A Glimpse Of Christmas With Buster Keaton

MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and all! I hope your holiday’s been merry and bright so far–mine sure has!

A fellow Buster fanatic reminded me of this fun clipping that I shared on social media some years ago. It’s a little glimpse into what Christmas was like at Buster Keaton’s house back in the late ’20s (or early ’30s?), and it simply must be shared again!

No photo description available.

If the clipping’s a bit challenging to read, here’s a handy transcript:

“Although the sun shines at Christmas in Hollywood, and thin dresses are worn, the good old Christmas spirit is not lacking in the homes of film stars.

“Parties are given on Christmas Eve as well as Christmas day. In the homes of Jack Holt and Buster Keaton for instance, where children form such an important part of the festive season, the decoration of a Christmas tree for the kiddies is made an excuse for a Christmas Eve party for the grown-ups.

The Academy — Buster Keaton, seated next to a Christmas tree in...
Buster and his boys posing with a mini tree.

“Mrs. Keaton who was Natalie Talmadge, always invites ten or twelve friends to help her and Buster to decorate their Christmas-tree. The guests arrive about 8 o’clock when Joe and Bob Keaton are in bed, dreaming of Santa Claus. Natalie gives all the girls a big overall, while Buster produces green baize aprons for the men. Then the serious business of the evening begins.

“The tree is carried into the hall; a tall ladder is produced; and on a table box after box of glittering baubles for the tree stand waiting to be used. Up the ladder goes Constance Talmadge, while Norma helps her brother-in-law blow out a string of coloured balloons.

“As a rule, the Keaton’s guests include in addition to Mrs. Talmadge, Norma and Constance such cheery people as William Haines, Dorothy Sebastian, Marceline Day, Gilbert Roland, Louis Wolheim–who is a tower of strength on these occasions–and probably, John Gilbert.

“While half the party concentrates on the tree, some of the others tie up dozens of parcels in gay holiday-patterned paper, with huge bows of scarlet ribbon. The remainder get very busy with evergreens and mistletoe, making trails and those big green rings that hang in every Californian home at Christmas. The wireless set provides music, also the gramophone, and most of the workers sing while they toil.”

Full shot of Buster Keaton seated by Christmas tree with wife Natalie  Talmadge and boys/children, Jimmy and Robert, circa 192… | Busters, Silent  film, Holiday music
Natalie joins the photo shoot.

Unfortunately I lost the source of this clipping and can’t seem to find it again (although admittedly I’m in a holiday food stupor already, which doesn’t help…!). If you know where it came from, feel free to comment, please and thank you.

Have a lovely day, and Happy New Year! And be on the lookout for the Silent-ology end-of-the-year silent film news roundup–next on the list. Well, once that Christmas food stupor wears off…!

12 thoughts on “A Glimpse Of Christmas With Buster Keaton

  1. Love this line. “Mrs. Keaton who was Natalie Talmadge” While not the only reason for his downfall. Mrs. Talmadge and her current sister, sure piled on.

  2. Interesting take. However Buster was on a trajectory to stardom before his marriage. When Arbuckle graduated to feature films, his producer Joseph M. Schenck arranged for Keaton to inherit Fatty’s production staff, and in 1920 Keaton launched his own two-reel series . Three years later Keaton himself moved into starring features with Three Ages (1923). Buster’s films were made for the ages and the Talmadge sisters for a week.

    • I’m guessing you’re talking about my Talmadge sisters article? 🙂 It seems inevitable that someone as talented as Buster would become a film star no matter what his connections, but it is certainly true that the Talmadge connection was very fortunate. And it went back to the Comique days, since the Talmadges were even filming in the same building as Arbuckle!

  3. I love a discourse such as this. However, Lea, what did the Talmadge sisters, do? Nothing in film history. Their history is about who they married or who they cheated on. To separate Buster from his genius because of his marriage is not fair. Happy New year

    • Heavens no, Buster’s connections don’t at all diminish his innate talents. But it’s simply true that those connections were real, and were relevant to his career.

      I wouldn’t argue the Talmadges had no impact on film history, they were very, very popular and put out quality films for many years. Today Buster’s still very influential on pop culture and the Talmadges are obscure, it’s true. But we can say the same about many stars who were popular back then.

      • “Today Buster’s still very influential on pop culture and the Talmadges are obscure, it’s true. But we can say the same about many stars who were popular back then.”

        100% true. For example, the same could be said of someone like Gloria Swanson (now only ever remembered for the talkie Sunset Blvd and not movies from her superstar heyday like Sadie Thompson, Zaza, or Why Change Your Wife– all entertaining, quality films even if they aren’t considered Great Classics of the Cinema) or Milton Sills (a fabulous actor who only ever gets recognition from dedicated silent movie geeks). These people put out good work that is worth seeking out, even if they are more obscure today. I feel much the same about the Talmadges– their films are usually fun and well-made. I think they actually deserve rediscovery, even if nothing they made is, say, on par with Sherlock Jr or The General.

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