Saturday, December 20, 2008

Community Legends

Does Muskegon have a Pete Secchia?

Imaging my surprise when I opened up my newspaper and learned about the unveiling of the first of 25 Community Legends in Grand Rapids, MI.

Lucius Lyon, a city founder, was created by world-renowned artist Stuart
Williamson and has been installed at the southwest corner of Monroe Avenue NW
and Lyon Street, near the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Known as the "Community Legends" project, the effort is intended to commission one sculpture every two years for the next 50 years. Those pieces then would be donated to the city, or a nonprofit, and funded and endowed by Secchia and his family.

The next four sculptures have been chosen.

• Ottawa Indian Chief Nawquageezhig (Noonday), who helped open Michigan to
• Helen Claytor, a local civil rights leader.
• Stanley
Ketchel, a city native and Hall of Fame boxer.
• The Most Rev. Frederick
Baraga, who funded a Grand Rapids church and school.

Isn't that fantastic! I must admit, the unveiling was the first time I had heard about project.

But it wasn’t the first time I had thought about the concept.

My five faithful readers know of my wish for a Buster Keaton statue. Others have heard me mention my thoughts of expanding the concept beyond to include others who once called Muskegon home.

To steal a phrase, my view is to "Think Globally, Act Locally."

As a historian, with definite Pop Culture leanings, my thoughts have been to honor those who have touched the world.

Names I’ve tossed around, beside Keaton, have included (in no particular order):

Haddon Sundblom, the illustrator who created our modern day concept of Santa during his days working for Coca Cola.

Sherm Poppen, and his invention, the Snurfer, which evolved into the Snowboard.

Harry Morgan, Colonel Sherman T. Potter on M.A.S.H. (my favorite episode Dear Sigmund from Season 5).

Iggy Pop, the father of Punk, born in Muskegon.

Bob Zuppke, the University of Illinois football mentor who got his start at Muskegon High School.

Bennie Oosterbaan, Muskegon grad and three-time All-American in football, who spent a lifetime helping develop athletics at the University of Michigan.

Jonathan Waker - the man with the branded hand.

Each, in some way, brought joy to the world.

Over time, I learned of other’s ideas for adding art to the area’s public spaces. To honor Muskegon’s lumbering heritage, Dr Richard Kislov pictured a lumberjack stationed in the waters of Muskegon Lake.

Kislov’s vision of St. Paul, the apostle, resides high above the ground at St Paul's Episcopal Church in downtown Muskegon,

A figure of a bearded and barefoot St. Paul, standing in
a shallow niche on church facade
. His proper left hand is upraised and
pointing to the cross that tops the arched niche. His proper right hand holds a
scroll with Greek inscriptions. A sword lies near his feet. He stands atop a
shield that forms the base. The patina of the sculpture is antique green.

The redevelopment of the downtown area has spurred interest in featuring sculptures.

A piece created by James Clover, Sculpture with Stars previously featured on the old SPX headquarters location now rests at a new location in front of the Post Office building.

Plans for a piece honoring Muskegon’s greatest benefactor, Charles Hackley, is in the works for the downtown area thanks to a donation from Peter Turner.

With efforts to honor Winsor McCay now in full swing, Spring Lake is now investigating the creation of sculptures to highlight his pioneering animation works.

Holland, MI, just down the road apiece, has added sculpture in their downtown area.

Grand Rapids, of course has Fredrick Meijer Gardens.

Art has been added along the Hart-Montague bike trail.

Wouldn't it be wonderful of the area as a whole were known nationally for their public displays of sculpture?

Let me hear your suggestions...

Friday, December 5, 2008

Samaroff, Sonia, and Pepito the Spanish Clown

Some 15 years ago, the journey began.

On a visit to the local county museum, archivist Barb Martin unearthed a gem.

It was a single piece of paper, molded into a program for a movie premiere some 80 years ago. Contained within were the details on events surrounding an evening at a theater located 2,192 miles from my home.

The document highlighted the the Los Angeles premiere of Charlie Chaplin's The Circus. The theater - Sid Grauman's grand Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd, which had opened only a few month previous, was the setting.

The enormous lights of Otto K. Olsen's invention, pivoting from their trucks lined up in front of the theater and across the street, threw their beams skyward; other floodlights brought a day time brightness to the whole block surrounding the theater. Limousines dashed up to discharge the luminaries of the motion-picture world, producers, directors, and stars galore from every studio in Hollywood, all paying five dollars a seat to do honor to Charlie s new picture and to tell him that whatever untoward happened, he belonged in their hearts.

Charlie escorted Merna Kennedy to the first night; Maisie was there with a party. A microph
one, set up on the court with a master of ceremonies presiding, lured various stars to chirp bromides to the world waiting at the radio, the inane, "Hello, everybody. I'm so thrilled to be here and know you will be, too, when you see this wonderful picture...
At Chaplin's request, Grauman was asked to present a show as a prologue to the film. Titled Ballyhoo, Grauman presented "An Old-fashioned One Ring Circus.

The prologue to The Circus as staged by Sid Grauman, that master showman, was in itself worth the price of admission. Three rings of circus acts concentrated on the large stage gave the illusion of a full-fledged circus in action. Bare back riders, the noted Paddleford family, trapeze performers, the sawdust, the sideshows, and the barkers overflowed from the stage into the spacious front court and completed the illusion. The ornate gaudiness of the Chinese Theatre fitted the transitory atmosphere of the night.

Among the other acts performing were Russian immigrants, Donat Butowick, and his wife, the former Ella Bluhmfield. Members of the Muskegon Actors' colony, the were joined by some of the top performers from the era.

The Hanneford family riding act took part, as did Emil Pallenberg's bears, Ed and Jennie Rooney, aerialists, and several others who had been headliners with the Ringling circus and were friends of the Hannefords and Mrs. Clarke. The engagement stretched into an eight months' stint..

Another act on the bill would become even more well known years later.

An e-mail arrived the other day from Melani Carty with a subject line that immediately caught my attention. It said, "Samaroff and Sonia & Pepito the Clown"

I knew instantly the connection between the performers.

Within the body of the e-mail, Melani noted that she blogged on Pepito, and his wife, Joanne.

For those who are fans of I Love Lucy, the name Pepito may bring back memories. Jose Perez - better known as Pepito the Spanish Clown helped Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz create the act that would form the basis for the television classic.

According to the site Still in Love with Lucy

In 1950, when Lucille Ball was asked to move her successful radio series to television, she agreed on one condition: her husband, Desi Arnaz, would be cast in the role of her TV husband.

CBS executives balked, believing the American public wouldn’t accept an all-American redhead being married to a Latin bandleader. To prove the network wrong, Lucy and Desi launched a successful vaudeville tour. Their friend Jose Perez, known on the vaudeville circuit as Pepito, The Spanish Clown, developed several skits for the couple to take on the road. The most famous of these cast Lucy as “The Professor” who breaks into Desi’s performance and insists on auditioning for the band. The skit was so successful, Lucy and Desi worked it into the pilot episode of “I Love Lucy” and again in episode 6 of the show’s first season.

Within a blog entry, Carty points out that Pepito appeared in Episode 52 - "Lucy's Show Biz Swan Song"

She also shares this classic.

In 1990, Joanne became briefly famous for finding the “lost pilot” of the “I Love Lucy Show.” Twelve years after the death of her beloved husband, she was finally cleaning out his personal office at the rear of the house. While pulling things out from under his daybed where he often napped.
Check out Carty's ode to Pepito and Joanne - The Spanish Clown and the Ballet Teacher. It's a wonderful tale and the collection of entries are lovingly prepared, and peppered with numerous treasurers.

Here is a link to her entry on "Ballyhoo" which includes a Quicktime movie clip of Ballyhoo. Check out the extra's disk of the Chaplin DVD the chance to

There is even a connection to Spring Lake's own Winsor McCay.

I love the Internet!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Buster Keaton Images

Check out the New York Public Library for some classic Keaton images

And how about Profiles in History, for this one and 44 others from
Battling Butler and other films.

And what about the Life Magazine collection?

Watch this episode of Telescope, a Canadian half-hour documentary series from 1964.

And then there are these shots snapped in New York City in the summer of 1964 during the making of Samuel Beckett's near silent short, Film.

And the huge collection of Keaton's on REX.

And don't forget Corbus.

And Getty Images.

Now, how about checking out BusterStuff for Christmas ideas. Like...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

YouTube - a nice place to catch Keaton commericals of the past

Keaton for Ford

Simon Pure Beer

Alka Seltzer

It also presents classic television appearances...
Candid Camera

What's My Line

Make the Connection

And Interviews...

CBC Archives: Buster Keaton on Telescope, 1964

Industrial Strength Keaton includes others. With luck, we'll see it back in print soon.

Alka Seltzer (1958) [5 spots]

Northwest Orient Airlines (1958)

Simon Pure Beer (1958) [6 spots]

Shamrock Oil / Outtakes (1959)
* Audio commentary track
* Director's interview track

Milky Way (1961)

Pure Oil (1965)

Country Club Malt Liquor (1958) [3 spots]

Ford Econoline (1963)

Jeep - Lessons in Living (1960)
* Only surviving complete Jeep commercial
* Recently discovered fragments from previously undocumented Jeep commercials.

Pure Oil (1965)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A little more on McGowan

Sheet Music.

Digging around, I found McGowan ties to sheet music - a common thread among the Actors' Colony members.

The first is a shot of the music for "The Love Nest" from George M. Cohan's Musical comedy, Mary. This was sung by John "Jack" McGowan and Janet Velie.

McGowan is credited as co-writer of the song, "Birds of a Feather" with music written by Irving Berlin. Like "The Love Nest", the image is found at the Indiana University Sheet Music Collection site. Follow this link to find a piano version of the tune.

Title: Birds of a feather / / by Jack McGowan and Edgar Moran.
Title: I'm a lonesome little bird.
Composer: McGowan, Jack, d. 1977.
Contributor: Moran, Edgar.
Extent: 1 score (5 p.) : ; ill. ; ; 31 cm.
Place of publication: New York :
Publisher: Irving Berlin, Inc., /
Date of publication: 1921.
Call Number: M1 .S8 III 1920-1929
Note: For voice and piano.
First Line: I'm a lonesome little bird.
Chorus First Line: Birds of a feather.
Note: Publisher's advertising includes musical incipits.
Subject: Songs with piano.

Another McGowan song, "I Have to Laugh" appears to have another Muskegon tie. It is listed in the book
Brunswick opened a manufacturing plant in Muskegon in 1906, which would ultimately become the cornerstone of the company. In 1923, the company opened a record pressing plant in town.

I'm still looking for a photograph of McGowan.

Anyone? Anyone?
(44 seconds in...)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Has anyone heard of John "Jack" McGowan?

I was digging around the internet one evening when I stumbled across a book called "American Playwrights of Today". Of course, today was really a reference to the 1930's so I had to shift my perception of time back a bit. What caught my attention was that the book referenced a gentleman who was born in Muskegon in 1894, who "drifted into theater, with which both his parents had been connected." His name was John McGowan.

Of course, my recall of the surname, and its tie to Muskegon comes from the restaurant that once was located at the "end of the trolley line" back in the days of the Actors' Colony.

In addition, in the biography of Keaton co-star and former colony member, "Big Joe" Roberts, their is also a reference to a McGowan.

In 1914, Roberts and his wife (Lillian Stuart) teamed with Johnnie McGowan, for another tour of "On the Road." McGowan was renowned as a singer, performing "You Were Made to Love" and "You Have Something I Want."
Could Johnnie McGowan be John McGowan?

Well, the time fame certainly fit.

More digging turned up additional detail on the career of Mr. McGowan. At the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections, I discovered that McGowan had donated papers covering his career as an actor, playwright and director. In addition, I found a brief biography.
John McGowan was born on January 12, 1894 in Muskegon, Michigan. He ran away from home when a freshman in high school, making his way to Flint Michigan, and then to Chicago, where he became a singer of illustrated songs for ten dollars a week.

There followed short stints in a two-act with a vaudeville actor and in the chorus of The Winning Miss. The producer of that show kept McGowan for three years in a series of tabloid shows for which he wrote many of thee jokes and songs. After developing a great desire to write for the theatre, McGowan realized that he had to catch up on his reading of the classics in order to fill the serious gaps in his knowledge.

In Danville, Illinois, in 1913, he met Howard Gale, advance-man for the Cohan and Harris road company of Officer 666 (a stage comedy from 1912) . Gale invited McGowan to come to New York to meet George M. Cohan when his present contract expired in June, 1914. Unfortunately, at nineteen, McGowan was simply too young to fit the part which Cohan, 36, had written originally for himself.

McGowan would later sign a three year contract with Florenz Ziegfield. He would later renew his association with Cohan, while writing for vaudeville, and soon after, Broadway.

From a book title, The Days We Danced, by Doris Eaton Travis, I learned that McGowan was a "red-headed Irishman with big blue eyes" would would move on to Hollywood, working for MGM under the name Jack McGowan around 1933. The Internet Movie Database site lists his extensive credentials.

According to a newspaper reference, McGowan married Betty Wyman on January 1, 1938. The former Elizabeth Calvin, became well-know to the public as the Lucky Strike girl. She would later appear in the Hollywood production "Vogues of 1938".

While in Hollywood, McGowan would work on adapting some of his Broadway success for the big screen. This included Girl Crazy, a 1930 musical he co-authored with Guy Bolton. The movie version, released in 1943, starred Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. In 1947, a McGowan story "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" was scripted for film Isobel Lennart. The cast included Frank Sinatra, Kathryn Grayson, Peter Lawford and Jimmy Durante.

To date, I've found little more on McGowan's career.

It appears that he passed away in 1977.

Anyone out there able to fill in more details?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Now this is cool!

Some of you may remember the image from Keaton's date book that I posted in this blog's earliest entry. It showed a smiling character "JOY" deboarding a train. Written on the page are the words,




In a post on the BusterKeatonFans discussion group hosted by Yahoo, Steven Rowe points out that the character "JOY" featured in the drawing comes from a popular comic strip titled "Joys and Glooms".

It was produced by T.E. Powers, and "was popular enough to get some animated films in 1912 -1923 time frame."

Vergil Noble then responds:

Thanks so much for pointing out the cartooning of T. E. Powers, Steven. After a quick search I found his 1939 obituary which includes the statements: Mr. Powers' political cartoons had a wide following and two elflike characters, "Joy" and "Gloom," with which he enlivened his drawings-always signed "T. E. Powers"- became one of the trademarks of his work during a career which made him one of the country's best known and most successful cartoonists.....

The characters "Joy" and "Gloom" which he used so often, cavorted in the corners of his cartoon. If optimism was in order, "Joy" chased "Gloom," and vice versa. "Gloom" was a mournful imp with a black beard, and "Joy" wore an eternal grin.

A note to the obit also states that Powers is reputed to be the first cartoonist to produce a newspaper comic strip in color (he drew several strips over the years in addition to his more famous editorial cartooning for the Hearst papers).

Found a couple of his cartoons posted at an on-line auction house, but none with the marginal figures. I then discovered that, in addition to two 1916 animated films, the Joy and Gloom Toy Co. was founded in 1926. An antique toy seller posts one actual item and ads for all four known toys they sold. The second ad leaves no doubt that Keaton knew the Powers cartoons and copied his style. Keaton's "Joy" is almost identical to the one depicted in that ad, particularly the half-circle skirt of the figure.
How cool is that!

The image I show is from a copy of date book page that hangs in the Muskegon Convention and Visitors Bureau in the old Union Station in downtown Muskegon. The train station was restored several years ago.

How I love this research stuff!!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Classic Video

Check out the new video on the site. I dug around the archives to unearth these two long-lost clips. Click on the images to watch. I hope you enjoy them!

Even Buster Keaton paid homage to McCay

Keaton in "The Three Ages"

McCay emerges in his masterpiece,
"Gertie the Dinosaur"

Winsor McCay

Check out the blog
Meeting McCay
Did you know that Spring Lake, MI was the childhood home to animation pioneer Winsor McCay? The city is a mere 15 miles away from Bluffton.
"Even Buster Keaton paid homage to McCay, in his 1923 film The Three Ages. He asked his writer, Clyde Bruckman, 'Remember Gertie the Dinosaur? . . . The first cartoon comedy ever made. I saw it in a nickelodeon when I was fourteen. I'll ride in on an animated cartoon.' "

"Before Mickey: The Animated Film"
by Donald Crafton

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How about a Buster Keaton Statue in Bluffton?

For some years now, I've been working on this history of a vaudeville Actors' Colony started by, among others, Joe Keaton. His son, of course, was Buster.

Many ideas have emerged from the project. The first was a "Second Day of Issue" cancellation for the Keaton U.S. Postage Stamp (I was too late to the game to get the first day of issue). Then there was mounting an exhibit spanning his career at the local County Museum. It was enjoyed by local residents and visitors to Muskegon for the first Keaton Convention way back in 1995. Next came a the publication of a booklet entitled Buster Keaton and the Muskegon Connection - The Actors' Colony at Bluffton 1908-1938. Then it was showing Keaton films at the Frauenthal (14 years now and counting).

Three years into the original concept, we were able to request and purchase a Michigan state historical marker for the area. One side honors the colony, the other side, Keaton. It was placed in what I'll call a small pocket park overlooking the colony. Among my dreams for this space was a statue of Keaton.

My dreams are big...

Thanks to the city's greatest benefactor, Charles Hackley, Muskegon plays host to some beautiful public sculptures. Located in the downtown area, Joseph Carabelli created a 76-foot tall Civil War monument dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1892 in Hackley Park. Expanding the concept, Hackley commissioned sculptor Charles Niehaus to created monuments to Abraham Lincoln and David Farragut, and sculptor J. Massey Rhind to create pieces honoring Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman. The four statues were dedicated on Memorial Day, 1900.

A year later, another monument was presented by Hackley. This one of Philip Kearny by Henry Kirke Brown was dedicated on Memorial Day 1901 and stands a short distance from downtown. Internet research states that it is a copy of the Kearny statue placed in the United States Capitol by the state of New Jersey.

Six weeks following the assassination of President William McKinley, Hackley commissioned Niehaus to create a piece honoring McKinley. It was unveiled on Memorial Day, 1902. It stands across the street from the "Hackley Park" collection.

Instead of a monument to war heroes, my thought was a monument to a man who made us laugh.

In sticking with tradition, my thought was to mimic the approach taken by Hackley. Wouldn't it be nice to put the piece on a block of granite? To take it a step further, it would be wonderful to dedicate it on a Memorial Day. After all, Keaton did serve in World War I.

Instead of formal pose, however, the image that I've always had in mind was this publicity shot of Keaton taken from the Navigator. Of all the stills that I've seen of Buster Keaton, it seemed most appropriate.

Using some of the rigging, Buster would be perched precariously on the granite block, gazing across the road, beyond Bluffton and the Colony, toward Muskegon Lake.

"Lake Muskegon", as Keaton referred to it, was the view that he had as a child while growing up in the family cottage, "Jingles Jungle". Keaton, according to his late widow, Eleanor, always considered Muskegon "home".

Of course, the concept has always been only a pipe dream.

Over the years I've bounced the idea around with some locals. While the image is detailed in my mind, I've always been asked to present a "model" of the monument, as well as estimated costs.

When it comes to costs - I've certainly asked around. To date, the estimates have been VERY rough, and have been for the most part, only guesses. (And, since it appears that a block of granite doesn't come cheap, my dream may need some modification...)

I'm a computer guy, not an artist, so I've been lost when it comes to creating a "model" of what I have in mind. Upon occasion, I come across something that may help advance the concept. 3D Printing is a good example, and certainly appeals to the computer guy in me...

That article led me to another site.

Unfortunately they needed more than the Keaton photograph...

From the looks of it, StudioEIS Bonzeworks would be an ideal source of such a creation. I'm sure there are others.

Now, what to do about funding...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes Golden Collection

Joyous times as the latest edition of the the Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes Golden Collection has been released. This is Volume 6. Check out Volume 2 (or YouTube) for the classic Hollywood Steps Out.

Me - I recommend that you buy the whole series. Looney Tunes are the finest of mankind's contributions to civilization, followed by the dishwasher and the snowblower. Word is that this is the end of the series, but not the end of the release of restored Warner Brothers cartoons to DVD.

I certainly hope that is true. I'm patiently waiting for the official release of the "Censored Eleven".

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Buster Keaton's genius celebrated anew

For those who missed it, I'm capturing the following from the Muskegon Chronicle Editorial page

Friday, October 03, 2008

Buster Keaton's genius celebrated anew this weekend

Any serious student of motion pictures is conversant with the writing of the late James Agee, whose criticism of the industry and its artists was merciless, intense -- and completely on the mark. Yet there was one on whom Agee consistently showered praise: Muskegon's Buster Keaton.

"No other comedian could do as much with the dead-pan," Agee wrote of Keaton's comic genius for Life magazine in 1949. "He used this great, sad, motionless face to suggest various related things; a one-track mind near the track's end of pure insanity; mulish imperturbability under the wildest of circumstances; how dead a human being can get and still be alive; an awe-inspiring sort of patience and power to endure, proper to granite but uncanny in flesh and blood. Everything that he was and did bore out this rigid face and played laughs against it. When he moved his eyes, it was like seeing them move in a statue."

Agee continued: "His short-legged body was all sudden, machinelike angles, governed by a daft aplomb. When he swept a semaphorelike arm to point you could almost hear the electrical impulse to the signal block. When he ran from a cop, his transitions from accelerating walk to easy jogtrot to brisk canter to headlong gallop to flogged-piston sprint - always floating, above this frenzy, the untroubled, untouchable face -- were as distinct and as soberly in order as an automatic gearshift."

This weekend is your chance to either discover the great Keaton, or to rediscover his silent film-era brilliance. In conjunction with the 14th Annual International Buster Keaton Society Convention of his fan society, the "Damfinos," two of the comedian's biggest box-office smashes will be returning to the screen at the Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon this weekend: "Battling Butler (1926) and "The Navigator" (1924).

The 8 p.m. Saturday shows will be accompanied by the theater organ performance of Dennis Scott, so the experience will be like that of any theatergoer of the 1920s. Should be a real treat.
And welcome back, "Damfinos," to Muskegon, adopted hometown of Buster Keaton!

Agee's article entitled "Comedy's Greatest Era, appeared in the September 5, 1949 issue of Life. It was the beginning of a new beginning for Keaton. Only months before, he had returned to Muskegon, accompanied this time with his new bride, Eleanor. Nearly forgotten in Hollywood, the article marked his return to the public eye. Television would soon offer a new audience and new generations of people that could witness his talent. Before long, Keaton was as busy as ever.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Keaton at Columbia University's Oral History Research Office

In 1958, Columbia University's Oral History Research Office captured several lengthy interviews with Keaton about his life and career. They are available online, and are well worth checking out.

The interviews, which can be listened to or read here, provide
a rare glimpse of a vanished era from one of the masters of
slapstick. In doing so, they help give perspective and a sense
of history to the entertainment we see today.

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Another Keaton Weekend nearly complete

Well, another Keaton Weekend is nearly complete. Just a few more items to attend to then work begins on 2009 - the 15th annual convention.

The Damfinos are headed home. Some East, some West, some North, others South. A few will cross defined borders of countries. One couple, who met here, then married here one year ago, will cross an ocean.

They are, as the bride GraceAnn describes them, all part of the "Dam" family; Keaton fans celebrating the work of their favorite family member. This year, we got to meet many who were making their first trip to the family reunion.

Here's a "team photo" taken at the baseball field where Buster learned to love the game. Many of the group joined me for the walk through the neighborhood. Still more arrived on Saturday.

Friday's viewing of the mystery film - "Hospitality" (no - that's not a typo) I'm sure will be discussed in great detail on message boards across the internet. Saturday's talks, auction, and presentation of Battling Butler and The Navigator were met with laughter, joy, applause and standing ovations (Organist's Dennis Scott's performance for the films was incredible! - He even made MGM's lion roar!).

Hope you had the chance to partake in at least part of the festivities! It was, as always, a blast!

Ron - a Damfino in Muskegon

Thursday, October 2, 2008

In Michigan, Buster never loses his luster

Check out the Detroit Free Press for more on Keaton. This article includes a quote from Patty Tobias, president of the International Buster Keaton Society, discussing this weekend's events.

The great debate over who was the best silent comedian -- Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton? -- has raged for nearly a century. If the number of recent screenings at the Michigan, Redford and Detroit Film Theatre is any indication, then Keaton, known as "the great stone face" for his expressionless delivery, wins hands down.

This weekend also marks the annual convention of the Keaton-crazy Damfinos, held each year in Muskegon, on the west side of the state. Why there? Because Keaton's family, along with other vaudeville acts, made this a vacation home each summer.

Buster Keaton's Midwestern Roots on Chicago Public Radio

Check out Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty-Eight program for the audio story on Keaton's midwestern roots.

When you think of silent films, the iconic Charlie Chaplin may come to mind. But true film fans know that Buster Keaton joins him as one of the most important silent film actors of all time. The great stone face was known for his wildly acrobatic maneuvers. What is less known is that his formative years were spent in Muskegon, Michigan. Keaton’s childhood was spent touring with his family on the vaudeville circuit. But his summers were spent at an actor’s colony in Muskegon founded by his father.

Follow this link for the slideshow that displays images of some of the sites talked about in the program.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Melissa Talmadge Cox

A great feature of the Google empire is their new venture to organize newspapers and move the content to the Internet. Check out this article from the Cloverdale Reveille. It is a wonderful example. The article highlights Buster's granddaughter, Melissa Talmadge Cox, and her effort to keep her grandfather's name before the public. Yes, that's Dustin Hoffman standing next to her.

If it weren't for Google, what is the likelihood of finding such gems?

Another site that I use on a regular basis is Too bad their content from the state of Michigan doesn't run deeper.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

On a Sunday Afternoon

Visit the site to check out a full image of the sheetmusic. The copyright on the waltz is 1902 - the same year the Keatons made their first visit to Muskegon's Lake Michigan Park to perform.

I learned about this one because of my subscription to the Yahoo group, busterkeatonfans. We really do live in amazing times.

Friday, September 26, 2008

LAKE Magazine

Check out the article on Keaton's Muskegon in the October issue of LAKE Magazine.

Here's a snippet:

Inside the historic depot in Muskegon, Mich. – a train station built in the late 1890s – a curious clue illustrates how Buster Keaton came through town: Above the reception desk, now the Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau, hangs a framed copy of Keaton’s diary entries. On two dates, a sketch of a train car shows a stick figure jumping off to its destination. Next to the figure, one penciled-in word says it all: “Home.”

Along with contemporaries Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Keaton is considered one of the greatest actors of the silent film era. He’s also one of the most innovative directors in motion picture history. His ability to perform acrobatic stunts while maintaining a deadpan facial expression earned him the nickname “The Great Stone Face.” And even if you don’t know the man, you’re bound to know his trademark porkpie hat.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Walking Tour of the Actors' Colony at Bluffton

Welcome to the Buster Keaton and the Muskegon Actors' Colony blog. Inspired by Morpheus' outstanding blog on legendary cartoonist and animator Winsor McCay,

Meeting McCay: Spring Lake: The Birthplace of Character Animation

I've decided to add a Blog to the website. The site focuses
on an area
of the city of Muskegon known as Bluffton. It details the times
when the area played host to a group of vaudevillian
who gathered together to enjoy their summer vacation along the
shores of Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan. Together, they
formed an Actors' Colony. Among the residents was silent film
comedian, Buster Keaton.

My first blog entry highlights an opportunity for the public to visit the
Bluffton neighborhood that Keaton called "Home".This Sunday,
September 28, 2008 @ 1:30 p.m., I'm hosting a "Walking Tour of
the Actors' Colony at Bluffton." This "Keaton Walk" is open to the
public and is free of charge. Depending on questions, the walk
takes about an hour and a half. We'll start in the parking lot at
Bluffton School,
1875 Waterworks Rd. Muskegon, MI 49441

Comfortable shoes (and perhaps a bottle of water) are recommended.
The last one - hosted on Labor Day - attracted over 30 folks from the

Come on out and enjoy the beautiful fall weather!