Clinical Therapy with Buster Keaton

Well, no, not really. I never met the man, the genius, the one of four comedians who can be considered the founding fathers of American comedy films. But I did write an intake report for him as if I was his therapist.

Buster Keaton was born October 4, 1895 as Joseph Frank Keaton, Jr. He was born into entertainment to a family of vaudeville actors. At the age 3 he joined them on stage, and by all accounts he never really left the stage until the ultimate curtain call. At the age of 21, he met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, and that encounter would ultimately result in giving the world a first rate filmmaker and slapstick comedian, who would inspire and inform generations to come.

If you have never seen anything Buster Keaton has done, here are a couple good places to start to learn why he is considered a genius. Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful article on the history and importance of Keaton. For a complete, detailed listing of his filmography, you can visit this devoted website. Many websites, including YouTube, currently host his various films: such as The General, perhaps his most famous silent comedy.

Buster died in 1966, years before I was born; so, naturally, I never met him, and I was never his therapist. But, as I said, I did clinically diagnose him.

In college, for my psychology degree, I had a class on clinical psychology. A brilliant class, with an innovative teacher — who even encouraged me to playact as an angry patient after I threw a desk across the room in an therapy exercise — she had us complete a very interesting assignment. We were assigned to choose a famous person from history and complete an intake report on that person based on biographical and autobiographical information.

An intake report is a preliminary report a clinical psychologist will complete, detailing the information about a person’s life history and how it relates to potential diagnostics as informed by the DSM-IV. Thus, its a preliminary diagnosis of the patient’s problems, with possibly some initial consideration for how to proceed with therapy.

I choose Buster Keaton: I was concurrently a film/television studies major, and those courses had introduced me to Keaton. I found the man fascinating, his willingness to put his body in danger as he did, and I wanted to delve more into his life. To complete this assignment, I tracked down biographical information on him, which required looking at several books to try to reach a fuller understanding of his life.

Keaton was indeed a fascinating, complex man, as so many of his genius and importance in history tend to be. But the main thing I learned was that no matter how big a celebrity is, the celebrity is still a human being, struggling with all the hardships of life and foibles of human nature that anyone else has to cope with.

And if you are interested with what Keaton had to deal with, or at least my take on it, you can read my intake report here: Buster Keaton’s Intake Report. You can also check out the books I used for my report:

  • Dardis, Tom. Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1979.
  • Keaton, Buster with Charles Samuels. My Wonderful World of Slapstick. Doubleday & Company, Inc.: New York, 1960.
  • Meade, Marion. Buster Keaton: Cut to the Chase. HaperCollins Publishers: New York, 1995.
  • They are all good reads for anyone interested in Keaton’s life on the stage and, well, on the stage, as a star is never able to leave the stage until death, when his or her light is finally, ultimately, extinguished.  [Unless that star is digitally resurrected by George Lucas or some other CGI-minded film-maker, but that’s a blog post for another time.]

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