Joseph Frank Keaton (October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966), known professionally as Buster Keaton, was an American actor, comedian, film director, producer, screenwriter, and stunt performer. He is best known for his silent films, in which his trademark was physical comedy with a consistently stoic, deadpan expression that earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face”. Critic Roger Ebert wrote of Keaton’s “extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929” when he “worked without interruption” on a series of films that make him “the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies”. His career declined afterward with a loss of artistic independence when he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, his wife divorced him, and he descended into alcoholism. He recovered in the 1940s, remarried, and revived his career as an honored comic performer for the rest of his life, earning an Academy Honorary Award in 1959.
Many of Keaton’s films from the 1920s remain highly regarded, such as Sherlock Jr. (1924), The General (1926), and The Cameraman (1928), with The General widely viewed as his masterpiece. Among its strongest admirers was Orson Welles, who stated that The General was cinema’s highest achievement in comedy, and perhaps the greatest film ever made. Keaton in 1996 was recognized as the seventh-greatest film director by Entertainment Weekly, and the American Film Institute ranked him in 1999 as the 21st greatest male star of classic Hollywood cinema.