Buster Keaton startled Charlie Chaplin with communism quip: Wish he’d done the same

Top 10 Facts About Charlie Chaplin

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Joseph Frank ‘Buster’ Keaton was one of the finest actors of his time, best known for his silent films and physical comedy. His deadpan and stoic appearances in such films earned him the moniker ‘The Great Stone Face’. In a career spanning almost 50 years, he was the star of dozens of films — both as an actor and filmmaker.

One of his later roles was as Jimmy the Crook in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which airs this afternoon on BBC Two.

The classic comedy sees a bizarre mix of motorists embark on a desperate rush across California in a bid to find some buried cash, blissfully unaware a police officer is following their every move.

Buster, alongside Charlie Chaplin, were two of the most prominent actors of the Silent Film Era.

The pair are frequently mentioned together as rivals given for the ‘best silent comedian’ accolade yet, behind the scenes, they enjoyed a wonderful friendship.

Buster opened up on one particular occasion in his 1960 autobiography ‘My Wonderful World of Slapstick’, when they were drinking beer in Buster’s kitchen and discussing communism.

He recalled: “[Charlie] was going on at a great rate about something called communism, which he had just heard about.

“He said that communism was going to change everything, abolish poverty. The well would help the sick, the rich would help the poor.

“‘What I want,’ he said, banging the table, ‘is that every child should have enough to eat, shoes on his feet, and a roof over his head!’

“Naturally, this amazed me, and I asked, after thinking about it for a minute or two, ‘But, Charlie, do you know anyone who doesn’t want that?’

“Charlie looked startled. Then his face broke into that wonderful smile of his, and he began to laugh at himself.”

Charlie faced criticism in the Forties after criticising capitalism in black comedy Monsieur Verdoux, arguing that the world encourages mass killing through wars and weapons of mass destruction.

He was publicly accused of being a communist on multiple occasions, and was friends with a number of suspected communists.

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He denied being a communist, instead labelling himself a “peacemonger”, but argued Washington’s efforts to suppress communism was an infringement of civil liberties.

Buster commented on this in his autobiography, saying: “I myself have gone through life almost unaware of politics, and I only wish my old friend had done the same.

“He must know by now that communism, wherever it has been practised, bears not the slightest resemblance to the benign system he described to me forty years ago.”

Buster, who was famously apolitical, added: “I do not really think Charlie knows much more about politics, history, or economics than I do.”

On September 18, 1952, Charlie headed to Europe to promote his newest film ‘Limelight’, which featured a cameo appearance from Buster.

He intended to return within six months, but the Attorney General announced the next day that he would be denied reentry if he returned.

FBI files published in the late Eighties revealed the US government had no real evidence to prevent his re-entry, but he uprooted his family to move to Switzerland rather than try to return.

Buster gave an interview to French magazine Arts in October 1952, not long after his friend was banned.

He said: “Why shouldn’t he be allowed to return to the United States? He has done nothing illegal. There is nothing he can be blamed for. He pays his taxes and keeps the peace.”

He added: “Let him return, I say, no one has the right to do what these people are doing to Charlie Chaplin!”

Charlie would visit the United States only one more time, in 1972, to accept an honorary Academy Award.

Buster had passed away from lung cancer six years earlier.

It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World airs on BBC Two at 1pm on Friday.

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