Posted by: Kath Usitalo | October 4, 2010

It’s Buster’s Birthday

Buster Keaton

One of the creative giants in the history of film has ties to Michigan—something I was vaguely aware of but had not investigated until this weekend when I attended the 16th annual gathering of Damfinos in Muskegon.

The convention honors Joseph Frank Keaton, who was born October 4, 1895 to vaudevillians Joe, a comedic acrobat whose main aid was a table, and Myra, one of the first female saxophone performers.

By the age of three Buster (so nicknamed by his godfather Harry Houdini) had toddled on stage during his parents’ act, and within months was the star of the show. The Three Keatons traveled to perform most of the year, but because theaters were too hot for audiences in the summer, were idle during those months.

Ron Pesch, in orange cap, leads a tour of Damfinos on a walking tour of the Bluffton neighborhood where Buster Keaton spent summers of his youth

In 1908 Buster’s father, with two show biz associates, purchased property in Bluffton on the shores of Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake.

The partners sold parcels of land to some 200 fellow performers who built summer cottages and retreated to the beach area for relaxation and to work on their acts for the following season.

The cottage the Keatons built was the only home they’d known as a family, and years later Buster wrote, “The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage Pop had built on Lake Muskegon in 1908.”

For about a decade Bluffton was known as the Actors’ Colony for the number of stage performers who summered there, but by 1918 motion pictures began to replace live vaudeville shows; even Buster left the family touring act for Hollywood. The Actors’ Colony community dissolved, although many of the homes remain.

You can take a self-guided walking tour of Bluffton with a brochure produced by local historian and Keaton expert Ron Pesch; check it out at his website on the Actors’ Colony.

Damfinos pose with the statue of Buster that was relocated from Hollywood to Muskegon

Ron was instrumental in convincing the Community Foundation for Muskegon County to purchase the statue of Buster that originally stood outside of the Hollywood Entertainment Museum in Los Angeles.

The sculpture is now at home in front of the Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon. Buster’s daughter-in-law Barbara Talmadge and granddaughter Melissa Talmadge Cox were on hand for the Damfinos convention and unveiling of the plaque to accompany the statue.

Wearing one of Buster's trademark porkpie hats, Melissa Talmadge Cox hugs her grandfather's statue

If you’re asking yourself, “What are Damfinos?” I can tell you from my brief encounter this weekend that they are a fun bunch of musicians, accountants, students, performers, writers and others from across the U.S. and other lands who share a passion for the genius of Buster Keaton, in front of and behind the camera.

Check out the website of the official International Buster Keaton Society, aka Damfinos.

If you’re wondering how to pronounce Damfino, imagine the answer to the question, “What will be this week’s winning lottery numbers?”

Ron Pesch is credited for his efforts in bringing the Buster Keaton statue "home" to Muskegon

NOTE: During the convention Damfinos viewed and voted on montages of movie clips of Buster Keaton’s incredible stunt work put to music, all produced by fans. It was a treat to see the variety and professionalism of the montages, assembled for the love of Buster.

Click to see the winner, Hooked on a Can Can and Buster Keaton.

Visitor Info Clicks: Muskegon

Bluffton Actors’ Colony

Buster Keaton

Travel Michigan: Pure Michigan

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