comedy

MGM Stories Part Three: Buster Keaton's Biggest Mistake by Karina Longworth

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In 1928, silent comedy star Buster Keaton made what he would later call “the worst mistake of my career”: against the advice of fellow silent comedy auteurs like Charlie Chaplin, he gave up his independent production shingle and signed a contract with MGM. A vaudevillian who got his start working with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, by the late 1920s Keaton had established himself as a solo writer, director and star who was known for doing his own spectacular but reckless stunts. Keaton joined MGM with a promise from his friend Joe Schenck that nothing would change, only to find himself in his new situation demoted from artistic boss to employee of a corporation interested in protecting its investment above all. The lack of agency and ability to personally control the quality of his own work within the confines of Mayer’s studio drove Keaton to alcoholism, which further doomed his tenure at MGM. Keaton’s experience is perhaps the first major example of an indie filmmaker “selling out” to a big studio, only to be swallowed up by the system.

This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky.

Sources for this episode: 

My Wonderful World of Slapstick by Buster Keaton and Charles Samuels

Buster Keaton Oral History, Columbia Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman

The Fall of Buster Keaton by James L. Neibaur

"Movie Classic" article about Keaton's "kidnapping" scandal

This episode includes clips of Keaton speaking, found at the following two sources:

So Funny it Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, a documentary by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird.

Keaton in conversation with Studs Turkel, September 1960. 

We also borrowed this clip from Sunset Boulevard:

Star Wars Episode XII: Bob Hope vs. Bing Crosby by Karina Longworth

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 Bob Hope is remembered as the 20th century celebrity most devoted to entertaining the troops. Bing Crosby, Hope’s partner on seven Road to… films, sang the song that became an unlikely alternate national anthem during World War II. This is the story of Hope and Crosby’s partnership, their rivalry, and the different ways they endeared themselves to the boys overseas. Included: Hope’s embrace of multi-media celebrity and his mastery of hosting the Oscars; and Crosby’s road from drunk driving to blackface, to being voted the most admired man in America.

Show notes:

I debated whether to make this one episode or two, and ultimately I decided to combine them because a) there was maybe not enough to material to do a standalone show on Crosby, and b) I frankly didn’t have enough enthusiasm to do a standalone show on Hope. But in going the double-episode route, I made the decision to condense the section on the Road to… films, in order to include a section on Holiday Inn. I did this primarily because I really enjoy Holiday Inn, but also because the things about it that are problematic (cough, blackface) also peg the film to its exact time in a way that seemed worth exploring within this series, which is all about what Hollywood was like during this specific moment when the makeup of the planet was under threat. 

This week’s primary texts were Richard Zoglin’s recent Bob Hope biography Hope: Entertainer of the CenturyJody Rosen’s book on "White Christmas"; and the American Masters documentaryBing Crosby: Rediscovered, directed by Robert Trachtenberg.  This episode contains clips from the films Going Hollywood (this video clip is incredible, I highly recommend it) and Holiday Inn, and this clip of BobHope hosting the Oscars.

This LA Times article recaps the details of Crosby’s DUI arrest.

Discography:

Love Walked in performed by the Louis Armstrong Orchestra

Thanks for the Memory performed by BobHope and Shirley Ross

Balcarabic Chicken by Quantum Jazz

Dances and Dames by Kevin MacLeod

Two Fat Feet by Fiery Furnaces

Rub Alcohol Blues by Fiery Furnaces

Barbara performed by US Army Blues

White Christmas by Irving Berlin, performed by Bing Crosby

Au coin de la rue by Marco Raaphorst

OLPC  by Marco Raaphorst

Danse Morialta by Kevin MacLeod

Silent Lucidity by Queensryche

White Christmas performed by Otis Redding