How did actors survive hot summers a 100 years ago, when theaters without air conditioning shut down for the season? About 200 of those performers chose to head to Muskegon where an artist colony of vaudeville performers flourished in the 1900s. Buster Keaton and his performing parents joined their fellow artists in card-playing, fun in the sun and the bracing waters of Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan.
Those glory days are celebrated this weekend with the return of the International Buster Keaton Society to the city Buster Keaton claimed as his hometown. The group numbers between 400 to 500 members, some from as far away as the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada. Annual attendance for the convention is usually between 50-100. 88 people are registered for the convention this year!
Society member Ron Pesch, who lives in Muskegon, will conduct a private tour for convention-goers to explore the neighborhood where Keaton lived, and other areas in the Bluffton community where the big names of the vaudeville circuit partied and sunbathed during their off-season.
If you’re inclined to ask, “Who’s that?” when you hear Buster Keaton’s name, you can probably be forgiven. His star shone most brightly after vaudeville waned in the 1920’s. As a major star of silent film, Keaton’s comic routines and deadpan expression landed him equal billing with comic geniuses such as Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd–and if you’re still saying, “Who?” you probably like video games more than movies.
But Pesch says Keaton’s influence is cited by a number of major stars including Johnny Depp, Jackie Chan, and even Drew Barrymore. Pesch added, “The first ten minutes of the Pixar classic ‘Wall-E’ are filled with references to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin.”
On Saturday night, October 3, 2015, at 8 p.m. (doors open at 7:30), two Buster Keaton films will be screened for fans, “The Railrodder” and “Battling Butler” at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts. Director Gerald Potterton will attend, who actually directed Keaton in his film “The Railrodder.” Potterton is best known for directing the cult classic, “Heavy Metal.” Dennis Scott will perform on the Barton Theater Organ, and Pesch notes, “Anyone who experiences a silent film in that theater with the organ accompaniment will be a Keaton fan forever.” Tickets are $8 per person or $21 for the whole family. For more information, visit www.frauenthal.org .
For more information about the artist colony in Muskegon.
Editor’s Note: Lake Muskegon was changed to its proper name of Muskegon Lake.