For the 2nd year in a row, I had the great pleasure of attending the Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas at Bowlus Fine Arts Center. The "stone-faced" icon of the silent screen Buster was born in nearby Piqua, Kansas in 1895, where he started performing along with his vaudevillian parents from age 3. The Buster Keaton Celebration has been celebrated in Iola since 1993. For 21 years, this annual event honors this genius of original comedy through a two-day (Friday and Saturday) course of education and film screenings. It's always an enlightening and entertaining good time the last weekend in September.
Secondly, the presenters and topics are always fascinating. This is so more than just film screenings, it's also education. You don't have to be a film historian to thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the lectures and presentations offered. The topics covered often take on a fresh angle to each year's theme. And I always walk away having discovered something new. Presenters come from all over- from across the U.S. and across the world. Generally, the presenters are made up of film historians, film preservationists, biographers and educators who are published experts, documentary filmmakers, famous silent film score musicians, noted actors/celebrities and even members of the Keaton and Talmadge families! Each year's line-up changes based upon that year's theme, but the presenters never disappoint to deliver insightful presentations.
This year was no exception as topics included the hot subject of McCarthyism and it's influence on Chaplin, Keaton and Hollywood during that era. Celebrities were on board again this year- including well-known actors James Karen (close friend of Buster Keaton) and Paul Dooley, most recognizable as the Dad in John Hughes' "16 CANDLES" (1984). Because the Buster Keaton Celebration has a decidedly 'Kansas-small-town-friendly' tone, it feels more like a welcoming casual reunion. As I discovered, it reflects a more intimate atmosphere as I introduced myself and chatted to presenters, during breaks.
I've never been a shy gal so walking up to a total stranger and starting a casual or even in-depth conversation has never been an issue. So I was surprised to discover that even I (aka 'doesn't know a stranger Kellee') can be star-struck, in my own way. Last year, actor James Karen was incredibly kind enough to share a bit of conversation and pose for a photo with me. This year, he remarkably remembered me and graciously obliged a photo again. As did the actor Paul Dooley. By the way, Paul Dooley was incredibly generous in his conversation with my husband and me. He told us magnificent stories of how director/writer John Hughes wrote in a bigger role for him as the dad in Hughes' "SIXTEEN CANDLES" (1984) to convince him to take the part and how it was Paul himself who suggested a more fitting line to end that famously touching dad-and-daughter scene when his character apologizes for forgetting his daughter's birthday John Hughes kept that change in. And you know how Chevy Chase played Clark "Sparky" Griswold in Jeremiah S. Chechik's National Lampoon "CHRISTMAS VACATION" (1989)? Well, Paul shared with us that that role was written by Hughes with none other than Paul Dooley in mind. How cool is that?! We even discovered that Paul was the head writer for the first season (1971-1972) of PBS's Emmy Award winning and star-studded children's TV show from my childhood "The Electric Company"! Who knew?? So, how did I reveal my star-struck weakness? As a gal who is known for her BIG outgoing smile, I've noticed that I reveal a completely different type of smile which is alien to me- only while posing with celebrities while I nervously embrace, and face the camera awe-struck. I better fix my awkward celeb smile quickly before this Kansas gal visits Hollywood someday soon... but I digress.
Besides socializing with friends and viewing hilarious classics like Keaton's "SEVEN CHANCES"(1925) on the big screen, I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of this year's Buster Keaton trip, must be the segment of Saturday's schedule devoted to Melissa Talmadge Cox, granddaughter of Buster Keaton and Natalie Talmadge, and Barbara Talmadge, daughter-in-law of Buster Keaton. When we came last year, members of the Talmadge/Keaton family were there and it was so interesting and popular, they had to stop taking questions and move on to keep on schedule. This year, Melissa and Barbara kindly offered to come back and continue. Frankly, the stories both Melissa and Barbara tell are funny, genuine and utterly delectable. I was hanging on to every word. The stories they told about growing up with such a famous grandpa/father-in-law plus all the movie stars they encountered were fascinating peaks into a Hollywood dream. Melissa was the only granddaughter amongst the grand kids and you could imagine how their bond was special. The personal photos of both sides of the family (Buster Keaton's and the Talmadge sisters') up on the big screen were as equally delightful as the funny and heart-warming stories they told. I can't help but feel some bias in thinking that some of that Kansas friendliness has stayed with Keaton/Talmadge family because they were down-to-earth and sincerely charming.
FRIDAY, 9/ 27:
10 am- Buster Keaton Museum Tour- Piqua, KS
Caravan departs from The Bowlus Fine Arts Center
1pm- Afternoon registration begins in the lobby of the Bowlus Fine Arts Center
1:20pm- Welcome and Introduction
1:30pm- THE KEATON AND CHAPLIN COLLABORATION-- "SEEING STARS" (1922)
Hooman Mehran, Film Historian and co-editor of the Chaplin Review
2:10pm- Q & A
2:20pm- HOLLYWOOD AND McCARTHYISM
James Karen, Actor and long-time friend of the Keaton Family.
Interview with Frank Scheide
3pm- Q & A
3:20pm- SCREENING OF SELECTED SHORT SUBJECTS
Keaton and Chaplin Shorts including commercials and cartoons
5pm- Dinner Break
7:30-10:30pm- FRIDAY EVENING SCREENINGS:
"OUT WEST" (1918), short film starring Buster Keaton and Fatty Arbuckle
Live music by Jeff Rapsis
"A KING IN NEW YORK" (1957), feature starring Charlie Chaplin
SATURDAY, 9/ 28:
8:30am- Registration opens
9am- Welcome and Introductions
9:10am- FRIENDSHIP, FILM COLLABORATION AND COPING WITH McCARTHYISM
IN THE 1950's: JEROME "JERRY" EPSTEIN'S AUDIO MEMOIR ON CHARLIE CHAPLIN, Frank Scheide, Ph.D, University of Arkansas
9:50- Q & A
10am- TWO EXILES FACE THE COLD WAR:
CHARLIE CHAPLIN, KING SHAHDOV, AND A KING IN NEW YORK (1957)
Charles Maland, Ph.D., J. Douglas Bruce Chair of English and Cinema Studies at University of Tennessee
10:40am- Q & A
11am- THE AMERICAN COUNTERCULTURE AND CHAPLIN'S LITTLE TRAMP, 1953-1977
Lisa Stein Haven, Ph.D., Ohio University Zanesville
11:40am- Q & A
11:50am- Lunch Break
1:15pm- Welcome and Introductions
1:20pm- LIMELIGHT: THE CHAPLIN ARCHIVES
Kate Guyonvarch, Chaplin Office Director, Roy Export S.A.S., Bubbles Inc. S. A.
2pm- Q & A
2:10- THE TALMADGE AND KEATON FAMILIES
Melissa Talmadge Cox, Granddaughter of Buster Keaton
Barbara Talmadge, Daughter-in-Law of Buster Keaton *Interviewed by David MacLeod
2:50pm- Q & A
3:10pm- SATURDAY AFTERNOON SCREENING:
"HER SISTER FROM PARIS" (1926), feature film starring Constance Talmadge and Ronald Coleman, with live music by Jeff Rapsis
5pm- Dinner Break
7:30- 10pm- SATURDAY EVENING SCREENINGS
"ONE A.M." (1916), Charlie Chaplin short
"SEVEN CHANCES" (1925), feature film starring Buster Keaton,
with live music by Jeff Rapsis
If you haven't made the trek to Iola, Kansas for the Buster Keaton Celebration yet, you have plenty of time to get your travel arrangements squared away for the next one. The Bowling Arts Center is already booked for their own special 50th anniversary next year so the Buster Keaton Celebration will return in September 2015. Hope some of you will join us~ I know I'll be there!