Albert Anastasia

Albert Anastasia

Albert Anastasia (born Umberto Anastasio, September 26, 1902 – October 25, 1957) was one of the most ruthless and feared Cosa Nostra mobsters in United States history. A founder of the Italian American Mafia, Anastasia ran Murder, Inc. during the prewar era and during most of the 1950s was boss of what would become the modern Gambino crime family. He is perhaps the most feared hit-man of the Italian American Mafia’s golden era, earning the infamous nicknames “the Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner.”

Early years

Albert Anastasia was born on September 26, 1902, in Tropea, Calabria, Italy. His parents were Raffaelo Anastasio and Louisa Nomina de Filippi. The family name was “Anastasio”, but Albert started using “Anastasia” in 1921.

Raffaelo Anastasio was a railway worker who died after World War I, leaving behind nine sons and three daughters. Albert’s brothers included Salvatore, Frank, Joseph, Gerardo, and Anthony Anastasio. Anastasia was married to Elsa Barnesi; they had one son, Anthony Anastasia, Jr. They would have another son and two daughters.

In 1919, Anastasia and three of his brothers arrived in New York City, working on a freighter. Deserting the ship, the brothers illegally entered the United States. The boys soon started working as longshoremen on the Brooklyn waterfront.

On March 17, 1921, Anastasia was convicted of murdering longshoreman George Turino as the result of a quarrel. Anastasia was sentenced to death and sent to Sing Sing State Prison in Ossining, New York to await execution. Due to a legal technicality, however, Anastasia won a retrial in 1922. Because four of the original prosecution witnesses had disappeared in the meantime, Anastasia was released from custody in 1922.

On June 6, 1923, Anastasia was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm and sentenced to two years in city prison.
Rise to power

By the late 1920s, Anastasia had become a top leader of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), controlling six union local chapters in Brooklyn. Anastasia allied himself with Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, a powerful gang leader in Brooklyn. Anastasia soon became close associates with future Cosa Nostra bosses Joe Adonis, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Vito Genovese, and Frank Costello.

In 1928, Anastasia was charged with a murder in Brooklyn, but the witnesses either disappeared or refused to testify in court.
Castellammarese War

In 1930, Luciano finalized his plans to take over the organized crime rackets in New York by destroying the two old-line Mafia factions headed by Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano outlined his plot to Anastasia, who joined him and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in the plot. Anastasia assured Luciano that he would kill everyone for Luciano to reach the top. Anastasia knew that if Luciano ran the National Crime Syndicate, he would eventually get a “piece of the action.” By this point, Luciano had secretly given his support to Maranzano.

On April 15, 1931, Anastasia allegedly participated in Masseria’s murder. Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death. The war ended and Maranzano was the winner. No one was ever indicted in the Masseria murder. In Luciano’s subsequent reorganization of New York’s mafia into its current Five Families, Anastasia was appointed underboss of the crime family of Vincent Mangano, the modern Gambino crime family.

In September 1931, Maranzano was himself murdered and Luciano became the preeminent mobster in America. To avoid the power struggles and turf disputes that led to the Castellammarese War, Luciano established the National Crime Syndicate, consisting of the major family bosses from around the country and the so-called “five families” of New York. The Syndicate was meant to serve as a deliberative body to solve disputes, carve up and distribute territories, and regulate lucrative illegal activities such as racketeering, gambling, and bootlegging (which came to a close with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933). The Italian-American Mafia had their own body, known as the Commission.

In 1932, Anastasia was indicted on charges of murdering another man with an ice pick, but the case was dropped due to lack of witnesses.

In 1933, Anastasia was charged with killing a man who worked in a laundry; again, there were no witnesses willing to testify.
Murder, Incorporated

To reward Anastasia’s loyalty, Luciano placed him and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the nation’s leading labor racketeer, in control of the Syndicate’s enforcement arm, Murder, Inc. The troop, also known as “The Brownsville Boys”, was a group of Jewish and Italian killers that operated out of the back room of Midnight Rose’s, a candy store owned by mobster Louis Capone in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. During its ten years of operation, it is estimated that Murder Inc. committed between 400 and 1000 murders, many of which were never solved. For his leadership in Murder, Inc., Anastasia was nicknamed the “Mad Hatter” and the “Lord High Executioner”. Unlike Lepke and many other members of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was never prosecuted for any of these murders. It is doubted by some that he even was involved, since as the underboss of a family, he had his own killers to use if needed. During this period, Anastasia’s business card claimed that he was a “sales representative” for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn.

On June 7, 1936, Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution.[8] On July 18, 1936, Luciano received a 30 to 50-year sentence in state prison.  Genovese became acting boss, but he was forced to flee to Italy in 1937 after being indicted on a 1934 murder. Frank Costello now became acting boss of the Luciano crime family.

In May 1939, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of Morris Diamond, an official of a trucking union in Brooklyn. Diamond was a Teamsters Union official who had opposed mobster Louis Buchalter’s attempts to maintain control of the Garment District in Manhattan. In the summer of 1939, Anastasia allegedly organized the murder of Peter Panto, an ILA activist. Panto had been leading a movement for democratic reforms in the ILA locals, and refused to be intimidated by ILA officials. On July 14, 1939, Panto disappeared; his body was later recovered on a farm in New Jersey.

With the 1941 arrest of Abe Reles on murder charges, law enforcement finally dismantled Murder, Inc. Reles was a gang leader from Brownsville, Brooklyn who had been supplying Anastasia and Murder, Inc. with hitmen for the past 10 years. Reles decided to testify for the government to save himself from the death penalty. His testimony convicted seven members of Murder Inc. Reles also had information that could implicate Anastasia in the 1939 Diamond and Panto murders. Fearful of prosecution, Anastasia offered a $100,000 reward for Reles’ murder.

On November 12, 1941, Reles was found dead on a restaurant roof outside the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Reles was being guarded at a sixth floor room during an ongoing trial. In 1951, a grand jury ruled that Reles accidentally died while climbing down to the fifth floor using sheets tied to a heating radiator. However, many officials still suspected that Reles had been murdered.

In the spring of 1942, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of an associate, Anthony Romeo. Romeo had been arrested and questioned in the Panto killing. However at the end of June, Romeo’s body was discovered near Guyencourt, Delaware. Romeo had been beaten and shot multiple times.
World War II

During World War II, Anastasia reportedly originated the plan to win a pardon for Luciano by helping the war effort. With America needing allies in Sicily to advance the invasion of Italy, and the desire of the Navy to dedicate its resources to the war, Anastasia orchestrated a deal to obtain lighter treatment for Luciano while he was in prison, and after the war, a parole in exchange for the Mafia protecting the waterfront and Luciano’s assistance with his associates in Sicily.

In 1942, Anastasia joined the U.S. Army. He may have been motivated by a desire to escape the criminal investigations that were dismantling Murder Inc. Attaining the rank of technical sergeant, Anastasia trained soldiers to be longshoremen at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. In 1943, as a reward for his military service, Anastasia received U.S. citizenship. In 1944, Anastasia was honorably discharged from the Army and he moved his family to a mansion in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In 1958, less than a year after Anastasia’s death, comedian Buddy Hackett and his wife purchased the mansion, and after renovations they moved in and lived there through most of the 1960s.

In 1945, U.S. military authorities in Sicily returned Genovese to the United States to be tried for the 1934 Boccia murder. However, after the death of the main prosecution witness, all charges were dropped against Genovese. In 1946, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey commuted Luciano’s sentence and the federal government immediately deported him to Italy.

In 1948, Anastasia bought a dress making factory in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and left his waterfront activities in the control of his brother Anthony.

In 1951, the U.S. Senate summoned Anastasia to answer questions about organized crime at the Kefauver Hearings. Anastasia refused to answer any questions.

Despite being a mob power in his own right, Anastasia was nominally the underboss of the Mangano crime family under boss Vincent Mangano. During his 20-year rule, Mangano had resented Anastasia’s close ties to Luciano and Costello. Mangano was particularly irked that Luciano and Costello obtained Anastasia’s services without first seeking Mangano’s permission. This and other business disputes led to heated, almost physical fights between the two mobsters. In early 1951, Vincent Mangano went missing and his body was never found. On April 19, 1951, the body of Philip Mangano, shot three times, was discovered in a wetland in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn. No one was ever arrested in the Mangano murders, but it was widely assumed that Anastasia had them killed.

After the deaths of the Mangano brothers, Anastasia, who had been serving as acting boss of the Mangano family, met with the Commission. Anastasia claimed that the Manganos wanted to kill him, but did not admit to killing them. With Costello’s prodding, the Commission confirmed Anastasia’s ascension as boss of the renamed Anastasia family. Costello wanted Anastasia as an ally against the ambitious and resentful Genovese. Anastasia was also supported by Joseph Bonanno, who simply wanted to avoid a gang war.

In March 1952, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of Arnold Schuster. Schuster was a young New York man who successfully identified fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton, resulting in Sutton’s arrest. When Anastasia saw Schuster being interviewed on television, he allegedly said: “I can’t stand squealers! Hit that guy!” On March 8, 1952, a gunman shot Schuster to death on a street in Borough Park, Brooklyn. This public accusation against Anastasia was made in 1963 by government witness Joseph Valachi, but many people in law enforcement were skeptical of it. No one was ever arrested in the Schuster murder.

On December 9, 1952, the Federal Government filed suit to denaturalize Anastasia and deport him because he lied on his citizenship application.

To take control of the Luciano family, Genovese needed to kill Frank Costello. However, Genovese could not kill Costello without also eliminating Anastasia. To do that, Genovese needed allies.

Vito Genovese used Anastasia’s brutal behavior against him in an effort to woo away his supporters, portraying Anastasia as an unstable killer who threatened to bring law enforcement pressure on the Cosa Nostra. In addition, Genovese pointed out that Anastasia had been selling memberships to his crime family for $50,000, a clear violation of Commission rules that infuriated many high level mobsters. According to Valachi, Anastasia had been losing large amounts of money betting on horse races, making him even more surly and unpredictable.

Over the next few years, Genovese secretly won the support of Anastasia capo Carlo Gambino, offering him the leadership of Anastasia’s family in return for his cooperation. Genovese also received tacit approval from Meyer Lansky. One of Luciano’s earliest associates, Lansky handled most of Luciano’s U.S. business interests. Lansky and Genovese were also business associates from the 1920s. Genovese could not kill Anastasia and Costello without Lansky’s support.

Anastasia’s greed soon drove Lansky to help Genovese. During the 1950s, Lansky controlled all the casino gambling in Cuba, offering the Cosa Nostra bosses lesser shares of his profits. When Anastasia demanded a larger share, Lansky refused. Anastasia then started his own casino racket in Cuba. While Lansky had preferred watching Anastasia and Genovese battle each other from the sidelines, Lansky now threw his active support to Genovese.

On May 23, 1955, Anastasia pleaded guilty to tax evasion for underreporting his income during the late 1940s. On June 3, 1955, Anastasia was sentenced to one year in federal prison and a $20,000 fine. After his conviction, the federal government successfully petitioned a federal court to revoke Anastasia’s citizenship so he could be deported. However, on September 19, 1955, a higher court overturned this ruling.

In early 1957, Genovese decided to move on Costello. On May 2, 1957, gunman Vincent Gigante shot and wounded Costello outside his apartment building. Although the wound was superficial, it persuaded Costello to relinquish power to Genovese and retire. Genovese now controlled what is now called the Genovese crime family. Joseph Bonanno would later credit himself with arranging a sitdown where he kept Anastasia from immediately taking Genovese to war in response.

On June 17 of that year Frank Scalice, Anastasia’s underboss and the man identified as directly responsible for selling Gambino memberships, was also assassinated. According to Joseph Valachi, Anastasia approved the hit, and the subsequent murder of Scalice’s brother Joseph after offering to forgive his threats to avenge Frank.

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving Anastasia unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men—scarves covering their faces—rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia allegedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing and Albert Anastasia finally fell to the floor, dead.

The Anastasia murder generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high profile police investigation. Per New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory.” However, no one was charged in this case. Over time, speculation on who killed Anastasia has centered on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers with the Gambino family.

Initially, the NYPD concluded that the Anastasia hit had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino, and it was carried out by a crew led by “Crazy Joe” Gallo of the Profaci family. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit:

“You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet.”

However, detractors say that it was illogical for Profaci to kill Anastasia.  Profaci was allied with Bonanno and Anastasia on the Commission against Genovese, Costello, and Thomas Lucchese. By killing Anastasia, Profaci was eliminating an ally and gaining a potential enemy in Gambino.

The Patriarca theory is that Anastasia’s killers came from the Patriarca Family in Providence/Boston. Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. In addition, it made sense to use out-of-town hitmen. The Patriarca hit team was allegedly led by mobster John (Jackie) “Mad Dog” Nazarian.

The drug dealers theory is that Gambino used some Gambino drug dealers from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to kill Anastasia, including Stephen Armone, Stephen Grammauta, and Arnold Wittenberg.

Carlo Gambino was expected to be proclaimed boss of Anastasia’s family at the November 14, 1957 Apalachin Meeting, called by Genovese to discuss the future of Cosa Nostra in light of his takeover. When the meeting was raided by police, to the detriment of Genovese’s reputation, Gambino’s appointment was postponed to a later meeting in New York City. Under Gambino, Anthony Anastasio saw his power curtailed, and in frustration he began passing information to the FBI shortly before his 1963 death.

Genovese enjoyed a short reign as family boss. In 1957, after Genovese’s disastrous Apalachian Meeting, Lansky, Luciano, Costello, and Gambino conspired to entrap Genovese with a narcotics conviction, bribing a drug dealer to testify he had personally worked with Genovese. On July 7, 1958, Genovese was indicted on narcotics trafficking charges. On April 17, 1959, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives.


Hans B. Schmidt


Hans B. Schmidt (1881 – February 18, 1916) was a German Roman Catholic priest convicted of murder, and the only priest to be executed in the United States.


Born in the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg and ordained in Mainz in 1906, Schmidt immigrated to the United States in 1909 where he was assigned to St. John’s Parish in Louisville, Kentucky. There, a rift with another priest resulted in Schmidt’s transfer to St. Boniface Church in New York City.

While serving in New York, Schmidt met Anna Aumüller, the attractive housekeeper for the rectory who had recently emigrated from Austria. Despite his subsequent transfer to a church in a distant area of the city, Schmidt and Anna continued a secret sexual relationship. It was later revealed that they were married in a secret ceremony of dubious legality, which Schmidt performed himself.

After discovering that Anna was pregnant, Schmidt slashed her throat on the night of September 2, 1913, dismembered the body, and threw the pieces into the East River.
Trial and execution

Once the body was discovered, a police investigation led to Schmidt and he was arrested and charged with the murder. A media spectacle ensued, comparable to those caused by the Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking cases of a later era, as the New York papers competed against each other with an ever greater degree of sensationalism regarding the case. After feigning insanity during his first trial, which ended with a hung jury, Schmidt was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. On February 18, 1916, Schmidt was executed at Sing Sing Prison; he remains the only priest executed for murder in the United States.
Other possible crimes

Apart from killing his young, pregnant “wife,” further investigation revealed that Schmidt had a second apartment where he had set up a counterfeiting workshop.

Authorities also suspected Schmidt of the murder of Alma Kellner, 9, whose body was found buried in the basement of St. John’s church in Louisville, Kentucky, where Schmidt had previously worked. The body had been burned, but authorities suspected the killer had initially tried to dismember her. The janitor, Joseph Wendling, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder based on circumstantial evidence and bloody clothing found at his house.

Ernő Rubik


Ernő Rubik ( born 13 July 1944) is a Hungarian inventor, architect and professor of architecture. He is best known for the invention of mechanical puzzles including Rubik’s Cube (1974), Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Magic: Master Edition, and Rubik’s Snake.

While Rubik became famous for Rubik’s Cube and his other puzzles, much of his recent work involves the promotion of science in education. Rubik is involved with several organizations such as Beyond Rubik’s Cube, the Rubik Learning Initiative and the Judit Polgar Foundation all of whose aim is to engage students in science, mathematics, and problem solving at a young age.

Early life
Childhood and parental influence

Ernő Rubik was born in Budapest, Hungary, 13 July 1944, during World War II, and has lived all his life in Hungary. His father, Ernő Rubik Sr., was a flight engineer at the Esztergom aircraft factory, and his mother, Magdolna Szántó, was a poet.

His father, Ernő Sr., was a highly respected engineer of gliders. His extensive work and expertise in this area gained him an international reputation as an expert in his field. Ernő Rubik has stated that:
“     Beside him I learned a lot about work in the sense of a value-creating process which has a target, and a positive result too. Both figuratively and literally he was a person capable of ‘moving a hill’. There was nothing that could prevent him from doing what he decided or bringing a project to a completion, if necessary even with his own hands. No work was unworthy or undeserving for him.     ”

From 1958 to 1962, Rubik specialized in sculpture at the Secondary School of Fine and Applied Arts. From 1962 to 1967, Rubik attended the Budapest University of Technology where he became a member of the Architecture Faculty. From 1967 to 1971, Rubik attended the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and was on the Faculty of Interior Architecture and Design.

Rubik considers university and the education it afforded him as the decisive event which shaped his life. Rubik has stated that, “Schools offered me the opportunity to acquire knowledge of subjects or rather crafts that need a lot of practice, persistence and diligence with the direction of a mentor.”
Early professorship and birth of Rubik’s Cube

From 1971 to 1979, Rubik was a professor of architecture at the Budapest College of Applied Arts (Iparművészeti Főiskola). It was during his time there that he built designs for a three-dimensional puzzle and completed the first prototype of the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, applying for a patent on the puzzle in 1975. In an interview with CNN, Rubik stated that he was “searching to find a good task for my students.”
“     Space always intrigued me, with its incredibly rich possibilities, space alteration by (architectural) objects, objects’ transformation in space (sculpture, design), movement in space and in time, their correlation, their repercussion on mankind, the relation between man and space, the object and time. I think the CUBE arose from this interest, from this search for expression and for this always more increased acuteness of these thoughts…     ”
From classroom tool to Magic Cube to Rubik’s Cube

Starting with blocks of wood and rubber bands, Rubik set out to create a structure which would allow the individual pieces to move without the whole structure falling apart. Rubik originally used wood for the block because of the convenience of a workshop at the university and because he viewed wood as a simple material to work with that did not require sophisticated machinery. Rubik made the original prototypes of his cube by hand, cutting the wood, boring the holes and using elastic bands to hold the contraption together

Rubik showed his prototype to his class and his students liked it very much. Rubik realized that, because of the cube’s simple structure, it could be manufactured relatively easily and might have appeal to a larger audience. Rubik’s father possessed several patents, so Rubik was familiar with the process and applied for a patent for his invention. Rubik then set out to find a manufacturer in Hungary, but had great difficulty due to the rigid planned economy of Hungary at the time. Eventually Rubik was able to find a small company that worked with plastic and made chess pieces. The cube was originally known in Hungary as the Magic Cube.

Rubik licensed the Magic Cube to Ideal Toys, a New York-based company, who in 1979 re-branded The Magic Cube to the Rubik’s Cube before its introduction to an international audience in 1980. The process from early prototype to significant mass production of the Cube had taken over six years. The Rubik’s Cube would go on to become an instant success worldwide, winning several Toy of the Year awards, and becoming a staple of 1980’s popular culture. To date, the Rubik’s Cube has sold over 350 million units, making it the best selling toy of all time.
Other inventions

In addition to Rubik’s Cube, Rubik is also the inventor of Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Magic: Master Edition, Rubik’s Snake, Rubik’s Tangle, and Rubik’s 360.
Later career and other works

In the early 1980s, he became editor of a game and puzzle journal called ..És játék (…And games), then became self-employed in 1983, founding the Rubik Stúdió, where he designed furniture and games. In 1987 he became professor with full tenure; in 1990 he became the president of the Hungarian Engineering Academy (Magyar Mérnöki Akadémia). At the Academy, he created the International Rubik Foundation to support especially talented young engineers and industrial designers.
Recent work and engagements

Rubik has recently spent much of his time working on Beyond Rubik’s Cube, a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM fields) based exhibition, which will travel the globe over the next six years. The grand opening of the exhibit was held on 26 April 2014 at the Liberty Science Center outside New York City. At the exhibition, Rubik gave several lectures, tours, and engaged with the public and several members of the speedcubing crowd in attendance, including Anthony Michael Brooks, a world-class speedcuber.

Ernő Rubik has listed several individuals who, as he said, “exerted a great influence over me through their work.” These include Leonardo da Vinci, whom Rubik regards as the Renaissance man, Michelangelo, whom he respects as a polymath, and painter, sculptor, and architect M.C. Escher, an artist who built impossible constructions and grappled with the explorations of infinity. As regards to philosophers and writers, Rubik admires Voltaire, Stendhal, Thomas Mann, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hungarian poet Attila József, Jules Verne and Isaac Asimov. In the field of architecture, Rubik is an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier.
Cultural and leisure pursuits

Rubik admits to being a lifelong bibliophile and has stated, “Books offered me the possibility of gaining knowledge of the World, Nature and People.” Rubik has stated that he has a special interest in science fiction.

Rubik is fond of outdoor activities such as walking through nature, playing sports, and sailing on Lake Balaton. Rubik is also an avid gardener and has stated that, “collecting succulents are my favourite pastime.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (baptized as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart) (January 27, 1756 – December 5, 1791) was a prolific and celebrated composer of Classical music. His enormous output of more than six hundred compositions includes works that are widely acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. A legendary child prodigy, Mozart is among the most enduringly popular of European composers, and many of his works are part of the standard concert repertoire.

The young Mozart toured as a child and won the patronage of both nobility and clergy in his native Austria. Unlike the music of J.S. Bach and the composers of the Baroque style, whose music was highly polyphonic and steeped in religious connotations, Mozart’s music is marked by an uncomplicated texture that would become a defining trait of the “Classical” era. This style, known as homophonic music, is characterized by a single melodic idea accompanied by a chordal underpinning, as opposed the countrapuntal conventions of the Baroque, in which multiple melodies are woven into a singular musical expression.

A significant way that Mozart would heighten the drama of a musical line was by his masterly manipulation of the tonic-dominant chord progression. Particularly in his operas, he created moments of tension followed by cathartic release by exploiting the polarization of the consonant and dissonant intervals within these two chords, and also by the shifting of key centers. Equipped with these new musical devices, Mozart could explore the depths of the human psyche in ways that were revolutionary for their time. He was, in some respects, the first modern psychologist of opera, a master of creating mood, drama, and atmosphere in his operatic works. The great facility and ease with which Mozart fused music to mood was perhaps his most important contribution to music.

Mozart’s greatest compositions, sometimes written at breakneck pace, contain passages of revelatory beauty. Albert Einstein once remarked that while Beethoven composed his music, Mozart’s music “was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.”
Family and early years

Mozart was born to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, in the front room of nine Getreidegasse in Salzburg, the capital of the sovereign Archbishopric of Salzburg, in what is now Austria, then part of the Holy Roman Empire. His only sibling who survived beyond infancy was an older sister: Maria Anna, nicknamed Nannerl. Mozart was baptized the day after his birth at St. Rupert’s Cathedral. The baptismal record gives his name in Latinized form as Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Of these names, the first two refer to John Chrysostom, one of the Church Fathers, and they were names not employed in everyday life, while the fourth, meaning “beloved of God,” was variously translated in Mozart’s lifetime as Amadeus (Latin), Gottlieb (German), and Amadé (French). Mozart’s father, Leopold, announced the birth of his son in a letter to the publisher Johann Jakob Lotter with the words “…the boy is called Joannes Chrysostomus, Wolfgang, Gottlieb.” Mozart himself preferred the third name, and he also took a fancy to “Amadeus” over the years.

Mozart’s father, Leopold (1719–1787), was one of Europe’s leading musical teachers. His influential textbook, Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, was published in 1756, the year of Mozart’s birth (English, as A Treatise on the Fundamental Principles of Violin Playing, transl. E.Knocker; Oxford-New York, 1948). He was deputy kapellmeister to the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, and a prolific and successful composer of instrumental music. Leopold gave up composing when his son’s outstanding musical talents became evident. They first came to light when Wolfgang was about three years old, and Leopold, proud of Wolfgang’s achievements, gave him intensive musical training, including instruction in clavier, violin, and organ. Leopold was Wolfgang’s only teacher in his earliest years. A note by Leopold in Nannerl’s music book—the Nannerl Notenbuch—records that little Wolfgang had learned several of the pieces at the age of four. Mozart’s first compositions, Andante (K. 1a) and Allegro (K. 1b), were written in 1761, when he was five years old.
The years of travel

During his formative years, Mozart made several European journeys, beginning with an exhibition in 1762, at the Court of the Elector of Bavaria in Munich, then in the same year at the Imperial Court in Vienna and Prague. A long concert tour spanning three and a half years followed, taking him with his father to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London (where Wolfgang Amadeus played with the famous Italian cellist Giovanni Battista Cirri), The Hague, again to Paris, and back home via Zürich, Donaueschingen, and Munich. During this trip Mozart met a great number of musicians and acquainted himself with the works of other great composers. A particularly important influence was Johann Christian Bach, who befriended Mozart in London in 1764–65. Bach’s work is often taken to be an inspiration for Mozart’s music. They again went to Vienna in late 1767, and remained there until December 1768. On this trip, Mozart contracted smallpox, and his healing was considered by Leopold as a proof of God’s intentions concerning the child.

After one year in Salzburg, three trips to Italy followed: From December 1769 to March 1771, from August to December 1771, and from October 1772 to March 1773. Mozart was commissioned to compose three operas: Mitridate Rè di Ponto (1770), Ascanio in Alba (1771), and Lucio Silla (1772), all three of which were performed in Milan. During the first of these trips, Mozart met Andrea Luchesi in Venice and G.B. Martini in Bologna, and was accepted as a member of the famous Accademia Filarmonica. A highlight of the Italian journey, now an almost legendary tale, occurred when he heard Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere once in performance in the Sistine Chapel then wrote it out in its entirety from memory, only returning to correct minor errors; thus, producing the first illegal copy of this closely-guarded property of the Vatican.

On September 23, 1777, accompanied by his mother, Mozart began a tour of Europe that included Munich, Mannheim, and Paris. In Mannheim he became acquainted with members of the Mannheim orchestra, the best in Europe at the time. He fell in love with Aloysia Weber, who later broke up the relationship with him. He was to marry her sister, Constanze, some four years later in Vienna. During his unsuccessful visit to Paris, his mother died (1778).

Mozart in Vienna

In 1780, Idomeneo, widely regarded as Mozart’s first great opera, premiered in Munich. The following year, he visited Vienna in the company of his employer, the harsh Prince-Archbishop Colloredo. When they returned to Salzburg, Mozart, who was then Konzertmeister, became increasingly rebellious, not wanting to follow the whims of the archbishop relating to musical affairs, and expressing these views, soon fell out of favor with him. According to Mozart’s own testimony, he was dismissed—literally—”with a kick in the arse.” Mozart chose to settle and develop his own freelance career in Vienna after its aristocracy began to take an interest in him.

On August 4, 1782, against his father’s wishes, he married Constanze Weber (1763–1842; her name is also spelled “Costanze”); her father, Fridolin, was a half-brother of Carl Maria von Weber’s father Franz Anton Weber. Although they had six children, only two survived infancy. Neither of these two, Karl Thomas (1784–1858) and Franz Xaver Wolfgang (1791–1844)—later a minor composer himself—married or had children who reached adulthood. Karl did father a daughter, Constanza, who died in 1833.

The year 1782 was an auspicious one for Mozart’s career: His opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) was a great success and he began a series of concerts at which he premiered his own piano concertos as director of the ensemble and soloist.

During 1782–83, Mozart became closely acquainted with the work of J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel as a result of the influence of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, who owned many manuscripts of works by the Baroque masters. Mozart’s study of these works led first to a number of works imitating Baroque style and later had a powerful influence on his own personal musical language, for example, the fugal passages in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) and in the Symphony No. 41.

In 1783, Wolfgang and Constanze visited Leopold in Salzburg, but the visit was not a success, as his father did not open his heart to Constanze. However, the visit sparked the composition of one of Mozart’s great liturgical pieces, the Mass in C Minor, which, though not completed, was premiered in Salzburg, and is now one of his best-known works. Wolfgang featured Constanze as the lead female solo voice at the premiere of the work, hoping to endear her to his father’s affection.

In his early Vienna years, Mozart met Joseph Haydn and the two composers became friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart’s six quartets dedicated to Haydn date from 1782–85, and are often judged to be his response to Haydn’s List of string quartets by Joseph Haydn’s Opus 33 set from 1781. Haydn was soon in awe of Mozart, and when he first heard the last three of Mozart’s series, he told Leopold, “Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.”

During the years 1782–1785, Mozart put on a series of concerts in which he appeared as soloist in his piano concertos, widely considered among his greatest works. These concerts were financially successful. After 1785, Mozart performed far less and wrote only a few concertos. Maynard Solomon conjectures that he may have suffered from hand injuries; another possibility is that the fickle public ceased to attend the concerts in the same numbers.

Mozart’s relationship to religion and the church has been the subject of much academic interest. He was influenced by the ideas of the eighteenth century European Enlightenment as an adult, and he became a Freemason in 1784. But his lodge—the same Masonic Lodge as Haydn—was a specifically Catholic, rather than deistic one, and Mozart worked fervently and successfully to convert his father before the latter’s death in 1787. Neither was Mozart’s lifelong interest in sacred music restricted to the time of his service for the church in Salzburg. “I cannot possibly live like other young men,” he once wrote. “In the first place I have too much religion, in the second too much love for my fellow men and too great a sense of humor.”

Mozart’s life was occasionally fraught with financial difficulty. Though the extent of this difficulty has often been romanticized and exaggerated, he nonetheless did resort to borrowing money from close friends, some debts remaining unpaid even to his death. During the years 1784-1787 he lived in a lavish, seven-room apartment, which may be visited today at Domgasse 5, behind St Stephen’s Cathedral; it was here, in 1786, that Mozart composed the opera Le nozze di Figaro.
Mozart and Prague

Mozart had a special relationship with the city of Prague and its people. The audience there celebrated the Figaro with the much-deserved reverence he was missing in his hometown Vienna. His quotation, “Meine Prager verstehen mich” (“My Praguers understand me”) became very famous in the Bohemian lands. Many tourists follow his tracks in Prague and visit the Mozart Museum of the Villa Bertramka where they can enjoy a chamber concert. In the later years of his life, Prague provided Mozart with many financial resources from commissions. In Prague, Don Giovanni premiered on October 29, 1787, at the Theatre of the Estates. Mozart wrote La clemenza di Tito for the festivities accompanying Leopold II, Leopold II’s coronation in November 1790; Mozart obtained this commission after Antonio Salieri had allegedly rejected it.
Final illness and death

Mozart’s final illness and death are difficult topics for scholars, obscured by romantic legends and replete with conflicting theories. Scholars disagree about the course of decline in Mozart’s health—particularly at what point (or if at all) Mozart became aware of his impending death and whether this awareness influenced his final works. The romantic view holds that Mozart declined gradually and that his outlook and compositions paralleled this decline. In opposition to this, some present-day scholars point out correspondence from Mozart’s final year indicating that he was in good cheer, as well as evidence that Mozart’s death was sudden and a shock to his family and friends. Mozart’s attributed last words: “The taste of death is upon my lips… I feel something, that is not of this earth.” The actual cause of Mozart’s death is also a matter of conjecture. His death record listed “hitziges Frieselfieber” (“severe miliary fever,” referring to a rash that looks like millet-seeds), a description that does not suffice to identify the cause as it would be diagnosed in modern medicine. Dozens of theories have been proposed, including trichinosis, mercury poisoning, and rheumatic fever. The practice, common at that time, of bleeding medical patients is also cited as a contributing cause.

Mozart died around 1 a.m. on December 5, 1791, in Vienna. Some days earlier, with the onset of his illness, he had largely ceased work on his final composition, the Requiem. Popular legend has it that Mozart was thinking of his own impending death while writing this piece, and even that a messenger from the afterworld commissioned it. However, documentary evidence has established that the anonymous commission came from one Count Franz Walsegg of Schloss Stuppach, and that most if not all of the music had been written while Mozart was still in good health. A younger composer, and Mozart’s pupil at the time, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, was engaged by Constanze to complete the Requiem. However, he was not the first composer asked to finish the Requiem, as the widow had first approached another Mozart student, Joseph Eybler, who began work directly on the empty staves of Mozart’s manuscript but then abandoned it.

Because he was buried in an unmarked grave, it has been popularly assumed that Mozart was penniless and forgotten when he died. In fact, though he was no longer as fashionable in Vienna as before, he continued to have a well-paid job at court and receive substantial commissions from more distant parts of Europe, Prague in particular. He earned about 10,000 florins per year, equivalent to at least 42,000 U.S. dollars in 2006, which places him within the top 5 percent of late eighteenth century wage earners, but he could not manage his own wealth. His mother wrote, “When Wolfgang makes new acquaintances, he immediately wants to give his life and property to them.” His impulsive largesse and spending often put him in the position of having to ask others for loans. Many of his begging letters survive but they are evidence not so much of poverty as of his habit of spending more than he earned. He was not buried in a “mass grave,” but in a regular communal grave according to the 1784 laws in Austria.

Though the original grave in the St. Marx cemetery was lost, memorial gravestones (or cenotaphs) have been placed there and in the Zentralfriedhof. In 2005, new DNA testing was performed by Austria’s University of Innsbruck and the U.S. Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland, to determine if a skull in an Austrian Museum was actually his, using DNA samples from the marked graves of his grandmother and Mozart’s niece. However, test results were inconclusive, suggesting that none of the DNA samples were related to each other.

In 1809, Constanze married Danish diplomat Georg Nikolaus von Nissen (1761–1826). Being a fanatical admirer of Mozart, he (and, possibly, Constanze) edited vulgar passages out of many of the composer’s letters and wrote a Mozart biography. Nissen did not live to see his biography printed, and Constanze finished it.
Works, musical style, and innovations

Mozart’s music, like Haydn’s, stands as an archetypal example of the Classical style. His works spanned the period during which that style transformed from one exemplified by the style galant to one that began to incorporate some of the contrapuntal complexities of the late Baroque, complexities against which the galant style had been a reaction. Mozart’s own stylistic development closely paralleled the development of the classical style as a whole. In addition, he was a versatile composer and wrote in almost every major genre, including symphony, opera, the solo concerto, chamber music including string quartet and string quintet, and the piano sonata. While none of these genres were new, the piano concerto was almost single-handedly developed and popularized by Mozart. He also wrote a great deal of religious music, including mass masses; and he composed many dances, divertimenti, serenades, and other forms of light entertainment.

The central traits of the classical style can all be identified in Mozart’s music. Clarity, balance, and transparency are hallmarks, though a simplistic notion of the delicacy of his music obscures the exceptional and even demonic power of some of his finest masterpieces, such as the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491, the Symphony in G minor, K. 550, and the opera, Don Giovanni. The famed writer on music, Charles Rosen, has written (in The Classical Style): “It is only through recognizing the violence and sensuality at the center of Mozart’s work that we can make a start towards a comprehension of his structures and an insight into his magnificence. In a paradoxical way, Schumann’s superficial characterization of the G minor Symphony can help us to see Mozart’s daemon more steadily. In all of Mozart’s supreme expressions of suffering and terror, there is something shockingly voluptuous.” Especially during his last decade, Mozart explored chromatic harmony to a degree rare at the time. The slow introduction to the “Dissonant” Quartet, K. 465, a work that Haydn greatly admired, rapidly explodes a shallow understanding of Mozart’s style as light and pleasant.

From his earliest years Mozart had a gift for imitating the music he heard; since he traveled widely, he acquired a rare collection of experiences from which to create his unique compositional language. When he went to London as a child, he met J.C. Bach and heard his music; when he went to Paris, Mannheim, and Vienna, he heard the work of composers active there, as well as the spectacular Mannheim orchestra; when he went to Italy, he encountered the Italian overture and the opera buffa, both of which were to be hugely influential on his development. Both in London and Italy, the galant style was all the rage: Simple, light music, with a mania for cadencing, an emphasis on tonic, dominant, and subdominant to the exclusion of other chords, symmetrical phrases, and clearly articulated structures. This style, out of which the classical style evolved, was a reaction against the complexity of late Baroque music. Some of Mozart’s early symphonies are Italian overtures, with three movements running into each other; many are “homotonal” (each movement in the same key, with the slow movement in the tonic minor). Others mimic the works of J.C. Bach, and others show the simple rounded binary forms commonly being written by composers in Vienna.

As Mozart matured, he began to incorporate some features of Baroque styles into his music. For example, the Symphony No. 29 in A Major K. 201 uses a contrapuntal main theme in its first movement, and experimentation with irregular phrase lengths. Some of his quartets from 1773 have fugal finales, probably influenced by Haydn, who had just published his opus 20 set. The influence of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period in German literature, with its brief foreshadowing of the Romantic era to come, is evident in some of the music of both composers at that time.

Over the course of his working life, Mozart switched his focus from instrumental music to operas, and back again. He wrote operas in each of the styles current in Europe: Opera buffa, such as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, or Così fan tutte, and opera seria, such as Idomeneo; and Singspiel, of which Die Zauberflöte is probably the most famous example by any composer. In his later operas, he developed the use of subtle changes in instrumentation, orchestration, and tone color to express or highlight psychological or emotional states and dramatic shifts. Here his advances in opera and instrumental composing interacted. His increasingly sophisticated use of the orchestra in the symphonies and concerti served as a resource in his operatic orchestration, and his developing subtlety in using the orchestra to psychological effect in his operas was reflected in his later non-operatic compositions.

Mozart’s legacy to subsequent generations of composers (in all genres) is immense.

Many important composers since Mozart’s time have expressed profound appreciation of Mozart. Rossini averred, “He is the only musician who had as much knowledge as genius, and as much genius as knowledge.” Ludwig van Beethoven’s admiration for Mozart is also quite clear. Beethoven used Mozart as a model a number of times: For example, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major demonstrates a debt to Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C major, K. 503. A plausible story—not corroborated—regards one of Beethoven’s students who looked through a pile of music in Beethoven’s apartment. When the student pulled out Mozart’s A major Quartet, K. 464, Beethoven exclaimed “Ah, that piece. That’s Mozart saying, ‘here’s what I could do, if only you had ears to hear!'” Beethoven’s own Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor is an obvious tribute to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, and yet another plausible—if unconfirmed—story concerns Beethoven at a concert with his sometime-student Ferdinand Ries. As they listened to Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24, the orchestra reached the quite unusual coda of the last movement, and Beethoven whispered to Ries: “We’ll never think of anything like that!” Beethoven’s Quintet for Piano and Winds is another obvious tribute to Mozart, similar to Mozart’s own quintet for the same ensemble. Beethoven also paid homage to Mozart by writing sets of theme and variations on several of his themes: For example, the two sets of variations for cello and piano on themes from Mozart’s Magic Flute, and cadenzas to several of Mozart’s piano concertos, most notably the Piano Concerto No. 20 K. 466. A famous legend asserts that, after the only meeting between the two composers, Mozart noted that Beethoven would, “give the world something to talk about.” However, it is not certain that the two ever met. Tchaikovsky wrote his Mozartiana in praise of Mozart; and Mahler’s final word was alleged to have been simply, “Mozart.” The theme of the opening movement of the Piano Sonata in A major K. 331 (itself a set of variations on that theme) was used by Max Reger for his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart, written in 1914, and among Reger’s best-known works.

In addition, Mozart received outstanding praise from several fellow composers, including Frédéric Chopin, Franz Schubert, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, Robert Schumann, and many more.

Mozart has remained an influence in popular contemporary music in varying genres ranging from Jazz to modern Rock and Heavy metal. An example of this influence is the jazz pianist Chick Corea, who has performed piano concertos of Mozart and was inspired by them to write a concerto of his own.
The Köchel catalogue

In the decades after Mozart’s death there were several attempts to catalogue his compositions, but it was not until 1862 that Ludwig von Köchel succeeded in this enterprise. Many of his famous works are referred to by their Köchel catalogue number; for example, the Piano Concerto in A major (Piano Concerto No. 23) is often referred to simply as “K. 488” or “KV. 488.” The catalogue has undergone six revisions, labeling the works from K. 1 to K. 626.
Myths and controversies

Mozart is unusual among composers for being the subject of an abundance of legend, partly because none of his early biographers knew him personally. They often resorted to fiction in order to produce a work. Many myths began soon after Mozart died, but few have any basis in fact. An example is the story that Mozart composed his Requiem with the belief it was for himself. Sorting out fabrications from real events is a vexing and continuous task for Mozart scholars, mainly because of the prevalence of legend in scholarship. Dramatists and screenwriters, free from responsibilities of scholarship, have found excellent material among these legends.

An especially popular case is the supposed rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri, and, in some versions, the tale that it was poison received from the latter that caused Mozart’s death; this is the subject of Aleksandr Pushkin’s play Mozart and Salieri, Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera Mozart and Salieri, and Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus. The last of these has been made into a feature-length film of the same name. Shaffer’s play attracted criticism for portraying Mozart as vulgar and loutish, a characterization felt by many to be unfairly exaggerated, but in fact frequently confirmed by the composer’s letters and other memorabilia. For example, Mozart humorously wrote canons on the words “Leck mich im Arsch” as party pieces for his friends. The Köchel numbers of these canons are 231 and 233.

Another debate involves Mozart’s alleged status as a kind of superhuman prodigy, from childhood right up until his death. While some have criticized his earlier works as simplistic or forgettable, others revere even Mozart’s juvenilia. In any case, several of his early compositions remain very popular. The motet Exultate, jubilate (K. 165), for example, composed when Mozart was seventeen years old, is among the most frequently recorded of his vocal compositions. It is also mentioned that around the time when he was five or six years old, he could play the piano blindfolded and with his hands crossed over one another.

Benjamin Simkin, a medical doctor, argues in his book, Medical and Musical Byways of Mozartiana, that Mozart had Tourette syndrome. However, no Tourette syndrome expert, organization, psychiatrist, or neurologist have stated that there were sociological and cultural aspects of Tourette syndrome since there was credible evidence that Mozart had this syndrome. Several have stated now that they do not believe there is enough evidence to substantiate the claim.
Amadeus (1984)

Milos Forman’s 1984 motion picture, Amadeus, based on the play by Peter Shaffer, won eight Academy Awards and was one of the year’s most popular films. While the film did a great deal to popularize Mozart’s work with the general public, it has been criticized for its historical inaccuracies, and in particular for its portrayal of Antonio Salieri’s intrigues against Mozart, for which little historical evidence can be found. On the contrary, it is likely that Mozart and Salieri regarded each other as friends and colleagues. It is well documented, for instance, that Salieri frequently lent Mozart musical scores from the court library, that he often chose compositions by Mozart for performance at state occasions, and Salieri taught Mozart’s son, Franz Xaver.

The idea that he never revised his compositions, dramatized in the film, is easily dismissed by even a cursory examination of the autograph manuscripts, which contain many revisions. Mozart was a studiously hard worker, and by his own admission his extensive knowledge and abilities developed out of many years’ close study of the European musical tradition. In fairness, Schaffer and Forman never claimed that Amadeus was intended to be an accurate biographical portrait of Mozart. Rather, as Shaffer reveals on the DVD release of the film, the dramatic narrative was inspired by the biblical story of Cain and Abel—one brother loved by God and the other scorned.

Musicologist Alfred Einstein, the biographer of Mozart and twentieth century editor of the Köchel Catalog, is quoted as saying, “Mozart is the greatest composer of all. Beethoven created his music, but the music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it—that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed.”
In his travels, Mozart acquired some competence in many languages: as many as fifteen, by some reports.
In 1770, Mozart was awarded the Cross of the Order of the Golden Spur by Pope Clement XIV.
Mozart was much taken by the sound of Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica, and composed two works for it: An Adagio in C and an Adagio and Rondo for armonica, flute, oboe, viola, and cello (K. 617), both composed in 1791, after he heard the instrument played by the virtuoso Marianne Kirchgaessner. He started a third piece, of which only the first few bars were completed.
Recordings of Mozart’s music have sold more copies than any other composer.

Howard Carter


Howard Carter (May 9, 1874 – March 2, 1939) was an English archaeologist and Egyptologist who spent nearly 50 years unearthing historical tombs and artifacts. Although he received no formal education of any sort, Carter became one of the foremost archaeologists of his time. His early work involved excavations in the Valley of the Kings, where he was responsible for much of the work on the tombs of pharaohs Hatshepsut and Thutmosis IV. He is famous as the discoverer (supported by Lord Carnarvon) of KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. This find attracted the attention of the world, with the early death of the young pharaoh and the beauty of the artifacts capturing people’s imagination. The British Museum exhibition of the treasures of Tutankhamen, popularly called the “King Tut” exhibit, attracted over 1.5 million visitors and re-invigorated the field of Egyptology.

Carter’s efforts established a new trend in archaeological practices of preservation, which together with respect for descendants of ancient cultures has led to greater understanding of the significant civilization of ancient Egypt.

Howard Carter was born on May 9, 1874, in Brompton, Kensington, London, the youngest son in a family of 11 children. His father, Samuel Carter, and grandfather, Samuel Carter Senior, were gamekeepers on the estate of the Hamond family, the lords of the manor of Swaffham. His father became a prominent artist as did his brother William Carter (1863–1939). His mother was Martha Joyce (Sands) Carter.

Howard Carter was raised in Swaffham, in northern Norfolk, with his two aunts because the climate in London did not agree with him. He was a sickly child, and because of his ill health, he was taught privately at home, his father training him during his frequent trips to Swaffham in the fundamentals of drawing and painting. Thus, Howard never received a formal education.

One of his father’s patrons was William Amherst Tyssen-Amherst, a member of parliament from Didlington Hall near Swaffham. Howard accompanied his father to the Hall to watch him paint, but when he became bored he spent time in the Egyptian room looking at the collection Amherst had accumulated over the years. It is very likely that this is where Howard’s interest in Egyptology began. The Amhersts were to be the key to Howard’s entry into the world of Egyptology as he was their recommendation to work in the archaeological sites in Egypt.
Early Work

Carter began work in 1891, at the age of 17, as a “tracer,” for the Egyptian Exploration Fund (EEF), copying inscriptions and paintings near Alexandria, Egypt. He worked on the excavation of Beni Hasan, the gravesite of the princes of Middle Egypt, circa 2000 B.C.E.

Later he came under the tutelage of the archaeologist William Flinders Petrie. Petrie, however, had little faith in Carter’s ability to be a great archaeologist, but through his accomplishments, Howard proved him wrong. He carried out the explorations of the Theban Necropolis, the temple of Queen Hatshepsut (one of only four women pharaohs, who reigned from 1478 to 1458 B.C.E.), the tomb of Tuthmosis IV (who reigned from 1401 to 1390 B.C.E.), and the cemetery of the eighteenth-dynasty queens dating back to 1340 B.C.E. When he found the remains of Queen Hatshepsut’s tomb in Deir el-Bahri, he was appointed principal archaeologist of the EEF. There he honed his drawing, excavation, and restoration skills.

In 1899, at the age of 25, Carter was offered a position working for the Egyptian Antiquities Service. He was appointed first inspector general of the Monument for Upper Egypt. This job included supervising and controlling archaeological digs along the Nile River. He supervised the systematic exploration of the floor of the Valley of the Kings on behalf of Theodore Davis. Carter assisted in adding lights to six of the tombs. In 1903, Howard was transferred to the Inspectorate of Lower and Middle Egypt, with his headquarters at Saqqara. He later resigned as a result of a dispute between Egyptian site guards and a group of drunken French tourists in 1905.
Tutankhamen’s Tomb


After several hard years, Carter was introduced, in 1907, to George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, an eager amateur who was prepared to supply the funds necessary for Carter’s work to continue. Soon, Carter was supervising all of Lord Carnarvon’s excavations.

Lord Carnarvon financed Carter’s search for the tomb of a previously unknown pharaoh, Tutankhamen, whose existence Carter had discovered. Carter was meticulous in his methods and used the grid block system. After a few months of fruitless searching where Carter and his associates removed an estimated 70,000 tons of sand and gravel, Carnarvon was becoming dissatisfied with the lack of return from his investment and, in 1922, he gave Carter one more season of funding to find the tomb. Shortly after this ultimatum, on November 4, 1922, Carter found the steps leading to Tutankhamen’s tomb, KV62 (the acronym employed by Egyptologists to designate tombs located in the Valley of the Kings, a site where some 27 kings had been buried). It was by far the best preserved and most intact pharaoh’s tomb ever found in the Valley. Carter wired Lord Carnarvon to come, and with Carnarvon, Carnarvon’s daughter, and others in attendance, on November 22, 1922, Carter made the famous “tiny breach in the top left hand corner” of the doorway:

The decisive moment arrived. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach… At first I could see nothing…but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room within emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold—everywhere the glint of gold…. I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand the suspense any longer, inquired anxiously, “Can you see anything” it was all I could do to get out the words, “Yes, wonderful things.”

Still, Carter did not yet know at that point whether it was a tomb containing the remains of the pharaoh or merely a cache of beautiful artifacts, but he did see a promising sealed doorway between two sentinel statues.

The next several weeks were spent carefully cataloging the contents of the antechamber. On February 16, 1923, Carter opened the sealed doorway, and found that it did indeed lead to a burial chamber, and he got his first glimpse of the sarcophagus of Tutankhamen. The find was reported as resplendent with furniture, vases, chariots, and other artifacts, along with a golden wall shielding the tomb intact. Tomb robbers from early times had not reached the mummy. Finally, on October 28, 1925, almost three years after opening the entrance to the burial chamber, Carter gazed with awe and pity upon the mummy of Tutankhamen: “The beaten gold mask, a beautiful and unique specimen of ancient portraiture, bears a sad but calm expression suggestive of youth overtaken prematurely by death.”

Carter’s own papers suggest that he, Lord Carnarvon, and Lady Evelyn Herbert entered the tomb shortly after its discovery—without waiting for the arrival of Egyptian officials (as stipulated in their excavation permit). Some bizarre and demonstrably inaccurate theories have been offered about the exact extent of the excavators’ rule-breaking; but it seems likely that it was merely a case of impatient curiosity. It is widely accepted that their relationship with the government officials interested in their find was strained to the point where tacit non-cooperation became almost second nature to Carter.

While Carter was unwrapping the linens of the mummy, presumably looking for treasure, the skull of the ancient king fell away from the body. The impact from its fall out of the tomb made a dent in the skull. Egyptians believed a king could only be immortal if the body rested undisturbed, so some believe the name of the king must still be spoken today as a remembrance.

Finding the tomb of Tutankhamen, or as he came to be known colloquially “King Tut,” recreated an interest in the glories of ancient Egypt. Carter reported that it was like stepping into a funeral of a 3,200-year-old king. It was no longer just scientific research but brought out the human aspect. The discovery came just after World War I, and the world seemed eager for something spectacular. He visited the United States in 1924, and gave a series of illustrated lectures in New York City that were attended by very large and enthusiastic audiences.

Carter cataloged the artifacts with great care and detail, assigning reference numbers to each object according to its location in the tomb. He created complete records for each discovery, including his own sketches as well as numerous photographs of the objects in situ with and without their assigned reference numbers, and preserved each artifact with great care.
Later work and death

After cataloging the extensive finds, which took ten years, Carter retired from archaeology with an honorary degree of doctor of science from Yale University and an honorary membership from The Rel Academia de la Historia of Spain. After his retirement he became a collector of antiquities.

Carter had received many warnings and letters about the dangers of opening the pharaoh’s tombs. The other 11 people in the party at the opening of the tomb all died within seven years of the event, including Lord Carnarvon who died in 1923. Cararvon’s wife continued to fund Carter’s work. Carter died in England in 1939 at the age of 64. The archaeologist’s death, so long after the opening of the tomb, is the most common piece of evidence put forward by skeptics to refute the idea of the “Curse of the Pharaohs” promising death for anyone who disturbed or violated Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Howard Carter was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in West London. On his gravestone is written: “May your spirit live, May you spend millions of years, You who love Thebes, Sitting with your face to the north wind, Your eyes beholding happiness” (from the Wishing Cup of Tutankhamen).

Howard Carter has been represented in a number of films, television programs, and popular culture:

Egypt, a 2005 BBC television series featured the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb by Carter in the first two episodes.
In Search of the Pharaohs, a 30-minute cantata for narrator, junior choir, and piano by composer Robert Steadman, commissioned by the City of London Freemen’s School, uses extracts from Carter’s diaries as its text.
A paraphrased extract from Howard Carter’s diary of November 26, 1922, is used as the plaintext for Part 3 of the encrypted Kryptos sculpture at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

The many portrayals of Howard Carter and his discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in popular culture helped opened up an interest in the field of Egyptology. The temporary exhibition Treasures of Tutankhamen, held by the British Museum in 1972, was the most successful in British history, attracting 1,694,117 visitors.

Howard Carter was among the first archaeologists to document and evaluate his finds, preserving them intact. Many of the earlier explorers simply exploited the tombs for their wealth or personal artifacts. Carter took almost a decade to carefully preserve and remove the treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamen, showing an approach to excavation that more resembles the efforts of modern excavators than those of earlier times, although of course his methods were limited by the equipment and techniques known in his time.[6] Although Carter died both famous and wealthy, he was never publicly honored (as other prominent archaeologists were) by the British government.

Rognvald “The Wise” Eysteinsson


Rognvald “The Wise” Eysteinsson (son of Eystein Ivarsson) is the founder of the Earldom of Orkney in the Norse Sagas. Three quite different accounts of the creation of the Norse Earldom on Orkney and Shetland exist. The best known is that found in the Heimskringla, but other older traditions are found in the Historia Norvegiae and the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. According to tradition, Rognvald Eysteinsson was appointed Eral in 875, but handed the responsibility to his brother, Sigurd. The earldom remained in the hands of their descendants until 1232. This era of Orkney’s history is known as the Norse period.

Although the dynasty began with conquest, later Earls governed a peace-loving people and developed reputations for preferring negotiation over warfare, despite their Viking origins. The genre of literature that contains Rognvald Eysteinsson’s story, though, also anticipates that global peace is the end-goal of history and celebrate peaceful, just reigns throughout the period they cover. It may not be accidental that the region covered by the Norse Saga contains some of the nation that are not only peaceful but which, through the United Nations and other international agencies, work to promote a peaceful, prosperous world for all people.


The geography of the Orkneys placed the islands and their inhabitants on a maritime frontier between Norway and Scotland. The islands are about 20 miles North of Scotland. From 875, the King of Norway claimed the Orkney islands and Norway remained overlord of the isles until 1468 when with Shetland they were ceded to Scotland. Vikings had settled in the islands, possibly discovering them when they were blown off course, which they used as a base from which they subdued the islands accompanied by Rognvald Eysteinsson, who become the first Earl of Orkney. The Vikings were no regarded as a lawless force. They not only raised Scotland and the English coastline but Norway too. Harold also took Shetland. Later, the Earls of Orkney acquired territory in Scotland, namely Caithness and Sutherland for which they were required to pay tribute to the King of Scotland. The Earls were vassals, then, of Norway and of Scotland. At this time, the Kings of Scotland also paid tribute to England for some territories South of the English-Scottish border. A complex system of vassalage thus spread across the North Sea. At time there were three earls of Orkney when the earldom was split among siblings and their heirs.
The Sagas

The saga accounts are the best known, and the latest, of the three surviving traditions concerning Rognvald and the foundation of the Earldom of Orkney. Recorded in the 13th century, their views are informed by Norwegian politics of the day. Once, historians could write that no-one denied the reality of Harald Fairhair’s expeditions to the west recounted in Heimskringla, but this is no longer the case. The Norwegian contest with the Kings of Scots over the Hebrides and the Isle of Man in the middle 13th century underlies the sagas.

In the Heimskringla, Rognvald is Earl of Møre. Known as “Mighty” and as “Wise” it is said that both descriptions were equally apt. He accompanies Harald Fairhair on his great expeditions to the west, to Ireland and to Scotland. Here, Rognvald’s son Ivarr is killed. In compensation King Harald grants Rognvald the Orkneys and Shetlands. Rognvald himself returns to Norway, giving the northern isles to his brother Sigurd Eysteinsson

The Heimskringla recounts other tales of Rognvald. It tells how he causes Harald Finehair to be given his byname Fairhair by cutting and dressing his hair, which had been uncut for ten years on account of Harald’s vow never to cut it until he was ruler of all Norway, and it makes him the father of Ganger-Hrólf, identified by saga writers with the Rollo (Hrólfr), ancestor of the Dukes of Normandy, who was said to have been established as Count of Rouen by King Charles the Simple in 931.

Earl Rognvald is killed by Harald’s son Halfdan Hålegg. Rognvald’s death is avenged by his son, Earl Turf-Einar, from whom later Orkney earls claimed descent, who kills Halfdan on North Ronaldsay.
Historia Norvegiae

The Historia Norvegiae’s account of Rognvald and the foundation of the Orkney earldom is the next oldest, probably dating from the twelfth century. This account contains much curious detail on Orkney, including the earliest account of the Picts as small people who hid in the daytime, but it has little to say about Rognvald.

In the days of Harald Fairhair, king of Norway, certain pirates, of the family of the most vigorous prince Ronald [Rognvald], set out with a great fleet, and crossed the Solundic sea… and subdued the islands to themselves. And being there provided with safe winter seats, they went in summer-time working tyranny upon the English, and the Scots, and sometimes also upon the Irish, so that they took under their rule, from England, Northumbria; from Scotland, Caithness; from Ireland, Dublin, and the other sea-side towns.

This account does not associate Rognvald with the earldom, but instead attributes it to his anonymous sons.
Fragmentary Annals of Ireland
…for it was not long before this that there had been every war and every trouble in Norway, and this was the source of that war in Norway: two younger sons of Albdan, king of Norway, drove out the eldest son, i.e. Ragnall son of Albdan, for fear that he would seize the kingship of Norway after their father. So Ragnall came with his three sons to the Orkneys. Ragnall stayed there then, with his youngest son.
Fragmentary Annals of Ireland, FA 330. Edited and translated by Joan N. Radnor.

The oldest account of the Rognvald and the earldom of Orkney is that found in the Fragmentary Annals of Ireland. The annals survive only in incomplete copies made by Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh in the seventeenth century, but the original annals are believed to date from the lifetime of Donnchad mac Gilla Patráic (died 1039). The annals are known to have had an influence on later writings in Iceland.

The annals make Rognvald the son of “Halfdan, King of Lochlann.” This is generally understood to mean Halfdan the Black, which would make the Rognvald of the annals the brother of Harald Finehair. However, the sagas claim that Rognvald’s grandfather was named Halfdan.

These events are placed after an account of the devastation of Fortriu, dated to around 866, and the fall of York, reliably dated to late 867. However, such an early date makes it difficult to reconcile the saga claims that Harald Fairhair was involved in Rognvald’s conquest of the northern isles.

Harald Finehair’s victory in the Battle of Hafrsfjord, which gave him dominion over parts of Norway, is traditionally dated to 872, but was probably later, perhaps as late as 900. What little is known of Scottish events in the period from the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba would correspond equally well with Harald’s attacks on Scotland in the reign of Domnall mac Causantín (ruled 889–900). However, this would not correspond with the sequence in the earliest account of the origins of the Orkney earldom, which places this a generation earlier.

The earldom established by Rognvald remained within his family until 1232. The Scandinavian influence and culture remained strong, and continues to be evident in place names as well as in vocabulary. The earldom was home to several knights of the Arthurian legends. The mythology of the Norse Saga that surrounds the story of Rognvald comprises a rich tapestry of colorful stories, memorable characters, heroic sacrifice, and epic battles. These stories are part of the heritage of the people of the Orkneys just as they are of other Scandinavian peoples.

The stories glorify war, including the subjugation of the Orkneys. Yet the story in which Rognvald Eysteinsson featured was actually about pacification; the king and his earl wanted to end the Viking raids from Orkney because they were too disruptive. Eventually, the whole region over which the heroes of these stories roamed, or rather sailed, including the Orkneys, transformed itself into one of the most peace-loving zones on earth. In modern times, the Scandinavian countries have evolved away from their ancient associations with belligerence and warfare to become leaders in promoting peace and diplomacy. Orkney may not officially be “Scandinavian” any more but it can be described as “a perfect place for peace loving people.” One of the earls, Magnus Erlendsson, descended from Rognvald through both parents, loved peace. He once refused to take part in a Viking raid. Instead, he stayed aboard the boat singing psalms. He later entered a peace treaty with his cousin, who claimed the Earldom and ruled jointly with him for several years until conflict flared up again. Still trying to negotiate peace, Magnus was captured and executed in 1115. When his son, also called Rognvald became Earl, he built a cathedral to commemorate his father, who was canonized by the Church. In the Norse sagas, history is understood as linear and progressive; after evil has been defeated, “all men and Gods will live at peace.” Indeed, the story of the island is replete with references to the people enjoying “peace and prosperity” under the earls who constantly attempted to forge peace with their enemies. The Heimskringla also tells many stories of peace-making.

Buster Keaton

circa 1925: American film comedian Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966).
circa 1925: American film comedian Buster Keaton (1895 – 1966).

Buster Keaton (born Joseph Frank Keaton, October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American silent film comic actor and filmmaker. His trademark was physical comedy with a stoic, deadpan expression on his face, earning him the nickname “The Great Stone Face” (referencing the Nathaniel Hawthorne story about the “Old Man of the Mountain”).

His career as a performer and director is widely regarded to be among the most innovative and important work in the history of cinema. He was recognized as the seventh greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. In his highly influential and groundbreaking book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, leading film critic Andrew Sarris included Keaton in his Pantheon of American film directors.
Early life in vaudeville

Buster Keaton was born into the world of vaudeville. His father was Joseph Hallie Keaton, a native of Vigo County, Indiana, known in the show business world as Joe Keaton. Joe Keaton owned a traveling show with Harry Houdini called the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, which performed on stage and sold patent medicine on the side. Joseph Frank Keaton was born on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, the small town where his mother, Myra Edith Cutler, happened to go into labor.

The name “Buster” was acquired in his youth. Popular legend has it that one day before a vaudeville performance, a very young Keaton was walking down a flight of stairs, but tripped and fell down the entire flight and broke his nose. Keaton got right back up, and upon seeing this the famous magician Harry Houdini, who was in the performance, said to Keaton’s mother that he was “quite the little buster.” Although Houdini did tour with the Keatons, he did not join up with them until Buster Keaton was well beyond infancy. It is more likely that the nickname was given by a fellow vaudevillian whose name has been lost to history.

At the age of three, he began performing with his parents in The Three Keatons; the storyline of the act concerned how to raise a small child. Myra played the saxophone on one side while Joe and Buster performed on center stage. The young Keaton would goad his father by disobeying him, and the elder Keaton would respond by throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, or even into the audience. A suitcase handle was even sewn into Keaton’s clothing to aid with the constant tossing. The act evolved as Keaton learned to take trick falls safely. He was rarely injured or bruised on stage. Nevertheless, this knockabout style of comedy led to accusations of child abuse. Decades later, Keaton said that he was never abused by his father and that the falls and physical comedy were a matter of proper technical execution. In fact, Keaton would have so much fun, he would begin laughing as his father threw him across the stage. This drew fewer laughs from the audience, so he adopted his famous deadpan expression whenever he was working.

The act ran up against laws banning child performers in vaudeville. When one official saw Keaton in full costume and makeup, he asked a stagehand how old that performer was. The stagehand shrugged and pointed to the boy’s mother, saying “I don’t know, ask his wife!” Despite tangles with the law and a disastrous tour of English music halls, Keaton was a rising star in the theater, so much so that even when his parents tried to introduce the other children into the act, he remained the central attraction.

By the time Keaton was 21, his father’s alcoholism threatened the reputation of the family act, so he and his mother left Joe in Los Angeles. Keaton traveled to New York, where his performing career moved from vaudeville to film.

Although he did not see active combat, he served in World War I, during which time he lost some of his hearing.

In 1921, he married Natalie Talmadge, sister-in-law of his boss, Joseph Schenck, and sister of actresses Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge. During the first three years of the marriage, the couple had two sons, James (1922-2007) and Robert (1924-), but after the birth of Robert, the relationship began to suffer.

According to Keaton in his autobiography, Natalie turned him out of their bedroom and sent detectives to follow him to see who he was dating behind her back. She also spent enormous sums of money. During the early 1920s, as per his autobiography, he dated actress Kathleen Key, and upon ending the affair, Key flew into a rage, tearing up his dressing room. Not until 1932, did Natalie bitterly divorce Keaton, at which time the court awarded her custody of both sons and substantial financial support. She refused to allow any contact between Keaton and his sons, whose last name she had changed to Talmadge. Keaton was reunited with them about eight years later when the older son turned 18. The failure of his marriage, along with the loss of his independence as a filmmaker, led Keaton into a period of serious alcoholism.

In 1933, Keaton married his nurse Mae Scriven during an alcoholic binge about which he afterward claimed to remember nothing (Keaton himself later called that period an “alcoholic blackout”). Scriven herself would later claim that she didn’t even know Keaton’s real first name until after the marriage. When they divorced in 1936, the court awarded her half of everything they owned.

In 1940, Keaton married Eleanor Norris, who was 23 years his junior. She saved his life from his spiral of alcoholism and helped to salvage his career. All of their friends advised them against marrying, but the marriage lasted until his death. Between 1947 and 1954, they appeared regularly in the Cirque Medrano in Paris, in a highly-regarded double act. She came to know his routines so well that she often participated in them on TV revivals. She outlived him by 32 years, dying in 1998.

Keaton died of lung cancer on February 1, 1966, at the age of 70. Although he was diagnosed with the disease, he was never told that he was terminally ill. In a documentary on his career, his wife told Thames Television that Keaton played cards with friends the night before he died.
Silent film era

In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract to Joseph M. Schenck. Joe Keaton disapproved of films, thinking them to be little more than a fad. Buster Keaton was also unsure of the medium. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He promptly took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled it, and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag-man, making his first appearance in The Butcher Boy (1917). Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends. Keaton later claimed that he was soon Arbuckle’s second director and his entire gag department.

After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Studios. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including One Week (1920), Cops (1922), The Electric House (1922), and The Playhouse (1921). Based on the success of these shorts, Keaton moved to full-length features.

His most enduring feature-length films include Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), The Cameraman (1928), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), and The General (1927). This last film, set during the American Civil War, is considered his masterpiece, combining physical comedy with Keaton’s love for trains. Many of his most well-known films performed poorly at the box office at the time.

Years later, rival director Leo McCarey talked about the freewheeling days of making slapstick comedies: “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” Keaton also habitually performed his own stunts, sometimes at great physical risk; during the railroad watertank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck and did not realize it until years afterwards.

In addition, the technical side of filmmaking fascinated him and he was forward thinking enough that, when they began to become technically practical and popular, he wanted to direct sound films. The fact that he had a good voice and years of stage experience promised an easier adjustment than Charlie Chaplin’s silent Tramp character, who could not survive sound. Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films and mounting personal problems, and his full potential in the early sound era was never realized.
Sound era and television

Keaton signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1928, a business decision that he would later call the worst of his life. He realized too late that the studio system MGM represented would prove to be a far more restrictive atmosphere than the freedom he had known previously, severely limiting his prior creative independence. From then on he would (for the first time) be forced to use a stunt double during some of his more dangerous scenes, as MGM wanted badly to protect its investment. He also stopped directing, but continued to perform and made some of his most financially successful films for the studio. MGM tried teaming the laconic Keaton with the rambunctious Jimmy Durante in a series of movies including The Passionate Plumber, Speak Easily, and What! No Beer? Although the two comedians never quite meshed as a team, the films proved popular.

What! No Beer? was Keaton’s last starring feature in America. Behind the scenes, Keaton’s world was in chaos, with divorce proceedings contributing to his alcoholism, which in turn caused production delays and unpleasant incidents at the studio. Keaton was so depleted during the filming of What! No Beer? that MGM released him from his contract, despite the film’s resounding success. In 1934 Keaton accepted an offer to make an independent film in Paris, Le Roi des Champs-Élysées. During this period he made one other film in Europe, The Invader (released in America as An Old Spanish Custom in 1936).

Upon his return to Hollywood, he made a screen comeback in a series of 16 two-reel comedies for Educational Pictures. Most of these are simple visual comedies, with many of the gags supplied by Keaton himself. The high point in the Educational series is Grand Slam Opera, featuring Buster in his own screenplay as an amateur-hour contestant. When the series lapsed in 1937, Keaton returned to MGM as a gag writer, particularly for Red Skelton and the Marx Brothers–including At the Circus (1939), and Go West (1940).

In 1939, Columbia Pictures hired Keaton to star in two-reel comedies; the series ran for two years. The director was usually Jules White, whose emphasis on slapstick made most of these films resemble White’s Three Stooges comedies. Keaton’s personal favorite of the ten Columbia films was directed not by White but by Mack Sennett veteran Del Lord: Pest from the West (1939), a two-reel remake of Keaton’s feature The Invader. Moviegoers and exhibitors welcomed Keaton’s Columbia comedies, which were successful enough to be re-released again and again through the 1960s.

Keaton’s personal life had stabilized with his 1940 marriage, and now he was taking life a little easier, abandoning Columbia for the less strenuous field of feature films. Throughout the 1940s Keaton played character roles in both “A” features and “B” films. Critics rediscovered Keaton in 1949 and producers hired him for bigger pictures. He guest-starred in such films as Sunset Boulevard (1950), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He appeared in Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), recalling the vaudeville of The Playhouse. Limelight was the only time in which the two giants of silent comedy would appear together on film.

Keaton had a successful series on Los Angeles television, The Buster Keaton Show (1950). An attempt to recreate the first series on film as Life with Buster Keaton (1951), which allowed it to be broadcast nationwide, was less well-received, although veteran actress Marcia Mae Jones and gagman Clyde Bruckman made contributions. A theatrical feature film, The Misadventures of Buster Keaton, was fashioned from the series. Keaton said he canceled the filmed series himself because he was unable to create enough fresh material to produce a new show each week.

Keaton also appeared on Ed Wynn’s variety show. At the age of 55, he successfully recreated one of the stunts of his youth, in which he propped one foot onto a table, then swung the second foot up next to it, and held the awkward position in midair for a moment before crashing to the stage floor. I’ve Got a Secret host Garry Moore recalled, “I asked (Keaton) how he did all those falls, and he said, ‘I’ll show you’. He opened his jacket and he was all bruised. So that’s how he did it – it hurt – but you had to care enough not to care.” At the age of 70, Keaton suggested a piece of physical comedy for his appearance in the 1965 movie Sergeant Deadhead, in which he ran past the end of a firehose into a six-foot-high flip and crash. When director Norman Taurog balked, expressing concerns for Keaton’s health, Keaton said, “I won’t hurt myself, Norm, I’ve done it for years!”

Keaton’s silent films saw a revival in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961 he starred in The Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time,” which included both silent and sound sequences. Keaton also found steady work as an actor in TV commercials, including a popular series of silent ads for Simon Pure Beer in which he revisited some of his favorite sight gags from his silent film days.

Keaton starred in a short film called The Railrodder [sic] (1965) [for the National Film Board of Canada. Wearing his traditional porkpie hat, he traveled from one end of Canada to the other on a motorized handcar, performing gags similar to those in films he made 50 years before. The film is also notable as Keaton’s last silent screen performance. The Railrodder was made in tandem with a behind-the-scenes documentary about Keaton’s life and times, called Buster Keaton Rides Again–also made for the National Film Board. He played the central role in Samuel Beckett’s Film (1965), directed by Alan Schneider. Keaton’s last film appearance was in the musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).

Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and, to a lesser extent, Harold Lloyd are remembered as the greatest comic innovators of the silent film era. It should be noted that Chaplin’s films have always been more accessible than those of Keaton in both senses of that term: emotionally and artistically accessible to nearly everyone, as well as more widely available.

Keaton’s films have been more difficult to find and view than those of Chaplin. Many of them did not make much money at the box office, and many were lost for years until they were found again and restored in the 1960s. Although Chaplin has always been better known and his films more often seen, there are critics and commentators—the great Spanish director Luis Buñuel for one—who have preferred the work of Keaton to that of Chaplin. In the one scene in which they ever appeared together in any film, in Chaplin’s Limelight, Keaton succeeded in stealing the scene from Chaplin.

Although both were giants of silent film, there is a distinct difference in the tone and content of the films of Keaton and Chaplin. Chaplin’s films dealt primarily with human relations: The Tramp as a character found and created comedic situations as an interactor with and a foil for the foibles of other humans. Chaplin’s comedy was primarily a comedy of human interactions, and the films are frequently sentimental. Chaplin was the Tramp, an easily understood human clown. Keaton was a stoic dealing with an absurd universe.

Keaton’s comedy was that of a human, mostly alone, dealing with an absurd universe made up of recalcitrant and even perverse nature and machines. He produced an existential comedy of a human being dealing, in his stoic and stone-faced way, with the vagaries of wind, rain, water, and human artifacts—machines, boats, trains—that usually seem to conspire against him, but that he ultimately survives and overcomes, sometimes through Rube Goldberg-like constructions.

Keaton’s was a strongly physical-based comedy in which he did his own stunts. In a famous shot from Steamboat Bill Jr., for example, Keaton stands in a field next to a building. The entire wall of the building is blown down and collapses over him but Keaton is unscathed because he is standing in the exact spot where the single window of that wall of the building goes around him. Had Keaton missed that spot by just an inch or so, he would likely have been crushed by the falling wall, so exact planning as well as total faith in and commitment to the calculations of where he needed to stand to get the shot were necessary.

Keaton’s career as a performer and director is widely regarded to be among the most innovative and important work in the history of cinema. He was recognized as the seventh greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly and ranked twentieth in MovieMaker Magazine’s 2002 ranking of the 25 Most Influential Directors of All Time.

Keaton has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 6619 Hollywood Boulevard (for motion pictures); and 6321 Hollywood Boulevard (for television). In 1994, his image appeared on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

A 1957 bio-pic The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O’Connor as Keaton, was based on his life but contained many errors of fact and merged his three wives into one character. The 1987 documentary Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, which won two Emmy Awards, is considered a much more accurate telling of Keaton’s story.