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.
Mr. Keaton, they want you on the Marx Brothers’ set. They need another bit.
Are all the brothers present?
Two of ‘em.
Well, when they find number three, come get me.
The Runner leaves.
God, I hate goin’ over there.
Did Groucho really call you a has-been?
To my face.
Buster wouldn’t laugh at his jokes; made him mad.
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.
They’re the kings of the lot.
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.
The director’s a good guy.
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.
Not that you care.
Dang, I’m late.
The Cowboy leaves his cards on the table and rushes out.
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.
Call me stupid again, Bastard, and I’ll knock the snot out of ya!
Eleanor and Buster catch each other’s eye.
This table’s bastard free, if you care to sit in.
Eleanor considers it, gets her things, goes to the table.
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.
I wanted to learn Bridge. I heard there was always a game goin’ on over here. You all writers?
Pipe down! You want people losing respect for us?
Somebody respects you?
I’ve been to a few writer parties. Never saw you there.
I’m no writer, just a gag-man. Us gag-men go home to mother every night.
And brother and sister and other sundry free-loaders hanging around his house.
Pay attention to the cards.
Your play, kid.
I’m not your kid, buster! Name’s Eleanor. And you are…?
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.
So, what’s your story, ki … Eleanor?
My dad was a carpenter here for years, ever since the place was Metro Pictures. It paid for dancing lessons, so I dance.
My old man got me started in the business, too.
Eleanor makes a bad play.
Now, that was a mistake. You didn’t sacrifice. Partners have to sacrifice to each other.
That’s how to win?
Only way I know.
They finish the hand. Eleanor checks her watch.
Criminey! I gotta get!
She stands, gathers her things.
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.
Aw, she’s half my age for the love of Mike.
They continue to glare.
I avoid all trouble, blonde, brunette, or redhead.
They glare on.
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.