Monday Morning Mystery Time!
(Just a note about the weekly Mysteries, gang: The answers to some of these weekly questions might already be out there, researched and answered by other groups or individuals. Nonetheless, I post them as questions here because they’re mysteries to ME and I can’t seem to find answers online, in books or otherwise.
I don’t purport to be the world’s foremost expert on Buster Keaton, but I’ve probably earned at least an Associates’ Degree in Keatonia from good ole PU and I’m blissfully working toward a PhD! It’s merely my hope that you’ll join me in my search for Busterness and find a little enjoyment in discovering new stuff.)
We all know the story of the “Gentleman’s Hobby Horse” bicycle from “Our Hospitality.” Apparently, Harry Brand received a letter from the Smithsonian admiring its authenticity and asking that it be donated. Buster obviously agreed, and off it went to Washington DC. I’ve included the correspondence between the SI and Brand above (click on pics for larger versions). Don’t you wonder if it’s Buster’s handwriting on the second letter? (“Please let me see my letter -B”). Not too many examples of his handwriting out there, so this might be considered a mini-mystery!
I read a while back that the bike that went to DC might not actually be the same one used in the movie! Sure enough, closer inspection of existing photos show marked differences between the one used in the move and the one in the Smithsonian accession photos. Take a look at the rear “struts” on the two bikes. The film version uses flatstock for the struts, while the SI version is definitely round tubing. The nut holding the front strut to the frame has a rounded cap in the SI version, while the nut itself is visible in the Hospitality model. The curvature of the support that holds the armrest is much more pronounced on the SI model. It’s straighter on Buster’s bike, and the armrest is placed much farther back. Finally, the frame itself on Hospitality bike had a definite dip as it approaches the seat, whereas the SI model is a bit straighter. BTW, the Hobby Horse wasn’t used in “The Iron Mule” - that was a different bike with handlebars and two different sized wheels.
It’s obvious from the photos that we have two different bicycles here! It almost looks as if the Hospitality bike was built with Buster’s small stature in mind, so perhaps he wanted to donate a more accurate version and commissioned the studio to make the second Hobby Horse. So what happened to the original from “Our Hospitality?” I wonder if MGM/Sony would let one of us rummage through the old prop storage rooms. Now wouldn’t THAT be an adventure???!!!
On a related note, I was fortunate enough to be able to pose a question pertaining to one of our previous “mysteries” to someone who IS the foremost Keaton expert!
Remember our earlier post about the Decker painting of Buster as Hamlet? Eleanor Keaton actually did own the original, and it hung behind her sofa. One of her friends inherited it when Eleanor passed on, so it’s still out there. I hope they got it cleaned, because it probably hung in Buster & Eleanor’s smoke-filled house for years and that’s why it looks so much darker than in the original photo we see of Buster & Durante sitting beneath their respective Decker originals.
BTW, if you haven’t read up on Decker, he was a real rounder! Major drinking buddy of Errol Flynn & John Barrymore - but that’s another mystery!
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