Modale’s Myra Keaton was a vaudeville mainstay


Note: This is the third of a three-part series highlighting notable women of Harrison County in honor of Women's History Month.

Many are familiar with the name Buster Keaton. A silent film and comedic legend, “The Great Stone Face” was etched into cinematic history after his historic run of filmmaking in the 1920s.

But his mother, Myra Edith Keaton (maiden name Cutler), was born on March 13, 1877, in Modale.

A middle child with an older brother and two younger half-brothers, Myra became a part of her father Frank Cutler’s traveling medicine shows, along with her older brother Burt, when she was a teenager.

It wasn’t long before she met Joe Keaton, who joined the traveling shows in 1893. The two were married by May of the next year, and they decided to put on medicine shows and vaudeville performances of their own.

The couple’s son Joseph, who would eventually earn the name “Buster,” joined the show when he was 4 years old. Soon thereafter the family’s performance came to be known as “The Roughest Act That Was Ever in the History of the Stage” due to the show’s main draw: Joe roughing up Buster.

"My old man was an eccentric comic and as soon as I could take care of myself at all on my feet, he had slapshoes on me and big baggy pants,” Buster was quoted as saying. “And he'd just start doing gags with me and especially kickin' me clean across the stage or taking me by the back of the neck and throwing me.”

Buster’s ability to handle anything Joe threw at him, or any accidents he had while playing in the street or at home, is what inspired his nickname. Legend has it that his godfather, the soon-to-be world renowned Harry Houdini, coined it after watching Buster tumble down a flight of stairs and stand up unharmed.

The Keatons’ act eventually drew the ire of the press and folks who witnessed it in person, as many began to believe that Buster was a victim of abuse. “The Three Keatons” disagreed, maintaining that it was all part of an act and that Buster never sustained any injuries on stage. Joe was often arrested after shows, and Buster was questioned by law enforcement on multiple occasions.

However, problems eventually arose. Myra and Buster left the family business in 1917 due to Joe’s excessive drinking. In short, the jokes he performed on stage with Buster became more and more vicious as the drinking became more and more frequent.

Buster made it to the big screen just a short time later, and he would often have members of the Keaton family appear in various films, including Myra.

Myra and Joe remained married, despite being estranged, until Joe’s death in 1946.

Myra died on July 21, 1955, in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 78.