Buster Keaton and the Actors Colony in Muskegon, 1908-1938
The original Actors Colony was right here in Michigan. Muskegon, to be exact. And it was here that legendary silent film star and comedian Buster Keaton spent most of his teenage years.
The Keaton family were vaudevillians: mom Myra, pop Joe, and their three kids: Buster, Louise, and Harry. In 1900, Buster was only five years old when his parents began incorporating him into their stage act, where he would frequently be tossed around the stage by his father. The deadpan look on little Buster's face drew big laughs from the audience, and that stoneface continued throughout his entire career.
When they performed in Muskegon at the Lake Michigan Park Theater in 1902 and 1905, the family fell in love with Muskegon. Papa Joe figured this would be a good place to live during their off-season....a place to relax and have fun while not working.
Then, in 1908, Buster's father, Joe, and C.S. Ford founded an organization called the Artists' Colony Club at Pigeon Hill, in the Bluffton area of Muskegon along Lake Michigan. It was a place where vaudeville actors would spend their summers between gigs. Since Joe had a financial interest in the place, he obviously wanted to see it grow. He went out on the road and coaxed fellow vaudevillians to come and buy property. It worked. The Actors Colony soon had a roster of 200 vaudeville residents.
The Keatons lived at 1579 Edgewater and called their home “Jingles Jungle”, named for brother Harry's nickname, “Jingles”. Unfortunately, this home was torn down in the 1950s and another one was built on the site.
The club's original clubhouse was called 'Cobwebs and Rafters', a tumble-down building that was not too attractive. It wasn't completed, with framework exposed and a lack of paint – it resembled a shack more than a clubhouse. Finally in 1920, it was replaced by a newer clubhouse, this time called the Theatrical Colony Yacht Club.
In January 1917, Buster's star was rising and he left Muskegon and his family's act. Soon he was starring in his own motion pictures while his family stayed back in Muskegon.
Drafted into the army during WWI, Buster was discharged in 1919 and returned to Muskegon for a visit. The family eventually moved to California.
1933: Buster finally returned and paid a visit to Muskegon
1938: The Actors' Colony faded down to 13 members and finally closed down
1949: Buster came to Muskegon one last time for a visit
1963: Buster visits Michigan one last time, performing at the Ionia Free Fair, but wasn't able to get to Muskegon.
He passed away in 1966.
Eleanor Keaton, Buster's wife, later said that Muskegon was his "favorite place on earth".
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