Presented to Actor and Friend, James Karen
2001 Buster Award Presentation Sept. 29, 2001
Bowlus Center, Iola, Kansas
     

     Mary Martin: Good afternoon, My name is Mary Martin. I am the Executive Director of the Bowlus Center and co-chair of the Buster Keaton Celebration Committee. With me is Iola attorney Clyde Toland, co-founder of this celebration and an important member of the committee. We have the privilege today of presenting The Buster, an annual award given jointly by the Keaton Celebration Committee and The Damfinos: The International Buster Keaton Society.

     It is presented to a person who we believe has, in one manner or another, demonstrated professional excellence in the tradition of Buster Keaton. The award consists in part of a beautiful sculpture, which was specially designed by Randy Lambert of Mt. Shasta, California, a longtime Keaton fan. The sculpture is of a vaudeville trunk that rests on a base in the shape of Kansas with the location of Piqua appropriately marked with a star. The trunk has a label — "The Buster" — on the front and is stamped in various places with the names Piqua, Muskegon, New York and Hollywood, all important places in the life and career of Buster Keaton. A porkpie hat adorns the top of the trunk and slapshoes and a movie camera further illustrate the theme.

     We first presented this joint award in 1995 to noted Keaton film preservationist David Shepard. Other recipients have been film critic and author Leonard Maltin, film historian, critic and author David Robinson, filmmaker, historian, preservationist and author Kevin Brownlow, author, comedian, and composer Steve Allen, and Buster's widow and best fan, Eleanor Keaton. Today we are pleased to present our 7th Buster honoring both Buster Keaton and the recipient.

     Clyde Toland: Good afternoon. In describing the sterling accomplishments of our "Buster" recipient, I feel like a mosquito in a nudist camp: I hardly know where to begin. This year's recipient is a gifted and versatile man as amply testified to by his long and distinguished acting career.

     He is a veteran of Broadway, television, and film. His Broadway debut was in A Street Car Named Desire in 1947. Subsequently he appeared in over 20 Broadway plays, and was associated with Edward Albee in several plays, both on Broadway and the West End in London. For 20 years our recipient produced and acted in productions on the summer stock circuit, and also appeared in a nightclub act with Celeste Holm at the Persian Room in New York and at the Tropicana Hotel in Vegas.

     His television work began in 1948 with the Philco telecast of A Christmas Carol, directed by the pioneer television director Fred Coe. Our recipient has had recurring roles in several television series as well as many, many guest leads on episodic series. Feature film work began with the low-budget film Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster in 1965. Since then our recipient has appeared in more than 50 films, including the cult classic Return of the Living Dead.

     Our recipient's creative talents are not limited to dramatic acting. He has appeared both on television and radio as spokesman for the Pathmark Supermarket Chain, and his talent for flawless timing down to the last second is impressively apparent when one watches him taping such a radio commercial. He has appeared in a record-breaking 5,000-plus on-camera commercials. Throughout his distinguished career he has performed with Fredric March, Jason Robards, Lauren Bacall, Barry Nelson, Robert Redford, Michael Douglas, Craig T. Nelson, Jeff Bridges, and Jessica Lange… among others.

     One suspects that perhaps the most meaningful acting association for him was with Buster Keaton, himself. As a young actor, our recipient toured with Buster in a production of Merton of the Movies. When the production at the first stop on the tour was not very good, Buster, our recipient, and others reworked the script to produce a resulting wonderful show. The opportunity to work with Buster occurred once again in a Samuel Beckett film called Film. Our recipient became one of the closest friends of both Buster and Eleanor Keaton until each of their respective deaths.

     What a distinct honor, privilege, and pleasure for our recipient to have worked with and been a close friend of the great Buster Keaton. Our recipient has taken his natural talent as an actor and has honed it to perfection. We are all the richer as a result. Additionally, and not unimportantly, he is a learned man of wit, grace, and charm. With appreciation and admiration we present The Buster to James Karen.

   "It is presented to
a person who we
believe has,

in one manner or
another, demonstrated professional
excellence in the
tradition of
Buster Keaton."

   —Mary Martin

James Karen and Buster Keaton in the 1960s

James Karen with his "Buster", 2001.
 
"The opportunity to work
with Buster occurred
once again in a
Samuel Beckett film
called Film.
Our recipient became
one of the closest
friends of both
Buster and Eleanor
Keaton until each
of their respective
deaths."
   —Clyde Toland

Clyde Toland, James Karen and Mary Martin, 2001.
 
     

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