Buster Keaton’s Crew

The Team Behind His Silent Films

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About the Book

Buster Keaton told an interviewer in 1965, “When I’m working alone, the cameraman, the prop man, the electrician, these are my eyes out there…. They knew what they were talking about.” Drawn from film trade magazines, newspapers, interviews and public records, this book tells the previously unpublished stories of the behind-the-scenes crew who worked on Keaton’s silent films—like Elgin Lessley, who went from department store clerk to chief cameraman, and Fred Gabourie, who served as an army private in the Spanish American War before he became Keaton’s technical director.
“I’d ask, ‘Did that work the way I wanted it to?’ and they’d say yes or no,” Keaton said of his crew. He couldn’t have made his films without them.

About the Author(s)

Lisle Foote is a contributing writer to the International Buster Keaton Society’s magazine, the Keaton Chronicle. She works as the Film and Television Archive Assistant at the Southern Regional Library Facility at the University of California–Los Angeles.

Bibliographic Details

Lisle Foote
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 320
Bibliographic Info: 7 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9683-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-1806-7
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments  vi

Preface  1

The Camera and Electrical Departments 5

Dal Clawson 7 

Elmer Ellsworth 12 

Bert Haines 15

Wayne “Denver” Harmon 18 

Byron Houck 21 

Dev Jennings 25 

Gordon Jennings 33 

Reggie Lanning 38 

Elgin Lessley 40 

William McGann 48

William Piltz 51

Co-Directors 54

John Blystone 57

Eddie Cline 61

Donald Crisp 75

James Horne 84

Charles Riesner 90

Malcolm St. Clair 97

Edward Sedgwick 106

Assistant Directors 112

Writers 122

Al Boasberg 124

Clyde Bruckman 131

Raymond Cannon 142

Bryan Foy 148

Tommy Gray 152

Carl Harbaugh 156

Jean Havez 159

Lew Lipton 164

Joseph Mitchell 169

Lex Neal 171

Charles Smith 175

Paul Gerald Smith 179

The Rest of the Crew 182

Lou Anger 183

Harry Brand 189

Chrystine Francis 194

Fred Gabourie 197

Bert E. Jackson 202

J. Sherman Kell 205 

Ernie Orsatti 207

Costume Designers 215

Arbuckle’s Crew 222

George Peters 223

Joseph Anthony Roach 225

Herbert Warren 228

Frank D. Williams 229

Source Notes  237

Bibliography  297

Index  299

Book Reviews & Awards

Best Film Book—Huffington Post
“If you love Buster Keaton’s silent comedies this book is for you. Foote has done an impressive amount of homework…this is scholarship at its finest…this book is an important addition to the Keaton bookshelf”—Leonard Maltin.com; “the first book-length study examining the contributions of those who helped Keaton redefine screen comedy…one of the most important cinema studies ever to be published. It offers a unique, definitive fascinating look at the team who helped the greatest comedy filmmaker create some of the most important cinematic works in motion picture history. Recommended”—Examiner.com.