Behind The Scenes Of “The General”

Howdy everyone! It’s been longer than usual since my last post, but for happy reasons–I’m moving soon, and thus any spare time has been devoted to sorting/cleaning/preliminary packing. So you might say that a sabbatical was in order. I’ll admit that the rest of this spring might have to be lighter on posts too, but a new theme month’s in the works for this summer and a possible blogger event is coming this September. So keep Silent-ology on your “pop in now and then” list, my friends!

The General (1927) - Turner Classic Movies

One of the best-loved films from the 1920s is certainly Buster Keaton’s masterwork The General (1926). Fans are very familiar with the stories behind it–how it was filmed up in sleepy little Cottage Grove, Oregon, how the risky train stunts were pulled off, how the famous train crash into the river was orchestrated, and so on.

While researching an upcoming column on The General for Classic Movie Hub (a slight plug, but it is relevant), I had the happy opportunity to look through some behind-the-scenes photos. I knew a bunch were in circulation, but the more I searched the more kept popping up. There were even a few I swear I hadn’t seen before, chilling on Pinterest as if they were just any other photos or something. Many were on my friend Sara Zittel’s board–credit where credit is due!

A sneak preview (isn’t this cool?).

So I thought we’d look at a few of them today, to get a fuller picture of what it was like to film The General back in that summer of 1926. It was a much more public event than we might realize!

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“The Best Summers Of My Life”–Buster Keaton’s Boyhood In Muskegon

This is my own post for the Seventh Buster Keaton Blogathon. Enjoy, and please check out all the other wonderful posts, too!

When you love a performer from classic Hollywood, it’s not uncommon to make little “pilgrimages” to the places where they used to live and work: studios, filming locations, former homes, gravesites, and, of course, their hometowns. Seeing where your favorite star grew up can give you insight into what shaped them and their future career. And, of course, it’s just plain fun–some towns are tourist destinations simply by for being the hometown of a beloved performer.

But what of a performer like Buster Keaton? Since he was the child of travelling medicine show performers, his birthplace was a matter of happenstance. Joe and Myra Keaton were travelling through the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas (today its population hovers a little above 100) when Buster arrived. Their stay was necessarily short, so while tiny Piqua had the honor of being Buster’s birthplace it would be a stretch to call it his hometown. (Fun fact: in the 1960s Buster and his wife Eleanor did stop there briefly while they were on his State Fair tour!)

1093 Birthplace of BUSTER KEATON Piqua Kansas - Jordan The Lion Daily  Travel Vlog (8/4/19) - YouTube
Another fun fact: Piqua’s also home to a tiny Buster museum.

But despite an upbringing spent travelling from theater to theater, there was a spot on earth that Buster considered his true hometown: Muskegon, Michigan. A mid-sized town with the vast waters of Lake Michigan along one side and sparkling Lake Muskegon along another, the Keatons chose it for their summer home in the 1900s. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. In his biography on Buster, written not long before Buster passed away, Rudi Blesh wrote: “Those long-ago summers must have been, in a special way, one of the wonders of his life. Whenever he speaks of them he seems to be turning on the lights of a faraway stage.”

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Thoughts On “Coney Island” And A Shout-Out To “A Country Hero”

Coney Island (1917)

Title card coney island

For decades, Coney Island was one of the most-watched Comiques, thanks to 16mm copies being in the public domain. Since few other Arbuckle films were available, it was sometimes cited as the “only” film where Buster actually smiled on camera–not true, as we’ve seen. Still, we’re lucky the lovable, crowd-pleasing Coney Island got to be one of those available few. It’s not only very funny, but treats us to all the period charm of an Edwardian afternoon at the famed amusement park.

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All About Arbuckle’s “A Country Hero”

This is my own post for the First Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, right here on Silent-ology!

One of most sought-after lost silent films–part of a list including Hats Off, Heart Trouble, and some flick called Midnight London or something like that–is a two-reel short directed by Roscoe Arbuckle, A Country Hero (1917). Fans are dying to find it not only because it’s part of Arbuckle’s excellent filmography but because it’s the only film of Buster Keaton’s silent career that’s missing. Everything else is available except this. One. Film. Continue reading