Joe Roberts and Buster Keaton in "Our Hospitality" (1923).


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Joe Roberts (February 2, 1871 – October 28, 1923) was an American comic actor, who appeared in 16 of Buster Keaton's 19 silent short films in 1920-1922, as well as in Buster Keaton's first two feature films "Three Ages" and "Our Hospitality" (both 1923).

"Big Joe" Roberts, as he was known in vaudeville, toured the country with his first wife, Lillian Stuart Roberts as part of a rowdy act known as Roberts, Hays, and Roberts. Their signature routine was called "The Cowboy, the Swell and the Lady."  At this time, in the first decade of the twentieth century, Buster Keaton's father, Joe Keaton, had started a summer Actors' Colony for vaudevillians between Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake in Michigan. Roberts became acquainted with the Keaton family as a member of this community.

When Buster Keaton's film apprenticeship years with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle came to an end, and Keaton began making his own shorts in 1920, he asked Roberts to join him. Roberts' hefty 6'3" frame, usually playing a menacing heavy or authority figure, made a striking and amusing contrast to the thin, 5'6" Keaton.

When Keaton began making feature films in 1923, he apparently intended to continue working with Roberts. Roberts had roles in Keaton's Three Ages, and Our Hospitality (both 1923). During the filming of the second feature, Roberts had a stroke but insisted on returning to the set to finish the film. After completion, Roberts suffered another stroke and died shortly afterwards.


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   Joe Roberts and Mary Pickford in "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921)