Why Is There a Statue of Buster Keaton In Downtown Muskegon?
Who doesn't know of vaudeville and silver screen legend Buster Keaton?! Famous for his groundbreaking stunts and comedic timing, he's revered as one of the best-known performers of the silent film era. But how many Michiganders know Buster spent many formative years right here in west Michigan?
I consider myself to be a "Buster Buff", with one of the last movies I saw in the theatre pre-covid being a screening of Buster's legendary film The General complete with live ragtime band accompaniment-- which I highly recommend if you're ever given the opportunity. However, I had no idea such a legendary star of stage and screen actually had ties to a small actor's colony outside of Muskegon.
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton
Born in Kansas in 1895, Buster was part of a family of performers. His father Joseph and mother Myra were part of a travelling show with Harry Houdini called the Keaton Houdini Medicine Show Co. and by the time Buster was 3, he was on stage performing with his parents under the name The Three Keatons.
Buster was nicknamed as such because of the resilient way he was able to handle the rough toll of physical comedy. According to one site, because of this Buster was once billed as "The Little Boy Who Can't Be Damaged."
Bluffton Actors' Colony
Though Buster was born in Kansas, he spent many summers here in west Michigan and reportedly often referred to Muskegon as his home. According to the Muskegon Actors' Colony website, the town of Bluffton existed in the shadows of a dune called Pigeon Hill.
Each summer vaudeville actors from around the country would gather at the show house at nearby Lake Michigan Park. By 1907 the Keaton family began to make annual treks up to Michigan and in 1908 Joe Keaton, along with fellow performers Paul Lucier, William "Mush" Rawls, and property owner Lew Earl, established an actors colony which included a clubhouse headquarters.
Reads the historical marker along Lakeshore Dr,
In 1908, Joe Keaton, actor Paul Lucier, and agent Lew Earl founded the Actors’ Colony. By 1911 over two hundred theater personalities flocked to Bluffton each summer. They included Keaton, his wife, Myra and his son Joseph Frank, nicknamed “Buster,” who were billed as “The Three Keatons.” Pascoe’s Place, a local tavern, became the unofficial club headquarters. By 1918, film began replacing vaudeville and the Actors’ Colony declined.
Today a statue of Buster Keaton sits outside of Frauenthal Theater in downtown Muskegon as a reminder of the screen legend's ties to west Michigan. Buster's last visit to the Muskegon area was reportedly in 1949 and included a stop at Pascoe's to enjoy some fresh perch. To quote Buster himself from his autobiography My Wonderful World of Slapstick,
The best summers of my life were spent in the cottage Pop had built on Lake Muskegon in 1908