Joseph, Myra, and Buster: The Three Keatons
I saw the great days of vaudeville. I got in just in time to see vaudeville go from the ten, twenty, and thirty-cent admission fees to the two dollar. And, in fact, The Three Keatons, that’s what we were called, we held Hammerstein’s Theater record for playing it the most times. You were only supposed to play there about once a year, and if they liked you, you got to play there twice a year. We used to average four to six times a year.
Well, my old man was an eccentric comic. And soon as I could take care of myself at all on my feet, he had slap shoes on me and big baggy pants, and then just started doing gags with me, especially kicking me clean across the stage or taking me by the back of the neck and throwing me. And as I grew used to doing it and knew how to do it, the throws became longer and by the time I got up to around seven and eight years old, we were called the roughest act that was ever in the history of the stage.
We used to get arrested every other week—the old man would get arrested, see. Once they took me to the mayor of New York City, into his private office, with the city physicians here in New York, and they stripped me to examine me for broken bones and bruises. Finding none, they mayor gave me permission to work. The next time it happened, the following year, they sent me to Albany, to the governor of the state. Then in his office, same thing: state physicians examined me, and they gave me permission to work in New York State.
In Massachusetts, for instance, they thought I was a midget. They took it for granted. But we were arrested many times. But, we always managed to get around the law because the law read: No child under the age of sixteen shall do acrobatics, walk wire, play musical instruments, trapeze—and it named everything—but none of them said you couldn’t kick him in the face.
I developed the “Stone Face” thing quite naturally. I just happened to be, even as a small kid, I happened to be the type of comic that couldn’t laugh at his own material. I soon learned at an awful early age that when I laughed the audience didn’t. So, by the time I got into pictures, that was a natural way of working.
[Buster Keaton: Interviews]