This is my own post for the Ninth Buster Keaton Blogathon. Please enjoy, and don’t forget to check out all the other wonderful posts, too!
If there was an official “gentle giant” of silent comedy, in my book it would have to be “Big” Joe Roberts, of Buster Keaton film fame. The jowly, 6-foot-3-inches performer played a number of intimidating “heavies”–and at least one bashful farm hand–in nearly twenty of the famed (and more diminutive) comedian’s films.
But Buster and Big Joe weren’t just coworkers but long-time pals, vaudeville veterans who spent their summers in the same quiet neighborhood of Muskegon, Michigan and shared countless memories of lakeside fun and hijinks. In fact, Big Joe’s house was just down the hill from the Keaton family.
This is my own post for the Seventh Buster Keaton Blogathon. Enjoy, and please check out all the other wonderful posts, too!
When you love a performer from classic Hollywood, it’s not uncommon to make little “pilgrimages” to the places where they used to live and work: studios, filming locations, former homes, gravesites, and, of course, their hometowns. Seeing where your favorite star grew up can give you insight into what shaped them and their future career. And, of course, it’s just plain fun–some towns are tourist destinations simply by for being the hometown of a beloved performer.
But what of a performer like Buster Keaton? Since he was the child of travelling medicine show performers, his birthplace was a matter of happenstance. Joe and Myra Keaton were travelling through the tiny town of Piqua, Kansas (today its population hovers a little above 100) when Buster arrived. Their stay was necessarily short, so while tiny Piqua had the honor of being Buster’s birthplace it would be a stretch to call it his hometown. (Fun fact: in the 1960s Buster and his wife Eleanor did stop there briefly while they were on his State Fair tour!)
But despite an upbringing spent travelling from theater to theater, there was a spot on earth that Buster considered his true hometown: Muskegon, Michigan. A mid-sized town with the vast waters of Lake Michigan along one side and sparkling Lake Muskegon along another, the Keatons chose it for their summer home in the 1900s. It turned out to be a match made in heaven. In his biography on Buster, written not long before Buster passed away, Rudi Blesh wrote: “Those long-ago summers must have been, in a special way, one of the wonders of his life. Whenever he speaks of them he seems to be turning on the lights of a faraway stage.”