19.

French film officials will hold a reception for him in Paris Feb. 22 at the Cinematique Francaise to mark the opening of a run of all of his 38 films, one each day. The Keatons will sail for America on the liner France Feb. 23.

Buster Keaton, famed silent-film comedian, poses with a television camera at the Hesse State Radio studios in Frankfurt in February, 1962.

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