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Karie (site owner) Written by Karie (site owner)
Jan. 12, 2005 | 10:55 PM
Interviews





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Melissa Talmadge Cox (Buster Keaton’s granddaughter)




An interview with Melissa Talmadge Cox (Buster Keaton’s granddaughter) (Interview posted on May 6, 2004) by Karie Bible
Don’t miss the LA Chamber Orchestra’s yearly Silent Film Gala hosted by Dustin Hoffman.  The event is on Saturday, June 5th at UCLA’s Royce Hall.  This year they will be showing STEAMBOAT BILL JR. starring the legendary Buster Keaton and they will be celebrating Mickey Mouse’s 75th Anniversary by showing PLANE CRAZY with orchestral accompaniment the way Walt Disney envisioned it!  This yearly silent film gala is an excellent event!  I went last year and can’t rave about it enough.  For full information, click on Silent Film Gala.
Often times when I meet people who have never seen a silent film, I always suggest that they start with Buster Keaton.  He is often the bait by which potential silent film fans can be hooked!  Thanks so the PR team for the Silent Film Gala, FILMRADAR presents a special interivew with Melissa Talmadge Cox—Buster Keaton’s granddaughter. 
What is your father’s name?
My Dad was christened Joseph Talmadge Keaton.  When my grandparents (Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge) divorced, my grandmother took her maiden name back and his name his legally became Talmadge.
When/How did you first realize your grandfather was a silent film star?
I was very young and I saw him occasionally, but I never saw any of his films growing up.  They weren’t available.  I did see him on TV in “Candid Camera” and Ford ads and in a commercial.  Most of what I saw of his fame was when we went over to his house and saw pictures on the wall.  I never thought of him as being a movie star because there were no movies for us to see.  He was “Grandpa Buster.”
Eventually Blackhawk Films came out with super 8mm movies with Laurel and Hardy and I saw the first couple of those on 8mm.  The first time I ever saw Buster Keaton on the big screen was when I was in college and I saw them at a film festival.  By that time grandfather had died and I never got to talk to him about the films and his career.
I never realized how talented he was in his work.  It was really after that point that his films were being restored and shown, that I have been able to see them. 
I do go to the Buster Keaton film festivals in Michigan and Kansas every year.  I’ve learned so much about him and his talent from other people.  Eleanor (his wife) was still alive and I could go to her and ask questions about Grandpa and my Dad as well.
What are your most favorite memories of him?
He was a train collector and had a wonderful collection of miniature trains.  The train would start in the garage and went around the edge of the pool.  He would send out watermelon slices, hot dogs, and cokes that would be sitting on the flat cars.  The trains would come out on a raised platform track that would come along the edge of the pool and around the table.  He would work the trains from within the garage.  He lived in a ranch house in San Fernando Valley.  I used to go in his hen house and collect the eggs.  His place was surrounded by corn fields.  It was still very rural in the valley when he lived there.  He was a superb card player and taught me how to play solitaire and lots of other card games.
What is your most favorite Buster Keaton film and why?
One of them is STEAMBOAT BILL JR. because that shows his talent and acrobatic ability.  It’s one of the best.  In SHERLOCK JR. he actually goes into and out of the film with his body, and that was the first time anything like that had ever been done.  He was the first person to do things like that.  People don’t realize how unique that was at the time.  I love OUR HOSPITALITY because my grandmother, grandfather and my Dad were in that.  He was the baby!  I love that movie because it’s fun to see my family members.
Is your image of your grandfather shaped by what you hear and see on screen or by your personal impressions?
It was shaped much more by my personal impressions.  Going to visit Grandpa Buster and having fun were my memories of him.
Do you have any of his personal items?
Yes I do.  I have a hat, one of his original hats.  It’s tattered, but I have it.  He loved to play cards.  I have his poker chips, his pipe. He had emphysema, but he had to be doing something all the time.  He learned to embroider.  He embroidered a beautiful tie that I still have. 
Besides Buster, what other silent film stars do you enjoy?
I enjoy Laurel and Hardy.  I like Harold Lloyd. 
Tell me about your work with Rx Laughter.  
This is a 5 year study being done on the effects of laughter on healing.  When they first organized this, Sherry Hiller brought everyone together and brought us to the UCLA medical center.  She took us to the area where the children were very ill.  If a child needs to be on kidney dialysis, they have tiny televisions for them and all they have to watch while undergoing treatment are soap operas and cartoons or whatever happens to be on daytime television. Harpo Marx’s son and Lou Costello’s daughter both involved as well.  They asked us what movies to recommend what movies that our relatives made that these children would enjoy.  They show these children these movies and are studying the effects of laughter on their healing process.  It is much more fun than for them than anything else that is on TV.  That’s been a very rewarding experience.  They have a big fund raiser every year too.
Plus, it also introduces children to the medium of silent film and creates a whole new generation of silent film and classic Hollywood fans!
Exactly!  When I was growing up we didn’t have this kind of access.  Now my children can enjoy Buster Keaton’s films thanks to DVD. 
Are you involved in the Damfinos/Buster Keaton society?
I’m on the board and I go to their convention once a year in Michigan.  I’ve met such devoted fans and wonderful friends thought the organization.  I never knew how much he was admired and how many people love his films.
There is a U.K. Keaton society and it’s called “The Blinking Buzzards.”  I’m a member of that the get their newsletter.  These members come up with pieces of film that no one has seen.  They also put together documentaries of my grandfather.  I have one that shows all of his gags put together and it’s so much fun to watch.  I’ve learned so much about my grandfather’s professional life through this organization than I could have on my own.
I hope you will join us at the UCLA Royce Hall silent film gala.  This year’s film is STEAMBOAT BILL JR. which will have accompaniment by the L.A. Chamber Orchestra.  By all means, DON’T miss this event!  It will be an excellent night of film!
For tickets and information, click HERE.
To learn more about the life and career of Buster Keaton, log onto:
The Buster Keaton Fan Club
Buster Keaton Museum




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