at Bluffton
1908 - 1938

Buster Keaton
and the
Muskegon Connection

Home | Members | Maps | Historical Marker | Walking Tour | Convention|
 Coverage | Links | Contact

12th Annual Buster Keaton Celebration

October 6 and 7, 2006
Muskegon, MI


Silent Film Star Convention is No Gag  

By Kim Silarski


Every autumn for the last dozen years, a small group of dedicated silent film fans from across the U.S. has quietly convened at Bluffton, a piece of scenic peninsula between Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan in the west Michigan town of Muskegon.

They do so because another group of devoted entertainment types made history by making Bluffton their summer home about a century ago. Among them was a young vaudevillian soon to become a pioneering actor/director in the newborn Hollywood film industry. His name was
Buster Keaton. “The property is still there, but the old summer home was torn down. It was on a steep hill with sand dunes overlooking the water. The retaining wall is the only thing still there,” says Buster Keaton Society Founder Patricia Eliot Tobias of the Actors Colony founded at Bluffton by Keaton’s parents.

Keaton (1895-1966) and his parents, Joe and Myra, comprised a popular comedy trio known on the vaudeville circuit as The Three Keatons. In their travels they came to Muskegon, fell in love with it, and established a home where their fellow performers could cool their heels during the warm-weather months, when audiences stayed away from non-air-conditioned theaters. “Buster was still a boy when he came to Muskegon in 1908. It was the first permanent home he ever had,” says Tobias, a Los Angeles-based writer/editor. “He adored Muskegon because it was his only chance to be a regular kid. His mom learned to cook there. He started a baseball team to play the town kids, and did acrobatics while running the bases. It made the local paper.”

Keaton even made affectionate notations about Muskegon in a date book he kept during those years. “That’s why we meet there. We love coming to the town he cared about so much,” says Tobias.

Keaton stopped spending summers at Bluffton when he moved to Hollywood for a full-time film career. He went on to direct and/or star in seminal silent comedies including “The Navigator” and “Sherlock Jr.” (both 1924), “The General” (1926), “The Cameraman” and “Steamboat Bill Jr.” (both 1928). He made over 100 films, working into the 1960s.

Lest they be considered “those weirdos who come in once a year,” the society has embraced the locals by opening their film screenings, expert chats and other events to the public. On the agenda this year is a one-inning baseball game played on the field where young
Keaton romped and a speakeasy-style party to celebrate the era of Keaton’s greatest work.

So, why does a far-flung group of educated folk including doctors, lawyers and an archaeologist, chase the shadow of a long-gone silent film star? Tobias says
Keaton labored in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s but is now considered a peer of Chaplin and another innovator, Harold Lloyd.

“And there’s something very cerebral about Keaton’s work. His gags are clever. They appeal to the mind and the funny bone,” says Tobias. “People think of him primarily as a comedian, but he was an extraordinary filmmaker who influenced everyone.

Anyone in films who employs physical action owes a debt to

The convention takes place October 6-7. Visit