Buster Keaton fans know this well but it may be news to the wider public: Buster’s younger brother Harry, a.k.a “Jingles” (1904-1983) was in the family vaudeville act for a time and also had a minor movie career. Since we’ve already written about Harold Lloyd’s brother Gaylord, and Chaplin’s half-brothers Sydney Chaplin and Wheeler Dryden, Jingles seemed worth a tip of the porkpie this morning.
Born nearly a decade after his famous brother, Harry was given the nickname “Jingles” for his infantile habit of making a racket with his toys, which is apt to be disruptive in the theatre. He was brought into the family act when Buster was getting long in the tooth, in order to bring some more of the kiddie energy that had once characterized The Three Keatons. Naturally on those occasions when he performed, the act was billed as The Four Keatons. (Younger sister Louise was also sometimes in the act — a post for a different day).
Naturally the family faced the same hurdles with the Gerry Society as they had with Buster. And in the end Jingles was not the same kind of performing whiz as Buster so he was released from the burden of trying to do so. If he had been, it would have been natural for him to replace Buster when the latter left the family act in 1917, that is if Joe Keaton’s drinking hadn’t already wrecked the act anyway. However, Jingles did support Buster in his films Convict 13 (1920), The Cameraman (1928), and Love Nest on Wheels (1937, along with the rest of the family).
The record is apparently confused by the existence of a second Harry Keaton who is often conflated with Buster’s brother and who sometimes spelled his name “Keatan”. This Harry Keaton appeared in a handful of comedy shorts at L-KO and Universal, supporting Charles Dorety, Bud Jamison, Dot Farley and others: Good Night Turk and The Spotted Nag (both 1919); Won by a Nose, Love and Gasoline, and Uncle Tom’s Caboose (all 1920). He also supported Bull Montana in Rob ’em Good (1923), Our Gang in Shivering Shakespeare (1930), The Three Stooges in Uncivil Warriors (1935), Monte Collins in Just Speeding (1936), Andy Clyde in The Peppery Salt (1936). He is also in The Art of Burlesque (1950) with Charlie Crafts, Mona Ray, and a chorus of cuties as well as in ’50s exploitation films such as Lenny Bruce’s Dance Hall Racket (1953), Ed Wood’s The Violent Years (1956) and The Sinister Urge (1960), and Edward Finney’s Laughing Time (1959). Thanks Steve Massa for straightening out the confusion.
Jingles passed away in 1984, the last of the famous Keaton vaudeville act to exit the mortal stage.
To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic film comedy, please read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.