The remarkable actor-director-writer-producer Frank Buxton died at the age of 87 on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, in a hospital near his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Not only did he get his theatrical start at the age of 19 appearing with Buster Keaton on stage in Three Men On a Horse (1949), he then went on to become one of the most multi-talented people in show business.
A Damfino from the very beginning of our organization, he was one of the special guests at our second Muskegon, Michigan, convention in 1996, and was a longtime friend and supporter of the International Buster Keaton Society. Most recently, he contributed to our Commemorative Plaque fundraising effort on IndieGogo.
In its obituary of him, the Bainbridge Island Review described Buxton as a “showbiz polymath,” the most apt phrase anyone could use to describe him. His credits are too many and too varied to list here, but we’ve included links to bios, books and some of his assorted television and film appearances.
During his long and eclectic career, he (among many other things) co-wrote a film with Woody Allen (What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, 1966), wrote episodes of Happy Days, The Bob Newhart Show and The Odd Couple (including its most famous episode, Password!, voted the fifth greatest television episode of all time by TV Guide), directed a young Robin Williams in Mork and Mindy, won a Peabody Award for the PBS children’s show he created called Hot Dog! (starring Woody Allen and Jonathan Winters), and was the host and sometime writer for a very popular ABC children’s documentary show, Discovery(1962-65), which influenced a generation of budding scientists and historians.
His acting career, which began with Buster, comprised countless film and television appearances, including Overboard (1987), Roommates (1994) and this delightful appearance on The Tonight Showwith Johnny Carson (sometime between 1969 and 1972). His most recent credit was for the short filmTwo Friends (2013). Buxton’s IMDb page doesn’t begin to cover everything he did during his long life in the entertainment business.
As if that weren’t enough for one lifetime, he also co-wrote probably the two most important books about the classic age of radio, Radio’s Golden Age and The Big Broadcast: 1920-1950, and was a fixture at conventions of the Friends of Old-Time Radio, where he occasionally directed or acted in recreations of old radio shows.
After he retired to Bainbridge Island, he became a founding member of The EDGE Improv, where he appeared as recently as this past November. He was actively involved in the life of the Island, filming fellow Islanders and editing the footage together, introducing old films at festivals, being the voice of the Island’s 4th of July parade… and on and on. He was also on the board of directors of the prestigious San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
A local friend, quoted in this article, described him this way: “Frank is not a quiet man. He seems larger than life, but he allows everyone in his company to feel welcome and important. He is a teacher by example and his constant giving of his time and resources, and the sharing of his experiences inspires others to emulate his path and offer good deeds, large and small, to the Bainbridge Island community.”
One good friend, Mark Evanier, published this touching tribute online the night of Buxton’s death. At the end of the piece, he quoted Buxton’s close friend, John Ellis:
“He'd been struggling with heart issues for some time but had gotten stronger with a lot of work and support from his wonderful family and community. Things had been pretty damn good until very recently. He even got back on stage with The Edge in November, and a week before his final trip to the hospital, he was singing up a storm at a workshop.
“His exit line was perfectly Frank! We sang some songs Christmas Eve and at the end of the last song, he closed his eyes, dropped his hand from his chest, opened his hand and whispered, ‘Rosebud.’ We all laughed (including Frank) and we left his room, but as far as we know that was his exit line.”
A more detailed biography can be found at his website frankbuxton.com.
On a personal note, I want to add that the remarkable Frank Buxton meant a great deal to me personally. When my husband, Joe Adamson, and I first started seeing each other, he was the first person who knew both of us who said, quite vociferously, that we were perfect for each other. As always, Frank was right. When we got married, on Oct. 4, 1999, in Cottage Grove, Oregon, Frank came down from Bainbridge Island to share in our happiness. We’ll miss him dreadfully.
--Patricia Eliot Tobias
The International Buster Keaton Society Inc.
A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
The General in Context
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
We published the following two years ago, and it seems even more timely now. Please click on The Keaton Chronicle image below, or CLICK HERE to download the PDF.