The Roaring Road – rare ‘new’ views of early Hollywood

Above, a rare time capsule glimpse looking east from Cahuenga toward the towering Taft Building at the SE corner of Hollywood and Vine, before the neighboring Broadway (B. H. Dyas) Building was built on the SW corner in 1928. The image comes from The Roaring Road (1926), an auto-racing comedy-adventure recently premiered on TCM, found and restored by Mark Heller’s Streamline Cinema and funded by The Academy Film Archive, with a score composed and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis. At right, a matching 1923 aerial view looking east – the star marks the Taft Building construction site, already underway. The arrow marks the once uninterrupted stretch of Hollywood Blvd. before Ivar Street was extended north to the boulevard, creating a new corner not evident in these images. While at one level The Roaring Road is a only a modest production, it also provides many sparkling and unique views of Hollywood during the height of the mid-1920s construction boom. So buckle up for another tour of early Hollywood as captured in the background of silent film. HollywoodPhotographs.com

The Roaring Road involves failing and feuding business partners who manufacture automobile engines. Their only hope to stay afloat is to design a new auto engine and win an upcoming speed race. This view east towards Hollywood and Vine shows one partner arriving at their office, and a matching view nearly a century later.

By 1934, above left, Ivar Ave. had been extended north connecting to Hollywood Blvd., placing the I. Magnin store on a corner lot that did not exist in 1926! You can see “I. Magnin” painted on the side of the store in the 1926 movie frame.

With a carefully tended fake fire hydrant, lead star Kenneth McDonald is always assured of a place to park when he arrives at the office. The Dillin & Stone Drug Co., at the SW corner of Western and 6th, appears at back. Interestingly, this view presented as looking west from the office is nearly 4 miles south from the earlier shot above along Hollywood Blvd. presented as looking east from the same office building.

Kenneth portrays a skilled race-car driver, and the son of one business partner. Actress Jane Thomas portrays the daughter of the other business partner, shown above arriving at the 3923 W. 6th Street business office entrance to the right, flanked by beautifully detailed molding. Similar molding survives on the building’s upper floors, but sadly the ground level entrance details have been scrubbed clean. The yellow box in the modern view above marks the back of the Versailles Apartments also visible in the movie frame. The red box in the modern view marks a small alley entrance appearing in Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923) below.

Late for work in Safety Last!, Harold pretends to be injured to sneak a quick ride in a handy ambulance. When they reach the right spot, Harold politely requests the driver to stop, then leaps out the back dashing to work. This was staged at 6th Ave. looking east towards the corner of Western. (The very next shot in this Safety Last! sequence shows Harold running into the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley).

Is there any doubt they will find true love by the film’s end? Kenneth and Jane meet to discuss their feuding fathers along the rustic-fenced bluff at Palisades Park, looking south toward the Santa Monica Pier at back. The Palisades appears briefly in Chaplin’s By The Sea (1915), Lloyd’s A Sailor Made Man (1921), and Keaton’s The Love Nest (1923). While the Palisades overlooking the ocean will always be a beautiful setting, I can only imagine how romantic it must have been to stand there a century earlier, when no one had smart phones, and everything then was so unspoiled and undeveloped.

Kenneth and Jane end up designing their own car and automobile engine, and entering it in the speed race, with hopes of winning the grand prize and saving their fathers’ business. My eyes lit up when Kenneth dashes out of his home the day of the race. That familiar looking church at back is the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood at 1760 N. Gower and Carlos. LAPL.

These thugs posing along Allview Terrace (more below) will soon kidnap Kenneth to keep him from competing in the race.

Kenneth checks his flat tire, courtesy of the thugs, affording a magnificent SW view towards buildings along Hollywood Blvd. – see captions next photo. The Knickerbocker Hotel C extends so far east it nearly blocks from view the Guaranty Building D behind it.

1925 view north: A – the Taft Building at Hollywood and Vine, B – the Plaza Hotel on Vine, C – the Knickerbocker Hotel, D – the Guaranty Building (nearly blocked in the movie view), and E – the Security Trust and Savings Bank at Hollywood and Cahuenga – HollywoodPhotographs.com

This earlier 1924 view looking NE shows the Allview Terrace filming site (box) and the same four buildings except for the Hollywood Plaza Hotel (B) not yet built. The box site also shows the public stairway, still in place, running from Hollyridge Dr. to AllviewHollywoodPhotographs.com

But there’s more – 1 is the Holly Vista Apartments still standing at 1975 N Beachwood, 2 is the towering Hollywood Storage Building still standing at 1035 N. Highland, and 3 is the large gas holding tank once standing at Formosa and Santa Monica Blvd., next to the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio.

And look! Essentially unchanged, Kenneth’s home remains standing at 2350 Allview Terrace, although trees and decades of other landscaping now all but block the wide panoramic views looking down on Hollywood.

Above, two homes near the SW corner of Gower and Scenic (red), as well as homes along Vista Del Mar Street (yellow), remain following their appearance with the thugs.

The film concludes with a thrilling auto race, staged both at the Legion Ascot Speedway within Lincoln Heights below, but also cross-country along freshly cut hillside dirt roads likely filmed around Griffith Park and Mulholland Drive.

Legion Ascot Speedway 1924 view west. Click to expand, deep at back are the unshaded wooden bleachers. The site not only had an oval track, but adjoining open dirt roads also used for racing – Huntington Digital Library

I will leave this to early racing experts, but I sense certain racetrack scenes showing large shaded bleachers were stock footage filmed somewhere else, as the Ascot images I’ve located all present more modest, nonshaded wooden bleachers. LAPL and FrameFinder c-113_357.

Freed from his kidnappers, this view looking west shows Kenneth beside the south end of the unshaded Ascot wooden bleachers, upper right, while these large shaded bleachers appearing in the film, lower right, must be stock footage of another race track. Notice the palm trees behind Kenneth and behind the upper right bleachers.

This view looks east across the back end of Lincoln Park, with the entrance to the Selig Zoo at the far left, and the back of the Ascot wooden bleachers at the top. The palm trees near the right end of the bleachers appear behind Kenneth above.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

Notwithstanding the kidnapping and other challenges, Kenneth wins the race and the girl, while reuniting the feuding fathers, who have always secretly respected each other. Kenneth’s winning engine design? Blending one father’s preferred “force feed system” with the other father’s preferred “oversized exhaust ports” into a prize-winning hybrid engine that saves the business. D’oh! What a great idea – why didn’t I think of that?

Below, a closing view of Kenneth’s home.

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Silent Movie Day celebrates the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

On September 29, 2021, the inaugural National Silent Movie Day, Hollywood Heritage celebrated the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley with this beautiful plaque.

This story by the Hollywood Partnership provides a good overview of that special day. https://hollywoodpartnership.com/post/first-ever-national-silent-movie-day-comes-to-hollywood

It was crowded by the entrance – photo above Esotouric.

Left to right, Jackie Coogan’s grandson Keith Coogan, me – John Bengtson, Hollywood Heritage President Brian Curran, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, Harold Lloyd’s grand-daughter Suzanne Lloyd, Cinecon President Stan Taffel, Charlie Chaplin’s grand-daughter Kiera Chaplin, Buster Keaton’s great-grand-daughter Keaton Talmadge, Chaplin’s life-long cameraman Rollie Totheroh’s grand-son David Totheroh. Photo Harrison Engle.

A century later, five living descendants of Charlie, Buster, Harold, Jackie Coogan, and Rollie Totheroh meet for the first time, where their ancestors (little Jackie excepted) all once spent days filming.

The sign and plaque unveiled – photo Harrison Engle

This post HERE on the National Silent Movie Day site also explains the day. More than a dozen volunteers from Hollywood Heritage and the EaCa Alley Property Owners worked hours and hours to make this special day happen, for which I will always be grateful.

Step by silent footstep, clues from a dozen silent films collectively reveal a century-old secret, the humble Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley where three timeless comedies were made.

 

Here below is the text of my brief speech at the ceremony, explaining the nine-way improbability this alley exists:

Hi everyone – Happy National Silent Movie Day!  I’m John Bengtson, thank you so much for coming.

Imagine yourself standing here in 1914 when the movies in Hollywood began. The modest corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood Blvd. was an early town center. Hollywood was so undeveloped then that south of where we’re standing was just empty fields and vacant lots. Charlie Chaplin built his studio in the middle of a lemon grove, and kept dozens of trees on his lot after it opened in 1918.

This block, the 1600 block of Cahuenga, was the center of early silent filming. I’ve identified 50 silent movies filmed here, more so than for any other Hollywood street. And this block was also the favorite Hollywood street with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Charlie filmed four movies here, Harold filmed five, and Buster filmed here eight times.

Why here? Well the Famous Players Lasky Studio, the original site of the Hollywood Heritage Barn, stood two blocks away at Selma and Vine, and Universal City was just a mile or two north. So this was the easiest place to shoot a handy street corner. As a bonus, our alley stood nearby. I’ve identified two dozen movies filmed at the alley, many from Universal, and it was exciting to see early Universal directors like Lois Weber, Cleo Madison, and Grace Cunnard had filmed here too. Given how so many silent films are lost, it’s easy to imagine many more movies were filmed at the alley as well.

Just here at this entrance to the alley flapper superstar Colleen Moore snuck past during Her Bridal Nightmare, the King of Hollywood Douglas Fairbanks ran in fleeing for his life in Flirting With Fate, Oliver Hardy, without his moustache, and before being paired with Stan Laurel, chased Billy West out of this entrance during Rivals, and the Handcuff King, escape artist Harry Houdini, dramatically fled from this entrance during The Grim Game.

Which brings us to our special guests. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, the three kings of silent comedy each filmed a masterpiece at this alley; The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last!; each inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, cinema’s highest honor. This six-way constellation of iconic stars and timeless films is absolutely unique in Hollywood history. I’ve struggled how to convey how staggeringly unlikely it is for this place to exist. It’s like hitting a hole-in-one, but more precisely, hitting a hole-in-one six times in a row.

But it’s more remarkable than that. First, after 100 years this alley still exists. The favorite places for Charlie, Buster, and Harold to shoot, like Bunker Hill, the old Chinatown, and Ducommun Street downtown, no longer exist. They are buried under freeways or redeveloped into oblivion. So our little alley surviving more than a century counts as hole-in-one number seven.

Next, overlapping clues from a dozen silent films allowed this mystery to be solved. The key was a little-known newspaper drama from 1925 called The Last Edition. Most movies filmed here only looking in one direction or another. But The Last Edition filmed in eight different directions – it was the Rosetta Stone tying all the other movies together. The movie languished in an archive unseen for 90 years until the San Francisco Silent Film Festival restored and screened this entertaining film. If The Last Edition had not been revived, solving this mystery, we wouldn’t be here today. So that counts as hole-in-one number eight.

Last, I want to thank Hollywood Heritage, led by President Brian Curran, and the EaCa Alley Property owners, especially David Gajda and Aziz Banayan for hosting this event. More than a dozen people have each worked hours and hours to make today happen. Hollywood Heritage is such an important charity, they are all volunteers, and they work so hard to protect and preserve Hollywood landmarks and history. So, in these crazy, stressful times, when everyone is already so busy, Hollywood Heritage and the EaCa Alley owners somehow got together and decided to make today happen, and they did. So I want to thank them all again, and recognize today’s happy ceremony as our incredible hole-in-one number nine.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to play a full round of golf. Before I finish, I also want to thank Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and his office staff for their support.

In closing, think back a hundred years, and put yourself in their place. Can you imagine? In one way or another, Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd each spent days filming here. They knew this alley; it was significant to them, they woke up mornings and drove here to work, and made landmark films here that became milestones in their careers. I have no doubt in later years they kept the memory of this place with them for as long as they lived. And now we can share these memories with them too. So with that, thank you once again to everyone for making this special day happen.

Here’s to the next hole-in-one! Thank you.

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Step by silent footstep – how the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley was revealed

Step by silent footstep, clues from a dozen silent films collectively reveal a century-old secret, the humble Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley where three timeless comedies were made. This video has been upgraded with a beautiful score composed and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis. Limited text here and on the video, the visuals speak for themselves.

Please consider supporting Hollywood Heritage’s https://gofund.me/e712eed1 GoFundMe campaign to celebrate the alley and to install signs, a plaque, and even an honorary mural.

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Hollywood Heritage Celebrates the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

Hollywood and “the movies” have been synonymous for over 100 years. Handprints in cement and the Walk of Fame honor stars from the past. But only now, with the exciting Hollywood Heritage campaign, will Hollywood celebrate its direct geographic connections to the film industry’s origins.

For convenience, and with scarce other choices, early filmmakers often staged scenes near the modest crossroads of Hollywood and Cahuenga, once the small town’s economic center. Standing close to where several studios would later be built, the Hollywood-Cahuenga junction became increasingly well-known among filmmakers, and as the town and industry grew, would become perhaps the busiest early filming site in all of Hollywood, appearing in dozens of silent films. For example, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd each staged more scenes near this Hollywood intersection than at any other spot in town; Buster alone filmed eight different movies nearby.

1919 view west – Hollywood Blvd. at far right, alley highlighted. Even as late as 1919 most of Cahuenga was vacant. HollywoodPhotographs.com

As a bonus, and also well-known among the early filmmakers, an adjoining alley (highlighted above) running east-west from Cahuenga to Cosmo just south of Hollywood Blvd. provided an urban setting, sparing film crews a trip downtown to shoot. So, when the Kings of Silent Comedy needed a quiet alley location, they each knew where to go, resulting in their comic masterpieces The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last!

With each movie inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as a “work of enduring importance to American culture,” cinema’s highest honor, the alley represents a six-way constellation of iconic stars and timeless films absolutely unique, both in Hollywood history, and throughout cinema itself.

Hollywood Heritage plans to celebrate the alley on September 29, 2021, the inaugural National Silent Movie Day, and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to install signs, a plaque, and even an honorary mural. Celebrating this site as the “Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley” will honor the legacy of these great filmmakers and, for the first time, directly celebrate Hollywood’s unique cultural, economic, and geographic heritage, all at the very spot that helped to grow an industry and inspire these films.

Think of it. They each spent days filming here. Chaplin filmed many scenes here for The Kid, with several different actors, perhaps shooting multiple takes each as was his practice. Keaton orchestrated an elaborate stunt here for Cops, managing a squad of police extras, while also filming many scenes here for Neighbors and My Wife’s Relations. And Lloyd filmed over two dozen scenes here for Safety Last!, as well as the closing scene for Never Weaken. 1920 view above HollywoodPhotographs.com.

There is no place in the entire country better suited to celebrate National Silent Movie Day than here, where so much movie magic was made.

Three Iconic Stars – Three Timeless Films – One Hollywood Alley

Cheers to Hollywood Heritage – a California nonprofit public benefit 501(c)(3) corporation, and its GoFundMe campaign to celebrate the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley – https://gofund.me/ccda4942. If you want to honor a favorite star, or to recognize Hollywood’s origins and hidden history, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, and please share this campaign.

For tours and more information about the alley, read Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley.

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Solved! Buster Keaton’s Mystery Colegrove Building

Buster Keaton was a pragmatic filmmaker, and it’s been fun discovering how often he would shoot simple scenes nearby, or even across the street from his small Hollywood studio once standing at 1025 Lillian Way. Appearing as both a receiving hospital that tosses him out the front door in The Goat (1921) (above left), and then as a justice of the peace office where Buster confuses potential brides in The Play House (1921), this unique recessed entrance-way and partial staircase had puzzled me for years. Knowing Buster’s working habits, I had long wondered if this curious doorway was the side entrance to some random Metro Studio building adjacent to Keaton’s studio. I scrutinized every Metro Studio photo I could find, but the doorway just never showed up.

Looking NW – Metro Studio at left, Keaton at right – no sign of matching doorway – HollywoodPhotographs.com

But as often happens, the answer to one silent film mystery was found within another.

During this scene above from the 1919 Billie Rhodes comedy A Two-Cylinder Courtship, a top-hat-wearing fake preacher (hired by Dad to halt the marriage) leads an eloping couple upstairs beside The Colegrove Restaurant once standing at 1105 N. Vine Street, one block north and east from the Keaton Studio. Colegrove was once a tiny agricultural community centered around Santa Monica Blvd. and Gower, south of Hollywood, itself once a tiny agricultural community. The Colegrove Lemon Exchange (later Cahuenga Valley Lemon Exchange), stood directly north of Keaton’s studio, and glimpses of it appear during The Scarecrow and The Goat.

The identical two-inch high step spanning the threshold, matching stairway post, and even matching doormat from The Goat (left), A Two-Cylinder Courtship, and The Play House, confirm these are all the same stairs leading to Henrietta Covarrubias’ upper floor boarding house at 1103 Vine Street. Further, Colegrove had very few other candidate buildings at the time, and this setting stood just a block from Buster’s studio. But is there more direct proof?

Well, after locking the couple in his room, the fake preacher then welcomes Dad and explains how he foiled the sneaky couple’s elopement. This scene was filmed looking east from the NW corner of Santa Monica and Vine towards the original Colegrove Post Office still standing at the time across the street. USC Digital Library.

Next, already confirmed HERE as the NW corner of Santa Monica and Vine, look at this detail from The Goat, after Buster has vanquished a bully harassing Virginia Fox. At back stands a corner steel post supporting the upper floor. This same corner steel post also appears during A Two-Cylinder Courtship.

Finally, this brief shot of Buster’s horse from Cops (left) reveals Stafford Melanthial’s billiard parlor at 6303 Santa Monica Blvd., just west from the corner of Vine, showing the very same “Pocket Billiards” signs appearing in A Two-Cylinder Courtship. Clearly these various scenes were all filmed along the east and south sides of the same two-story building once standing at the NW corner of Santa Monica and Vine.

Looking NE at Lew Cody posed in front of the Chaplin Mutual Studio, later to become the Keaton Studio, looking towards the two towers of the Colegrove Mystery Building at back, the taller tower at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine, blocked from view by Marshall’s Garage (Goodrich Tires) – Charlie Chaplin Archives

The NW corner of Santa Monica and Vine stood one block north and east from the Keaton Studio on Eleanor. The smaller west tower of the Colegrove Mystery Building appears at left in this production photo from Keaton’s The Scarecrow (1920), blocked by Marshall’s Garage, the red garage building on the map. Buster built this set on what was then a vacant lot kitty-corner from his studio.

In closing, A Two-Cylinder Courtship was included as a bonus film to the evocative comedy-drama Dinty (1920), released on Blu-ray by Grapevine Video, depicting a spunky newsboy struggling to care for his ailing mother played by Colleen Moore. Dinty portrays dozens of fascinating scenes filmed near the Plaza de Los Angeles downtown, depicting small byways and alleys rarely documented in archival photos. I hope to post about Dinty’s amazing Plaza history someday. Above, a 1920 view of the Plaza Firehouse built in 1884 facing the Plaza (then the Cosmopolitan Saloon) and still standing, with matching views, upper right, from Dinty, and lower right, from the 1916 Dorothy Gish immigrant drama Gretchen the Greenhorn.

Above, the Plaza Firehouse today (the station appears during another scene from The Goat, read more HERE), and below, a gas station fills the NW Santa Monica and Vine corner site today.

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The Kid – Chaplin’s Silent Footsteps tour now on YouTube

The 2021 Chaplin Days online festival hosted by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum includes my all-new video tour of Charlie’s century-old masterpiece The Kid (1921), revealing locations and the incredible visual history hidden in the background of the film. Now posted on YouTube, the show reveals Muhammad Ali would later own the mansion appearing early in the film.

Above, a frame grab from a once-lost film Derby Day (1922), available for DVD purchase thanks to Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions Found at Mostly Lost Vol. 2, provides a wide view of the site where Charlie filmed the rooftop chase and leap into the getaway orphanage truck. Charlie stands on the home directly behind the narrow triangle building.

Above, an early view of the Plaza de Los Angeles and Chinatown highlighted with places where Chaplin filmed. Echoing his own impoverished London childhood, it’s stunning to see how often Charlie filmed in LA’s poorest parts of town.

I had fun putting this together, and hope you will check it out, along with the many other 2021 Chaplin Days special programs and talks now hosted on the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum YouTube Channel.

Above, my YouTube talk from last year’s Chaplin Days fully covers the many Bay Area locations where Charlie made his five Niles Essanay Studio movies in 1915.

The Kid and all images from Chaplin films made after 1918 Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S.

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The Kid – Silent Footsteps a Century Ago – Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Chaplin Days

As part of the 2021 Chaplin Days hosted June 25-27 online by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, I will be presenting an all-new video tour of the locations and incredible visual history hidden in the background of Charlie Chaplin’s now century-old masterpiece The Kid.

I am really pleased with how this turned out, highlighting many new details and discoveries not previously reported.

Like a busy ping-pong game, early in the film the action repeatedly cuts back and forth between downtown near the Plaza, and Hollywood. My talk clearly explains each cut and transition. Who knew the production was this complicated?

Above, behind the unique triangular building once standing on Ducommun Street, as it appears in Buster Keaton’s Cops (1922), was the starting point for Charlie’s highly cinematic rooftop chase during The Kid.

During Chaplin’s fight aboard the orphanage truck, they speed around an early working-class street corner east of downtown. Neither street survives today.

Overlapping locations along Wilshire Blvd., from A Film Johnnie (1914) and The Kid.

I had fun putting this The Kid – Silent Footsteps from a Century Ago show together, and hope you will check it out, along with the many other special programs and talks to be presented without charge as part of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum Chaplin Days event.

Until then, check out my YouTube talk from last year’s Chaplin Days.

The Kid and all images from Chaplin films made after 1918 Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S.

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Silent Footsteps Now Online – SFSFF Amazing Tales

My Silent Footsteps Zoom webinar hosted by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival is now available for free online viewing at the festival’s online screening room.

 

An all-new program, my talk covers in part the hidden interplay between movies filmed in Hollywood and in San Francisco. Above, this landmark church facing San Francisco’s Washington Square almost appeared during Buster Keaton’s Day Dreams (1922), but played a huge role the next year during Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923).

Working with film historian Russell Merritt, we uncovered surprising vestiges of many important locations from D. W. Griffith’s epic masterpiece Intolerance (1916), hidden for over a century. Above, the Governor’s stairway and home featured during the film remain intact, but at two separate locations (?) My talk explains all, the first “hybrid” location I’ve ever discovered.

Vivid background details revealed in the Blu-ray release of Safety Last! (1923) helped establish Harold Lloyd filmed many scenes not in downtown LA, but in the Heart of Hollywood.

In closing, Modern Times (1936) was the last major Hollywood production to feature a silent film star in a movie with no spoken dialog. As Charlie Chaplin and Pauline Goddard set off together, we witness perhaps the concluding shot of the entire silent film era. We can share this moment with them decades later because it was preserved on film.

I had fun putting this Silent Footsteps show together, and hope you will check it out at the SFSFF’s online screening room.

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Silent Footsteps – SFSFF Amazing Tales Online

Hosted by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, I will be presenting a Silent Footsteps Zoom webinar on Sunday, June 6 at 12:00 noon PST, as part of its ongoing Amazing Tales Online series. The webinar is free (register HERE), but SFSFF welcomes new members and support. The recorded presentation is now uploaded to the festival’s online screening room.

An all-new program, my talk covers in part the hidden interplay between movies filmed in Hollywood and in San Francisco. Buster Keaton filmed scenes adjacent to several San Francisco landmarks, but in each case before they were actually built!

Working with Biograph scholar Russell Merritt, we uncovered surprising vestiges of many important locations from D. W. Griffith’s epic masterpiece Intolerance (1916), hidden for over a century, that will be revealed for the first time during my talk. Above, a teaser of what we’ve discovered.

I’ll also reveal how a film unseen for decades, restored by SFSFF, provided the Rosetta Stone interconnecting various films that led to identifying the most consequential silent film location in all of Hollywood.

Fun details hide in the background of so many vintage Hollywood photos – above, the far-away set for Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad (1924). I am especially pleased with how this program came together, and its many new surprises in store. I hope you can attend our Silent Footsteps Zoom webinar this Sunday, June 6 at 12:00 noon PST.

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Worth a Thousand Words – Patrick Mate’s Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley Cartoon

Award-winning animator and wickedly funny caricaturist Patrick Mate has joined the campaign to name the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley with this delightful cartoon, capturing the spirit of The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last! with a single image. A French-born DreamWorks Animation veteran and Smurf designer, Patrick worked recently illustrating filmmaker Daniel Raim’s documentaries Image Makers, chronicling pioneering cinematographers such as Gregg Toland, Rollie Totheroh, and James Wong Howe, and the acclaimed Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, rated 97% “Fresh” on RottenTomatoes.

100 years apart – Mel Melcon – The Los Angeles Times

The alley has been in the news recently. First, City Beat columnist Nita Lelyveld wrote this compelling story for the Los Angeles Times.

Why Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd deserve more Hollywood honor – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)

Meanwhile, professor and writer Tyler Malone has this piece in Atlas Obscura.

The L.A. Alley That’s a Subtle Silent-Film Landmark – Atlas Obscura

As always, this video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

 

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Chaplin’s Bay Area Footsteps

Hosted by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, Charlie Chaplin leads us on a YouTube visual tour around the Bay Area, from San Francisco to San Jose, from Oakland to Niles itself.

Chaplin’s meteoric career began with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studio in 1914. When Charlie’s one-year contract was due to expire, he demanded his $150 weekly salary be raised to $1,000. Sennett balked, complaining this exceeded his own salary. Winning the resulting bidding war, the Essanay Studios signed Chaplin in November 1914 at $1,250 a week. After filming his first Essanay comedy in Chicago, during the dead of winter, Charlie fled the cold and repressive studio regime, and completed the remainder of his one-year contract in California.

Back in the Golden State, two Oakland settings near Lake Merritt, both still standing, appear during Charlie’s Bay Area debut movie A Night Out (1915).

Above, filming a car chase along the Great Highway in San Francisco during A Jitney Elopement (1915).

The tour even shows the iconic concluding scene to The Tramp (1915), where Charlie traipses down a lonely highway, ready for his next adventure.

The Chaplin Bay Area YouTube tour is free, but the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum always welcomes support and new members.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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Charlie, Buster, and Harold Silent Footsteps LA Tour

Hosted by the Los Angeles City Historical Society, Charlie, Buster, and Harold’s guided silent footsteps tour across Bunker Hill, Chinatown, Olvera Street, and other historic downtown locations is now posted on YouTube.

The webinar is free, but the Historical Society always welcomes support and new members.

The tour takes you step by step across early LA landscapes, many of which no longer exist. Above, a cop checks on Jackie Coogan during The Kid (1921), beside the former Tin How Mui Temple at Juan and Apablasa, once part of the original Chinatown, demolished to make way for Union Station.

Harold (left) in Ask Father (1919) and Buster (center) in Cops (1922) form a panoramic view looking west down New High Street from Temple. These grand early Civic Center buildings, and even the street, no longer exist.

From another era, Harold and Bebe Daniels in Lonesome Luke Messenger (1917) on the front lawn of the incredible Bradbury Mansion atop Court Hill, demolished in 1929.

Buster races south from down Arcadia from Main Street, past Sanchez Alley on the right, during Cops. The Santa Ana freeway now cuts through this site.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

 

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Columbo and Mannix Save Us, Again

Comfort viewing classic-era TV shows during the pandemic has brought legions of new fans to Peter Falk’s Columbo. There’s something safe and reassuring about watching a humble and dedicated public servant do his duty, and bring wealthy, self-entitled criminals to justice. No one is above the law. I enjoyed the full series when it ran on Netflix a few years ago, and wrote a post about the overlap between Columbo filming locations and the silent era (above Chaplin in City Lights on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills). Many Columbo episodes are now closer in time to the 1920s than to today. If you’re a fan, the Columbophile blogpost is also fun to visit.

My shelter-in-place security blanket this year has been rediscovering Mannix, the private-eye series I watched broadcast 50 years ago, but hadn’t seen since. The title character Joe Mannix, portrayed by Mike Connors, is nearly flawless. Tall, brave, athletic, wise, generous and kind, self-assured but never smug, gentle with kids, iron-fisted with thugs, and irresistible (yet respectful) with the ladies. Almost impossibly resourceful and resilient, Joe Mannix always gets the job done. Again, how reassuring is it to see someone honest and capable prevail time after time against evil?

It escaped my attention years ago, but the character Mannix (and actor Mike Connors, born Krekor Ohanian) is of Armenian descent, who speaks Armenian and refers to Armenian proverbs during the show. This frame from the opening titles honors the Armenian flag. I had no idea.

I only watched a season or two when it first aired, but the jazzy, jaunty Mannix intro theme song, composed in 6/8 time by Lalo Schifrin (of Mission Impossible theme song fame), with the haunting piano middle bridge, is unforgettable. Becoming reacquainted with the song after five decades is a “remembrance of things past” that makes me smile (and even tear up) each time I crank up the volume to hear it play.

Another fun surprise is witnessing actors like Diane Keaton, Cloris Leachman, and Sally Kellerman make pre-fame appearances in early episodes. Likewise, Leave it to Beaver‘s father Hugh Beaumont appeared in three episodes, while The Brady Bunch dad Robert Reed, and Dr. Frank Burns from M*A*S*H, Larry Linville, played recurring roles as LA Police detectives who spar playfully with Joe.

It’s also fascinating watching Joe drive around Los Angeles 50 years ago. I won’t discuss the locations, but I have to laugh how many times someone will turn right from Hollywood Blvd. and next appear on a remote stretch of Mulholland Drive miles away. While escaping my attention back then, the show filmed repeatedly at a modest and tiny Paramount backlot that today stands out unconvincingly like a sore thumb.

Truth be told, having watched about 20 episodes I may not delve much more deeply. The fistfights and car chases can be repetitive, and the premise has limitations – after all, how many renegade daughters of millionaires can Joe track down, how many noble city officials threatened by the mob can Joe rescue? But in these trying yet hopeful times, watching an honest, honorable, competent man reliably save the day is so comforting, and just what I need to see. The entire series appears to be available on YouTube – pick an episode at random and see what you think.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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Early Hollywood Visual Tour at HippFest 2021

Scotland’s HippFest Silent Film Festival starts tomorrow, Wednesday March 17 through Sunday March 21. Hosted virtually this year, the festival usually plays in Scotland’s oldest purpose-built cinema The Hippodrome in Bo’ness. The programs will be available through a new streaming platform called ‘INDY On Demand’ which allows you to enjoy the finest curated cinema from the comfort of your own home. You can purchase a INDY On Demand – HippFest pass HERE.

Hollywood 1905 – USC Digital Library.

The HippFest program includes a half hour visual tour I prepared showcasing the cinematic history hidden within early film and vintage Hollywood photos. For example, this 1905 Hollywood photo shows the hotel where Charlie Chaplin would film his first feature length comedy in 1914, the campus where Judy Garland would later attend high school, and the future sites for Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and the Roosevelt Hotel, that would host the premiere Academy Awards ceremony.

Entitled Billie Ritchie’s Early Hollywood Footsteps, my documentary includes rare film clips over a century old, featuring Mary Pickford and Scotland’s own slapstick hero Billie Ritchie, Charlie Chaplin’s main rival in 1915. I was pleasantly surprised to discover how richly Billie’s few surviving films illustrate Hollywood’s earliest days.

This year the women of Hollywood are front and center, with Marlene Dietrich, Louise Brooks, and Mary Pickford all featuring in the star-studded program, featuring musicians from around the globe, and film introductions and post screening Q&As with noted film historians, along with a cook-along program, film quizzes, and even a chess contest to go along with the 1925 Moscow comedy Chess Fever. The festival closes with a restored screening of Mary Pickford’s Sparrows (1926). Here’s the full program above, and HippFest overview HERE.

Above, part of my program, Billie Ritchie in Father Was a Loafer (1915) at the corner of Western and Russell, with the same corner in 1906 (now a small strip mall). It was very satisfying putting this program together, and I hope you’ll consider supporting HippFest and watching my show, which begins streaming Sunday, March 21 at noon GMT (7:00 am PST). You can purchase Father Was a Loafer as part of Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions The Alice Howell Collection DVD release.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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Buster Keaton’s Early Days on Los Feliz

Straight from their opening-scene wedding in One Week (1920), staged on the steps of the Congregational Sunday School at the SE corner of Lillian Way and Romaine (kitty-corner from the Keaton Studio), Buster and Sybil Seely drive west along Los Feliz Blvd., a landmark Hollywood thoroughfare. Running east-west along the original southern border of Griffith Park, the open fields north of the dirt road were once populated with flower nurseries and hothouses, some visible during Sybil and Buster’s scene above.

Click to enlarge – circa 1910 – looking east down rambling Los Feliz at the left. Franklin runs diagonally from lower right towards the center. Western Ave. runs from Immaculate Heart High School in the right foreground towards the right photo edge. This shows only half of the full panoramic photo. Huntington Digital Library.

Los Feliz terminates along its west end by turning south and merging into Western Avenue, a major north-south street and former trolley line. This west end appears in many opening scenes during One Week, and again in Buster’s Convict 13 (1920). I know little of the area’s rich history, but will focus on this circa 1910 panoramic view looking east down Los Feliz and south down Western in a single view.

To get our bearings, looking east, the red line marks Hobart Blvd. running south from Los Feliz (left) to Franklin (right). The low center hill is where Cecil B. DeMille would later build a grand estate. Note the prominent bunch of trees (yellow).

This closer view pairs with Buster astride two cars in One Week.

Next, matched with Convict 13, as they march from the near corner of Serrano Ave.

Notice the matching “Э” profile in the trees, along with a matching view from an unknown film clip studied by the Library of Congress “Mostly Lost” silent movie identification festival.

Again, here above is Hobart Ave. running south from Los Feliz at left to Franklin at right.

These views from One Week (left) and Convict 13 (right) look south down Hobart towards Franklin.

Matching views on Hobart from Convict 13 , looking south toward Franklin at left, and north from Franklin at right (notice the ridge line).

Matching views looking north from Los Feliz towards Griffith Park, with Convict 13 at left, and the Mostly Lost mystery film at right. Notice the distinctive ridge line over the comic’s top hat, matching the center of the left Convict 13 frame, and the Convict 13 frame further above.

The distinctive barn in the foreground appears during One Week as Buster attempts to hail a ride, looking west at where Los Feliz turns south to merge into Western. Note the prominent cement stairway.

The barn is long gone – it stood on what is now the campus for the American Film Institute, but the stairway remains.

Again matching views from One Week (left) and Convict 13 (right) looking east on Los Feliz, showing the near corner of Serrano Ave.

Given the logistics and similar landscaping, these early scenes from One Week were likely filmed on Los Feliz as well.

A popular filming site, Los Feliz appears, for example, in the Larry Semon – Stan Laurel comedy Frauds and Frenzies (1918) above left, and in Al St. John’s Out of Place (1922) above right, showing Immaculate Heart and the stairway at back. Snub Pollard rode a runaway grand piano here too during Sold at Auction (1923).

This 1921 aerial view of the Cecil B. DeMille estate, looking north, shows that prominent bunch of trees just south of Los Feliz, appearing again in Convict 13 (right), this time much further east, looking west toward that barn and stairway far at back. Hobart Blvd. appears at the left edge of the aerial view. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

This 1920 Baist Atlas (page 41) provides an overview. While subdivided, nearly all the land between Los Feliz and Franklin are empty lots awaiting future homes. DeMille would build his house on that TR 5078. Looking north, this 1922 aerial shows the corner where Los Feliz turns into Western, with Immaculate Heart High School at the left. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

In closing, these now 20 year old (!) photos provide a sense of Los Feliz today. You can explore further on Google Maps below.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Los Feliz today on Google Maps

Posted in Buster Keaton, Convict 13, One Week | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Incredible new Laurel “OR” Hardy film collection

Flicker Alley’s exciting new Laurel OR Hardy Blu-ray release offers a wide collection of early films created by Stan Laurel or Oliver Hardy, but each as solo stars before being paired as the world’s most beloved comedy duo. Beautifully restored by Serge Bromberg’s Lobster Films, the set contains 17 short comedies featuring Stan, and 18 films with Ollie in the cast, along with program notes by film historian Rob Stone.

Quickly, here are two fun discoveries from the set, one for Stan, one for Ollie. The Boys are well-remembered for The Music Box (1932) inset, awarded the first Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, where they famously struggle to deliver a piano up a long flight of stairs. The film was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. Located between 923 and 935 N. Vendome Street, the historic site is well-documented, and is not only an international tourist attraction, but home to the annual Music Box Day celebration. The Boys also filmed their now lost silent comedy Hats Off (1927) attempting to carry a bulky washing machine up the same pesky stairs.

But years earlier Stan alone struggled with a different intimidating flight of stairs during The Pest (1922). The film is loaded with early Hollywood locations, but for now, here is the stairway, located at 2146 Cove Avenue, about 2 miles NE from The Music Box site (see map connecting both sites).

A public walkway, the City officially named the first stairway “Music Box Steps” to honor its cultural, historic, and movie tourism appeal. We hope the City will continue this tradition by naming an anonymous Hollywood alley, also a public walkway, the “Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley” (see more below), where these great stars filmed The Kid (1921), Cops (1922) and Safety Last! (1923), each a masterpiece also inducted into the National Film Registry. With little cost or effort the City can simply give it a name, akin to San Francisco naming its alleys and byways after famous resident authors.

Which leads to Ollie’s location discovery. Yes, the Flicker Alley collection reveals Oliver Hardy also filmed at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, chasing after Billy West in the 1925 comedy Rivals. Ollie’s scene is matched against the alley as it appears in the 1917 Lyons and Moran comedy What A Clue Will Do. The rickety wooden stairway was removed by 1922 (it does not appear during Buster’s scene from Cops), but numerous matching details confirm the site.

Bonus – Douglas Fairbanks filmed Flirting With Fate (1916) at the alley too. This makes perfect sense given he’s chased all around the alley site at Cahuenga and Cosmo during the film. The details from the Lyons and Moran frame confirm the match. So along with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd’s masterpieces, Harry Houdini, Colleen Moore, Gale Henry, and now both Oliver Hardy and Douglas Fairbanks, all staged more modest films there as well. Given the alley’s frequent use, and proximity to various studios, I’m confident it appeared in numerous other silent films, now sadly lost to history.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Flicker Alley – Laurel or Hardy: Early Films of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy

Below, the stairs at Cove Avenue appearing with Stan in The Pest a century ago.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Lens of History – Hollywood before the Chaplin Studio

Above, only part of a vast panoramic view looking south at Hollywood, circa 1906. Can you spot the future site of the Charlie Chaplin Studio, nearly straight ahead? The hill in the foreground would become in 1914 the site to the Bernheimer brothers massive Japanese mansion and gardens, today known as the popular restaurant Yamashiro. Click to enlarge each image. Huntington Digital Library.

A closer view, Orange Drive leads away south to the far left. Running straight north-south for miles, La Brea bends to the NW at the corner of Sunset. This view is a component of the same panorama above, only this time USC Digital Library.

The home facing us to the left of the yellow line (7022 Sunset), had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the right of the yellow line, the future Chaplin Studio site had 7 rows of trees. The far white line at back is De Longpre Avenue, the right white line is La Brea. The one-story home with a single gable standing on the studio site (7062 Sunset), was relocated in July 1914 to accommodate a much larger two-story mansion built in 1914. The mansion came with the sale of the property, and Charlie’s half-brother Syd Chaplin would live there. Starting construction late in 1917, Chaplin dedicated his studio on January 21, 1918.

Looking NE – 7022 Sunset, the home to the right of the yellow line, had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the left of the yellow line, 7 rows of trees stand on the Chaplin Studio. Note Syd Chaplin’s multi-gabled mansion beside the studio tennis court. The studio address is 1416 N. La Brea, now home to the Jim Henson Company. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Again, just part of a similar vast panorama, circa 1918, this time taken from the Bernheimer Estate. Huntington Digital Library.

Can you spot the studio site? This photo likely pre-dates 1918, as the one-story home relocated from the site in 1914 still seems to appear in this view.

Assembled from Chaplin’s pseudo documentary How to Make Movies (1918), this view looks north from De Longpre at the studio site. La Brea runs north at the left.

Jumping a decade ahead, here’s a view east of the Chaplin Studio during the production of The Circus (1928). Note how La Brea bends left (NW) at Sunset, the remaining orchard and tennis court beside Syd’s 7062 Sunset Boulevard mansion, and the giant circus tent set. Buster Keaton filmed a scene from Cops (1922) at the corner of Sunset and Detroit at the lower left of this view – more below. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Above, a 1927 view of Hollywood – click to enlarge. The Yamashiro site (somewhat dark) stands at center. What else do you see? Huntington Digital Library.

Does this help? The same component of the panorama above, again this time from USC Digital Library.

Pointers highlight the circus tent set at left, and studio tennis court. The inset photos show the studio along La Brea and Buster filming Cops at the corner of Sunset and Detroit.

Matching views south and east of Buster filming on Sunset at the corner of Detroit.

Vintage photos help us to envision the once open and rural landscapes of early Hollywood. To conduct your own photo time-travel safari, I highly recommend using Calisphere, a gateway site that allows you to search simultaneously the digital collections from California’s great libraries, archives, and museums.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a matching view north of the studio site – things sure have changed.

Posted in Chaplin Studio, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood History | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Live Virtual Silent Locations Tour with Esotouric

This Saturday January 16, at noon PST, Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, is hosting my live virtual silent cinema scavenger hunt through L.A.’s historic Westlake neighborhood. Though webcast live, the event may be viewed later. Click the link below for details.

Silent Echoes Westlake Virtual Tour

I had fun working with Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave before, when we did all-day bus tours of silent movie locations back in 2019, and hope to resume such tours in the near future when circumstances allow. But until then we’ll be hosting a virtual tour around Westlake, showing how Charlie, Buster, and Harold all filmed there. I hope you can join us then.

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Mary Pickford’s “A Beast at Bay” a century before LAX

Mary Pickford’s A Beast at Bay (1912), directed by D.W. Griffith, portends his 1916 feature Intolerance, overlaps with later films starring Mabel Normand, Douglas Fairbanks, and Buster Keaton, and reveals the future site of LAX (!), the Los Angeles International Airport. But faint-hearted viewers in 1912 also complained its cinematic race filmed from speeding cars along bumpy roads was “an abominable practice” – see more below.

Beautifully preserved and visually stunning, and posted on YouTube by The Mary Pickford Foundation, the movie portrays Mary’s kidnapping, and thrilling pursuit by her rescuers, while providing vivid images of the primitive Inglewood and Wiseburn train stops, the isolated dirt road running beside the Santa Fe rail line connecting them, and the vast open expanses of the historic Rancho Sausal Redondo that would grow into Mines Aviation Field, and later become LAX.

Driving beside the Inglewood Station, with a shameless dog sauntering into view, Mary calls potential beau Edwin August a coward for refusing to fight with a drunken bum. Viewed looking west, she dumps Edwin at the SW corner of the station portico, the farthest corner (blocked from view) in the matching photo. Noted Biograph scholar Russell Merritt reports with this film plucky young Mary became the first Biograph player ever to pilot an automobile onscreen. Before this the company hired anonymous chauffeurs to drive the actors. The station once stood at 320 N. Eucalyptus Ave. in Inglewood, just north of the extant rail line.

Left behind after Mary drives away, Edwin can’t believe his eyes. Far off, an escaped convict has grabbed Mary, forcing her to drive him from a police search party. As seen above, a low-fenced garden once decorated the east side of the Inglewood station.

The police scan Mary driving away with the convict, paired with a matching view looking west of Buster Keaton fleeing the police in The Goat (1921).

The large warehouse, with central doorway appearing behind Edwin, stands roofless nine years later as Buster’s train heads west from Inglewood in The Goat.

Without access to a car, Edwin and the police convince an engineer to follow Mary in his locomotive. Looking east, once the train departs the station, it reveals the C. Ganahl Lumber Co., also appearing when Buster Keaton tows his house north up Eucalyptus Ave. across the tracks at the conclusion of One Week (1920).

Matching views east of the Inglewood station, a very popular filming site. Above left, dastardly Ford Sterling plots to tie poor Mabel Normand to the railroad tracks in the Mack Sennett comedy Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913). Center, Buster and Sybil Seely bid farewell to their demolished home in One Week. Above right, a dozen years later Keaton returned here for Speak Easily (1932), where he was filmed dragged away by a departing train (read more HERE).

Above, the race is on. Matching views north up Redondo Blvd. beside the tracks, with Mary and the convict, left, and the race to stop the Governor’s train during Intolerance, upper right, and Ford tying Mabel to the tracks in Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, lower right. Notice the distinctive tree windbreaks at back, also appearing behind Buster as he blithely extricates his stuck foot during The Blacksmith (1922).

A 1929 NE view of developing Mines Airfield. The five scenes above were staged looking north along Redondo (now Aviation) Blvd. (arrow), with the distinctive windbreak trees once standing south of W. Manchester Ave. marked in yellow. Mostly running parallel to the tracks, the dirt road splits away from the tracks at a 60 degree turn “A” above, then rejoins the tracks with two 90 degree turns, “B” above, discussed further below. LAPL.

Above upper left, Mary’s rescuers arrive at Wiseburn, matched with Intolerance upper right, as friends halt the Governor’s train, seeking his last-minute reprieve from execution for the innocent, wrongly condemned Robert Harron (The Boy). Below, speeding directly toward the camera, Buster arrives in style at Wiseburn during The Goat, one of Keaton’s most iconic scenes.

For good measure, Douglas Fairbanks filmed scenes for The Matrimaniac (1916) at Wiseburn, mentioned by name during the film, as he attempts to sneak a preacher onto the train to officiate Doug’s stealth elopement. Since Wiseburn was simply a crude agricultural loading dock in the middle of nowhere (now the western end of W. 120th St.), Doug’s insert shots beside the Wiseburn “station” were staged miles away instead at former the Pasadena Station, where Buster Keaton filmed other scenes for The Goat and Go West (1925), and where Charlie Chaplin filmed the opening scenes from The Idle Class (1921).

Aside from the locations, it was fun to read A Beast at Bay reviewed as “A melodramatic picture existing chiefly to show a race between an automobile and a locomotive,” with “serviceable” camerawork, and neither Mary nor D.W. warranting a mention by name. The Moving Picture World – June 8, 1912, page 944.

But two months later the film’s “serviceable” camerawork was excoriated by seemingly the world’s most easily offended snowflake, Mr. James J. Wood, who registered his “vigorous protest against the abominable practice” of filming from speeding automobiles. “[T]he eye strain from such pictures is decidedly harmful.” He also takes offense at The Girl and “Her Trust” [sic], another Griffith Biograph thriller filmed along the same rail line, showing a brief tight glimpse of the Inglewood Station porch. The Moving Picture World – August 3, 1912, page 449. Click to enlarge.

The publication’s editor was “obliged to heartily concur” with Mr. Wood’s condemnation of shooting films along bumpy roads, “a fault which can and ought to be eliminated.” How dare they? “[Films] should be taken on smoothly paved streets.” Now pardon me while I retire to my fainting couch, oh mercy me!

For historical completeness these remaining images document the route of the tracks and dirt road once running from Inglewood to Wiseburn. Above, Mary’s view matched with Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, both looking NE, west of the Inglewood station, as the tracks and dirt road (modern W. Florence Ave.) curve to the southwest, approaching the “A” marker on the aerial photo further above.

Mary’s kidnapping shows the same curve in the road seen above, only a reverse POV looking west as the tracks and road bend left (south). The low structures to the upper left of the main frame are identified on maps as “hothouses.”

Above left, while the tracks continue to gently curve to the southwest, the dirt road makes a 60 degree turn due south, splitting away from the tracks at the “A” marker on the above aerial view (where modern W. Florence Ave. turns and ends at W. Manchester Ave.) The hothouses identified on the map stand off camera to the right. The upper right frame is the same road before it splits south, essentially forming a panoramic view with the left image.

After traveling south for two blocks while separated from the tracks, the road makes a 90 degree turn right (west) (where modern Aviation Blvd. turns right at W. Arbor Vitae St.), then a 90 degree turn left (south), to rejoin its due south path directly adjacent to the tracks, the “B” marker on the above aerial view. These scenes from Mary, and Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, show the zig and zag as the road realigns with the tracks.

The upper left frame shows the train approaching the Wiseburn station, note the vertical “station” sign. Here, the tracks and the road split apart, straddling the station in between. The upper right and lower right frames above show both sides of the same one-story warehouse on the north end of the station, already torn down by the time Intolerance filmed here in 1916. If curious, click to enlarge this giant 1924 USGS topological map, clearly identifying the stations and the route of the tracks and dirt road. No surprise, Edwin proves himself a hero rescuing Mary from the convict, and the film fades with the couple’s embrace.

Bookend train crashes from One Week (left) and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931).

In closing, Keaton also staged the famous car crash scene from Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath along the same Redondo Blvd., at the SE corner of Mines Field (read post HERE).

Highly recommended,  A Beast at Bay is fun, entertaining, stunningly clear, with Mary a delight, while also a priceless documentary record of the vast rural expanse that was once greater Los Angeles well over a century ago. Great thanks to The Mary Pickford Foundation for posting it.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a view looking north at the former site of the Wiseburn station, at W. 120th St. and Aviation Blvd., the one-time filming site for Mary, D.W., Buster, and Doug.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, One Week, The Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Buster’s Brazen Bystanders

Bystanders appear frequently in the background of early films, a charming reminder of how the public witnessed the cinematic artform blossom, not only in theaters, but before their very eyes on the streets where they were made. The young girls caught on camera intently watching Charlie Chaplin through a window while he filmed The Kid (1921) (read more HERE) remains an all-time favorite discovery. Since Buster Keaton filmed so frequently on real streets, it’s not surprising onlookers appear throughout his films too. While there are many more, here are a few of the brazen bystanders to appear with Keaton in Cops (1922).

Buster’s encounter assisting Big Joe Roberts into a taxi, and pocketing his wallet, was filmed both in the late afternoon beside 590 N. Vermont (reported HERE), and in the early morning, above, miles away beside 7130 W. Sunset (reported HERE) looking east. Frozen in place, a woman stands unnoticed directly behind Buster at the corner of Sunset and Detroit to witness Joe retrieve his wallet, but not his cash.

View east along Sunset at left – click to enlarge – Buster staged the wallet scene at the lower left street corner, just a short block from the Chaplin Studio – notice the giant tent for filming The Circus. The studio corner lawn with a diagonal driveway beside the tennis court is where Chaplin posed with dogs making The Idle Class (1921) as reported HERE.

As Buster sets off with his wagon of furniture, passing the Aaron Greenfield auto wrecking yard once sited at 1019 S. Los Angeles Street, this intriguing fellow nonchalantly strolls alongside, hands in pants pockets, tie tucked between his shirt buttons. The extant Marsh Strong Building at 9th and Main, with signage for the Continental National Bank, appears to the upper left, while the buildings to the right are long demolished.

Lurking in doorways, left, heading south past the former Pioneer Lumber Co. at 1626 Cosmo in Hollywood, and heading west along 10th (now Olympic) past the side of the former E. A. Featherstone Auto Supplies Store at 958-960 S. Los Angeles St.

An army of police sneaks up behind Buster on New High Street beside the original Hall of Records Building (1911-1973) to the right, before the Civic Center was completely rebuilt, with a crowd of spectators sitting on the wall. The twin lampposts on the wall flank a sidewalk tunnel entrance into the former County Courthouse off camera further right. The landmark LA City Hall, later opening in 1928, would be built on the site to the left. Watching closely you’ll notice bystanders hunched down hiding beside almost every parked car, while the man standing between the cars at the far right even pops his head up like a gopher to stare at the camera.

Here’s a matching full view west down New High from Temple Street revealing the Hall of Records at back and the corner Court House (1891-1932). Jeffrey Castel de Oro first discovered this locale. I find it astounding Buster’s scene played out in full view of these towering public buildings, now all gone, yet only a hint of the buildings appear onscreen. The crenelated tower of the former Los Angeles Times Building at 1st and Broadway (reported HERE) appears furthest back, while the former International Bank Building, the true skyscraper Bill Strother climbs for the long view shots appearing in Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923), stands to the left.

Now the grand champion gawker, legs spread, proudly posed hands on hips like the Jolly Green Giant, as Buster pulls a fast move on some traffic cops.

Buster staged this scene near the Rutland Apartments at 1839 S. Main (reported HERE). Cops is Buster’s only film with no interior scenes, staged at four different backlots and all across Los Angeles. I have identified essentially every scene in the movie.

Buster heads east on Sunset at Detroit while a repairman works the wires and a curious child sits at the corner. The palm trees, and massive tree at back are on Syd Chaplin’s front lawn – he lived at the large home on the Sunset/La Brea corner that came with Chaplin’s studio property. 

I find these bystanders endearing. You can imagine them running home to tell their families over dinner the excitement of watching Buster make a movie. Their presence reminds us of the romance of early Hollywood, when production standards were more relaxed, while confirming that when audiences are captivated by a well-told story they are immune to background distractions. Captured forever, the anonymous images of these curious onlookers will live on at the fringe of film history.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

A matching view east of the corner of Sunset and Detroit. The vintage corner building has since been demolished.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Cops | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments