Buster Keaton

Buster KeatonThe first artificial earth satellite Sputnik 1 was launched on this day in 1957. I just love it because it is a great example of American hubris. We have such a tendency to think that we are the only people who can do anything. Except when our government is trying to frighten us into war or at least more military expenditures, the rest of the world is a bunch of clowns. But when Sputnik was launched, Americans were shocked. Several years later, when we decided that we would beat the Soviets to the moon, our first launch was intended to simply crash a spacecraft on the moon. And we missed. Look, I’m not trying to put America down here. I think we are great people and a great nation. But there are lots of great people and nations. And hubris is a very unpleasant character trait for anyone to have.

There are four artist birthdays today in as many countries and centuries. First, there is Lucas Cranach the Younger, a German Renaissance painter, who was born in 1515. Second, is Francesco Solimena, an Italian Baroque painter, who was born in 1657. Third, is Jean-Francois Millet, a French Barbizon painter, who was born in 1814. And fourth, is Frederic Remington, an American artist of the old west, who was born in 1861.

Four Painters

Children’s writer Edward Stratemeyer was born in 1862. He is best remembered for having created The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew book series. But he created a number of other series: The Rover Boys, Tom Swift, and The Bobbsey Twins. In fact, that last series was his longest running one, ending in 72 books. The funny thing is that Stratemeyer wrote almost none of the books. In fact, he wrote none at all of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books. Almost all of these books were produced by a large number of writers. Often, teams of writers worked on a single book, although that does not appear to be the normal way the books were produced once they were established. One interesting thing I found out was that the publisher decided to rewrite the Nancy Drew books in the late 1950s to remove racist stereotypes. But in the process, they also changed the Nancy Drew character to make her less assertive and more “feminine.” So they took out racism (with questionable success) and they added sexism. What this shows is that a lot of feminine stereotypes that we live with today are really not all that old.

Other birthdays: actor Charlton Heston (1923); philosopher Richard Rorty (1931); humorist Roy Blount Jr (72); writer Anne Rice (72); actor Susan Sarandon (67); and the very great writer and activist Tim Wise (45).

The day, however, belongs to the great filmmaker Buster Keaton who was born on this day in 1895. I’ve always had this slight political problem with him. Like a lot of people in the film industry at that time, he seems to have sided with the south in the Civil War. The great example of this is in The General where the rebels are the good guys and the Union army men are the heavies. I don’t think that means that Keaton was a racist, however. The film is still great, but it rankles. Nonetheless, he was a fine filmmaker. But I remember Woody Allen comparing Keaton to Charlie Chaplin. He said that he appreciated that Keaton was a much better filmmaker. Chaplin’s films are really primitive, mostly shot with one long shot, like people sometimes shoot performances of plays. But Allen said he still greatly preferred the Chaplin films. I don’t know why Allen thinks that, but I know why I do. Chaplin is so much more compelling and his films are so very very sweet. Anyway, Keaton was great and I still really enjoy his films.

He is most remembered for his stunts, which are amazing. And in the following video, there are a bunch of stunts and other great moments from his films (with a soundtrack of a Queen song that strangely works pretty well followed by a Beatles song that does not). But it is important to remember that he was first and foremost a great filmmaker:

Happy birthday Buster Keaton!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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