Patricia Eliot Tobias is an internationally known film and television historian based in Los Angeles. The president emerita of the nonprofit International Buster Keaton Society, Inc., she has been a consultant, audio commentator, documentary writer and on-camera expert for numerous television and DVD documentaries. In addition, she is the vice president of the board of directors of Rx Laughter, a nonprofit organization studying the health benefits of laughter. In June of 2008, she was a guest speaker at the inaugural Fred Astaire Conference at Oxford University in England, and the same year was an on-camera expert for the PBS documentary Make `Em Laugh.
Earlier in her career, she taught communication science at the University of Connecticut and was a film instructor for the acclaimed JASA Arts Series for Senior Citizens in New York City. She has also been a guest lecturer at Oxford University, the Giornate del Cinema Muto in Italy, the University of Southern California, the Hamptons International Film Festival, Cinecon and the Silver Lake Film Festival.
Professionally, she has written, edited and/or designed for The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Daily Variety, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Writers Guild of America West, Oxford University Press and John Wiley and Sons, among others. A contributing author for Leonard Maltin’s Family Film Guide, Tobias also wrote biographical material for allmovie.com.
Board of Directors
Melissa Talmadge Cox is a California native who graduated from Santa Monica High School and the University of California at Davis. She has lived for the last 38 years in a 116-year-old house in a small town in Northern California, where she has worked as a California Certified Nurserywoman, a landscape designer, a puppy-raiser for services dogs (44 of them), and a watercolor teacher and artist. She is married with three grown children and has been on countless committees in civic and school affairs. Roping her into being on the board of the Damfinos wasn’t very hard since she’s been a tremendous admirer of Buster Keaton since early childhood. She has the good fortune to be his granddaughter and spent her youth visiting Grandpa Buster and Eleanor in Southern California. She is currently on the Board of Directors of the Damfinos and is an honorary member of the Keaton Celebration committee in Iola, Kansas.
Bruce Levinson has been a Buster Keaton fanatic since 1965 when he saw The Navigator and Cops at the Museum of Modern Art. He subsequently founded a comedy film series while at college in which Keaton was disproportionately represented, but he also somehow received academic credit for curating a Chaplin program. He has managed a rock band, co-founded a record label, and been instrumental in the creation of a non-profit theatre company, still finding time to fly to LA from New York for the weekend for a tour of the Italian Villa. Bruce practices law in New York and counts Eleanor Keaton among his former clients. He also writes for a golf magazine and spends a great deal of time splitting wood. The ultra-lifelike statue of Buster Keaton in his living room freaks people out.
Vergil E. Noble lives in rural Ashland, Nebraska, about eight miles from the graves of Buster’s maternal great-grandparents. For the past 30 years he has worked as an archeologist for the National Park Service in Lincoln. Vergil has spent many years researching Myra Cutler Keaton’s family, with particular attention to the show business careers of her father, Frank Cutler, and brother, Burt. For several years, Vergil printed and distributed The Keaton Chronicle while serving as Membership Chair. He now lends occasional editorial assistance on articles submitted to The Keaton Chronicle. Vergil is honored to serve on the Damfino Board of Directors and hopes to make meaningful contributions to its deliberations.
Ron Pesch saw his life altered by a pair of phone calls. The first was from Patricia Eliot Tobias, then of New Jersey. She pitched the idea of bringing a bunch of Keatonauts to Ron’s hometown, to celebrate the life of Buster Keaton. Then she asked him if he’d like to become a member of the organization she and two others had formed. They called themselves the Damfinos. “Sure,” said Ron. “Great,” said Patty. “You’re member number seven!”
The second phone call was one made to Eleanor Keaton. “Hello. I'm Ron Pesch from Muskegon. Are you the Eleanor that was married to Buster?” asked Ron. “I am,” said Eleanor. “Did you say Muskegon? Buster loved that place!” After some wonderful conversation, she invited Ron to lunch at her condominium, where she shared some amazing photos and stories. Thanks to those calls, Ron’s list of friends exploded exponentially and geographically over the next 25 years. A nice twist in the road in the life of a local historian.
Thanks to her Fisher Price Movie Theater with itss hand crank, a determined curiosity, and with Laurel and Hardy as her gateway drug, Eryn Merwart has been a lover of silent film history since the age of 5. Besides being an avid researcher of the American film industry, Eryn spent the last 23 years as owner and head designer at Take to the Sky Jewelry. She has also co-chaired more than 5 of the Keaton Society's annual conventions and has happily volunteered for over 20 years. She will forever maintain that Canadian chocolate is way better. She is also extremely grateful for her role in the Society and looks forward to connecting Keaton fans and sharing the joy of Buster's work
Alek Lev is a director, writer, actor, and American Sign Language interpreter. (He has interpreted for three presidents, two Broadway shows, and one Beatle.) Alek first discovered Buster Keaton in the public library near his alma mater, Wesleyan University, where the three-VHS set of A Hard Act to Follow appeared to him as if out of a Day Dream. As of September, 2019, Alek is in post-production on a film he has written and directed called “WHAT?” - it’s a black and white, silent (and signing) feature-length comedy about a struggling deaf actor, sick of agreeing to increasingly humiliating tasks just to get a role, who decides to take matters into his own… hands. Alek also directed the feature film Ready or Not, co-starred in the Independent Spirit Award-winning film Conventioneers, created the highly edited improv sketch show No Plans This Weekend, and was the new media director for the CBS show How I Met Your Mother. Visit www.aleklev.com for all your Alek Lev needs.
Beth Pederson first encountered Buster Keaton at a live organ theater performance in 2004. She has a BS in accounting, but went on to more entertaining pursuits, such as managing a board game store and later, starting Buster Stuff. She has been a member of the Keaton Society for twelve years, and lives in Layton, Utah with the love of her life and husband of 37 years, Mark; and their three large Poodles. She has two grown and married children, but alas, no sign of grandchildren yet. Her obsessions outside of Buster are managing the Salt Lake City shipping hub for Netflix DVD, camping in her pop-up trailer and building with Legos.
David is a London-based Scot who has written two books on Buster and edited a third. He also runs the UK Keaton society, The Blinking Buzzards, which recently celebrated its 21st anniversary. He’s never missed a Damfinos Convention and has given presentations at every one.
In real life, he is an announcer for Channel 4 in London. He met his wife, Graceann, at a Damfinos convention in Muskegon, Michigan, and they lived happily ever after.
David B. Pearson is the designer of the newly expanded, digital, color version of The Keaton Chronicle. In the past, Pearson has worked on the layout/design of many print versions of the Chronicle, as well as the creator of several Damfino Convention logos, and all its programs for well over a decade. During his college days, he won 14 regional (Southeastern US) awards for excellence in newspaper and magazine design.
Pearson is also an internationally published author on the topics of Buster Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd. He is credited with being a writer on four Buster Keaton video documentaries for Kino Video, and in conjunction with Paul Gierucki, has assisted in the restoration of more than 90 comedy films, including several Comique shorts, Arbuckle's masterpiece Love, Mabel Normand’s Mickey, and the previously lost (and unknown) Charles Chaplin appearance in the Keystone short A Thief Catcher.
Pearson is disabled, and lives in rural Mississippi outside New Orleans.
Valerie was born in Arizona and loved growing up in an area so rich with history of the old west. She now lives in central Texas where it isn't anything like Arizona but rich in its own history. After discovering Buster, like so many of the friends she has made since, she fell in love with his films and life story. She began researching his vaudeville years and with a small group of newly found friends, and started a chronology of all of the performances of the Keatons starting with Myra when she was with her dad Frank Cutler in his show. Valerie has also helped with the research for his family tree. She has a particular fondness for Go West because it takes her back home... and who doesn't love Friendless?
Valerie helps plan the annual convention and runs the Damfino merchandise site, www.busterstuff.com.
Jill Abernathy lives in rural Indiana and has worked as a legal assistant for 30-plus years. How, you ask, did she become the membership coordinator for the Damfinos? A few short years ago (January, 2015, to be exact) she became inexplicably interested in silent films, and in the process of expanding her knowledge of said films stumbled upon Our Hospitality, which was the beginning of an obsession with all things Keaton. She has since acquired a collection that would rival the typical Buster Keaton fanatic, has had the privilege of attending the 90th anniversary celebration of the filming of The General in Cottage Grove, Oregon, and has been a loyal Muskegon convention attendee. Heeding a call for volunteers, she began providing occasional clerical assistance to Patricia Eliot Tobias, which in turn led to her current position as membership coordinator.
Jill is thankful that thru the inspiration of her favorite subject, a previously unrealized artistic talent was revealed when she tried her hand at charcoal portraiture. She also enjoys experimenting with other mediums including pastels, watercolor, and most recently mixed media collage. She is especially grateful for the many lovely people she has encountered on this journey and is honored to serve the International Buster Keaton Society.
Ruth E Sharman is an artist, artisan, writer and one-time performer (literally one time - ironically her first stand-up appearance was laughably bad). Whilst writing an as yet unpublished (and unfinished) novel on the subject of the supernatural, a silent movie ghost character insinuated itself on the plot. Looking rather like a chap she’d seen before, Ruth began to research one Buster Keaton and fell down the rabbit hole! With twenty years of teaching experience Ruth has an insight into early years and education hence working closely on ‘The Play House’, the magazine aimed at younger Keaton fans, her daughter being one of them.
In her role as Director of Social Media she posts daily content across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit #ThisKeepsHerVeryBusy #ButSheLovesMakingUpNewHashtags #KeepItKeaton