by Matt Phelan
227 pages, 2013
Buster Keaton was one of the first comedy stars of the silent movie era, as famous at that time as Charlie Chaplin, and far funnier. But what was he like as a little boy?
That's what we get to find out in this fictionalized biography. The story begins in 1908, in the small town of Muskegon, Michigan, where a cast of "vaudevillians" – performers of all sorts who would tour the country together as a traveling variety show – spent their summers. Buster Keaton's father, Joe, founded an "Actor's Colony" right next door, at Bluffton, where it existed from 1908-1938.
Henry Harrison spends his summers playing baseball with Buster, and wishing he could do what Buster could do, and wishing he could go the places Buster has gone. The "moral" of this story takes place late in the book when Henry's dad assures him that he doesn't need to take over the family hardware story – he can make his own choices – but that he should worry less about what he is going to be, and focus more on who he is going to be. It's far from preachy, and most kids will miss that this is the central theme of the book. For them it is just a fun look at a group of very unique people - we get to see how vaudevillians really lived.
Henry Harrison is fictional, but the vaudevillians that are mentioned are all real. So this is an intriguing look back at both vaudevillians, and a key silent picture star, Buster Keaton. The only language concern I noticed is a single instance of "holy cow." The book will be of no interest to young children – it is too slowly paced – and is probably best suited for 12 and up. Adults will love the beautiful color washes, and the patient way the author slip in wordless sections, allowing a dozen or more panels to go before anyone says a thing. It is just really wonderfully done!
You can get a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here.