Summer may be drawing to a close, but the Reading into History family book club is about to start up again! We’re meeting this Sunday at 2 pm to discuss Matt Phelan’s graphic novel Bluffton about a boy who spends a few magical summers with a young Buster Keaton. Many people know Buster Keaton as one of the greatest comic stars of the silent film era, however, Keaton was also a famous vaudeville child star. We chatted with Phelan about his book to get readers psyched to meet him when he joins us for this Sunday’s meeting. This will be Phelan’s second guest appearance at a DCHM family book club meeting, and we are thrilled to have him back. We hope you can make it!
Bluffton is set during the summer in a small Michigan town, and our book club readers have been spending their summer reading your book. Where did you spend summers when you were young, and what were your favorite activities?
Aside from a few days in Cape May, New Jersey (“down the shore” to us Philadelphians), I spent my summers at home. But I remember being either outside exploring, riding bikes, playing basketball or baseball, or inside at a local program called Summer Stage that taught kids stagecraft. It was a great fun and air-conditioned.
In Bluffton, we meet Buster Keaton as a young vaudeville actor, not the silent film star he later became. What made you want to write about Buster Keaton, and why did you decide to write about him in his youth?
I’ve been an enormous fan of Buster Keaton since I was a kid. As I got older, I read everything I could find about him. In his autobiography, he writes that his summers at Bluffton were the happiest days of his life. When I began thinking about a book about Buster, I was drawn (surprisingly) not to his movie career but to these summers that meant so much to him.
Besides The Three Keatons, which vaudeville act do you most wish you could travel back in time to see perform?
Wow, that’s tough. I think I wouldn’t be too picky, as long as I could sit in a vaudeville theater for a full day’s program. Of course, I’d be thrilled if the bill included Bojangles Robinson or Jack Benny.
What is the first Buster Keaton movie that fans of your book should see as an introduction to his films?
They are all great, but I’ll recommend either Steamboat Bill, Jr. or The General (considered to be his masterpiece) for the features. His short films are not to be missed, either. For those, I’d say One Week or Cops. But really, you can’t go wrong with any of Buster’s movies.
What three words best describe Bluffton?
Summer, stardom, and friendship.