My Experience At The 2017 Buster Keaton Convention

This is my own post for the 4th Annual Buster blogathon–hope you guys enjoy!

In case you haven’t noticed, I kind of made a big deal out of Buster Keaton’s 2017 film centennial here on Silent-ology. From book reviews to July’s Comique Month, there was plenty of nods to that year-long celebration. But there was one more thing I did in honor of the centennial that I haven’t really shared with you guys yet–attend the 23rd Annual Buster Keaton convention in Muskegon, Michigan, hosted by the lovely Damfinos!

Image result for 23rd annual buster convention

I’d heard a lot about the beloved convention from fellow Buster fans, who shared photos and raved about its great events and friendly atmosphere. The fact that it’s held in Buster’s adopted hometown was the cherry on top. After wanting to attend for ages, the chance to go during the centennial was simply too much for me to pass up.

Plus, I must humbly add, I had been invited to give a presentation there–a 40 minute presentation–me. More to follow!

A Bit of Background

Image result for buster keaton muskegon michigan

Ideally situated with Muskegon Lake on one side and mighty Lake Michigan on the other, Muskegon has been a pilgrimage site for Buster fans for many years. Back when they were vaudeville stars, the Keaton family made several tour stops at the quiet lakeside town. Taking a liking to the area, Joe Keaton purchased a small house overlooking Muskegon Lake in 1908 and soon invited other vaudeville pals to settle in the neighborhood too (they eventually formed an Actor’s Colony). And thus, young Buster got to spend many happy, idyllic summers in the town the Keatons called home.

The convention weekend, hosted by the International Buster Keaton Society, is held as near to Buster’s October 4th birthday as possible. It’s a weekend of presentations, walking tours, rare photos and film footage, bonding with fellow fans, and of course, screenings of Buster’s classic films in Muskegon’s beautiful 1929 Frauenthal theater. 

Arriving in Muskegon


If I had to, I could’ve driven to the convention from Minnesota, but decided to take the faster route of flying to Chicago and catching a little plane to Muskegon’s county airport (both the tiniest plane and the tiniest airport I’ve ever experienced!). I arrived the day before the convention started so I could do some exploring. Happily, some fellow fans were travelling the same route and I was able to meet up with them and catch a ride to my hotel.

All convention goers stay in Muskegon’s historic downtown–my hotel was right across the street from the Frauenthal. I found a little bar where I had supper and then took a stroll up and down the main street, lined with old buildings. The well-lit streets were quiet and the air was fresh from the nearby lake. I could already see why Buster felt at home there. Oh, and what was right by the theater?


A certain statue of a famed comedian, of course!

Convention Day #1

BK Convention-tour-Renee Robertson

A fine photo by my friend Renee Robertson.

The convention officially began early that Friday morning (early for me anyways, oy) at Muskegon’s historic train depot, where the Keatons used to arrive every summer. It was simply surreal–there I was, in the place my favorite comedian on earth knew so well, surrounded by people who loved him as much as I did. And many of those people were friends of mine from Buster fan groups online–and I was finally meeting them in person for the very first time!

Oh, and if that weren’t exciting enough, Keaton’s daughter-in-law Barbara Talmadge, granddaughter Melissa Talmadge Cox and nephew Harry Keaton Jr. were all there too. Even more surreal!

Image result for muskegon train station

Attendees could then choose their own morning programing: either going to several presentations at the Muskegon Museum of Art, or taking a walking tour of Bluffton, the neighborhood where the Keatons lived from 1908 to 1916. I chose the walking tour, although I wish I could’ve cloned myself and been in two place at once–Nina Roberts gave a talk about her grandfather Big Joe Roberts, Buster’s pal and frequent onscreen “heavy,” historian Jack Dragga screened his documentary on the film Wir Schalten um auf Hollywood (1931), and historian David Macleod gave a presentation on Keaton’s 1930s Educational shorts.

But happily, it was a beautiful, sunny, warm fall day for a walking tour (weren’t we lucky!). Local Muskegon historian and longtime Damfino Ron Pesch lead us through the peaceful Bluffton and Edgewater neighborhoods, pointing out various landmarks (such as the former homes of many colorful vaudevillians) and relating many amusing and fascinating anecdotes about life there in Buster’s time. Best of all, we got to see the site of the Keatons’ home. While the original house was torn down in the 1950s and replaced, amazingly a cement retaining wall still has the handmade inscription: “1914 JOE KEATON MYRA.”

My favorite story Ron shared was about vaudevillians Max and Adele Gruber, who had a circus act that included an elephant named Minnie and several other trained animals (the animals lived in a barn behind their little house). Apparently, whenever the boys at the local bar had too much to drink Minnie was the taxi service that took them home.

The tour ended with a casual (very casual) baseball game on the very same woods-lined field where Buster played as a kid, and a lunch at a local hot dog place (I could totally use one of those hot dogs right now). Then it was time to head to the Muskegon Museum of Art for more presentations, given by historian David B. Pearson and…yours truly.

Image result for muskegon museum of art entrance

Pearson’s presentation was about silent comedian Lupino Lane, a acrobatic performer whose gags are often compared to Buster’s. He showed film clips which proved, surprisingly, that certain Buster gags had actually been in Lane’s short comedies first. And my own presentation was on Keaton’s 1963 tour of state fairs in the Midwest. (Long-time Silent-ology readers will remember that I’ve been researching this overlooked part of his career for some time.)

Months earlier, the Damfinos (who knew me from my blog and social media posts) had asked if I’d like to do a presentation. Since I’d never gone to the Buster convention before, wasn’t sure what the venue would be like, haven’t given a presentation since college, and most certainly haven’t given a full 40 minute presentation at any time in my entire life, I of course said “Sure!” My motto is, “Well, I Can Probably Figure It Out,” and figure it out I must have, because my presentation went over very well and even though I was super nervous apparently no one could tell–a major win!

Buster Eleanor convertible

One of the images from my PowerPoint (long story).

Following a break for supper we were treated to the premiere of one-man musical When You Fall Down, both written by and starring English actor James Dangerfield. Described as “a theatrical tribute to the Great Stone Face–a man who always got back on his feet, no matter how many times he fell down,” it told the story of Buster’s career from 1917 up to appearing in The Cameraman (1928). It was a charming and thoughtful tribute to our comedian, and if it’s ever playing near you–go see it!


Following the musical was a screening of the new documentary To Be Funny: 100 Years of Buster Keaton. It was made by director/producer Jess Roseboom and co-producer Gavin Rosenberg and was funded by fans on Kickstarter. An affectionate look at Keaton fandom, it featured footage shot at the 2015 convention and interviews with historians such as Patricia Tobias, David B. Pearson, and Imogen Sara Smith. I was amazed to learn that this polished work represented Roseboom’s first time editing!

And with that, the first day of the convention came to a close–officially. But most of us attendees gathered at a nearby hotel and chatted long into night, passing around albums of original Keaton photos and other memorabilia some historians had brought along. You almost wished you didn’t need to sleep!

Convention Day #2

BK Convention-marquee-Lea Stans

Not quite out of the woods yet after my big presentation, Saturday morning began with a panel discussion featuring James Dangerfield, historian David Macleod, Jess Roseboom, Gavin Rosenberg, magician Ben Robinson, and myself. Following this, Melissa Talmadge Cox have a priceless presentation of color family photos from “Grandpa Buster’s” Woodland Hills home–photos you can’t see anywhere else. What a rare treat, my friends!

Then there was a surprise showing of a new, silent comedy-style short called The Gate. It revolved around the madcap adventures of a young 1920s gal trying to sneak into a movie studio. It captured the techniques and tropes of early comedies flawlessly, and its makers Ami and Ciel Eckard-Lee (who are siblings) were given a standing ovation.


After lunch, the afternoon program began with historian Paul Gierucki screening rare and newly-discovered footage of Buster, as well as Roscoe Arbuckle–I had been really looking forward to this and it did not disappoint! This was followed by magician Ben Robinson’s highly entertaining magic show, which incorporated discussion of Keaton’s use of illusions in his films, and an auction of Keaton-related items.

I didn’t didn’t stay for the auction, because I had to get ready for the night’s annual Roaring Twenties Banquet, y’all–1920s wear encouraged! Which lead to my absolute favorite photo of the convention:


After the banquet everyone headed into the beautiful Frauenthal theater for a showing of The Butcher Boy and The General, accompanied by the talented organist Dennis Scott. Having seen these milestone films so many times on my own, getting to see them on the big screen, in a restored old movie theater, in Muskegon, alongside dozens of passionate fellow fans, with Buster’s family members in the audience, was absolutely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

Following the films, we had a “speakeasy” party right up on the theater’s stage And of course, there was another late night of good conversation with friends at the hotel.

Convention Day #3


Ah, but all great experiences must come to a close eventually. The convention ended with two events that Sunday morning: a beautiful video tribute by Nick Ciccone to the late, great historian David Shepard, and a panel discussion with Melissa Talmadge Cox, Nina Roberts, David B. Pearson, and historians Jack Dragga and Dean Vanderkolk. And then it was time to say our fond farewells…and start thinking about the next convention.

I can truly say that my first experience at the Buster Keaton convention couldn’t possibly have been better. It was not only incredibly exciting for this fan to visit Buster’s Muskegon at last, but the atmosphere of happiness and laid-back camaraderie among the Damfinos made every moment a joy. It didn’t matter if you were a longtime convention goer or a complete newbie who didn’t know a soul there–the moment you arrived, you belonged. I have a feeling this won’t be the only Buster convention I’ll be going to…and I hope to see you there one day, too!


44 thoughts on “My Experience At The 2017 Buster Keaton Convention

  1. Dang girl! This is great! What a wonderful experience. You look so elated in your pictures too. So, happy to see that Keaton is so honored. Lea, “this is the cherry on top,” thank you for this lovely post.

  2. Pingback: The Fourth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon | Silent-ology

  3. Great post! I can imagine the “surreal-ness” being there among Keaton fans and family. What a fabulous experience it must have been; thanks for sharing it here!!

    • Oh, it was SO surreal–all those fans, all at once! Porkpie hats everywhere! 😀 It feels good that an item on my bucket list has been so successfully crossed off.

  4. You are so lucky to have been able to attend this. I really enjoyed reading your description of the days you spent here. How lovely that this event exists.

    • I think that was somewhere in Bluffton, where the Keatons’ house was–exactly where, I’m not sure. I don’t remember it being pointed out on the tour so it might’ve been torn down.

  5. Hi Lea. What a great experience you had. I wish I could have heard your talk. It sounds as if the Buster Keaton convention took on some of the warm and welcoming character of Buster. Imagine what a Ted Healy convention would be like. Thank you for sharing your experience with those of us who haven’t made it there yet.

    • Someone (I think it was the Damfinos president Patricia Tobias) said that Harold Lloyd fans tend to be upbeat and energetic, Chaplin fans tend to be more emotional, and Buster fans are friendly and laidback. If the Buster fans at the convention are any indication, that must be true! 😀 Hope you make it to the convention one day Joe–you’d love it!

    • It was a lot of work, absolutely, but it all paid off! It was such an honor to be a part of the event, I can’t even tell you.

      Next October I’ll have to make some room in my suitcase for you! 😉

  6. Thanks for sharing your retrospective on last year’s convention. I was there with my friend and her daughter. It was so much fun. So many fond memories. You really feel close to Buster’s spirit in Muskegon.

  7. Thanks for this entertaining post and for making us travel in Buster’s city! This certainly sounds like a worthy event and I’m certainly appealed by it! Love the last photo of your article. You look great and very happy Lea! 🙂

  8. Lea, what a lovely account of your first Damfino convention! It brought me back. So many wonderful memories are made in Muskegon in October. I hope to see you at future gatherings. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Oh my gosh I want to go. That looks B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And you guys got a good crowd!!!!!

    That is TOTALLY worth a pilgrimage!

  10. Great recap 🙂 I’ve attended the Convention twice and have been meaning to return again … maybe 2018 👍

    Did you get to meet and visit with Buster’s relatives? I’m honored to say that I met Barbara, Melissa, and Harry at the conventions I attended, and all three are among the greatest people ever; so charming 🤩

    • I did indeed get to chat with them–aren’t they just some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you could meet? It’s so gracious of them to come to these events and share their memories and photos with the fans.

  11. Pingback: 6 Silent-Related Locations Still On My Bucket List | Silent-ology

  12. Lea, hello! I have left a couple of replies to your previous posts on Buster and yep, I am a Damfino as of last September when I decided to make my Buster obsession official and join the IBKS, so now for the “what a small world!” moment…I recently received some back issues of my snail mail Damfino newslettter, “The Keaton Chronicle” and I came across your article about attending the convention and wow, it blew me out of my chair with a double whammy. I had REALLY wanted to go to the convention in 2017 as it was such a big deal, being the 100th anniversary of Buster’s first walk into legend with “The Butcher Boy” in 1917 and not only were they showing his famous first silver screen appearance, but “The General” was also being shown! It was a convention for the ages, I am sure, and I came sooo close to buying a plane ticket, but ouch, the airfare from Seattle was just too much and I very reluctantly had to bow out. Then I saw your article in The Keaton Chronicle and boy, it was just like being there, and I was amazed when I realized you wrote the article, AND it was of your experience being there! I just about cried for missing this event (such a milestone year and the movie picks could not have been better) and it would have been wonderful to meet you in person and see your presentation. Another cherry on an epic cake that was the 2017 gathering. I am now kicking myself for not going. Thank you SO much for writing about your experience there, and getting to see it through your eyes. I must go to this convention next year, seriously. Your article was just fab and what a treat for us Buster fans (fanatics!) that could not be there. If you decide you are going to the 2018 convention, let us know! Thanks again Lea, for sharing!

    • Hi Faye, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, I couldn’t resist going to the 2017 convention, and it’s good to hear that folks who weren’t able to go are living vicariously through my writing. 🙂

      Even if you weren’t able to make to the 2017 convention, each convention seems to be a marvelous experience so start planning your trip out there! I likely won’t be going this year (probably can’t get time off, since I was on a couple big trips already), but am planning on returning one day for sure–it’s too good to experience only once!

      • Agreed, I will have to make the next convention somehow..too good to miss and thanks again for letting us no-shows enjoy the experience through your article! One last thank you for Silent-ology, which is hands down the best introduction to silent film for newcomers and just a treasure trove of information, done in a friendly and fun style. 🙂 Take care!

  13. Pingback: It’s Silent-ology’s FIFTH Anniversary!! | Silent-ology

  14. Pingback: ANNOUNCEMENT: The Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon! | Silent-ology

  15. Pingback: UPDATE: The Sixth Buster Blogathon Is Coming Up Soon! | Silent-ology

  16. Pingback: My Time At The 24th Annual Kansas Silent Film Festival! | Silent-ology

  17. Pingback: The Sixth Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon | Silent-ology

  18. Pingback: My Favorite Silent Film-Related Travel Memories! (So Far) | Silent-ology

  19. Pingback: Wishing Buster A Happy 125th Birthday! | Silent-ology

  20. Pingback: “The Best Summers Of My Life”–Buster Keaton’s Boyhood In Muskegon | Silent-ology

  21. What’s the beautiful building (house?) with the archway and turrets? I’m a Brit so not familiar with it. Looking at the photo makes me want to go inside and explore it- it looks interesting!

  22. Pingback: Silent-ology Is 8 Years Old Today! | Silent-ology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s