( United States: 1895- 1966)
Son of Myra and Joseph, Sr., Joseph Frank Keaton, Jr., performed in stage, film, circus, and television; he also directed, produced, and wrote films. After gaining vaudeville stardom in the family act, "Three Keatons" ( 1900-1917), serving a film apprenticeship with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle ( 1917-1919), and appearing in his own nineteen comedy shorts ( 1920-1923) and four features, Keaton became a film star in The Navigator in 1924, third in popularity after Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd ( Brownlow and Gill1; Dardis128). Keaton starred in six more independent features, one of which, The General, is among the American Film Institute's 1977 five best silent films. Between 1928 and 1933 Keaton starred in nine films at MGM, but personal and artistic difficulties severed his MGM tie. Although Keaton's career did not fail with the coming of film sound, and all his talkies were financial successes ( Dardis230), he was a single star after this only in three foreign films. However, his popularity returned modestly with his rediscovery in the 1950s.
Three artistic traditions inform film-clown Keaton: the Christian fool, France's nineteenth-century victim Pierrot ( Towsen79, 82), and the physically versatile eighteenth-century British Harlequin ( Billington89). He is the "holy fool" ( Moews279) whose "Zen-like acceptance" ( Wead and Lellis11) trusts "regular behavior of forces greater than he" ( Kerr150). During a tornado in Steamboat Bill, Jr., Keaton remains passive when a wall inexorably falls to crush him, but this is a salvific passivity since he is standing where the only open window lands around him, leaving him the small holy place that saves him. He is a