September 25, 1998
Marvie Rotter has created a tasteful little garden in the corner of her yard where the city formerly had a large, fenced in power transformer. Recent electrical circuit work eliminated the need for the transformer and the city eventually removed all traces of it -- the gravel bed, chain-link security fence and the industrial-strength equipment that had been located there for 20 years or more. It was something of a necessary eyesore and the removal left only an ugly, scarred bit of soil along the alley. But now it's gone and Marvie has done the whole neighborhood a favor by dressing up the area into something very attractive. A stacked stone rampart facing the street holds a bed of enriched soil which someday will be ablaze with lush and colorful greenery. Anything would have been an improvement, but this project will transform the corner into a thing of genuine beauty. Congratulations, Marvie, and thank you.
Frank Scheide, the University of Arkansas history professor who is doing a video documentary on the life of the comic genius Buster Keaton, has nearly completed the first phase of his project. Buster, you will recall, was a megastar in the early days of motion pictures and on the vaudeville stage. Because he and his parents and other members of the family were settlers here and lived in Perry during the early part of this century, Mr. Scheide visited Perry earlier this year to gather factual information for the documentary. It is being shown this month at the annual Keaton day celebration in the community of Iola, Kansas, which is believed to be Buster's birthplace. Mr. Scheide says his piece will run about 20 minutes and he also has been invited to show it in December at a "moving images" symposium in London. It does include references to Perry.
Mr. Scheide will be returning to Perry one day soon to shoot some still pictures of Buster's boyhood home at 610 Grove street, along with some other scenes of our city. The house is owned by three brothers, Marvin, Leroy and Ralph Beier, and it is rental property. Iola or neighboring Piqua, Kansas, apparently has a rightful claim to the title of Buster Keaton's birthplace, although some folks used to say he was born here. Mr Scheide became interested in Buster Keaton as a child when he used to watch a "Silents, Please" TV show. Classic Keaton comedies were frequently shown. Incidentally, the Perry Carnegie Library has a very nice collection of Keaton films on video tape if you'd like to check them out. No charge, of course.
At the Cherokee Strip Museum we have a bronze reproduction of Buster's trademark pork-pie hat, given to us by Paramount Studio when their film biography of Keaton's career was premiered here in 1957. But in addition to that I do wish we had a more visible sign that he at least did part of his growing up in Perry, Oklahoma, and that, indeed, he began his career as an entertainer as a very young boy right here on the stage of the old Grand Theatre on the east side of the courthouse square. Perry may never again have a favorite son who advances as far as Buster Keaton did in the world of entertainment.
Too bad we weren't able to put some kind of celebration together in time for Keaton's birthday centennial in 1995. Iola has an annual Keaton Day observance much like our Cherokee Strip celebration. We should do something to keep reminding visitors that Buster Keaton, the clown prince, was one of our own.