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.
Bob Borgen was introduced to Buster Keaton through Blackhawk Films when he was in high school in 1967. He immediately became a fan and began collecting Keaton’s films (although most were not officially available). He eventually tracked down nearly all of Keaton’s silent work in 16mm prints. He also met Eleanor Keaton, and they remained friends for the final 24 years of her life. In the '70s and '80s, Eleanor introduced Bob to everyone researching Keaton for books and documentaries. As a result he is proud to have been a “thanks” in more than a dozen projects. He also was introduced to ice hockey in 1967 when his hometown Los Angeles gained a team in the National Hockey League. Bob fell for that, too, and has made his living as a writer and producer in and around the NHL for nearly 40 years.
Vicki Smith is a Brit transplanted to U.S. soil and, since naturalizing in May 2016, she's now a Britmerican. Having tried her hand at several different careers back in the UK, she's now a stay-at-home mum. Vicki joined the Damfinos in 2006, just after moving to the U.S., and started helping Patricia Eliot Tobias with The Keaton Chronicle in 2007, and took on the mantle of vice president of the Society in 2012. Vicki's passion for movies (everything from silent to sci-fi) is only matched by her love of quilting. She lives in northern Virginia with her U.S Navy husband, two children, two cats and several fish.
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. Alek 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.
Graphic designer David B. Pearson is a published author on the topics of Buster Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle and Harold Lloyd. He's also the webmaster of the busterkeaton.com family of websites, including "Arbucklemania," which is celebrating its 21st year online in 2017. Pearson is also 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 short comedy films, including Arbuckle's masterpiece Love, and the previously lost (and unknown) Charles Chaplin appearance in the Keystone short A Thief Catcher.
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.