Sunday, February 19, 2017

Buster at 100: Keaton's Leading Ladies in Pictures


This is my contribution to the Third Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by the excellent Silent-ology blog.  This year's blogathon is a celebration of the 100th anniversary of start of Keaton's film career.

So far in my research I have only come across one Evans photo of Buster.  It most likely was taken around the time he started his solo career in 1920.



Evans may have only photographed Keaton on this one occasion, but he did create portraits of some of Buster's leading ladies, both on and off the screen.

Probably the earliest of these portraits is this one of Phyllis Haver.  Phyllis appeared along side Buster in The Balloonatic (1923).  Of course, a few years earlier she gained fame as one of Mack Sennett's bathing beauties and was photographed many times by Evans at the time.  This particular photo seems to be from very early in her career, probably at the beginning of 1917.


Alice Lake was the lead actress in several of the excellent films Buster made with Roscoe Arbuckle at the beginning of his career.  This is one of my favorite Evans photos, very modern but taken before 1920.


Arguably the most popular of Buster's leading ladies is Sybil Seely.  Like Phyllis (and another Buster co-star, Virginia Fox), Sybil spent some time with Sennett as a bathing beauty.  Her tour of duty came after Evans had left the studio, but he did at least one portrait session with her.



One of Keaton's first leading ladies off the screen was actress Viola Dana.  Alas, the romance didn't last very long.  Evans photographed Viola (as well as her sister Shirley Mason) many times.


Evans doesn't appear to have done any portraits of Keaton's first wife, Natalie Talmadge, but he did photograph her more famous sister, Constance.  Normally I would apologize for pulling a switch like this, but considering the low opinion many Keaton fans have of Natalie, perhaps it is for the best!  BTW, another favorite photo of mine. 


13 comments:

  1. Thank you. A delightful way to spend an early Sunday morning.

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    1. I admit to have never heard of the books you mentioned in your blog post. I'll have to keep an eye out for them when I'm out trolling used bookstores.

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  2. Thank you for this post, Tom! I had never seen the Phyllis or Alice photos before--you are right about the Alice photo looking amazingly modern! Like many silent fans I've looked at many, many, many movie star portraits from the era and the Evans portraits really took the standard art to a new level.

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    1. And thank you for hosting the blogathon. Evans' portraits do have some quality that makes them stand out. It may be the lighting, something he took great pride in. Unlike other photographers in LA at the time, he cut his teeth on movie sets and may have taken inspiration from what he saw there. It might explain why he often used natural light. There's one cameraman in particular who may have been a major influence, but I'll need to look more into that.

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  3. Hi Tom. What a great idea for a post. I love the photo that Evans took of Buster. I like the lines on Alice Lake's dress and headpiece. You're right, it is a modern portrait.

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    1. Thanks, Joe. Evans seems to have been equally adept at photographing men as he was women, but that photo of Buster has to rank with his best male portraits.

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  4. All these photos are exquisite, but my fave here is the one of Buster, on the cusp of stardom.

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  5. Very interesting Tom - thank you for posting this.

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  6. Truly one of my favorite pics of Buster! I think it's attributed to work for The Saphead. Buster is so dapper! And his leading ladies...exquisite.

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    1. Yes, The Saphead would make perfect sense. It's a shame that Evans didn't take more photos of Buster.

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  8. Hi...great blog! I was wondering if you would have any lead on whomever is in charge of the Nelson Evans photo estate now...I'm working on a project and I would love to discuss licensing one of the photos. If you can help, please email me at rory@nonverbal-communication.com. Thank you!

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