To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film, here’s another excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but readable.
Buster Keaton and his first wife, Natalie Talmadge, were married on May 31st, 1921. This is my interpretation of their wedding. Natalie narrates from her letter to Buster over silent action.
INT. HOSPITAL ROOM – DAY
Buster is in bed with a broken leg. Near the window, his staff: Eddie, Fred and Clyde argue and point at Buster’s leg. Buster watches them apathetically. A tray of half eaten food is in front of him.
A NURSE clears plates from the tray. Buster’s father, Pop Keaton, enters. He throws a letter on the tray, and joins the fracas at the window. The letter is from Natalie. Buster opens it. Reads.
NATALIE (Voice Over Action)
Buster, how are you dearest? I was
horrified to learn of your accident,
but knew it was only a matter of
time; you take such dangerous
risks. I wish I was there to
nurse you and ease your pain.
Buster puts Natalie’s letter on the tray, grabs a deck of playing cards from the night stand and lays out a game of Solitaire.
I think mother has finally given up
on me being an actress, since I
didn’t get very kind reviews in the
film I did with Norma. I keep busy
answering Constance’s fan mail.
CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Queen of Spades.
EXT. POP AND MYRA’S HOUSE – LOS ANGELES – NIGHT
Installed on the front porch, Buster is a shadow backlit in front of the picture window. His cast is propped up on a pillow. He draws deeply on a cigarette. He’s restless, fidgety.
Owen has been coming in from
Chicago more often, neglecting his
business terribly, I’m afraid.
He reaches into his shirt pocket and takes out Natalie’s letter. It’s tightly folded, several times over. He manipulates the letter through his fingers as he watches traffic go by.
He’s taken me to the theater
several times. We’re practically
regulars at the Club DeLuxe.
Buster’s mother, Myra, deposits coffee and a sandwich on a table beside her son. He stuffs the letter back in his shirt pocket. Myra exits. In the dim light from the window, Buster takes a sip of coffee and continues a game of Solitaire laid out on the table.
Mother thinks Owen will soon
propose to me.
CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the King of Diamonds. He lays it beside the Queen of Spades.
EXT. POP AND MYRA’S HOUSE – BACK YARD – DAY
Buster is on his feet. The cast on his leg is smaller. Using crutches, he shuffles to a wicker chair. The strain of idleness lines his face. He takes Natalie’s crumpled letter from his pocket and smooths it out on his leg.
Joe and Norma finally returned
from Europe to start her new
Buster’s sister, Louise, approaches with a tray. Buster re-crumples the letter and stashes it under the chair cushion. Louise sets the tray on Buster’s lap and tosses a box of playing cards on it. Ubiquitous Solitaire.
Buster’s brother, Jingles, and Louise start a game of catch near him. The THUD of the baseball in their gloves grows louder and louder.
Joe says if you and I were to wed,
our family would be more important
in the movie business than
Pickford and Fairbanks.
CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Ace of Diamonds. He lays it above the Queen of Spades and King of Diamonds.
The SOUND of the baseball abruptly ends.
INT. TRAIN COMPARTMENT – DAY
In a smart suit and tie, Buster sits near the door of the compartment. A gold handled cane is beside him. His Solitaire is laid out on a valise on his lap. He is calm.
Buster, if you still care for me,
all you have to do is send for me.
CLOSE ON: Buster’s hand turns over the Jack of Hearts. He hesitates then lays it below the Queen of Spades.
RETURN TO SCENE
Buster looks toward the other end of the seat. Natalie, in a white, tea-length dress, is curled up with a magazine, a bridal bouquet beside her. She looks up at Buster and smiles.
He puts the cards and valise away and holds out his hand to her. She slides over to him and rests her head on his shoulder as he wraps his arm around her. Buster stares out the window. The lush scenery streams by, turning from vivid color to…
BLACK AND WHITE
The engine steams through the landscape toward the setting sun. It races over a high trestle——DERAILS off of it.
TITLE CARD: “Many a honeymoon express has ended thusly.”
CLOSE ON: A toy train derails off a bridge.
END BLACK AND WHITE SEQUENCE
INT. BUSTER’S SCREENING ROOM – DAY
Buster along with his staff: Eddie, Clyde, Elgin, and Fred watch a screening of the toy train derailment from Buster’s comedy short “The Blacksmith”.