The dancer was Eleanor Ruth Norris,
age 21. Eleanor had grown up in Hollywood, and had
grown up fast after her father died when she was only
10. "I was a pretty direct and straightforward
young lady," she said.
At a young age, she became a dancer in
the movies, appearing in many of the popular musical
films of the `30s. "We were making musicals, one
after the other," she recalled, "and MGM
had signed me up with many other singers and
But Eleanor Norris had a secret
desire. She was determined to learn to play bridge.
Although she knew nothing of his silent movie career,
she had been told that Buster Keaton sure did know
how to play bridge. So she went over to his house to
learn the game. He never noticed her until one day
when another bridge player started picking on her.
She turned and yelled at the fellow. Buster later
told her that this was the moment when he realized
there was someone in the room worth paying attention
The two soon decided to marry, but his
friends were concerned. "They said he'd had
enough trouble in his life without adding me,"
Eleanor said, "and that I should go away and
leave him alone. He'd had two bad marriages and he
didn't need a third." But Eleanor was a
strong-willed young woman and they went ahead with
their plans. "I looked so much younger than
Buster," she confided, "that the judge
thought my mother was the bride!"
The two settled in with Buster's
family in the small house he had bought for his
mother in more prosperous days. They would not have a
home of their own for more than 15 years. During this
time, Eleanor helped Buster support his mother, his
father, his sister, his brother and his brother's
wife and child, none of whom worked very often. She
continued dancing in the movies for many years and
appeared in films often, even swimming on occasion
with Esther Williams.
She learned to play baseball, his
favorite game. They often went camping together. And
of course, they played bridge.
Buster and Eleanor eventually became
working partners. They performed together on stage in
this country and in Europe, as well as on television.
She went everywhere with him. "We had 28 years
together," she said, "and I think only
twice was he on the road alone."
In a recent interview, Eleanor
admitted: "I was his babysitter, secretary,
mother--whatever else was called for."