Saturday, February 21, 2009

What's in store for Year 15?

Beginning in 1995, the city of Muskegon has played host to an Annual Buster Keaton Celebration each October. Staged in cooperation with The International Buster Keaton Society, who brings their convention to town, the event has won the hearts of many. Over the years, guests have included film personalities James Karen, Adrian Booth Brian, Gerald Potterton, Frank Buxton, Cliff Cronan, authors George Wead, Joe Adamson, David Macleod, Jim Kline, Imogen Smith, Edward McPherson, Annette D'Agostino Lloyd. Lloyd Williams. Family members Eleanor Keaton, Melissa Talmadge Cox, Ted Keaton, and Jeanne Keaton Holler have come to visit the city that Buster called home.

The convention has included rare film clips and television shows, panel discussions, power PowerPoint presentations, slide shows, quizzes, auctions, baseball games, trolley and walking tours of Bluffton, and even a wedding and two receptions. Events have been hosted at the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Muskegon Museum of Art, the Muskegon County Museum, Hackley Public Library, the Beardsley Theater, the Shoreline Inn, Muskegon Community College, the Muskegon Harbor Holiday Inn and the old Muskegon Mall.

In that first year, the celebration included a museum exhibit highlighting Keaton's career and the history of the local Actors' Colony. The event has included art exhibits by school age children, life-size sculptures of Keaton, beautiful streetlight banners and, of course, a full slate of his classic films at the historic Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon. Here's what we've shown to date.

1995 - Friday - The Cameraman
1995 - Saturday - The General
1996 - The Goat & The Railrodder/Buster Keaton Rides Again
1997 - The Boat & The Navigator
1998 - The Balloonatic & Our Hospitality
1999 - One Week & Seven Chances
2000 - One Week - accompanied by the West Shore Symphony Orchestra
2001 - The High Sign and Steamboat Bill, Jr.
2002 - The Electric House & College
2003 - An Evening of Shorts - The Paleface, Hard Luck, Taming of the Snood & The Frozen North
2004 - Friday - A Vaudeville Show accompanied with the shorts Backstage & The Playhouse
2004 - Saturday - The Scarecrow & The Cameraman
2005 - The Butcher Boy & Spite Marriage
2006 - Oh Doctor!, The Haunted House and Sherlock Jr.
2007 - Convict 13, One Week & Three Ages
2008 - Battling Butler & The Navigator

The 15th annual Buster Keaton celebration is scheduled for October 2-3, 2009. As always, it should be quite the show!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The other Marilyn

My dear friend Graceann Macleod - formerly of Milwaukee, now of London, England, sent this little note the other day about Marilyn Miller.
I was reading Warren Harris's The Other Marilynand on Page 44, he mentions Marilyn and her parents taking a vacation thusly:

"The Passing Show tour was twice as long as the Broadway run; it did not end until March 1915. After a short vacation with her parents at Lake Muskegon, a [Minnesota] resort very popular with show people, Marilyn was whisked back to New York to begin rehearsals for the next edition of The Passing Show."

Clearly, Mr. Harris is in error as to where this popular resort was located, but the rest of it seems to make sense. Buster is mentioned a couple of times in the book, albeit very briefly, because when Marilyn and her family were touring early on as "The Columbians," she would occasionally cross paths with the Three, Four and Five Keatons. I can imagine Buster or his Dad mentioning either to Marilyn or to her stepfather, Caro Miller, a nice, relaxing place where show folk are welcome. Any thoughts on this?
Well - my first thought was, "that's pretty cool! Another famous visitor to Muskegon during the days of the Actors' Colony."

My second was, "OK - who is this Marilyn Miller, and what was this show called "The Passing Show"?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew the answer, however it wasn't bubbling to the top. It was time to set it free.

First stop - Google. More specifically, the Google's "books" option.

I started with "Broadway, An Encyclopedia", by Ken Bloom. Check out page 563 and "The Passing Show of 1914."

The Shubert Brothers, Lee and J.J. were powerful theater operators in New York, and ultimately, across the United States. During their rise to power in the Big Apple, they, leased the old American Horse Exchange at 1634 Broadway in New York, and had it renovated into the Winter Garden Theater. Designed to host musical presentations, it opened in March, 1911. with a performance of La Belle Paree, featuring the Broadway debut of Al Jolson. A ragtime comedian, Jolson was not yet well known on Broadway, but the show would change all that. After 104 performances, according to Bloom, "La Belle Paree became the first to tour the country following its Broadway run."

Jolson's next Shubert show Vera Violetta would make him a star. He bacome the feature performer as numerous Shubert shows and his popularity led Variety to proclaim "the Shuberts may run the Winter Garden, but Al Jolsen owns it."

While Jolson was touring the shows nationally, it became necessary to produce an attraction to fill the void. "The Passing Show," first performed in 1912, was designed to handle that role. The show was a revue, designed to compete with Florenz Ziegfeld's Follies It was titled as such as the show was meant to play a short time on Broadway, then hit the road on a tour of the country. The show offered parodies of current Broadway offerings.

"The Passing Show" was mounted again in 1913 and then in 1914. Bloom's book deemed the show "no better than any of the Shubert offerings. However, it did mark the Broadway debut of Marilyn Miller, a delightful dancer, who became a particular favorite of Broadway audiences."

She was only 15-years old.

So - that would explain the vacation with her parents.

"The Passing Show." Of course. It was the planned destination of Buster Keaton when he chose to leave the family act. Instead, fate intervened, and Keaton visited the Comique set at Norma Talmadge Studios where Roscoe Arbuckle was filming.

Indeed, the location of Lake Muskegon has been mistaken before. Harris has it in Minnesota. In "Vaudeville, Old and New" by Frank Cullen, Florence Hackman, Donald McNeilly it surfaces in Wisconsin.
"At the end of the day or career, vaudevillians had little to talk about with bank clerks, grocers, or insurance underwriters. The retired troupers needed their own community. Some found fellowship in rural vacation colonies that attracted show folk, such as those in Lake Hoptacong in New Jersey, Blaisdell Lake in New Hampshire or Lake Muskegon in Wisconsin."
Miller would go on to an amazing career on Broadway, then briefly, in film. Years later, she would be the inspiration for Norma Jean Baker's transformation into Marilyn Monroe.

In New York, Miller's image was captured by Alexander Calder on the I Miller building at 46th Street and Seventh Avenue just off Times Square. She shares the space with Mary Pickford, Rosa Ponselle, and Ethel Barrymore.
...once the preeminent musical theatre star of her day.

She scored a hit with "Sunny"just four years before this statue was unveiled; she died seven years later.
She passed away on April 7, 1936 at the age of 37 of an acute sinus infection.

Here's an interesting blog entry on Miller. And some beautiful photos at Vanity Fair. (Thank you Melani!)

So - I guess it's time to see if I can find a reference to the family's visit in the local paper.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Buster on a three week tour of Grand Rapids, MI

Jack Price's Buster Keaton figure has made the 40 mile trip to Grand Rapids. Visitors to the annual International Buster Keaton Society convention in Muskegon are certainly familiar with the guest of honor. For the last 14 years, The Damfino's (pronounced Dam-Fi-No ... like "Damn if I Know") have come to Muskegon to celebrate Buster's birthday. The 15th annual gathering will take place on the weekend of October 2, 2009. Check out for more detail.

Check out the clip (remember to play the video) from the Tuesday, February 10th episode of WZZM's Take Five & Company local lifestyle show.

Follow this link to read about the first year of the convention. Once there, scan down the page for more about Jack's "Bondo Busters".

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So - who was this guy, Romaine Fielding?

So - who was this guy, Romaine Fielding?
  • a) The most popular film actor in America.
  • b) A film pioneer, who built the first collapsible stage and the first lighting system for night cinematography.
  • c) The director of the longest, most expensive film ever made
How about all of the above. If the year were 1913, that would be the answer to today's little quiz.

It seems that my post the other day caught the attention of at least one reader.

David Lindblom dashed off a note and e-mailed it to me. It was my second connection with a documentary film maker in the last few months.

Hello Ron,

I read this morning your blog entry on the film "Rich Slave" and it is full of fascinating information on Romaine Fielding about whom I am researching a documentary film. Can you possibly share with me your source for Fielding's military service and WWI war involvement.
Little did I know that Fielding's activities between 1917 and the mid 20's are, to at least some degree, a mystery.

Because of David's e-mail, I did a little Internet research.

Fielding's story is indeed fascinating.

A genealogy site supplied this detailed, "Just the Facts" rundown of one Willam Grant Blandin
WILLIAM GRANT BLANDIN was born on 22 May 1868 in Mitchell Co., IA.

He married Icylene L. Richards, daughter of Joseph Richards and Elmiray (--?--), circa 1891.

He married Florene Mabel VanValkenburg, daughter of Noah C. VanValkenburg and Anna B. Layman, on 30 Jul 1907.

He married Niomi Mary Lillian Sachs, daughter of William P. Sachs and Florence Buchanan, on 2 Dec 1918 in Anniston, AL.

He died on 15 Dec 1927 in Los Angeles, Los Angeles Co., CA, at age 59. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles Co., CA; plot: Masonic (section M), L-182.

On 1891 his name was legally changed to ROYAL A. BLANDIN. His name was legally changed to ROMANZO A. BLANDIN. His name was legally changed to ROMAINE FIELDING. He appeared on the census of 1 Jun 1900 in Fall River Township, Wilson Co., KS; age 32. He lived in Klondike Region, AK; After death of William T. Blandin.
Following a "Looking for Mabel Normand" link, I learned more. Fielding, as he was known to movie goers, began his film career at the age of 43. According to the site, he performed in 73 films (only 8 of which were done after 1920), was screenwriter(or co-writer) for 28 productions, and director (or one assumes co-director) on 68 films. He was also a principle in the Lubin Film Company, created by one of the true pioneers of the motion picture industry - Siegmund Lubin. Sporting the slogan "Clear as a Bell" Lubin's films were known for their quality and clarity, and the company built a film empire consisting of numerous theaters and nickelodeons and satellite studios around the country.

In 1914, an explosion and fire destroyed the negatives for Lubin productions. World War I impacted foreign distribution of films and cut off a large source of revenue for the company. On September 1, 1917, Lubin Film closed its doors forever.

Fielding continued to work, starring in "The Desert Rat", a 1917 production credited to Bison Motion Pictures, and directing "For the Freedom of the World", a war drama for S&M Film Company, and "Moral Courage", " "The Crimson Dove" and "Youth" for Peerless Productions all in 1917 according to information on found in the Internet Movie Database.

Then, Fielding disappears from sight until 1920. He returned as part of the cast for "A Woman's Man" for Screencraft Productions, followed by "The Rich Slave", discussed in my earlier posting.

For 15 years, a lead to this question stood filed in my basement.

On December 15, 1927, according to the New York Times, he died, caused by infection following the extraction of a tooth.

The LA Times obit
abstract states:
A screen come-back which had every promise of retrieving the fame and fortune which were his in the pioneer days of motion pictures was halted yesterday with the sudden death of Romaine Fielding...
Linblom wonders
Was there ever a connection between the Keatons and Fielding?

Are there letters and or scrapbooks saved by the families Fielding may have interacted with in and around the Lakes Region?
"Everywhere he went he made a big impression on locals" states Linblom. "He relied heavily on his charisma to make things happen."

Anyone like a good mystery?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Laurel and Hardy - Stan Laurel visits Muskegon on the Keith's circuit

Remember the old Regent Theater in downtown Muskegon?

Check out this advertisement from December 14, 1918.

According to "The Ida May" site (a great place to visit!), Charlotte Mae Dahlberg Cuthbert was Stan's common law wife. They were together until 1925.

They were in town for four days, performing their routine "No Mother to Guide Them". I wonder if they had the chance to swing by the Actors' Colony between shows?

Here's some additional information on Mae, Stan, and of course, Ollie.

Film Industry in Muskegon - 1921

Reading all the hub-bub about film production in Michigan, and the tax rebates being offered by the state, I recalled this little gem that I unearthed while digging up old articles on the Actors Colony.

I've taken the time to hyperlink some of the details within for those interested.



Manager of Productions
Company Delighted With
the Possibilities.

"Muskegon has been selected as out permanent headquarters and I can see no reason where in the reasonably near future, the people here cannot expect to see one of the great moving picture studios of the country but right hear, in this city," declared Manager Thomas J. Faussett of the Michigan Productions company, the moving picture firm which is soon to show his first Michigan made film in Muskegon, starring the company's next picture story has already been written by an author of note and the beginning of filming it is believed by Mr. Faussett to be not more than 20 days distant. He is leaving July 28 for New York to engage the cast. None but the best stars will be used, he says.

Says Scenery Unsurpassed
Muskegon's natural scenery is wonderful for pastures, Mr. Faussett declares. Since coming here a few weeks ago, he was made a careful study of conditions, having been on the go 15 and 16 hours every day. Between the Indiana border and the Straits so far as exterior work is concerned, nothing to surpass the natural scenery for film work can be found in the world, he declares.

Along with the growth of the company, it is Mr. Faussett's opinion the Muskegon will begin to realize, as he believes, that the film business is only in the beginning and that with schools, the homes and in fact every work of life, including the nation's great industrial enterprises taking up films as mediums for conveying ideas, he looks for the future development of this business on a scale that will startle even many who are now engaged in the business purely from the theatre production end.

Home Talent for Extras Only
While it is believed that with the interest which has already been shown among member the local Actors' colony, assuring interest among home talent that can be used for extras it is made clear by the manager that this is not a home talent concern in any sense.

In the picture, "The Rich Slave" directed by Romaine Fielding, this noted film star played the male lead himself. The star, Mabel Taliaferro will be remembered by hundreds of local theatre goers as the girl who attracted nation-wide attention in "Polly of The Circus."
Fielding Was Popular Star
Previous to going into the army service, Mr. Fielding, while yet an actor, won a national popularity contest but had given up action to devote all his time to directing before taking part in the war. Barney Gilmore, Herbert Startling, Jr., Ben Hendricks and Robert Forsythe are other stars employed by the Michigan Production company.

Previous to taking up film work, Mr. Faussett was engaged in financial inspection work and traveled all over the United States having been in all states of the Union except four. He says in all his travels he never has seen anything to compare to the general advantages which appear to be at the disposal of Muskegon and his faith in the city's future is unlimited. It will be as ideal for the promotion and development of a great film business as any other northern city, he declares."

Why Wait for Your Ship to Come in?
Michigan Productions, Inc. opened an office in the Union National Bank building in downtown Muskgon and offered local residents the opportunity to invest in the business. Noting the completion of "The Rich Slave", stock was offered at $10 per share.
On August 31, 1920, the film opened for a three-day engagement at the local Lion Theater, then moved around the country.
The following is a brief description of the film from the January 22, 1921 Utica, New York Saturday Globe.
For more on Romaine Fielding, go here

Here's more on the film, from archivist Bob Garrett at The Archives of Michigan