In Memory Of Buster And Eleanor’s House

Last weekend Buster Keaton fans heard the sad news that his last home, the comfortable ranch house he and his wife Eleanor bought in the 1950s, had been demolished. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would’ve liked to glimpse it in person one day, if only from a car window. Sadly, that is one item on my bucket list that will go forever unchecked.

A nicely retouched/enhanced image courtesy of Steve Stubbs.

The one-story house, built in 1947, was bought with the $50,000 given to Buster by Paramount for the screen rights to his life story. The resulting film, The Buster Keaton Story (1957) starring Donald O’Connor, was frankly terrible (Eleanor recalled attending a preview with Buster and how they “felt like crawling out on our hands and knees”), but it did give them the ability to finally purchase their own house. The couple had been living with Buster’s family for years, and Buster’s career had gone through numerous ups and downs in that time. They took proud ownership of their new home in June 1956, and were content there until Buster’s death in 1966.

The Keatons at Woodland Hills. Happy Valentine's Day ❤ | Busters, Silent  film, Movie directors

Over the decades the house’s former 1 1/2 acres had been pared down to 0.83 acres, and Woodland Hills is no longer as safe than it was in Buster and Eleanor’s time. It apparently retained its pool and fireplace and its same two bedrooms and two baths. Surprisingly, the previous owner had owned the house since 1979, and it was sold for $999,000.00 in May–apparently more for the lot than the house itself. The online real estate listing cheerily stated: “Walnut Acres restoration project on a fabulous 120 x 299 flat lot. Endless potential for your dream estate. This home was once owned by legendary actor Buster Keaton…Property being sold as is. Developers take a look!!” Well, I guess developers did.

These are the sole three photos uploaded to real estate sites, in this case Redfin:

As we mourn the house’s loss, let’s look back on Buster and Eleanor’s photos and memories of their happy years there together.

In the 1990s, Eleanor recalled:

“The wonderful thing that happened as a result of The Buster Keaton Story was that it enabled us to buy a six-room house on one and a half acres of land located at 22612 Sylvan Street in Woodland Hills, California. We moved into the ‘ranch,’ as Buster called it, in June 1956. Buster had a swimming pool built, and, since he wanted to raise chickens, he built a chicken coop, which looked like a schoolhouse, behind the house. Woodland Hills, which is north of Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley, did not have many residents at that time. As he was the only famous homeowner in the area, Buster was named honorary mayor of Woodland Hills.

Pin on Eleanor and Buster Keaton

“The house in Woodland Hills was something we both adored, and when Buster was not working we enjoyed being at the ‘ranch.’ We liked having friends over for barbecues and bridge games, and we treasured our quiet moments alone. Buster had a vegetable garden and fruit trees and would spend hours watering them. He liked collecting walnuts from our nine walnut trees and enjoyed finding four-leaf clovers, something he had a talent for spotting quickly since childhood. He had a dozen Rhode Island Red hens that he called his ‘girls.’ He gave them names like Zsa Zsa, Marilyn, and Ava. He had a rooster too.

Pin on Buster Keaton: Post-MGM

“Buster swam every day and enjoyed cooking, playing his ukulele and watching television, which fascinated him. Buster loved trains. His favorite film of his own was The General, and he had a toy train that ran on tracks around our picnic table and back into the garage. The cars were big enough to hold a Coca-Cola or a hot dog, and Buster used to drive food around to our guests whenever we had a picnic. And, of course, he loved to play bridge for hours on end.”

Pin on Eleanor and Buster Keaton

This was a house where many a gag was born that’s now preserved on celluloid: “Buster would be in the den, sitting on the floor, working something out in his head. That was the way he ‘wrote.’ He never put anything down on paper; he just kept it all in his head.”

Pin on Eleanor and Buster Keaton

It was also the setting for much of the writing of Buster’s autobiography, started during a run in a Las Vegas show (and meant to combat the errors in The Buster Keaton Story): “When Newcomers of 1928 ended, [Charles Samuels] came back with us to Woodland Hills and worked with Buster for another three weeks until he was finished. Charlie did not use a tape recorder; Buster talked and Charlie typed.”

Here are Buster’s 1960 reminisces about buying the Woodland Hills home, which they did as soon as they returned from Paramount’s tour for the unfortunate The Buster Keaton Story. The pride that was in his voice as he worked with Charles Samuels is evident: “When we returned from the tour Eleanor and I used Paramount’s money to buy the home of our dreams. This is far out in the San Fernando Valley and stands on an acre and a quarter of ground. The house is a modern farmhouse with six spacious rooms furnished in early American. Paramount bought the house, but it was furnished by Truth or Consequences, This Is Your Life, It Could Be You, and other TV programs on which I made guest appearances. Eleanors endless books of S&H stamps also helped furnish the place.

We sadly discovered last week, thanks to Mark Keaton, Buster Keaton's  Grand-Nephew, that the Woodland Hills home Buster shared with third wife, Eleanor  Keaton, was demolished. : busterkeaton

“Our swimming pool is of natural stone, and we decorate its borders with colored stones collected in each place we visit. The pool was paid for with some of the money I got for the TV commercials I have been doing for the last couple of years for Alka-Seltzer, Northwest Orient Airlines, and other firms.

That's not nice Buster! - Buster and Eleanor kidding around in their pool  at their Woodland hills home | Eleanor and Buster Keaton | Pinterest

“Today the most exciting moments of my life come when I step out on my own property and walk around it, accompanied by Elmer III, my amiable 180-pound St. Bernard. Sometimes Jenny, our cat, also comes along. There were nine walnut trees in the garden when we bought the house, and I since have put in all sorts of fruit trees, including lemon, orange, tangerine, lime, plum, peach, apple, crab apple, and apricot. We grow three kinds of grapes–Tokay, Concord and Thompson seedless–and also have raspberry and boysenberry bushes, and an artichoke bed. Each spring I grow radishes, cabbages, turnips, beefsteak tomatoes, and lettuce. I built a chicken yard in the rear of our land and a miniature railroad that carries peanuts, soda pop, sandwiches, popcorn to guests seated around a small garden house near the pool. For the accommodation of visiting grandchildren, nephews, movie producers, and TV sponsors we installed a bunkhouse.

22612 Sylvan St, Woodland Hills, CA 91367 | St bernard dogs, Bernard dog,  Alone in the dark

“If there is a better place in the world to be–when I’m not in front of an audience or a camera–someone else will have to name it.”

r/busterkeaton - We sadly discovered last week, thanks to Mark Keaton, Buster Keaton’s Grand-Nephew, that the Woodland Hills home Buster shared with third wife, Eleanor Keaton, was demolished.

Here is the house in a recent Google photo. The ivy in front is long gone, but it looks pretty much the same. Perhaps some of those big trees in back were planted by Buster.

Woodland Hills home | Woodland hills, San fernando valley, Vintage los  angeles

Fan Angie Hougan captured what might be the last glimpses of Buster and Eleanor’s home after it was demolished last week (many thanks to her for sharing):

It may be a cliché to say this house is “gone but not forgotten”…but it’s certainly true.

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor bob talmadge | Famous clowns, Busters, Silent film
With his granddaughter Melissa.

If you’d like to see some rare footage of Buster at home, a fan in the Damfino’s Facebook group shared the link to this 1960 interview (it’s usually only available in clips):

https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1555501081?fbclid=IwAR126lUo42-odIGQCzf57pc2IbL9pBhSqi7Y6ubYy53rNp1R6DXLhJlZMzA

Sources for the quotes:

Keaton, Buster, with Samuels, Charles. My Wonderful World of Slapstick. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1960.
Keaton, Eleanor and Vance, Jeffrey. Buster Keaton Remembered. New York: Henry N Abrams, Inc., 2001.

29 thoughts on “In Memory Of Buster And Eleanor’s House

  1. Thank you for honoring this loss. A modest, single story home on a large plot of land. That’s no longer good enough. Can only imagine the compound of two story homes and guest house to replace it. Take care

  2. You have a special genius. I never thought I’d be moved by a writer telling about and illustrating the demolition of “an old house” even though it’s not “just any old house”. Thanks for posting the link to the KEATON interview. I had not seen it before and it was superbly done.

  3. Reblogged this on The Thoughts of One Truly Loved and commented:
    Sadly, we were informed that Buster and Eleanor’s house has been demolished. And while we know that life must go on for all people, we can’t help but feel a little gloomy knowing we missed out on seeing the beautiful home that Buster loved so much. Even though the structure is gone, memories remain in pictures and stories, and Silentology has furnished both as the perfect farewell to a piece of Damfino history.

  4. A lovely tribute to Buster, Eleanor and the house that they shared. I think for Buster it was a symbol that he had more than survived, he had landed back on his own two feet, and I think that is what it symbolises for many Buster fan. It was the house that showed that he was not some forgotten ‘silent film star’, no he was still working, still relevant and still loved. It is very sad to know that it no longer stands.

    • It wasn’t a fancy house, and probably looked just like 100 other houses in the area…but it was so special. I like your thoughts on what it meant to Buster, and his fans too.

  5. That is so sad, Lea. Thanks though for letting me and many others outside of America see Buster and Eleanor’s lovely home.

  6. Thanks for this close-up to a Buster’s happy time in life, I dived inside this now sadly non-longer-existing place. It was marvelous to feel to close to him.

  7. Thanks for this. My old boss financed Rohauer’s European tour with Keaton which re-launched him in the USA. My boss visited Keaton’s “ranch” in the Valley several times, and told me it was sad to see the way he was living. 30 years ago I contributed an essay on Keaton’s Italian Villa (behind the Beverly Hills Hotel) to the first “Academy Awards Collector’s Edition” of ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST. I hadn’t yet met Eleanor Keaton, but later she told me she liked it. Fans probably know that we can view this spectacular estate as the location Keaton used in his PARLOR, BEDROOM, AND BATH (1931).

    • Interesting–thanks for reading!

      Hmm, I wonder if your boss was used to seeing stars living in big mansions, throwing huge parties, etc. Seeing a star live like a “normal” person probably threw him for a loop. 😉

  8. What a WONDERFUL post. We, the curious, ponder what was life like for the STARS in the years after stardom ended. For Buster, it was back to the simple pleasures of life – a cozy home with a fireplace, a pool to cool off in the hot summers, chickens, fruit trees, and a loving wife. A happy ending for one of the greatest of the silent era comedians.

  9. Instead of lamenting the demise of Keaton’s last home – such a sentimental and futile response – we could do the silent clowns a service by pressuring rich Hollywood moguls and current rich stars to build a museum-cum-theatre in Hollywood dedicated to the icons – Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd – and the lesser clowns – Langdon, Arbuckle etal. Words of “oh woe” are irrelevant. Actions matter. How to get Hollywood big shots to give a hoot about, not honoring, but paying attention to the Greats in the history of movies?

    • There is apparently a museum of cinema currently being built in Los Angeles by the Academy (as in Academy Awards), which is supposed to include exhibits on all eras of the movies. It’s due to open in the fall. Looking forward to going there someday!

  10. Lea, you’re right! (No surprise there) wikipedia has an article on this museum-theatre building(s) And the Big Wigs – 2 in particular who have contributed a combined $75M – and lots of others, including Tom Hanks – are involved. It will be a BIG tourist draw. And 2 theatres:t he 288-seat Ted Mann theatre will have special screenings, ideal for showing Chaplin, Keaton etal films.

    Thanks for this GOOD NEWS!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy_Museum_of_Motion_Pictures

  11. Pingback: It’s Silent-ology’s Seventh Anniversary! | Silent-ology

  12. You are completely incorrect in writing that Woodland Hills is no longer a safe area. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is one of the safest and most desirable places to live in the San Fernando Valley. Movie stars and sports stars live in Woodland Hills.

    • Hmm, I seem to have mixed up the Woodland Hills neighborhood with the…less safe areas of San Fernando Valley. Not sure why I didn’t catch that earlier. You’re right that Woodland Hills is supposed to be quite nice, obviously some pretty nice construction is going into where Buster’s house was.

  13. Thanks for writing! I just watched Bogdanvich’s doc on Tubi “The Great Buster” and wondered what happened to his final, modest ranch abode mentioned in the film. Such a shame for them to raze it for the land, but not surprising as previous commenters mentioned with the LA housing market.

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