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15th Annual Buster Keaton Celebration

October 2 and 3, 2009
Muskegon, MI


Society celebrates Bluffton neighborhood's native son

KEATON.jpgBy Marla Miller | Muskegon Chronicle
October 01, 2009

MUSKEGON — Actress Drew Barrymore, currently filming a new romantic comedy, has a picture of Buster Keaton on the wall of her set trailer, according to a recent Parade Magazine article.

Barrymore’s Keaton photo illustrates, even today, the reach and relevance of the vaudeville performer, comedic actor and filmmaker who spent his boyhood summers in Muskegon. Barrymore, 34, considers him one of her heroes. Keaton’s glory days ranged from his 1920s silent films to television and movies in the 1950s and 60s.

The 15th annual International Buster Keaton Society convention will take place Friday and Saturday in Muskegon. Each year it attracts “Damfinos,” people from across the globe who come together to celebrate the life Keaton enjoyed here into adulthood, said Ron Pesch, a local historian and society board member.

“It keeps bringing people to town on a regular basis,” Pesch said. “They want to check it out, they want to see what his inspirations were and the place he called home.”


• What: 15th annual International Buster Keaton Society convention and public showing of “The General.”

• When and where: Friday and Saturday at sites around Muskegon.

• Film: “The General” will be shown at 8 p.m. Saturday at Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts, 425 W. Western, downtown Muskegon. Tickets are $6 or $20 for a family. Available prior to the film at the Frauenthal Box Office .

• Information: 727-8001.

The convention is held each year around Keaton’s birthday. He was born Joseph Frank Keaton on Oct. 4, 1895, and became part of his vaudeville parents’ stage show by age 3. Society members have selected “The General,” considered one of Keaton’s silent film masterpieces, to show. A Chicago organist will provide live accompaniment on the Frauenthal Theater’s 1929 Barton Pipe Organ.  

The “Great Locomotive Chase,” also the tale of Andrews’ Raid, formed the basis of Keaton’s 1927 film “The General.” The train was commandeered during the Civil War by volunteers from the Union Army.

Keaton plays the train’s conductor who takes off in pursuit of it and also tries to sign up for the service “to be a hero in the eyes of his girlfriend,” Pesch said.

Friday’s festivities include a walking tour of the Bluffton Actors Colony, where Keaton’s vaudeville parents purchased real estate in the early 1900s and invited their friends to vacation and perform. The Keatons discovered Muskegon during appearances in 1902 and 1905 at the outdoor theater on Lake Michigan. Keaton’s father, Joe, built a cottage on Muskegon Lake in 1908, and the colony existed until 1938.

Society members also will take part in a game of baseball at Bluffton school, watch Keaton short films and gather for a meet-and-greet at The Depot, also Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, at 610 W. Western.
Extra Iddings »

Who is that guy? Damfweknow

By Bill Iddings

October 01, 2009, 9:59AM
busterelks.jpgBuster Keaton (left) used to hang at the Elks Lodge in Muskegon. Anybody know who's with him here? One more time: Who’s the guy sitting next to Buster Keaton (left) in this old Muskegon photograph? Extra Iddings isn’t telling you. Extra Iddings is asking you. That’s because Extra Iddings doesn’t know. Get it?


Have so many ever so missed the point?

On that last point, think rhetorical.

Two days before the end of this September, an item on the cyberspace bulletin board Facebook posted a photograph and posed a question.

The second explained the first: “Buster Keaton (left) used to hang at the Elks Lodge in Muskegon. Anybody know who's with him here?”

By the first day of this October, this much was clear as a drug-test cheat’s urine: Nobody got the question.

Bonnie Campbell Jensen, a Muskegonite whom the poster figured could identify the old man no prob, instead wondered, “Was it the guy who used to live next to me ( my house) ---- what was his name? --- Mush Rawls? Tell, tell, Bill!”

No, Bonnie, what I meant was ...

Rich Houtteman didn’t help much with, “Chuck Hackley?”

At least Dave Tellman kept it close to home, trying out, “My grandpa?”

This isn’t a pop quiz where the poster provides the question, and later coughs up the answer upside down.

I don’t know the other guy’s identity.

I’m asking you.

Yes, you, Rob. Schweifler, who took a gander at the black-and-white pic of Keaton, the silent-film comedian and former summer resident of our Bluffton neighborhood, and an older man lounging adjacent each other in easy chairs inside the Muskegon Elks Lodge, flicking cigarette ashes into a standup ashtray.

Keaton has his shoes tucked up under him on the cushions, prompting Schweifler to come up with, “It's his dad saying ‘get your feet off the furniture!’ “


As a big a rib tickler as Linda Bothell, who chuckled, “You?”

Clear the air.

And hope the Damfinos can help us out.

This weekend Muskegon again is being invaded by Keaton’s fan club, the Damfinos: International Buster Keaton Society.

For the past 1 1/2 decades, these folks have clustered in and around the Frauenthal Theater, for the Damfinos’ fall convention.

Through this coming Sunday, replicas of Keaton’s signature porkpie hat will be back in fashion downtown.

Keatonmania won’t exactly rage -- Damfinos tend to be too old to even think about pillaging -- but our joints will be jumpin’, if only metaphorically.

About the only thing we townies seem to agree on is who the bespectacled dude in the picture isn’t.

Chuck -- make that Charles A. -- Hackley, reigns as Muskegon’s greatest philanthropist, an 1880s lumber baron whose name and likeness remain spread all over town.

He died in 1905, when Buster Keaton was 10 years old.

Extra Iddings doesn’t know when the photo was taken, but the Keaton in it isn’t a fifth-grader, not unless those penmanship tests were tough enough to stump Sherlock Holmes.

Mush Rawls was a Keaton contemporary who frolicked, with Buster’s family, around the Muskegon Lake nook known as The Actors’ Colony.

But Rawls was a vaudevillian who took his final bow long before some shutter bug captured Buster Keaton and whoever at the Elks.

“His Dad ... ?”

Joe Keaton died in 1946, 20 years before his son, Buster. So unless the guy on the right’s a ghost ...

And as for “You,” Extra Iddings was a Western Michigan University sophomore in 1966, the year Buster Keaton got his act together and took it on the road, to the Pearly Gates.

Wilma Randle may be excused for scratching her head, “So who is it? I remember his house there.”

The former Muskegon Chronicle reporter is out of local touch, having lived and worked for many years in Dakar, Senegal.

That’s in Africa, a far piece from Muskegon.

Now that all that’s not settled, one more time.

“Buster Keaton (left) used to hang at the Elks Lodge in Muskegon. Anybody know who's with him here?”

Through us a rope, Damfinos.
We’ve gone overboard on Keaton’s “The Boat.”

We’re foundering like “The Navigator.”

In other words, we’re drownin’ here.
Extra Iddings »

A place that made 'The Great Stone Face' smile

By Bill Iddings

September 29, 2009, 11:54AM
damfino.jpgBuster Keaton, "The Great Stone Face."Until one summer morning in 2001, Peter Scolari couldn’t find “Go West” anywhere.

A Muskegon journalist just happened to have a copy of the 1925 Buster Keaton comedy, having purchased a videotape copy at the Muskegon Mercantile store at the corner of Fourth Street and West Western Avenue. That affernoon he forked it over during lunch at the City Cafe restaurant.

Six years earlier, in 1995, an unlikely trio posed with the life-sized statue of Keaton standing his place in history at the Muskegon County Museum.

Two of them were Adrian Booth Brian, Keaton’s “Go West” costar; and Eleanor Keaton, the great comic actor’s third wife and widow. Keaton died in 1966.

Anyone want to take a wild guess who rounded out the tableaux?

Buster Keaton’s connection to Muskegon will be rekindled Oct. 2-3, when the 15th annual fall gathering of his fan club -- Damfinos: International Buster Keaton Society -- convenes.

medium_generalsheet.jpgThe weekend’s public highlight will be Saturday’s 8 p.m. screening of Keaton’s 1926 classic, “The General,” in the ornate expanse of the downtown Frauenthal Theater. The West End Jazz Band will warm up the audience. Chicago organist Dennis Scott will accompany the silent movie on the Frauenthal’s famous Barton Theater Organ.

Keaton’s local link is well documented, exhumed and resurrected here each October.Known as "The Great Stone Face" for his expressionless expression, Keaton was a member of the local Elks Lodge. A prized archival photo shows him lounging with an Elks honcho, Keaton’s feet tucked up on the cushion of an Art Deco easy chair.

A historical plaque on Lakeshore Drive near Lake Michigan commemorates The Actor’s Colony conclave that Keaton’s father helped establishe in the Bluffton neighborhood during the early 1900s.

In front of Latitudes Market, a store located where Lakeshore Drive forks west to Beach Street and continues north as Edgewater Street, a painted sign sporting a painting of Keaton in his trademark porkpie hat welcomes “Enjoy Buffton.”

People get into Buster Keaton for all kinds of reasons.

Once they’re hooked on the little genuis who was a contemporary and equal of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, that’s that.


Scolari, eight years ago was in town to star in Cherry County Playhouse’s production of “A Chorus Line.” He hoped “Go West” would help him create -- and star -- in a television movie about the silent-film star, who loved our corner of paradise like nowhere else.
In 1995, Adrian Booth Brian, Eleanor Keaton, and - Who Else! - posed with the Buster Keaton’s life-sized statue in Muskegon.
Best known for starring with Tom Hanks in the 1980 television sitcom “Bosom Buddies,” Scolari was back two years later.

adrianeleanor.jpgPreparing to star in the title role of Cherry County’s “Barnum,” a stage musical that was being filmed for national TV, Scolari sighed that nothing had yet come of his personal Keaton caper.

Eleanor Keaton had been here long before. When she and her husband were en route to Chicago, they’d detour north, back to Bluffton, for beer and perch on the front steps of Pascoe’s Place tavern that no longer exists, as don’t Muskegon Mercantile, City Cafe and Cherry County Playhouse.

Muskegon was new to Adrian Booth Brian.

She’d been summoned here by A.J. “Al,” Flogge, the North Muskegon resident who seems to know every show-business celebrity in history. Flogge had served in the U.S. Army with a rock ‘n’ roller who gotten drafted, fella named Elvis Presley.

Flogge, who now spends most of his year in Palm Springs, Calif., continues to stay in close touch with Brian. Buster Keaton is never far from their thoughts.

Or ours.

Actors' Colony tour Saturday

Buster Keaton at the Frauenthal Theater 2009Muskegon Chronicle
August 12, 2009


MUSKEGON -- Buster Keaton fans will embark upon a walk back in time Saturday during a walking tour of the Actors' Colony.

The 90-minute walk will be led by Ron Pesch of Buster Keaton's fan club, the International Buster Keaton Society. The tour will identify the Keaton family's former cottage, Jingles Jungle, along with the former homes of the Millard, Lucier, Gardner, Gruber, Butowick, Flemen, and LePage families.

In 1908, Keaton's father, Joe, formed the Artist's Colony Club, now called the Actors' Colony. By 1911, more than 200 performers resided and visited there. By the 1920s, the emerging film industry drove those in the colony to move elsewhere.

The walk begins at 10:30 a.m. in the parking lot of Bluffton Elementary School, 1875 Waterworks. Tourists should bring a bottle of water and dress comfortably.

Fans should also mark their calendars for the 15th annual Buster Keaton Celebration with the return of the Damfinos, the International Buster Keaton Society. The event will feature the silent classic, "The General," with live accompaniment on the 1929 Barton pipe organ. The film will show at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon. Tickets are $6 and are available at the Frauenthal Box Office.

For the walking tour, there is no fee and all are welcome. For details of the Actors Colony or more information, call Ron at (231) 759-7253 or visit