The Athens Buster Keaton Club

In the early and mid 1920s, Athens Georgia was the home of a very quirky fan club. They used words like Umpty Umph, challenged each other to keep a straight face while watching Keaton comedies, and advertised so freely in the the Athens Banner-Herald that I wonder if one of their members worked for the paper. They had the charm of a secret club populated by members who, after catching sight of the ad in their morning paper, hurry off into the mist on mysterious errands. Their “secret” club house was the Palace theater in Athens, G.A., opened in 1921.

They claim to have had members in high places – business men and bankers – who slipped out of meetings to attend films. Sentries were posted at the door of the theater to be sure these important men were not followed and then reported to their superiors for skipping out on work:

“According to due and modern form the club organized at the unusual meeting place as soon as members could slip away from the business partners and bosses and after placing a sentinel at the entrance of the theatre to watch for anyone who might be employed to shadow them…”

New members were personally introduced to the ticket master at the theater, presumably so they would be admitted to meetings without trouble. Initiation included “serving as cashiers for the round of drinks” and “seeing Buster’s picture at the Palace and not showing any more facial expressions than does the idol of the club himself.” They go on to say “if any neophyte laugh he is forever blacklisted and barred from future membership in the club.” (The Banner-Herald, June 13, 1923)

They made a real party out of their meetings with decorations, entertainment and refreshments. Speeches kept to a minimum.

(The Banner-herald, February 18, 1923)

I get the sense that their leader, Michaelo Costa, started the club to save himself costs.

(Athens Banner-Herald, February 4, 1923)
Not sure when they thought Buster’s birthday was, but it’s in October.

They would apparently skip out of work to watch films, usually at 10:30 in the morning: “While the pre-lude was showing “Why Elephants Leave Home” balloting on a couple of new members got under way but in each instance objection was raised because members of the same firm are now in the club and if others came in there could be no “slipping” away from meetings. The blackball proposals are to be kept secret. (The Banner-Herald, January 31, 1924)

With all their claims to secrecy, they published at least one highly detailed ad in the paper for each of these films, and probably more:

Now for a little mystery. An article in early 1924 states that:

This would mean that Mr. Costa could possibly have appeared in The Navigator, Seven Chances or Go West as an extra. I doubt it as I’m sure the club would’ve written extensively about any cameo and their ads never mention it, but what a fun idea! — Buster (or more likely a publicist or something) hearing about this highly active little club and extending an invitation. — I personally hope it did happen and one of the populous running from loose cattle or wild women in bridal getup is Michaelo Costa.

Source:

Digital Library of Georgia at gahistoricnewspapers.galileo.usg.edu