4th excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

I also need to explain what “T.Z Buster” means in this snippet. It stands for “Twilight Zone”. The premise of my story is that the prop “time machine” helmet Buster wore in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” actually works and has taken him on a trip back through his life.

In this scene Buster meets Eleanor, the love of his life …

********************

EXT. THE MGM STUDIOS – 1938 – DAY

The gate of the dream factory bustles with people.

INT. BUSTER’S MGM OFFICE

A small room packed with tables, PEOPLE play bridge.

IN THE CORNER

Buster’s erector sets: the three foot tall nutcracker, the two foot tall cigarette lighter, etc.

T.Z. Buster leans over and attempts to set the most complicated cigarette lighter on earth into motion, but someone beats him to it, passing in front of him and sitting just in time for the machine to light his cigarette … it’s Buster (age 42).

He sits, back to the wall, playing bridge with THREE MEN: a Pipe Smoker, a Gum Cracker, and a Cowboy. A RUNNER navigates through the crowd and comes up to Buster.

RUNNER

Mr. Keaton, they want you on the Marx Brothers’ set. They need another bit.

BUSTER

Are all the brothers present?

RUNNER

Two of ‘em.

BUSTER

Well, when they find number three, come get me.

The Runner leaves.

BUSTER

God, I hate goin’ over there.

GUM CRACKER

Did Groucho really call you a has-been?

BUSTER

To my face.

PIPE SMOKER

Buster wouldn’t laugh at his jokes; made him mad.

BUSTER

When he does somethin’ funny, I’ll laugh. He’s gonna end up good ‘n wet, the next gag I put him in.

Gum Cracker and Pipe Smoker share a look. It’s time to egg Buster on.

PIPE SMOKER

They’re the kings of the lot.

BUSTER

That set is nothin’ but chaos. Scenes that should be one minute run on forever so one of ‘em can mug for the script girl. Not that I care what they do.

GUM CRACKER

The director’s a good guy.

BUSTER

He’s why they’re out of control! And he won’t move the damn camera. There’s a reason it’s on wheels, ya know.

PIPE SMOKER

Not that you care.

COWBOY

Dang, I’m late.

The Cowboy leaves his cards on the table and rushes out.

BUSTER

Hey! At least finish the hand.

A ruckus breaks out at a table by the door. A tasty blonde, Eleanor (age 19), throws her cards on the table.

ELEANOR

Call me stupid again, Bastard, and I’ll knock the snot out of ya!

Eleanor and Buster catch each other’s eye.

BUSTER

This table’s bastard free, if you care to sit in.

Eleanor considers it, gets her things, goes to the table.

BUSTER

You can partner with me. Haven’t played much?

She sits across from Buster and plays the cards left by the Cowboy. They finish out the hand as they talk.

ELEANOR

I wanted to learn Bridge. I heard there was always a game goin’ on over here. You all writers?

PIPE SMOKER

Pipe down! You want people losing respect for us?

ELEANOR

Somebody respects you?

(To Buster)

I’ve been to a few writer parties. Never saw you there.

BUSTER

I’m no writer, just a gag-man. Us gag-men go home to mother every night.

GUM CRACKER

And brother and sister and other sundry free-loaders hanging around his house.

BUSTER

Pay attention to the cards.

(to Eleanor)

Your play, kid.

ELEANOR

I’m not your kid, buster! Name’s Eleanor. And you are…?

BUSTER

Buster.

ELEANOR

Hilarious. I don’t need to know who you are. I just want to figure out this dumb game, ’cause it’s not gonna get the best of me.

They play cards. Buster steals a few glances at Eleanor. She does the same at him.

BUSTER

So, what’s your story, ki … Eleanor?

ELEANOR

My dad was a carpenter here for years, ever since the place was Metro Pictures. It paid for dancing lessons, so I dance.

BUSTER

My old man got me started in the business, too.

Eleanor makes a bad play.

BUSTER

Now, that was a mistake. You didn’t sacrifice. Partners have to sacrifice to each other.

ELEANOR

That’s how to win?

BUSTER

Only way I know.

They finish the hand. Eleanor checks her watch.

ELEANOR

Criminey! I gotta get!

She stands, gathers her things.

BUSTER

Don’t be a stranger.

She gives him a smile and heads out. He watches her as she leaves. Pipe Smoker and Gum Cracker glare at Buster. He notices the look.

BUSTER

Aw, she’s half my age for the love of Mike.

They continue to glare.

BUSTER

I avoid all trouble, blonde, brunette, or redhead.

They glare on.

BUSTER

I’m cured! Will ya shut up!

Finally convinced, the men return to their cards.

EXT. TRAIN STATION – 1940 – DAY

Buster (age 44) and Eleanor board a diesel train. Bride and groom sport simple bouquet, boutonniere, and 1940s style.

The few well-wishers include Pipe Smoker and Gum Cracker. Their hands are behind their backs. They share a dubious look.

Rice showers down on the newlyweds. An old shoe comes flying at Buster’s head. He catches it. A second shoe. He catches it, too. He is miffed at the practical jokers. The train pulls out.

Gum Cracker and Pipe Smoker laugh and shake hands. The shoes come flying back, one hits Gum Cracker in the head, the other catches Pipe Smoker in the stomach.

 

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3rd excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

In the summer of 1918, Buster leaves his new life in film to become a soldier.

********

SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT

From “The Butcher Boy”: Roscoe shoves Buster; he falls and does a head spin.

From “His Wedding Night”: Buster, in a wedding dress, laughs and winks.

From “The Bell Boy”: “Bell Boy” Buster and “Guest” Joe Keaton tussle in a hotel lobby with a mop and pail.

From “The Cook”: “Waiter” Buster and “Cook” Roscoe dance as if they belong in a harem.

CLOSE ON: Buster’s slinky dance …

END SERIES OF SHOTS: BLACK AND WHITE, SILENT

INT. ROSCOE’S EDITING ROOM – 1918 – DAY

… pull back to reveal Buster’s slinky dance is on film running through a moviola. Roscoe sits in front of the machine editing “The Cook.”

Standing behind Roscoe, Buster (age 22) examines a reel of film up to the light. He is not happy.

BUSTER

Where’s my bit with the tablecloth?

Roscoe pulls a coil of film from a garbage can, drops it back in.

BUSTER

You liked it. You laughed.

ROSCOE

I liked it, I laughed, I can’t have thirty seconds of subtle in a twenty minute short.

BUSTER

So we keep on givin’ ‘em the same tired routines.

ROSCOE

Buster, your pa did nothin’ but throw you across a stage two shows a day, and folks ate it up for nineteen years.

BUSTER

And when I joined this crew I thought it was about tryin’ for something different, something better.

ROSCOE

Everybody sittin’ out there is twelve years old. They want to see us plastered with pies and knocked on our asses in as many ways as we can figure out.

BUSTER

You’re wrong.

ROSCOE

And who is the boss here?

BUSTER

You are, Chief.

ROSCOE

Correct. Now splice the reaction shots into this first reel.

Roscoe returns to his work on the moviola.

BUSTER

No.

ROSCOE

Aw, get over it ya touchy little girl.

BUSTER

No. I quit. I got an offer; I’m takin’ it.

Angry, Roscoe turns and bellows at his employee.

ROSCOE

You ungrateful weasel. I teach you everything I know. Give you more say than anybody around here, and I don’t even get in the bidding?

BUSTER

(hint of a smile)

You can’t top Uncle Sam.

Confusion then shock replaces the anger on Roscoe’s face.

ROSCOE

What? You got drafted? You’re goin’ to France!

BUSTER

That’s where the war is. I gotta report tomorrow. I was gonna head out early to start packin’, if the boss don’t mind.

ROSCOE

No, go on … it’s … Jesus!

At a loss, Roscoe gets up and goes to Buster. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out his wallet, takes all the money out and offers it to Buster who is astonished and pushes it away. Roscoe presses the cash into Buster’s hand and folds his hand over it.

ROSCOE

You might want something better than dog chow once in a while.

Roscoe’s eyes well with tears. 

ROSCOE

You got a job here, see, so you better not ….

Roscoe chokes on his words, hugs Buster. Unable to deal with deep emotion, Buster pulls away after a moment, keeping it light.

BUSTER

No worries, Chief. I’m the Little Boy Who Can’t Be Damaged, remember?

With a smile, Buster pockets the money, grabs his coat, and departs. A devastated Roscoe sinks back on his chair.

EXT. ARMY RECRUITING OFFICE – DAY

Buster gets out of Natalie’s Packard and grabs his bag from the rumble seat. Natalie slides over from the driver’s seat to the passenger door and gets up on her knees to face him.

She is Awkward Incarnate as she fumbles a ring from her pocket. It slips. Buster catches it in mid-air. She puts it on his finger, it won’t slide down. He helps. She fondles the ring on his hand.

NATALIE

Remember me.

She pecks him on the cheek, pushes away, hops back to the driver’s seat and drives off. Buster watches, unreadable.

He hefts his bag and joins one of the two lines of MEN at the Recruitment Center. An army SERGEANT with a clipboard comes out of the building, walks to the line Buster is in.

SERGEANT

All you men with draft notices stay in this line. If you’re enlisting get in the other one.

Buster picks up his bag and moves to the other line.

********

I realize having a moviola in this scene is historically inaccurate since the editing device was not in production for this purpose until 1924, but it ties in with the previous scene and works better as a transition. Just keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie ….

2nd excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

Joe and Norma finally returned

from Europe to start her new

picture.

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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.

NATALIE (V.O.)

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

EXT. TRAIN

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”.

 

Excerpt from my screenplay: Buster

To celebrate Buster Keaton’s 100th year in film, here’s an excerpt from my screenplay of his life. It’s not proper screenplay format, but, hopefully, this style makes it a bit more readable.

This is the day in 1917 that Buster changed trajectory from stage to screen.

*****

VOICE (Off Screen)

Buster!

Buster turns. The VOICE belongs to a squat little man in his fifties, LOU ANGER. He’s dressed in a heavy overcoat and derby hat circa 1917. Lou walks toward Buster, reaching out to shake hands.

Buster shivers. Staring at Lou in disbelief, he extends his hand. Lou approaches … closer … closer …

EXT. TIMES SQUARE – NEW YORK CITY – 1917 – DAY

Buster (age 21) shakes Lou’s hand. Falling snow speckles their coats.

LOU

Well, if it ain’t free, white … and twenty-one?

BUSTER

Hey, Lou.

LOU

Good to see ya, kid. I heard the Three Keatons broke up.

BUSTER

Yeah.

LOU

Finally got tired of Joe kickin’ the crap out of ya, huh?

BUSTER

You can shut up about my old man! He made me!

LOU

Aw, don’t get in a snit. Got a job?

BUSTER

At the Winter Garden.

LOU

So, it’s Broadway Buster, now.

BUSTER

Guess so. You look prosperous. Where ya playin’?

LOU

I gave it up. I manage a moving picture studio for Joe Schenck.

BUSTER

I don’t go to the flickers. Pop says nobody legit would ever appear on a bed sheet for a dime.

LOU

My boy, it’s taking over. I’m on my way there now. Come have a look.

BUSTER

I dunno, I been rehearsin’ all morning.

LOU

Roscoe Arbuckle’s on the set – –

BUSTER

That fat slob! He stole two of the Keatons’ best gags in that last picture of his!

LOU

I thought you never went to the movies. Besides, there ain’t no Three Keatons no more.

Buster thinks a moment then motions for Lou to lead on.

EXT. COLONY STUDIO

The studio on 48th street is a warehouse three stories high.

INT. COLONY STUDIO – GROUND FLOOR

Buster and Lou enter, shaking snow off their coats. A sign in artistic script signifies that this level of the building houses the Norma Talmadge Film Corporation. Several stage sets indicate a film under production.

NORMA TALMADGE, age 22, and her husband, JOE SCHENCK, age 37, are together on the set. He rants. She ignores him.

LOU

That’s the boss, Joe Schenck, and Norma Talmadge, you know, the actress. He married her six months ago.

(Lou nudges Buster)

Can you believe a beauty like her wakin’ up next to that ugly mug every morning? What money can’t buy! The Talmadge girls have the first two floors—the two talented ones anyway.

They head for a staircase.

COLONY STUDIO – SECOND FLOOR

CONSTANCE TALMADGE, age 18, is in the middle of a scene. PEG TALMADGE, mid-50’s, sits like a queen off to one side.

LOU

Constance Talmadge, a real up-and-comer. That’s the mother, Peg. Watch yourself around her and those three girls of hers. She’ll make you a eunuch with a look.

Lou hurries up the next flight of stairs. Buster moves a bit slower as he takes it all in.

BUSTER

Three girls?

He climbs the stairs.

COLONY STUDIO – THIRD FLOOR

A messy chalkboard heralds Comique Film Productions.

CREW members work on tasks. Behind Buster, Lou waves to get the attention of ROSCOE “FATTY” ARBUCKLE, age 30. He’s dressed for a comedy scene: high-water pants, checked shirt, and “way too small” bowler hat.

Roscoe spots Lou and Buster. Lou points to Buster, mouths “Keaton” then gives a thumbs up; Roscoe acknowledges it. Buster catches the signal and Lou returns a sheepish grin. Buster’s expression shows he realizes this is a set-up. Roscoe walks over, grabs Buster’s hand, and gives it a vigorous shake.

LOU

Hey, Roscoe, this is – –

ROSCOE

Buster Keaton! I’ve been a fan of your family for years. We’re just getting ready to shoot a scene … care to wet your feet?

The handshake turns into a tug toward the set, but Buster let’s go and puts his hands in his pockets.

BUSTER

No thanks.

ROSCOE

Stick around and watch. I’ll show you the place when we’re through.

Roscoe parks Buster by the cameraman then steps onto the set, a two story interior of a general store, complete with trolley ladder, barrels, canned goods, and a bulldog.

A chalkboard with scene and take numbers, titled: “The Butcher Boy” rests against the camera. Buster picks it up. A crew member yanks it from his hands and holds it in front of the camera lens.

The lights come up, the cameraman grinds, the chalkboard is taken away, Roscoe and company do their thing. The ensuing knock-about comedy holds little interest for Buster, but …

THE CAMERA.

Buster’s gaze fixes on the CLACKING Bell and Howell. Strips of film litter the area. Buster kneels and picks a long curling piece off the dusty floor. He eyes it closely, takes a sniff. He holds the film up to the light. The negative images dance as he slides it between his fingers.

If there is love at first sight – this is it.

Roscoe’s scene ends. He comes up to Buster who stands.

BUSTER

Think I’ll try it after all.

Roscoe smiles and slaps him on the back. Buster lets the film slip through fingers.

*****

Before the end of this day in 1917, I show Buster meeting his future wife, Natalie Talmadge, at the studio, but that’s a bit more than I wanted to put here.

I realize my poor old screenplay will never be an actual film, but, more than anything, I’d love to hear a dramatic reading of it, with real actors, just once. Oh, well ….