A Visit from Houdini

In 1919 Harry Houdini was a motion picture actor living in California. It was an interesting phase in his career that honestly always surprises me. His motion picture endeavors ended up fizzling out after a few years, but during that time he payed visits to several studios, and one of them was Roscoe Arbuckle’s.

To my disappointment there isn’t much about Houdini and Buster’s interaction at this meeting, but I would like to assume from stories of their sharing the bill in vaudeville days that it would’ve been a happy reunion. As a whole, it sounds like the group had a lot of fun.

Edmonton Journal, September 6, 1919

There’s obviously a lot about this article that sounds untrue, and it’s likely just publicity. but I can easily imagine Buster breadstick dueling while hanging from his toes. Anyway, it seems to have been one of his favorite ways to approach trees…

Roscoe hangs Buster up to dry in Moonshine, 1918

And over ten years later he’s still at it:

What do you think of the article? Absolutely true? Absolutely fabricated? Anyone have any more information about Harry and Bess’s time in California and whether they spent any of it with the Keatons? Love to hear it!

On the Set: Myra the Convict

Buster’s mother, Myra, only appeared in two of her son’s films, and those much later in his career. Those parts were due primarily to Buster’s limited funds – he several times employed his whole family and several friends while filming his later, low budget shorts.

I always assumed Myra had little interest in film acting. Until…

(Los Angeles Evening Express, October 23, 1920)

There are some inaccuracies in this article, (Joe had acted with Buster in some Arbuckle films before this), but it’s easy to believe Myra would enjoy donning the convict’s uniform. She regularly dressed as a man on stage.

Did Myra the convict actually make it into the final cut? It’s really hard to tell.

If she’s in this scene, my best guess is second row up on the left.
Or maybe the last one on the fray here

Myra apparently acted in a few scenes of The Electric House as Buster’s mother a few years later, but alas, those scenes were cut. Maybe if Buster had written more parts for women she would’ve been happy to join in? As it was, it seems she was content to retire from acting to stay home with her two younger children and play pinochle.

What do you think? Anyone have more accounts of Myra acting in Buster’s films? Any accounts of Myra’s life after The Three Keatons retired from the stage? I’d love to hear it!

On the Set: Man Overboard

Most of the articles describing accidents on set are about Buster. He was the one at the center of the action, pulling the dangerous stunts, never using a double. And if it’s not Buster, it’s one of the stunt men he hired to test out tricks before he performed them before a camera – every now and then I come across a story of one of these brave men loosing their teeth or almost dying.

Very rarely does there seem to be a completely unpredicted accident like this one:

(Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, July 29, 1922)

What a terrible tragedy that could’ve been! As it was, I guess Buster liked the look of it because it stayed in the film.


Knowing the man made it out alright, the moment does have strong comedic value – what skill and experience these fierce whalers have! Or maybe they just couldn’t fish the harpoon out of the water for another take. Do you suppose it might still be down there? Covered in ocean flora. The cozy home of some little sardine?

As a side note, I think it’s very interesting that she mentions Roscoe Arbuckle wrote the story. The Love Nest was written and filmed during the time Roscoe was banned from working in films after his acquittal. Buster was not shy about wanting to help his friend in any way he could, and Roscoe was known to hang around Buster’s studio. I can’t imagine him standing by silent while Buster talked stories and scenes over with his gag men. Could Roscoe have been instrumental in forming the story of The Love Nest? Or was Constance Palmer thinking of Day Dreams (which we know Roscoe wrote) when she put together this article?

On the Set: Miss Marion Sproul

I recently came across an article that revealed (to me anyway) the identity of the well dressed languid beauty who orders coffee from Buster in The Cook : Miss Marion Sproul.

(San Francisco Chronicle, May 17, 1918)

The article also does a good job illustrating how relaxed filming must have been in those days. Two bystanders just blithely hopped into a scene. If they’d pursued it, they might have become full blown stars.

(Pittsburgh Daily Post, July 7, 1918)

It’s pretty obvious to me they’re describing this scene with Miss Sproul in her enviable evening gown.

Marion and Buster in The Cook

And here’s a little more of her acting a bit later in the film.

I wonder what she’s shocked about

Marion Sproul was a society girl and heiress. Her father died when she was young and despite the fact that her mother was still alive, his partner F.C. Lusk adopted her and her brother in order to legally and financially care for them. Lusk was a Chico California lawyer and financier who died in 1913 leaving Marion and her brother “the major portion of an estate valued at more than $200,000.” (The Sacramento Bee, Feb. 27, 1913). Today that would be something like $5,700,000 and was comprised of “town lots in Chico and ranch property in Butte county.” The money was put into a trust controlled by her mother until she turned thirty. (The Chico Enterprise. February 27, 1913). Another article interestingly mentions Marion was an accomplished basketball player on her school team. (Oroville Daily Register, Oct. 19, 1911).

(The Sacramento Bee, Aug. 30, 1919)

In early 1918 it seems she moved from Chico to Los Angeles and struck up a short friendship with Roscoe, along with her society friend Doris Smith. She had a bit of bad luck at the beginning of the year – someone stole an expensive suitcase full of expensive things out of her car, (Oroville Daily Register, Feb. 6, 1918). But I think we can all agree life soon started looking up. Marion didn’t pursue acting, but was married in August 1919 to Maurice V. Kelly of Winnipeg Canada.

(Los Angeles Evening Express, Mar. 6, 1918)

Have any additional thoughts or information on Miss Marion Sproul? Love to hear it!