Ron Pesch, a Michigan writer and historian, has spent over 30 years researching, writing and teaching Michigan history. One of his passions is the story of a young Buster Keaton, who after traveling the country as a child vaudeville star with his family for the first nine years of his life, finally came to rest in a little town called Muskegon, along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Buster lived in a part of the city called Bluffton, which was nestled between Lake Michigan and Muskegon Lake, not far from the theater where “The Three Keatons” had performed beginning in 1902. Joe and Myra Keaton fell in love with the town from the first time they saw it.
In 1907, Joe Keaton and fellow vaudevillian Paul Lucier purchased parcels of land in the area and began selling them to friends. Keaton began to sing the praises of the Bluffton area to fellow vaudevillians and persuaded many of them to follow his lead by purchasing lots or renting summer cottages in the area.
At one point, over 200 vaudevillians and performers lived in this unique colony. Ron gives walking tours of this historic area, complete with photographs and funny, interesting stories that bring you back to a different time and place.
In the summer of 2016, through a series of coincidences, Ron was introduced to a professor/documentary filmmaker, Frank Boring, with the thought of telling this story of young Buster on film. Frank immediately thought of his colleague and fellow professor/filmmaker Jim Schaub and arranged a meeting. Jim had previously produced, directed and edited the award winning documentary “Up From the Bottoms: The Search for the American Dream, (narrated by Cicely Tyson), which aired on PBS for three years and was seen by millions of people across the country. It was a story about African American migration and was centered around the City of Muskegon.
This meeting was serendipitous because 12 years earlier, as Jim Schaub was talking to the actor James Karen on a film set, the subject of Muskegon came up. Mr. Karen began telling stories of Buster Keaton’s time in Muskegon and how much he loved the area. He told Schaub “you should do a documentary about Buster in Muskegon.” It turns out James Karen was one of Buster’s best friends in the latter part of his life and offered to do an interview if the project ever came to be.
A team of people came together and began exploring the idea of telling this rich, fascinating story of Buster Keaton as a child vaudeville star, as a teen tumbling down the sand dunes at Lake Michigan and as a brave young man venturing off to New York City, where he would soon become a star in the new medium of motion pictures.
The project has come a long way since then, but the journey has only just begun. In early May, production began on “Buster Keaton: Home” with a two-day shoot in the Los Angeles area, including an interview with James Karen where he told tales of his time with Buster and his wife, Eleanor. Their friendship was deep and as he spoke, you got a sense of the real Buster – the man behind the stone face. And you clearly got a sense of how much Buster cherished his summers in Muskegon, where he could be a kid, eat a home cooked meal and create memories that would forever influence his life and his art.
There is much more to be done and your support is needed. Please visit our donation page and help us tell this amazing story.