The History ofn

The Damfinos


 


So where did The International Buster Keaton Society come up with its nickname? From three boats, all with the same name . . . And what was that name? Damfino.

The most famous of the three was the boat in Keaton's short The Boat (1921). In the film, Buster has built a boat in his house and called it Damfino, presumably meaning "damn fine." By the end of the film, he has successfully demolished his house, drowned his car, sunk the boat, and Buster and his little family are lost, washed up after a storm at night on a deserted beach. "Where are we?," asks Buster's wife.

"Damfino," he replies, shrugging his shoulders.

Damfino was also a boat's name in College in 1925. This boat sank too, after being jumped into by an overzealous Buster, who hopes to pilot it to local fame as coxswain of a rowing team. After he has gone through and under the Damfino, taking the rest of his crew with him, the boat is replaced by a sturdier model, Old Iron Bottom.


Not out of the race yet - "College", 1925.

These two sinking Damfinos were probably inspired by another boat - a real one - one that appeared on the shores of Lake Muskegon in Michigan.

When Buster and his family lived in an actors' colony founded by Joe Keaton, Buster's father, in Bluffton, on the outskirts of Muskegon, Michigan, during the summers from 1908-1916, they made friends with an actor by the name of Big Joe Roberts. Roberts would soon come to Hollywood with Buster, and would perform in all of Keaton's productions until his death in 1923.

Joe Roberts in "The Love Nest"

Big Joe Roberts, Keaton's friend and "heavy". His last appearance was as Natalie Talmadge's father in "Our Hospitality", 1923.

When he lived in Muskegon, Joe Roberts had a dock. On a fine summer day, a boat pulled up to Joe Roberts' dock. The boat was owned by some theatrical agents from Chicago.

The name of the boat? Damfino.

 


Keatons aboard a small fishing boat in Muskegon:
Joe, Buster, Louise and Jingles, c. 1910.
What did they catch? Damfino.

The International Buster Keaton Society began because a cake didn't turn out.

In 1992, Patricia Eliot Tobias was working on a book about Buster Keaton--a book she still hopes to complete someday. When Keaton's birthday rolled around, she contacted her friend Melody Bunting and her sister Wendy Tobias, saying, "Let's do something to celebrate Buster's birthday" (or words to that effect).

Melody and Wendy agreed that something must be done. It was determined that a birthday party would be held, complete with a porkpie hat-shaped cake, which was up to Patty to create. When the baking took place, however, something went very wrong. The icing dripped off the cake, the knife dug big gouges out of the top, and the part representing the brim kept breaking.

So Patty called Melody and Wendy and said these immortal words: "The cake didn't turn out. Wanna start a club?" They agreed, et voilą! A club was born. That was 'lo these many years and 'lo these many hundreds of members ago.

 


Discovering the magic...Damfinos do the High Sign
in Muskegon at the former site of "Jingles' Jungle", 1995.
The man in the middle looking confused is the current owner of the property.

 

The Damfinos was founded in 1992, on October 4, Buster's birthday, in New York City. Membership is now nearly 700 internationally. Buster Keaton's family supports The Damfinos' efforts to bring greater public attention to Keaton's life and work. In addition, members include many in the television and film industry: actors, television and film producers, as well as best-selling authors, artists, comic book writers, musicians, and designers, as well as those who have just discovered the magic of Buster Keaton.

The Damfinos publishes a quarterly newsletter, The Keaton Chronicle, which includes historical research on Buster Keaton's life and career, rare photographs and artwork, as well as reviews of Keaton material on the market now and news stories about current Keaton events.

An annual magazine, The Great Stone Face, features in-depth articles about Keaton's life and career and includes many rare and never-before-published photos.

 

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Merchandise

 

Buster & Sybil Seeley in "The Boat"