What Lucy learned from Buster Keaton
Lucille Ball on the lessons she learned from the comedy luminary.
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” This quote is most often attributed to Pablo Picasso, even though there isn't much evidence to suggest he's the first to ever posit this. So, Picasso may have even stolen that very sentiment. While debate may continue as to who deserves credit for that particular quote, the point is clear and resonant: The best artists are the ones who allow themselves to be the most inspired.
One such artist was Lucille Ball, who would actively seek inspiration and advice throughout her career.
At one point, that advice and inspiration came from one of the all-time great physical comedians, Buster Keaton. Fans can clearly draw a throughline from Keaton's work straight through Ball's, as both had a unique mastery of making their bodies funny.
Lucy elaborated on the point in a 1966 interview with The Boston Globe.
"I learned more from him about comedy than I can ever describe. Chiefly, he taught me how to use props which have played such a big part in my work. He taught me how to use them, always to know where they were, never to leave them to anyone else. But more than that, I learned so much from his great knowledge of the comedic situation.
"We never made a movie together, but last Fall when they asked me to do a routine with Buster on the television tribute to Stan Laurel I agreed, even though I knew it was not right for me, because I also knew I'd never have another chance to work with him.
"He was terribly ill, and I didn't think he'd last through the day. What a wonderful man he was. He was amusing. Never did a cruel thing in his life. He was the biggest playboy of our time, spent millions on parties, on people, anyone who wanted it. He would do anything for a laugh. For years he couldn't get a job, so when the money ran out he went to Europe with his wife Eleanor and sold them his early one-reelers—The General, The Navigator, The Passionate Plumber. He was rolling in money again."