New revelations about Safety Last! and The Kid

Two recent YouTube videos revealing new details from Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid, are now uploaded to my YouTube Channel. The channel includes a playlist of other video presentations hosted by museums and other groups.

Hang on – how Harold Lloyd made Safety Last!

A few sample slides below, see how Harold filmed atop increasingly taller buildings, five in all, how a single scene was filmed atop three different buildings, also scenes near USC, MacArthur Park, and at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley in Hollywood. 

The background music is a piano rag I wrote 47 years ago (!), and transcribed as a Musescore file. Here’s a YouTube video showing a computer (not me) playing the piano rag.

How Edna lost and Charlie found the baby who became The Kid

Chaplin’s beautiful scores for The Kid accompany this detailed study of the movie’s opening scenes, showing step by step views of early Hollywood, and the Plaza/Chinatown neighborhoods downtown, to reveal where Edna Purviance lost and Charlie found the baby who became “The Kid.”

Posting these videos has been a lot of fun. Rather than explain, it’s far more satisfying to show these details, so viewers can see for themselves. My blog has numerous other posts about Safety Last! and The Kid, see below.

https://silentlocations.com/category/safety-last/

https://silentlocations.com/category/the-kid/

Thank you so much – this is now video number 11, and I hope to continue uploading new videos every month or so to my YouTube Channel.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Safety Last!, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Kid, Cops, Intolerance revealed in a 125 year old photo

When the great silent comedians filmed the streets of LA one hundred or more years ago, many of those settings were already decades old. Focusing on a single vintage photo, let’s explore one of the most fascinating film locations in all of cinematic history.

Click to enlarge – this amazing 1897 photo looks east from the tower of the former Los Angeles County Court House once standing at Temple and Broadway in downtown. The prominent corner building facing us just right of center, with the pointed cap tower, is the former Amestoy Building at Main and Market. The left-right street in the foreground is Main Street, with Spring Street along the bottom merging into it. Looming on the horizon at right stands the “cozy” former Los Angeles Orphanage at 917 South Boyle Avenue, built in 1890. California State Library.

Click to enlarge – a closer view, way at back. The center of the image reveals the narrow intersection of Ducommun Street and Labory Lane, marked by a very narrow two-story triangle building at 412 Ducommun. Do you see it?

If I could time travel to silent movie locations, after first visiting Court Hill (read more HERE), this would be stop number two, the narrow corner of Ducommun and Labory, just east of Alameda street, a few blocks from the Plaza de Los Angeles. To begin, this corner was Buster Keaton’s favorite place to film, he staged a dozen scenes here for The Goat and Cops, far more so than anywhere else in town. Above, Buster practices signalling a left-hand turn during Cops. That’s the Hotel Strasbourg to the left in all three images across from the triangle building, more later.

Next, Charlie Chaplin filmed the rooftop chase from The Kid atop these homes on Ducommun, and fought with the orphanage official in the truck driving down Labory Lane to the right. Looking close, the yellow line marks the foreground chimney in each image, the red arrow marks Charlie’s spot on the roof. The prominent 3-story Amelia Street Public School appears at back to the right in each image, its roof lowered half a floor. The Ducommon natural gas holding tank behind Charlie wasn’t yet built in 1897.

Click to enlarge – a quartet of images looking east at the triangle building, with Ducommun to the left, Labory Lane to the right. Upper left is Derby Days, upper right is an unidentified scene from Episode Two of the Brownlow-Gill Hollywood series, lower left is the Sennett comedy Call A Cop, and lower right is the Gaylord Lloyd comedy (Harold’s brother) Dodge Your Debts. The narrow building allowed filmmakers to show audiences both sides of a chase. A similar crazy filming corner stood nearby (read more HERE).

I’ve only just started, and could write ten more pages about Ducommun at Alameda, especially focusing on all the Keaton scenes. But in closing, this remarkable triangle building also appears during the “modern” sequence from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance, when Robert Harron desperately seeks to rescue Mae Marsh from the Strasbourg Hotel. The same Strasbourg front door side panel – click to enlarge – appears at the far left of each frame; from The Goat at left, from Intolerance at center, and from Cops at right.

The 412 Ducommun triangle building likely appeared in dozens more films, and if it hadn’t been demolished in 1923, would likely have had more starring roles. In closing, above here’s a montage of some of the other Keaton scenes filmed at Alameda and Ducommun.

Click to enlarge – a 1906 Sanborn map, Vol 3 Page 279. LOC. Buster filmed many scenes from The Goat and Cops beside, and at the corner of, the Strasbourg Hotel. 415 Ducommun, the red brick building, is the home where the family loads their furniture onto Buster’s wagon. The “F.B.” marked on it stands for “Female Boarding,” a Sanborn euphemism for bordello.

An early crude attempt at a 3D model. Imagine a fully realized virtual model where Buster made The Goat and Cops, Larry Semon filmed Frauds and Frenzies, and Charlie made The Kid. Any takers?

A special appeal – if I had the skill and resources to create a virtual 3D model of any historic LA film site, it would be of this long lost corner of Ducommun, Labory, and Alameda. It appears in many films, from many angles, and several vintage maps confirm the exact position of each building. If you know any 3D modeling expert who’d like a fun project, let me know, and I can supply all the files and images.

I now have TEN videos on my YouTube Channel. Check out To The Church – How Buster Keaton Made Seven Chances.

 

Below – Ducommun at Alameda today, completely rebuilt – spin around for a full view.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Los Angeles Historic Core | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Harold Lloyd’s “Hot Water” Sherlock turkey troubles

Wrangling a live turkey on a trolley, forced to walk it home, overlapping Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr., even more visual history is now revealed from Harold Lloyd’s Hot Water (1924).

Newlywed Harold’s day is shattered when his better half calls to ask “hubby dear” to pick up a “few things for dinner” on the way home. Already overwhelmed with packages, lucky Harold wins the store raffle, a free live turkey we’ll call Tom. Harold and Tom somehow board a crowded trolley.

The trolley was a studio prop towed north past 162 S Lucerne Blvd, also seen here during Sherlock Jr. (1924). The evil henchman appearing to spy on Buster up the street, character actor Steve “Broken Nose” Murphy, is actually looking the wrong way.

Sherlock’s assistant Gillette (played by Ford West) pulls Buster over at 220 S Lucerne, a block to the south, behind from where Murphy is supposedly spying on them. More incongruous, the shot including all three actors (left), as Buster leaps onto the bike and they ride off, was filmed several blocks away, north of Beverly looking south down Larchmont.

Buster and Gillette take off north along the same route as the Hot Water turkey trolley, passing the same 162 S Lucerne home appearing with Harold. In all a dozen homes along S Lucerne appear with Buster and Gillette (numbers 158 to 256, although sometimes edited out of sequence) during their Lucerne ride. Of course, no sooner do they begin then Gillette immediately falls off of the bike (as reported HERE), leaving Buster unaware no one is driving. The scene was shot looking east along Eleanor from the corner of the Keaton Studio at Lillian Way (right), with Buster performing the fall for Ford West as his stunt double.

As with many homes on N Beachwood appearing in Hot Water (see prior post) 162 S Lucerne has been remodeled, its three-arch open porch now enclosed for more floor space. The home stands on the NE corner of W 2d, just west of Larchmont, close to where Harold filmed other Hot Water scenes. The corner home appears in other silent comedies, at left in the Charles King 1926 comedy Please Excuse Me. Harold’s trolley passes by many other Larchmont-area homes during the lengthy scene, which remain to be documented. As expected, fussy Tom wrecks havoc, upsetting all the passengers.

Fed up, the conductors toss Harold and Tom off the trolley, filmed looking west on Sunset Blvd approximately near Ogden Dr. As solved by historian and frequent contributor Paul Ayers, this single track Pacific Electric line ran on Sunset between Gardner Jct. and Laurel Canyon Blvd. from 1911 to 1924. Perhaps the line had already closed when Harold filmed here. Also looking west, the frame at right from the 1919 Lyons & Moran comedy Waiting at the Church (also HERE) shows matching tree and ridge lines, and even the same house with a white chimney to the right. Working with the Library of Congress Michael Aus has made these entertaining, little-known Lyons & Moran films available to eager fans. Visit his eBay listing, and his full eBay store of silent films, where the sale proceeds benefit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Thrown from the trolley, as Harold leads Tom home, a distinctive broad building appears behind them. The curved details at the left reminded me of another scene from Sherlock Jr., where driverless Buster blissfully races west down Beverly from Larchmont toward the Wilshire Country Club. Buster’s scene is noteworthy, not only for his stuntwork, but for the rare photo depiction of the front of the club.


Buster cycles west along Beverly past Larchmont towards the prominent, rarely photographed front of the Wilshire Country Club at back.

Click to enlarge – matching details, the curve of the road, and more details below confirm the Wilshire Country Club appears behind Harold. As reported in The Larchmont Chronicle celebrating the club’s 2019 centennial, the original club house was demolished in 1971, its replacement demolished in 2001, and the resulting third clubhouse was further remodeled in 2008.

Caption from the Wilshire Country Club’s history page “The original Clubhouse completed in 1922 on the corner of Rossmore Ave. and Temple Street, which became Beverly Blvd. upon its construction through the golf course in 1924.” Given the dense foliage, this photo was taken well after Buster and Harold filmed here in 1924.

Matching views looking west of Harold and Tom walking along Beverly Dr from the near corner of S Arden Blvd, and the Rossmore corner of the Wilshire County Club one block further back.

Once the Wilshire Country Club crossed my radar, it suddenly became clear this odd street pattern to the left during Harold’s family car excursion shows the corner of the club, north up Rossmore from Beverly, with the club’s driveway traffic islands behind Harold, and the club parking lot to the right across the street. Narrow white posts outline the club parking lot in both images. See aerial view below.

For context, this aerial view looking SE shows Harold’s two scenes along Beverly. The narrow white posts in both movie frames outline the Wilshire Country Club parking lot across the street. LAPL.

Buster filmed Sherlock Jr. all around this neighborhood too. Here are just two of his many scenes matched to the same photo.

I again want to thank Zebra 3, a self-described film location hobbyist reporting on IMDb, for sharing all the locations he discovered as reported in this prior Harold’s Hot Water, Happy Days post. His insights prompted me to revisit Hot Water, resulting in this Part 2 post.

I now have TEN videos on my YouTube Channel. To learn more about Sherlock, check out Case Closed – How Buster Keaton Made Sherlock Jr.

Below, where Harold and Buster filmed at 162 S Lucerne

Posted in Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Hot Water, Lyons and Moran, Sherlock Jr. | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Flying “Lizzies of the Field” – Part 2

One of silent comedies’ craziest scenes, race cars zooming down a ramp, flying through the air, landing in a pile atop each other, marks the exciting climax to Lizzies of the Field (1924), the Mack Sennett Comedies Studio production recently restored and released by Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt as part of their striking two-disc Blu-ray release of nearly 20 comedies starring Billy Bevan. The two reel film, discovered in the Eye Filmmuseum archive, scanned by Lobster Films, and restored by Lobster and Dave Glass, is presented complete and in stunning detail for the first time. This prior post, Part One, shows where they filmed Lizzies along roads near the yet-to-be-built Griffith Park Observatory.

Brent Walker, author of Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, reports the flying car stunt was a major event. Sennett sent not only all of his own studio cameramen, but also Alvin Knechtel of Pathe News, to document the crash. As Brent reports, the stunning scene had long been familiar, having been featured in compilation films including Robert Youngson’s 30 Years of Fun (1963), and in Paul Killiam’s The Fun Factory (1960), and The Great Chase (1962).

Brent writes at page 386 of his book the hill was located near Rowena St. and Armstrong St. near Silver Lake. When I contacted Brent, he recalled a script or other papers in the AMPAS Sennett Collection files had mentioned the jump being staged near this locale, while few other Sennett locations were ever referenced.

Click to enlarge – intrigued by the Blu-ray clarity of the film, I focused on the imposing hilltop building overlooking the jump site. After searching vintage photos on Calisphere, I quickly found it – the former Monte Sano Foundation at 2834 Glendale Blvd. USC Digital Library. Read more about Monte Sano HERE.

Click to enlarge – with this background reference point fixed, it became easy to orient the stunt filming site geographically. The Monte Sano building (red box) has given way to condominiums on re-named Waverly Drive, and Armstrong St. has since been re-named W Silver Lake Drive, but as Brent correctly reports, the crash stunt was staged along hills and fields SW from the corner of Rowena and Armstrong.

Knowing the locale, it’s clear to see this view looking to the NW shows Griffith Park, and the distinctive Beacon Hill in the background. Paul Ayers.

This current Google Maps view shows the path of the cars down the ramp, arrow, and the former site (red box) of the Monte Sano building.

Above, covered in this Part One post, matching views of the auto race appearing earlier in Lizzies along 2763 Glendower Ave.

Thanks again to Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt for their heroic work. Here’s the link to the Dave Glass YouTube channel, loaded with dozens of rare silent comedies.

I now have TEN videos on my YouTube Channel. If you like detective stories, check out Case Closed – How Buster Keaton Made Sherlock Jr.

Below, Shadowlawn Ave follows the slope of the auto jump ramp within the SW corner of Rowena and W Silver Lake Dr (formerly Armstrong).

Posted in Billy Bevan, Keystone Studio | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jackie Coogan’s Charlie Chaplin’s Lost LA Alley – The Rag Man

Jackie Coogan returned twice more to an LA alley where he made The Kid with Charlie Chaplin. Early LA streets, now lost, appear in Jackie’s The Rag Man (1925).

Jackie plays an orphan who becomes a successful junk dealer working with character actor Max Davidson as his guardian and business partner. As shown further below, Jackie (and Charlie) cross paths with Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon in downtown LA.

I was stunned to learn most of The Rag Man was filmed on location in New York, and as reported in Mark Phillips’ phenomenal NYC IN FILM blog, many of these vintage locales remain recognizable today – read all about The Rag Man at https://nycinfilm.com/2017/12/24/rag-man-1925/. Above, looking north at Sutton Place from E 57th. Mark’s work documenting New York based movies is extraordinary, impeccably photographed and researched. I strongly encourage you to check Mark’s blog for your favorite NYC movies.

Back in LA, compare Jackie’s frame with a matching frame from The Kid. Both show the same “ARCADIA” street sign on the wall across the way (you can actually read it if you enlarge Charlie’s frame). To the right in both frames is Sanchez Alley, running north from Arcadia towards the Plaza de Los Angeles. The north end of Sanchez remains today, but the southern end of Sanchez, perpendicular to Arcadia, which ran north-south from Main St to Los Angeles St, were all demolished for a freeway. Mark’s blog has some great aerial views of this spot.

Charlie filmed his scene from The Kid as if the orphanage truck was speeding around a street corner. The truck, out of necessity, was quite narrow. Jackie’s broader view shows the corner was in fact a narrow passageway between buildings leading to a rear loading dock, depicted below in another of Jackie’s films, My Boy (1921).

Jackie’s My Boy frame at the right (hosted on YouTube) shows the entrance was enclosed by a vertically raised and lowered gate. Eye Filmmuseum.

Jackie loads new merchandise onto his junk cart in front of the open gated entrance. His frame forms a virtual panoramic view of the Baker Building, as Buster flees the police running south down Arcadia from Main St towards Los Angeles St during Cops (1922). Mark astutely reports that Eddie Cline, Buster’s co-director for many of his early shorts, also directed The Rag Man. So Eddie must have felt quite at home here, after already directing Buster’s chase scene at the same spot.

Above, facing the Arcadia entrance way, in a view looking SE, a friendly preacher checks on Jackie. The NW corner of the Hotel de Paris building appears behind him – note the matching twin-curves within single curve arch details in both images. The full photo looks north up Arcadia from Los Angeles St towards Main St, passing midway the south end of Sanchez Alley.

Matching views north looking up Arcadia towards Main St, the Baker Building to the left. This was all lost to a modern freeway.

Above, closer views of the detailed columns outlining the Baker Building perimeter. Once the most glamorous building in town, it fell on hard times, later serving as headquarters for Good Will Industries, before being demolished for a freeway. LAPL

Click to enlarge – a panoramic view of the west side of Arcadia, with Harry Langdon in Feet of Mud (1924), the Plaza Jewelry Co. at 114 Arcadia, Jackie (center) and Buster at right.

Looking north from Arcadia Street and Sanchez Alley towards the Plaza de Los Angeles. The inset photo is the Baker Building facing Main. These early streets appear in dozens of films, including Chaplin’s Police (1916), and Keaton’s Neighbors (1920), covered in great detail in my Chaplin book Silent Traces at pages 107-112. To whet your appetite here below are pages 211 and 212 discussing Arcadia and the Baker Building.

SilentTraces page 211

SilentTraces page 212

In closing, do yourself a favor and check out Mark Phillips’ phenomenal NYC IN FILM blog, covering classic NYC films from all decades, and especially his in-depth coverage of  The Rag Man at https://nycinfilm.com/2017/12/24/rag-man-1925/.

Another bonus, my latest YouTube video shows how Edna Purviance lost, and Charlie Chaplin found, the baby who would become The Kid. Jackie portrays The Kid, but he doesn’t appear, as this only covers the baby being found.

So much of early LA has been lost, but intriguing glimpses remain hidden in the background of silent film. Below, “Arcadia” is now an access road parallel to the freeway, viewed here looking at the north end of Sanchez. Rotate the image to see the freeway behind.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Harold Lloyd’s “Hot Water” “Happy Days” Home

Harold’s home stands on two different blocks and TV’s Happy Days Cunningham home appears nearby. So many new locales from Hot Water (1924) were found and shared by eagle-eyed reader Zebra 3, a self-described film location hobbyist, who shares what he finds on IMDb.

Hot Water, a parody of domestic bliss, is best known for its famous set pieces, including Harold’s attempt to ride a crowded streetcar while carrying armloads of groceries and a live turkey, and his disastrous inaugural outing in his new car, with his pesky in-laws in tow. Above Harold and live turkey arrive at 4056 W 7th Street, note the doorway address.

Above, a full view of the family home. Remarkably, all other Hot Water scenes presented as taking place in front of their home were filmed two miles away on N Beachwood Dr.

Above, Harold eagerly accepts delivery of the new family auto, with 575 N Beachwood at back. The distinctive porch has now been remodeled. The scene is presented as if in front of Harold’s 4056 home on W 7th, which is actually two miles away.

Above, Harold proudly presents the new family car to his wife portrayed by Jobyna Ralston, with 565 N Beachwood in the background. The distinctive trio of window arches were later removed. The audience was not expected to notice the discrepancy between the 4-digit address of the family home (4056), and the many 3-digit addresses appearing during the Beachwood scenes.

The family poses for a photo portrait before leaving on their inaugural auto tour, with 570 N Beachwood at back (see address behind Jobyna). The trio of stylish arched windows (box) peeks over the hedge.

A closer view of 570 N Beachwood as Jobyna delights at seeing Harold’s new family car.

Views south down Beachwood as Harold’s in-laws pile into the car. 565 Beachwood (box) originally had an arched entrance, but the homes down the street appear unchanged.

A far (left) and closer (middle) view of 565 N Beachwood, home to Harold’s friendly neighbor, who takes a photo portrait of the family in their new car. The Sanborn maps show the 565 home was originally “L” shaped, with only a front room to the right of the arched entrance. Now expanded, the remodeled home has front rooms on both sides of the front door.

The friendly neighbor prepares to take the Lloyd family portrait, with the porch entrance to 591 N Beachwood behind him. Visible further north, the duplex still standing at the NW corner of Clinton St.

A bad omen, no sooner does the Lloyd family embark on their maiden auto safari, they nearly collide with a milk cart. Notice the N 581 Beachwood home to the left originally did not have a stairway leading from the front door down the lawn to the sidewalk.

This studio interior scene shows Harold unloading his groceries inside the front door. The photo backdrop appears to be 522 N Beachwood, which also did not originally have a stairway leading from the front door down the lawn to the sidewalk.

As I report at page 161 of my Harold Lloyd book Silent Visions, Harold immediately gets in trouble by turning left around the wrong side of a traffic button, here the NE corner of W 1st and S Larchmont.

Also from my book, the cop lets Harold off with a harsh scolding. Always, ALWAYS, pass to the right side of a traffic button. 108 S Larchmont appears at back.

Back to new discoveries. Unbeknownst to Harold, a jubilant WWI veteran has accidentally lost his helmet in the street, seen here looking at the Los Angeles Tennis Club at the NW corner of N Cahuenga and Clinton.

Harold mistakes the helmet for a traffic button, and ever the good citizen, reverses course to drive properly around the right side. The corner home of 591 N. Cahuenga appears at back.

The big reveal, when the soldier stops to retrieve his helmet, this view looking south shows two-story 565 N Cahuenga at back. Decades later, the house portrayed the Cunningham family home during the hit 1970-80s sitcom Happy Days. But Harold filmed here first. Read all about the Happy Days home at Lindsay Blake’s I’m Not A Stalker filming locations website.

Above, the homeowner at 590 N Cahuenga screams “get off my lawn!” as Harold and family make a hasty retreat.

For context, this vintage photo shows the Los Angeles Tennis Club on the NW corner of N Cahuenga and Clinton, along with three views of Harold’s car. LAPL.

Avoiding the traffic buttons, the family speeds westerly along W 2nd past the corner of S Plymouth at right, near W 1st and Larchmont, another discovery made after my book was published.

From here on all hell breaks loose, taking the family across S Lafayette Park Place, Santa Monica, and past the former Hollywood fire station, all as reported in my book. Another discovery, reported on my blog soon after my book came out, the car careens out of control down Olive St downtown, the Bunker Hill film noir locale appearing in the The Turning Point (1952) above right.

I’ll save this for another post, but before Harold buys the car I’ve also found where Harold is ejected from the trolley on Sunset Blvd, approximately near Ogden Drive, and his route walking the turkey home along Beverly Drive past Arden Drive. Stay tuned for Part Two.

661 Shatto Place – Punky Brewster

For even more Harold Lloyd – mid 1980s sitcom connections, check out where Harold filmed For Heaven’ Sake (1926) at 661 Shatto Place, appearing in the opening credits for Punky Brewster.

Again, let’s all give Zebra 3 a great big shout out for these incredible discoveries, and for sharing them with us, and on IMDb.

You can watch Hot Water streaming on YouTube at the Harold Lloyd channel.

Below, an April 2011 view of 575 N Beachwood, before the remodel, seemingly across the street from Harold’s family home at 4056 W 7th. You can explore up and down the street on your own.

Posted in Harold Lloyd, Hot Water | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” Sanitarium Solved

Charlie Chaplin used the former Occidental College Hall of Letters (still standing) to portray the charity hospital where Edna Purviance delivers her baby in The Kid (1921). But “cured of a nervous breakdown but without a job” during Modern Times (1936), Charlie used the Mary Norton Clapp Library at the new Occidental College campus in Eagle Rock to portray the hospital where he leaves to start his life anew.

The library opened in 1923 with two entrances, the east entrance flanked by a pair of columns, and the more modest north entrance used by Chaplin. The south side has no entrance, and vintage photos confirm the west side of the library, now covered by a 1971 expansion of the building, also had no entrance. I had long been intrigued by this simple scene, which in fact, was the final unsolved exterior from the entire movie.

Click to enlarge – north end of Mary Norton Clapp Library – Occidental College

I want to thank reader Mark Smith who reached out with an intriguing inquiry that directly prompted this post. During his audio commentary to the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of Modern Times, Chaplin biographer David Robinson explains “The building used for the exterior is Occidental College.”

Mark wondered if this would have been the old Highland Park Occidental campus where Charlie filmed The Kid (above left). But the stairway seemed more contemporary. The Highland Park campus was built in 1897, while the Eagle Rock campus began construction in 1912.

Click to enlarge – built in 1924, east entrance with columns left, Charlie’s north entrance right Occidental College

I logged onto Calisphere, the search platform that includes nearly every online California photo archive, to study the “new” Occidental campus, and soon zeroed in on the library as the likely candidate. Notice above the original rectangular dimensions, the east side twice as long as the north.

Preparing this post reminded me Charlie had filmed an alternate ending to Modern Times, where the Gamine, the Little Tramp’s companion portrayed by Paulette Goddard, becomes a nun, and Charlie heads out once more all alone on the open road. Their discarded farewell scene was also staged beside the Clapp Library stairs. See all 13 Chaplin Archive photos of the discarded farewell scene.

It’s fascinating to realize Charlie filmed this brief, mundane scene, requiring a simple “institutional” doorway entrance, all the way out in Eagle Rock, about 14 miles from his studio located at 1416 N. La Brea. He couldn’t find a closer set of stairs? Filming the extended alternate ending may have been a factor when choosing the site, but it still seems like a long way to go.

Numerous articles on this blog cover Charlie and Mary Pickford filming at the old Hall of Letters building at the former Highland Park campus, and the downtown factory exteriors where Charlie goes berserk in Modern Times. To learn more, please search this site, and also check out my Chaplin book Silent Traces, and the wonderful Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Modern Times, which includes my visual essay.

This link archives historic photos of the Mary Norton Clapp Library, including this view above of the north side. Charlie’s north doorway was originally flanked by twin pairs of windows. The library was expanded in 1955, making the library dimensions now more “square” than rectangular. Chaplin’s doorway may have been moved or rebuilt. The large the modern extension to the right was built in 1971.

Matching views south – Charlie’s doorway marked at left in 1938, 1955 expansion middle, 1971 expansion right. Is it still the same doorway Charlie used? UCSB FrameFinder

For more visual detective work, check out “Case Closed – How Buster Keaton made Sherlock Jr.” accompanied by renowned pianist and composer Michael D. Mortilla.

Check out the library on Google Maps below

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Billy Bevan’s “Lizzies of the Field” before Griffith Observatory

This post is dedicated with heartfelt appreciation to Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt, who join the growing ranks of silent film superheroes preserving and restoring classic films, and making them available on home video to grateful fans. Having released compilations of Lloyd Hamilton shorts in 2017, and Lupino Lane comedies on Kickstarter in 2020, their latest 2022 Kickstarter release is a striking two-disc Blu-ray release of nearly 20 comedies starring Billy Bevan, well over 5 hours of fun. One film that immediately caught my attention is the 1924 Keystone release Lizzies of the Field, featuring a spectacular auto race from which brief clips have appeared in vintage compilations previously hosted by Robert Youngson and Paul Killiam. The two reel film, discovered in the Eye Filmmuseum archive, scanned by Lobster Films, and restored by Lobster and Dave Glass, is presented here complete in stunning detail for the first time.

I’ve always been fascinated by Lizzies as it contains a rare traveling shot heading toward the north portal of the Hill Street Tunnel running beneath Court Hill. The first bore to the right was built in 1908 for the trolleys from Hollywood, before anyone owned cars. The wide bore to the left, for two-way auto traffic, was built in 1913. The landmark tunnel and the hill were obliterated decades ago – read more HERE. Photo LAPL.

Lizzies is especially remembered for its wild auto race snaking along the twisted roads carved into the once barren hills looking down on Hollywood. A century later, with massive development and home landscaping blocking the views, would any clues be discernible? Above, click to enlarge – looking south from the stairway beside 2763 Glendower Ave.

Click to enlarge. The open expanse below – looking south from the stairway, reveals a massive home still standing at 4848 Los Feliz Ave.

Above, zooming past 2814 Glendower Ave. followed by mild bends in the road and then a sharp hairpin turn.

Click to enlarge – view SE at 2814 Glendower Ave (movie frame left). California State Library.

Above, a vintage aerial view of Glendower Ave – with matching modern insets confirming the site. The movie frame at left is looking to the NW while the main photo looks SE.

Click to enlarge – view south from Glendower stairway to 4848 Los Feliz – the Griffith Observatory lower left.

Both views above look south. Marked in red, Glendower makes a sharp right turn west, then another sharp right turn north, followed by a mild bend beside 2814 Glendower, leading to a hairpin turn prominent in the film. When making that second right turn today, the Griffith Observatory, completed in 1935, now looms overhead in the background (left). FrameFinder c-113_228.

Click to enlarge – matching SE views before and after the Griffith Observatory was built. The boxes mark the same homes, the arrows mark the second right hand turn north on Glendower. The first right hand turn beside the top of the stairs is blocked from view. California State Library.

Above, two more views of the spectacular race along Glendower.

For more vintage hilltop views of early Hollywood, above, check out The Roaring Road (1926).

Thanks again to Dave Glass and Dave Wyatt for their heroic work. Here’s the link to the Dave Glass YouTube channel, loaded with dozens of rare silent comedies.

Speaking of YouTube, check out “Case Closed – How Buster Keaton made Sherlock Jr.” accompanied by renowned pianist and composer Michael D. Mortilla.

Below, looking south at the top of the Glendower Stairs. To follow Billy’s path, make the right turn, continue to the next corner, turn right again, and on to where 2814 Glendower still stands tall, then past the bend, continuing to the sharp hairpin turn.

 

Posted in Billy Bevan, Hollywood Tour, Keystone Studio | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

What? Buster Keaton’s Studio Appears in Seven Chances!

Buster Keaton filmed dozens of scenes beside or adjacent to his small studio at Lillian Way and Eleanor. In a surprising new discovery, the corner of his studio actually appears during a scene from Seven Chances (1925) as Buster jogs up Vine Street, and stumbles upon the mob of angry jilted brides who were chasing him. Other buildings in the scene remain standing today.

Click to enlarge – view north up Vine. Buster runs from Station No. 6, the left corner building, past the CALIFORNIA LAUNDRY, towards the HOTEL Eleanor at back. University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society, digitally reproduced by the USC Digital Library.

The sequence begins with Buster, having distanced himself from the main phalanx of the mob, jogging north past the DWP Distribution Station No. 6 at 1007 Vine, the white, left corner building in the main photo above, and in the Water and Power Associates photo pictured below.

A modern view – Buster’s head aligns with the narrow palm tree.

The north corner of Station No. 6 and matching driveways appear above.

Buster continues north up Vine beside the California Laundry (now a parking lot) to the SW corner of Eleanor. The women are also running north up Vine along the front of the laundry.

Click to enlarge – at left appears the great Seven Chances reveal. Looking west from Vine down Eleanor, Buster and some of the women spot each other. The green lawn and yellow fence match the corner of Buster’s studio at right, seen looking south down Lillian Way across Eleanor.

At left this scene from The Blacksmith (1922) looking west down Eleanor shows the back corner of the Keaton Studio barn, along with the bungalow, barber shop, and “Coffee Cup Cafe” across the street along Cahuenga that were later replaced by the Technicolor Building in 1930. They appear aligned directly above their positions in this matching scene from Seven Chances.

Another match, the fence behind Buster’s head is where he staged a scene fleeing from Steve Murphy in Sherlock Jr. (1924), both look west down Eleanor toward Lillian Way.

At left, looking east from the studio down Eleanor towards Vine as Buster stunt doubles for another actor by falling off a motorcycle in Sherlock Jr. The fence to the left and the sidewalk to the right are the same sidewalk and fence appearing in Seven Chances, upper right, looking west down the same block. The right side of the Sherlock frame also shows the north side of the California Laundry – the Vine St. side of the laundry appears to the lower right.

Last, Buster dashes further north past the NW corner of Eleanor and Vine, at the time the Hotel Eleanor – 1057 Vine. Still standing, the hotel building has been “improved” beyond recognition.

My new Seven Chances YouTube video shows all the details starting at 9:49. I prepared the video to introduce the film at a recent screening hosted by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, with the wonderful musician, scientist, and film archivist/historian Jon Mirsalis providing live musical accompaniment. Jon accompanies the video too. I discovered the Keaton Studio cameo when preparing the video.

A dozen posts across this blog reveal other new discoveries from Seven Chances, including Buster’s girlfriend’s house above, and scenes where Buster filmed adjacent to his studio. Look for them all HERE and HERE.

Checkout the many video tours on my YouTube Channel, including this tour which shows the Keaton Studio and its environs.

To download a fully annotated PDF walking tour of the Keaton Studio (not yet updated with these Vine St. locales) click HERE.

Looking west down Eleanor from Vine, where the Buster noticed the mob and dashed to the right. Pan to the left to see the Distribution Station No. 6 down the street.

Posted in Keaton Studio, Seven Chances | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Case Closed! How Buster Keaton filmed Sherlock Jr.

Hosted by the Catalina Museum for Art and History, earlier this year I had the thrill and honor to introduce their screening of Buster Keaton’s brilliant comedy Sherlock Jr. (1924), accompanied by renowned pianist and composer Michael D. Mortilla. With Michael’s invaluable assistance we have transposed this presentation into a beautifully accompanied, narration-free video.

As shown, Buster not only filmed Sherlock Jr. conveniently beside his small studio, but also all across Southern California, from Chatsworth to Placentia and Newport Beach.

Above, Buster seeks to escape the villains disguised as a beggar-woman, directly across the street from his studio barn, appearing in The Blacksmith (1922). At back in both scenes appears the Coffee Cup Cafe, home of Klean Kwik Kooking, serving STEAKS CHOPS and OYSTERS. Read more HERE.

Now filming in Hollywood, Buster opens his bank vault front door and steps onto Hollywood Blvd. at La Brea. He built his small set on a triangular traffic island that is now called the Hollywood Gateway. Read more HERE.

While I cover Sherlock Jr. extensively in my book Silent Echoes, and report many newer discoveries elsewhere across this blog (click HERE), the video contains even more new discoveries. For example, during Buster’s interplay with his motorcycle-riding assistant Gillette, the sequence cuts back and forth between shots filmed on Larchmont Ave., north of Beverly Drive, and on Lucerne Ave., south of Beverly, several blocks away.

The video even shows how Buster filmed a mundane scene near the Arden Grocery once standing at Motor Avenue and National Ave. in Palms, where he and Roscoe Arbuckle made The Hayseed (1919) years earlier, and where Stan Laurel filmed Kill or Cure (1923).

Be sure to check out my YouTube channel. I now have eight (!) videos posted, and hope to continue posting new videos every month or so.

In closing, I again want to express my sincere gratitude and thanks to the Catalina Museum for Art and History for inviting me to speak, and to Michael D. Mortilla for his brilliant music and friendship. I encourage you to support them both. I also encourage you to visit Catalina Island, a magical place that once played host to all the great silent film stars. Above, my first visit in 30 years, a lovely lonely view on Pebbly Beach Road looking north to the Avalon Catalina Casino at left. This was taken later in the evening after the Museum, Michael and others musicians, including Jay Mason, presented Rudolph Valentino’s Blood and Sand (1922) at the Avalon Casino Theatre, as part of the Avalon Silent Film Showcase, one of the world’s longest running annual celebrations of Silent Film.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr. | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Soft Shoes – Crossing Paths with Chaplin, Laurel, and Lloyd

Now streaming on the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s website, Harry Carey’s 1925 action/drama Soft Shoes, in which Carey (right) seeks to rescue a young woman from a life of crime, was purportedly set in San Francisco. Yet the film’s many captivating exteriors, including the rarely seen streets of Ocean Park, were all filmed, unsurprisingly, in Los Angeles instead. But as shown below, the movie intersects remarkably with classic films made by Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Stan Laurel, while documenting historic LA settings, including its long lost Chinatown. This brief shot at left, looking west towards the Ferry Building, is the lone scene filmed in San Francisco. This movie was so much fun to watch (and investigate), and now everyone can watch it streaming HERE.

As reported in a prior post, the Festival’s world premiere screening of its Soft Shoes restoration was presented at the Castro Theatre on May 31, 2018, along with the 1924 Stan Laurel short comedy Detained, recently restored by Lobster Films in collaboration with the Fries Film Archief (Holland), below, where Stan’s prison release matches where Charlie Chaplin was released from prison in Police (1915), both beside the former north gate to the Los Angeles County Hospital – LAPL. Read more about them filming at the north hospital gate, and about Laurel & Hardy filming The Second Hundred Years (1927) and The Hoose-Gow (1929) at the west hospital gate HERE.

To begin, Soft Shoes depicts Harry Carey sneaking in and out of apartment buildings – the first to appear is the Bryson (lower left), still standing at 2701 Wilshire Boulevard near Lafayette Park.

The Bryson portrayed the front of the Mack Sennett Keystone Studios, upper left above, during one of Charlie Chaplin’s earliest movies, A Film Johnnie (completed February 11, 1914, barely his second month on the job). In that film Charlie’s “Little Tramp” pesters Keystone actors as they enter and depart the “studio.” While the true Keystone studio façade actually appears in dozens of other Sennett productions, for some reason the far more impressive Bryson was employed in the Chaplin film. (Upper right –LAPL). The Bryson’s prominent front fire escape appears several times during Soft Shoes, lower left above, along with the distinctive stone lions that still guard the apartment entranceway.

Built in 1913, the Bryson also appears prominently above Chaplin’s head during a scene from his Mutual comedy The Rink (1916), where Charlie meets Edna Purviance on the street at the SE corner of Wilshire Place and Ingraham (now Sunset Place). The Bryson may be best known as a setting described in Raymond Chandler’s 1943 Philip Marlowe detective classic The Lady in the Lake. Color photo Jeffrey Castel De Oro.

Soft Shoes also features the police chasing Harry around another high rise, including the roof, filmed at the Franconia Apartments still standing at 6th and Coronado north of MacArthur Park, pictured above facing 6th Street. The Asbury Apartments mentioned below appears to the far right. USC Digital Library.

This scene of a cop racing towards what turned out to be the Franconia contains two vital clues. At the time J. W. Calder had two corner drug stores, but only his store at 2549 W 6th Street aligned with a tall building at back. As such, this shot above reveals the Asbury Apartments undergoing construction, which opened later in 1925, still standing at 2505 W. 6th Street. (Asbury left – USC Digital Library). By correctly assuming the rooftop scenes (click to enlarge – inset right) also depict the same Asbury Apartments under construction, triangulating back from the Asbury identified the Franconia as the primary shooting site.

The Franconia has a recessed fire escape shaft on each wing facing Coronado Street, put to good use as the cops follow Harry to the roof during Soft Shoes. The color image is the north wing shaft, the movie frame could depict either wing. Vintage photo Don Lynch.

Here Carey peeks north up Coronado, with buildings at back still standing. The Franconia’s decorative rooftop ledges were removed for earthquake safety reasons. Carey crouches on the south ledge of the north wing, while the camera peers across towards him from the south wing.

The view above looking NW from the Franconia roof (left) reveals a stretch of Rampart Boulevard, beginning with the Villa d’Este Apartments at 401 Rampart (A), to the corner of Rampart and W. 3rd Street (D), all appearing in Harold Lloyd’s For Heaven’s Sake (1926) (right, Harold with straw hat). As I explain in my Lloyd book Silent Visions, Harold filmed the drunken groomsmen bus scene, shown here, extensively on Rampart between 6th and 3rd, where nearly every building on the street appears onscreen and remains standing today. The Rampart corner (D) also appears in Lloyd’s Girl Shy (1924).

Below, further action takes place in Ocean Park, the small beach community south of Santa Monica.

Above left, a 1924 view east of Ocean Park, showing Ocean Front, Pier Avenue, and Marine Avenue (Huntington Digital Library). The photo documents the aftermath of the January 6, 1924 fire that destroyed the Pickering and Lick Piers. To the right, a circa 1915 view east down Pier Avenue and Marine Avenue (Huntington Digital Library). Note the church on Marine at back. The front vacant lot is where a billiard parlor (below) would be built.

Click to enlarge. The “Billiards” building far right in the movie frame is newer, built after the photo was taken. The far right photo building says “BRADLEY” at the roof ledge, matching the Hotel Bradley in the movie frame. The J.N. Mooser Dry Goods building appears as Ocean Park Dry Goods in the movie frame. Note the matching sidewalk clock in both images.

This scene above (cropped) of Carey fleeing by automobile was filmed looking east on Pier Avenue towards Main from what was once called Ocean Front (now Neilson Way), the grand promenade that originally fronted the beach. The “FARROW’S RESTAURANT” appearing at back once stood at 130 Pier Avenue, on the ground floor of the Hotel Bradley at 130 1/2 Pier Avenue. Further back stands the Olga Hotel at 142 1/2 Pier Avenue. None of the buildings captured in this scene remain in the modern view (left).

While none of the Pier Avenue commercial buildings appearing in the movie remain today, the rear of the uphill homes still standing at 3014 and 3018 3rd Street remain visible in the far background – compare above the movie, historic photo, and modern views. (Color image (C) 2018 Microsoft Corporation).

This view looks east down Marine Street, parallel to and a block south from Pier Avenue, towards the former St. Clement’s Church that once stood on the SE corner of Washington Boulevard (now 2nd Street) and Marine. The large building at the center of the movie frame is the side of the former Masonic Temple at 162 Marine.

A closer view of the west side of the former Masonic Temple (center), and at back, the former St. Clement’s Church (LAPL), both long demolished.

Moments later, Carey switches between cars as they pass on a steep hill, filmed just a block further east along Marine between 3rd and 4th. The retaining walls on the south side of Marine appearing in the film remain in place today. This aerial view clearly shows the Masonic Temple (box), the church (oval), and the hilly street with the retaining walls to the right (line) depicted in the film.

Late in the film, Carey and others run along dingy Chinatown alleys and street corners. Built in the 1880s, the original Chinatown grew east of the Plaza de Los Angeles on former grazing land owned by Mexican land baron Juan Apablasa and his son Cayetano. Denied property ownership, and restricted from living elsewhere, the Chinese suffered the neglect of their landlords, who left the privately owned streets of Chinatown unpaved. Crammed among noisy railroad tracks, towering gaswork plants, and the frequently overflowing Los Angeles River, Chinatown was the city’s least desirable address.

(Above, Huntington Digital Library, left, Soft Shoes upper right, Chaplin’s The Kid, lower right). Once the original leases expired, most of Chinatown was sold in 1914 to make way for the future Union Train Station. After years of litigation, the Chinese were evicted in 1934 for construction of the new terminal that opened to great acclaim in 1937. That same year community leaders formulated a master plan to develop a new Chinatown between Hill and Broadway, a mile northwest from its former site, where it remains today. Three identifiable scenes from Soft Shoes were filmed at the same spot, the corner of a narrow alley running from Marchesault Street to Apablasa Street, across from the corner of Cayetano Alley. Remarkably, one shot matches exactly where Charlie Chaplin filmed a critical scene from The Kid (1921). Here above (upper right Soft Shoes, lower right The Kid) are identical views looking south from Cayetano, across Apablasa, towards the narrow alley corner.

Above, Soft Shoes left, looking SW, a composite image from Chaplin’s The Kid, right, looking south. Both views show the same drainspout and corner alley bulletin board.

Upper left (yellow), Harry Carey runs south from Apablasa Street towards Marchesault Street, down a narrow connecting alley – this may be the only surviving image taken within this alley. Lower left (red), Chaplin at the corner of Cayetano and Apablasa. The purple arrow points west down Apablasa, matching Stan Laurel’s view, below. UC Santa Barbara c-2744_3.

A wide view looking west down Apablasa, with The Kid/Soft Shoes alley corner at the left. Stan Laurel appears at right in Mandarin Mixup (1924). Chaplin filmed Caught In A Cabaret (1914) beside the central building at back. You can read more about Chaplin and Laurel filming in Chinatown on Apablasa (below) in this post HERE.

At left, is this a happy ending for Harry Carey? Watch the movie streaming HERE and find out. The 2018 Soft Shoes restoration was completed by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival in partnership with the Czech Republic’s Národní filmový archiv, under the supervision of SFSFF President Rob Byrne, with SFSFF recreating English titles from the original surviving Czech print. Funding for the restoration was generously provided by the National Film Preservation Foundation with additional funding from the San Francisco Silent Film Festival Film Preservation Fund.

You can read Hugh Munro Neely’s program essay about Soft Shoes HERE.

You can view my own online presentation for the Festival here – it covers the hidden interplay between silent movies filmed in Hollywood and in San Francisco, along with new discoveries from D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916).

All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment. Used with permission. HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. The Kid – Criterion Collection; Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies; The Stan Laurel Slapstick Symposium Collection Volume 2, Eric Lange and Serge Bromberg, Lobster Films; Chaplin at Keystone Collection, Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project. Except where noted color images (C) 2018 Google.

Below, the Franconia Apartments.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Chinatown, Harold Lloyd, Stan Laurel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Charlie Chaplin’s One A.M. Mystery

Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 Mutual comedy short One A.M. was unique in many ways. Charlie plays a drunken bon-vivant, returning home after a night on the town. Except for a brief exterior scene with his taxi driver Albert Austin, Charlie plays the entire movie solo inside his home, with no plot beyond his inept attempts to put himself to bed.

Chaplin made the film at his small Lone Star Studio at Lillian Way and Eleanor, that would become Buster Keaton’s home studio four years later. The studio stood a short block south of the Santa Monica Blvd. trolley line. Because a trolley passes Charlie as he struggles exiting the taxi, I had long wondered if Charlie conveniently filmed the scene near his studio.

Click to enlarge – One A.M at left, note trolley tracks, matching homes from Waiting at the Church at right. Look closely, a vacant lot faces the trolley line in the near background. The small structures are garages facing an alley, and the homes further back face an adjacent street, not the trolley line street.

Silent movies not only document the times in which they were made, they also provide clues for solving location mysteries from other films. Enter the comedy duo Lyons and Moran. (At left, the rear of a distinctive matching home from One A.M. and their Waiting at the Church.)

Working with the Library of Congress, silent film hero Michael Aus has made several early Lyons-Moran comedies (his eBay link) available to the public (sale proceeds benefit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum). In particular, his release Waiting at the Church (1919) (see post HERE) is one of the most visually consequential silent films I’ve ever seen, with scenes filmed all around early La Brea, Highland, and nascent Hollywood Boulevard. Comparing frames above, Waiting at the Church (bottom frame) clearly provides a broader view of Charlie’s taxi scene from One A.M. (top frame). Look at the matching details; the vacant lot, chimneys, small garages facing an alley, and distinctive roof lines.

But wider views from Waiting at the Church, presumably looking east, show a curved irrigation ditch running below the street with the trolley line, guarded by a metal safety railing (above) to protect people from falling into the ditch. Charlie must have exited his taxi near this railing.

Another matchup – One A.M. at top, Lyons and Moran at bottom, with vacant lots on both sides facing the trolley line.

I’ve studied the 1919 Sanborn fire insurance maps, the 1920 Baist Atlas, and numerous vintage aerial photos. The section of Santa Monica Blvd. near Chaplin’s Mutual Studio lacks a vacant lot with a setback alley and further offset homes. Likewise, tracking north-south along the Western Ave. trolley line doesn’t seem to match the details. My best guess is that Charlie and Lyons-Moran filmed along the north-south Highland Ave. trolley line, looking east, towards the vacant NE corner of Fountain and Highland (homes were never built on this corner, today the site of a strip mall), with an alley separating Highland from the adjacent block McCadden Place. As further “proof,” Lyons and Moran filmed other scenes from Waiting at the Church on this adjacent block of McCadden Place, just steps from the candidate corner.

Public Appeal – while the available clues seem consistent, there’s no definitive proof. The essential puzzle piece, the curved ditch (presumably running parallel along Fountain, then curving north, then east below Highland and the trolley line, then continuing eastward underground) remains elusive. Does anyone know or recognize this early Hollywood clue? Can someone please solve the Chaplin One A.M. mystery?

Click to enlarge – Waiting at the Church. At left, La Brea at Hollywood Blvd., with the Bernheimer Estate up the hill. At right, La Brea looking north towards Santa Monica Blvd., the Bernheimer Estate again at back. The Pickford-Fairbanks Studio on Santa Monica Blvd. stands off camera to the left in the right frame.

During Waiting at the Church Lyons and Moran run up and down La Brea Avenue, a few blocks north or south of Chaplin’s independent studio opened in 1918 at 1416 N. La Brea Ave., providing tantalizing glimpses of Charlie’s neighborhood.

Click to enlarge – Waiting at the Church, looking north up La Brea. The hilltop Bernheimer Estate at center stands directly above a side view of the large, white closed Chaplin Studio shooting stage (see below). Charlie’s corner office entrance stands directly behind the right motorcycle cop.

Side view of Chaplin Studio matching above movie frame from Waiting at the Church.

A final view from Waiting at the Church, looking north from the La Brea – Sunset Blvd. corner of the Chaplin Studio. The mansion on the studio grounds where Charlie’s half-brother Syd once lived stood on the SE corner of this intersection.

Please check my prior post about Waiting at the Church HERE. Above, Lyons and Moran flee the former First Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Hollywood and Ivar.

Another Lyons and Moran link with Charlie, they filmed What a Clue Will Do (1917) at 645 New High Street years before Charlie filmed The Kid (1921) at the same spot. Read more HERE.

Charlie’s studio on La Brea was once a lemon orchard. This YouTube video shows more of Charlie’s studio neighborhood.

Posted in Chaplin Studio, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood History, Lyons and Moran | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Keaton Sherlock Jr. – Valentino Blood and Sand – at Avalon Silent Film Showcase

Buster Keaton’s brilliant comedy Sherlock Jr., and Rudolph Valentino’s smoldering performance as a conflicted bullfighter in Blood and Sand, highlight this year’s Avalon Silent Film Showcase, hosted on Catalina Island at the beautiful Avalon Casino Theatre, on May 13 – 14. Avalon Sherlock link. Avalon Blood and Sand link. Both screenings will be accompanied with live musical performances by renowned pianist and composer Michael Mortilla.

I will be introducing both films, sharing their visual history. Below, a few snippets from my illustrated talks.

Above, an early scene from Sherlock was filmed beside Buster’s studio corner.

This famous publicity still was taken beside the corner of Keaton’s studio barn.

Rudy spelled his name differently over the years, and was promoted as RODOLPH rather than Rudolph for Blood and Sand.

You can see the bullfighting ring set built for Blood and Sand at the former Lasky Ranch in Burbank, now part of the Forest Lawn Cemetery. (Photo – Valentino author Donna Hill.)

Last, check out my latest video for Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Recognized as one of the world’s longest running annual celebrations of Silent Film, the main event of Avalon’s 35th annual showcase is held in the historic Avalon Casino Theatre, William Wrigley Jr.’s 1929 Art Deco Movie Palace. If you live in the Los Angeles area, I hope you’ll consider supporting the Avalon Silent Film Showcase by attending.

Avalon Sherlock May 13 link.     Avalon Blood and Sand May 14 link.

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The San Francisco Silent Film Festival returns to live cinema – Steamboat Bill, Jr. – Penrod and Sam

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival triumphantly celebrates the return of live cinema hosting its 25th anniversary festival at the Castro Theater May 5-11, 2022. Here is the schedule, which runs a full week –  https://silentfilm.org/2022-festival-schedule/

One highlight is the Saturday May 7 screening of Buster Keaton’s remarkably entertaining Steamboat Bill, Jr., accompanied by the wonderful Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. With the aid of vintage aerial photographs, and a score by Mont Alto, I’ve put together this YouTube video showing exactly where Buster left his footsteps along the Sacramento River.

This link takes you to the fantastic National Archives aerial photo featured in the video thumbnail above – https://catalog.archives.gov/id/23935015

The next day, Sunday May 8, the Festival hosts the nostalgic childhood comedy-drama Penrod and Sam. Based on the Booth Tarkington novel, this popular movie was directed by William Beaudine early in his career. Following a gang of young boys, the movie takes place on an idyllic all-American street, lined with beautiful homes and large yards. But where was it filmed?

Above, this unique 1923 photo (click to enlarge), looking east at the then-small USC campus in the foreground, provides the answer. A popular film location site, especially with Buster Keaton (more below) I’ve studied dozens of aerial photos of the campus, which nearly always look north. National Archives – photo mislabeled as Pasadena – https://catalog.archives.gov/id/23935371

Two blocks east from USC, Penrod and Sam was filmed nearly entirely on the 3400 block of S. Flower between W. Jefferson Blvd. and 34th Street. The child Penrod lived at 3421 S. Flower next door to a genuine vacant lot (a critical part of the story). The once beautiful street was later devoured by the Harbor Freeway and the USC Galen Center.

This final image above shows the Penrod street and some of the USC locations where Buster Keaton filmed. This YouTube video below shows even more USC details where Buster filmed, along with scenes with Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy.

This link downloads a PDF file with even more Penrod details. For video tours of Charlie Chaplin’s studio, Buster’s studio, and the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, visit my YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/c/SilentLocationsbyJohnBengtson/featured

Visit https://silentfilm.org/ for all the San Francisco Silent Film Festival details.

Below, the once wistfully beautiful site of Penrod’s home.

Posted in Steamboat Bill, Jr., USC | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Buster Keaton’s Lost and Found “Seven Chances” Homes

During Seven Chances (1925) Buster’s character discovers on his 27th birthday he must marry by seven o’clock that evening in order to inherit a $7M fortune. After ineptly proposing to his longtime girlfriend, he speeds off to a country club where he fails proposing to seven women acquaintances (his seven chances).

The club was in fact the mansion of larger-than-life Frank P. Flint, a deputy marshal, judge, business tycoon, one-term United States Senator (appointed, not elected), and founder of the town La Canada Flintridge, modestly named after himself. Senator Flint was quite a character, a well-known philanthropist, who delighted being dubbed “The Santa Claus of Los Angeles,” and well-known philanderer, who survived being shot at by one lover’s jealous husband.

Above, Buster poses at the Flint mansion sloping front lawn, and again with co-stars Snitz Edwards and T. Roy Barnes. The central Seven Chances photo reveals only seven fingernails – Buster lost the tip of his right index finger in a childhood accident.

Buster practices his technique proposing to Snitz beside the front entrance. Flint mansion photos California State Library.

Click to enlarge – remodeled or completely rebuilt, the modern home site identifies now as 882 Flintridge Ave., and retains the same two-wing “L” shaped floor plan. Note the matching curved driveway and sloping front lawn. Central 1928 image UC Santa Barbara c-300_k-248.

Above, Buster and Roy chase Snitz from the front corner balustrade down the long, curving driveway. To learn more about the fascinating history of Flint and his eponymous town, check out the Lanterman House Spring 2021 PDF newsletter. Lanterman Historical Museum Foundation.

Now, the NO LONGER lost, now found part, of this lost and found post.

Rejected by his girl, portrayed by Ruth Dwyer, Buster leaves her home and then arrives at the club, presented onscreen with this stunning lap-dissolve transition. While this digital effect is now commonplace, Keaton had the foresight to envision it a century ago, and the skill to create it the old-fashioned way, by re-exposing the same film within the same camera, and using surveying equipment to assure the car was aligned in exactly the same position for both shots.

This post sought reader’s help to identify the home, and Tim Day, and “v.sonia.v,” both quickly solved the puzzle. The home still stands at 1625 Opechee Way in Glendale. Here are the original clues, and my plea for help. Skip further to find the solution. Ruth’s home appears to be genuine, with an authentic-looking “1625” street address. Fully lit by the sun, the home appears to face to the south, and has a sloping hill in the (north?) background.

This panning shot shows the 1625 home situated on a developed street, lined with corners, curbs, sidewalks, lampposts, and landscaping. Aside from the sloped hill at back, and the other clues, presumably this home was relatively near La Canada Flintridge, as Buster and crew had to travel between the home and the “club” to capture the lap-dissolve shots.

Hooray for crowd-sourcing. Here’s a COMPASS listing for the home. While Tim was posting his solution in the comments below, my friend Kim Cooper wrote that “v.sonia.v” had posted the same solution on Kim’s Esotouric Instgram account. Given the time stamps, v.sonia.v could not have read Tim’s account, so we owe them both full credit for their independently rapid solutions. Cheers to all – thank you.

So there you go – Buster’s “1625” home remains a mystery. Can we crowd-source this puzzle? I welcome any clues or suggestions you might want to share.

FYI – crowd-sourcing has worked before. In response to a prior plea for help, an eagle-eyed reader “Skip” (he requested anonymity) solved this long-standing puzzle. Harold Lloyd’s roommate Bill Strother climbed the now heavily remodeled Dresden Apartments at 1919 W. 7th St. during the early scenes of Safety Last! (1923) – see full post HERE.

Other posts on this site report “new” Seven Chances locations beyond those covered in my Keaton book Silent Echoes. Someday I will post how Buster dodges a duck hunter at the Playa del Rey marshlands, and how Buster raced along Santa Monica Boulevard directly across the street from the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio. A recent favorite post, Buster was conked on the head by a tossed alarm clock beside the apartment located at 5987 Franklin, at the NE corner of Cheremoya – see full post HERE. My YouTube video Buster Keaton Filming at USC also contains several Seven Chances scenes.

So, with a little luck, perhaps Skip or some other kind reader will solve for us the mystery of Buster’s “1625” Seven Chances home.

It appears Buster and crew had to drive about 4.6 miles between the two sites, a mere 11 minute drive.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Seven Chances | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Buster Keaton’s riverbank footsteps – Steamboat Bill, Jr.

Buster Keaton filmed his final independent production Steamboat Bill, Jr. on location in Sacramento. The movie opens with an elegant scene filmed at the tip of what is now Discovery Park, slowly panning right to left from the American river viewed east, to the Sacramento River viewed north, then west, as a new steamboat puffs downstream towards a pier crowded with a cheering mob, introducing the fictional town of River Junction (see below). Keaton built these extensive sets standing along the west riverbank barely a mile from the State Capitol Building. As explained further below, you can stroll the riverbank today and stand exactly where Buster staged his most famous scenes.

Click to enlarge – composite view west of most of Buster’s riverbank set, depicting two of its three “intersections.” The famous collapsing house was built to the far left, after this publicity photo was taken, suggesting the idea for the stunt came later to Buster – The Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Room, Sacramento Public Library

A true Keaton masterpiece, and highly entertaining, Steamboat Bill, Jr. has been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, and is perhaps best remembered for its thrilling cyclone scene where the side of a house falls atop Buster like a giant flyswatter, sparing his life with an open window. Yet with diminutive Buster (5’ 5”) casting towering character actor Ernest Torrence (6’ 4”) to play his cantankerous father, their delightful, mismatched interplay provides many of the film’s most satisfying laughs.

Marion Bryon drives south along the primary block of town toward the corner of the King Hotel at left

Click to enlarge, the west riverbank set across from the tip of Discovery Park – Flight C_163, Frame C-2 1928 UCSB

Remarkably, it’s possible today to visit Discovery Park, and to stroll along the west bank of the Sacramento River where Buster built his giant town set. This circa 1928 photo above actually shows footprints of the three “River Junction” street corner intersections. Perhaps some expert geo-referencer can pinpoint the precise locations.

Click to enlarge – looking west – the full length of the set, from the collapsing house, built later during filming, at the far left, then corner (1) the Hotel King, then corner (2) where Buster dodges a truck load of boxes in the stiff wind, and corner (3) near the jail set (cartoon), built on the water at the far right.

Click to enlarge – looking north, at corner (2) where Marion speeds into view, and Buster fights the wind and a truck load of boxes, and further north, at back, the corner (3) balcony near the jail.

Corner (1) the Hotel King, Corner (2) and Corner (3) further back, and the jail at the far end of the block – all once real

Nearly a century later, Steamboat Bill, Jr. remains visually stunning. Though modest in scale compared to modern-day computer-generated mayhem, Keaton’s cinematic destruction will always be compelling because it is real. You sense the groan of the tearing lumber, feel the blast of dust and splinters blown through the air, and cringe for Buster’s safety. There’s a shock, a sense of witnessing newsreel footage of an actual calamity, because tangible buildings are literally destroyed before the camera.

1928 view north of the riverbank set site across from the tip of Discovery Park, where dark American river joins the Sacramento River – Flight C_163, Frame C-2 1928 UCSB

Here is my new video about SBJ on my YouTube Channel.

Also, a simple slideshow first hosted back in 2011, one of my earliest blog posts. The slide show images are static.

The western bank filming site, apparently state-owned land, is most easily reached by walking north from the Marina Way River Access. I welcome people visiting the site to share photos.

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SF Silent Film Festival Returns to Live Cinema with Chaplin’s City Lights

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival returns to presenting live cinema this February 19 at the Paramount Theater with the Oakland Symphony Orchestra accompanying Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece City Lights (1931), conducted by Timothy Brock. You may order tickets HERE.

Charlie with co-star Virginia Cherrill

Chaplin knew his Little Tramp could never speak if he was to retain his universal appeal. But releasing a silent movie years after they had become obsolete was a huge gamble, and the press loved to speculate about it.

Along with a PDF tour of Los Angeles filming locations, this post covers some fun, random information about the movie many consider Charlie’s pinnacle achievement. (Check out the crossword puzzle below). Chaplin reportedly discovered co-star twenty year old Virginia Cherrill sitting ringside at a boxing match. She had never acted before. In 1934 Virginia would become Cary Grant’s first wife – the marriage lasted barely one year. Grant and his former roommate actor Randolph Scott, all pictured at left, resumed living together once the marriage ended.

One fun discovery, not reported in my book Silent Traces, Charlie spots a discarded cigar butt while driving around his millionaire friend’s car, and leaps out to snag it just before another bum grabs it. This was filmed on South El Camino Drive, south from Wilshire Boulevard, with the newly opened Beverly Wilshire Hotel at back.

A testament to the skill of early filmmakers, before CGI effects, this remarkable production photo from the Chaplin Archive reveals the towering city skyline effect during the opening scene was created on Chaplin’s small studio backlot, placing a scale model in the foreground while filming the true two-story set in the far background, the so-called foreground (or hanging) miniature effect. What a stunning achievement – bravo.

Among 28 pages of artwork and other publicity materials promoting City Lights, here’s a crossword puzzle (from page 6) with the answers further below in this post. With this PDF link you can print it out for home use. The first clue, one across, seven letters is “First name of greatest comedian in Motion Pictures.” Hmm, “Buster” and “Harold” are both six letters, who could it be? 😉

Albert Einstein and Chaplin at the premiere

In closing, I had the honor to introduce City Lights for the Los Angeles Conservancy a few years ago at their “Last Remaining Seats” screening held at the spectacular Los Angeles Theater, the very theater where the film premiered on January 30, 1931, with Albert Einstein and his wife Elsa in attendance as Charlie’s special guests. The entire house stood to honor them when they entered the theater.  Chaplin was pleased to notice Einstein wiping his eyes during the emotional final scenes. It was the premiere screening ever held at the brand new theater. Incredibly, about 30 minutes into the show the theater owner interrupted the screening and turned up the house lights to brag about his new venue. Chaplin was understandably upset by the stunt.

Unlike the gritty locations appearing during The Kid (1921), Chaplin sought out modern and urbane settings for City Lights.  Yet another example of how the varied streets of Los Angeles were employed to set just the right character and tone for the movies. This self-guided written tour prepared for LA Conservancy event (see link below) explains the many downtown and Wilshire Boulevard movie locations appearing during the film. Above, Charlie races to purchase Virginia’s flowers at the NW corner of Wilshire and S. Commonwealth Ave., with the corner of Lafayette Park behind them.

Charlie Chaplin City Lights Film Location Tour

I didn’t forget – here are the crossword puzzle answers, also a PDF link if you want to print it out. Chaplin archival documents Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S or © Roy Export Company Establishment. All Rights Reserved CHARLIE CHAPLIN © Bubbles Incorporated S.A. All Rights Reserved. Read more posts about City Lights HERE. Hope to see you at the Paramount on February 19.

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Take the Tour – the Buster Keaton Studio

I first read Rudi Blesh’s biography Keaton in junior high, and was immediately hooked by Buster’s magic and the romance of early filmmaking. I grew up watching silent comedies on public television, and collecting 8mm prints of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy, fascinated by the world inhabited by the great silent-era comedians. Although they walked beside real buildings, and drove on public streets, their world seemed as alien and remote as if from another planet – silent, colorless, beyond reach.

I knew this world was once real, but the only tangible sense I had of it then was this image from Blesh’s book (left and above), of Buster and crew gazing proudly at the modest front office bungalow of his newly christened studio at the SW corner of Lillian Way and Eleanor.  [Note: decades later we understand now Blesh miscaptioned the photo – the costumes confirm these are the cast members from Neighbors (1920), including Buster’s dad Joe standing left of Buster. That is not Myra, Buster’s mom, on the far left, that woman is too tall, and that’s cast member Big Joe Roberts, much taller than Roscoe Arbuckle, on Buster’s right].

Click to enlarge – the studio in 1916, four years before Buster, in preparation for Charlie Chaplin to film his first Mutual comedy The Floorwalker.

The studio group photo was tantalizing. Buster walked up those simple front porch steps into his studio every day for eight years, but there was so little to see, so little explained. Without any context, the group photo was completely inaccessible. It seemed there was only so much we would ever know about how Buster made his movies.

Keaton’s centenary in 1995 changed everything. His entire oeuvre of silent films were suddenly made available on home video, and the newly formed International Buster Keaton Society (the Damfinos) began their joyful campaign promoting Buster around the world. In 1996, the Damfinos published a glossy magazine, The Great Stone Face, including a 1921 aerial photo of the Keaton Studio (a portion of which appears above).

Viewing that aerial photo for the first time was such a thrill, providing context missing from the Blesh photo, allowing us to “peek” over the studio fence for the first time. Incredibly, Buster’s lost world slowly re-emerged as I began to recognize certain bungalows and other landmarks from his films. I have since described dozens of scenes filmed at or beside Buster’s studio in my book Silent Echoes, and throughout posts on this blog.

Click to enlarge – from Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), possibly the final scene Buster filmed at his studio before moving to M-G-M.

But now, most gratifyingly, I have created a Silent Locations YouTube channel posting visual narratives showing (not telling) how silent-era Hollywood once looked a century ago. Please accept my invitation to take this visual tour of Buster’s studio, without spoken narration, accompanied only by silent film accompanist Frederick Hodges’ beautiful score.

So please – Take the Tour – and visit the Buster Keaton Studio

Download a fully annotated PDF walking tour of the Keaton Studio, with many more discoveries, click HERE.

Here too is a YouTube video of me leading this walking tour of the Keaton Studio site, filmed and hosted by my friend Ken Mitchroney – https://youtu.be/kr5mFWWXZjA

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Lady Cops (and Harold Lloyd) Reveal 1914 Lost LA Treasures

What time machines! Thanks to the Eastman Museum, vivid details of downtown LA’s most iconic (and now sadly lost) landmarks fill the background of the 1914 gender reversal comedy Forcing the Force, restored and streaming on the museum site. Harold Lloyd’s 1917 Lonesome Luke Messenger comedy, streaming on the Lloyd site, discussed further below, adds more time travel views, and Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel will appear later as well.

Forcing the Force (re-released in 1917 as Hoodwinking the Police) depicts two young women, unemployed and desperate to pay the rent, joining the police force in response to a want-ad seeking only women recruits. They are sitting beside the side entrance stairs of the Bradbury Mansion porch, next to the section with a metal railing, marked below – click to enlarge.

Forcing the Force was released six years before women were allowed to vote, and as was common with mainstream entertainment at the time, depicts employment discrimination and sexual harassment as simply “normal” and comedic. Despite a few cringe-worthy moments, the movie is an incredible time machine, capturing daily life, and never-before-seen details of lost LA landmarks. For example, I have never before seen an image taken from the Bradbury Mansion porch. Huntington Digital Library.

Our heroines read the want-ad sitting beside the incredible Bradbury mansion, built in 1887 atop Court Hill overlooking the LA Civic Center, at the time one of the city’s finest home. When the wealthy elite began moving west to more remote and exclusive neighborhoods, the mansion was used as one of the town’s initial movie studios. It was here Harold Lloyd and producer Hal Roach first joined forces in 1915 to create their earliest films under the Rolin Film Company banner. The pair, along with Lloyd co-stars Bebe Daniels and Snub Pollard, created more than one hundred films during their time working together at what Lloyd called “Pneumonia Hall,” including Lonesome Luke Messenger discussed further below. Lloyd and Roach filmed at the mansion until 1920, when Roach built new facilities out in Culver City, and changed the studio name to the Hal Roach Studios. The mansion was demolished in 1929, and for many years the hilltop site was used as a parking lot! Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge – above, our job-seeking heroines stroll beside the decorative arched entrance way to the former Los Angeles City Jail once standing at First Street. The former Los Angeles County Jail stood a block east. You can actually read the “POLICE COURTS” sign appearing in the movie in this vintage photo. Few photos survive of this long lost jail facility, and again, this is first time I have ever seen such clear details of the jail entrance. UCLA, Library Special Collections.

Click to enlarge – one new female member of the force arrives to relieve a harried traffic cop from his post at the busy intersection of 4th and Spring (notice the crowd of onlookers at back). Pictured here in 1906, the grand Angelus Hotel (now a parking lot) once stood at the SW corner of 4th and Spring. A bit of the hotel’s decorative entrance way appears to the far left of the right frame. California State Library.

We return now to the Bradbury Mansion site, where many scenes from Forcing the Force were filmed at or beside this stately home.

Augmented for this post, this map by Piet Schreuders (click to enlarge) shows the Bradbury Mansion sitting high atop Court Hill. To the lower left on First Street stands the LA City Jail where the women got their jobs, just one block away from the mansion porch. Notice too the railing overlooking the twin-bore Hill Street Tunnel running under Court Hill (discussed later). Next, notice at front the crenelated clock tower of the former LA Times Building that once stood at the corner of First and Broadway, just a block away from the mansion. Last, although not featured in the movie, notice at the right the Court Flight incline railway that once transported people from Broadway up to the top of Court Hill. LA once had two incline railways – the other railway, Angels Flight, still stands near 3rd and Grand downtown.

A panoramic view of the Bradbury Mansion sidewalk entrance steps – left, in 1917 with Harold Lloyd in Lonesome Luke Messenger, and three years earlier, in 1914, as one of the heroines implores a fellow officer to help her in Forcing the Force. USC Digital Library.

Seen here with Bebe Daniels, Harold portrays “Lonesome Luke,” long before adopting his later trademark “Glasses” character. The women are sitting further back on the porch, between Bebe and Harold.

Harold also offers a closer view of the mansion entrance. (That’s really Harold rolling down those cement stairs).

Harold made dozens of movies at this mansion studio, nearly all are lost. But look, Charlie Chaplin filmed here too. Our heroine waters the lawn beside the mansion main entrance steps in 1914. A year later, Charlie played an overworked paperhanger when filming Work at the same mansion steps in 1915.

You are witnessing a unicorn. I’ve studied vintage LA photos for over 25 years, and I have never before seen a view from the mansion front lawn toward the LA Times tower at First and Broadway nearby. The tower is at eye level because the mansion stood on a hill – see the aerial view above. LAPL.

Let’s focus now on the rarely photographed railing overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel. This panorama was created with frames from the 1921 Monty Banks comedy Nearly Married (streaming Archive.org), and Harold’s Lonesome Luke Messenger. Remember, the enormous Bradbury Mansion is just off camera to the right.

Click to enlarge – filming from the terrace looking south down Hill Street, while cropping the railing from view, created the illusion of great height. This still from Harold’s Look Out Below (1919) shows Hal Roach at the far left, with Snub Pollard, and Bebe Daniels. Harold would also film High and Dizzy (1919) and Never Weaken (1921) here, using elaborate sets to create the illusion he was climbing high in the air. The box in this inset view from Never Weaken marks the peaked facade of the LA City Jail, just a block away. Many more “thrill” comedies were filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel too. For variety, some other thrill comedies were filmed the same way, but instead with sets overlooking the Broadway (now lost) or Third Street Tunnels. This post explains the many downtown tunnels appearing in early comedies and film noir. Photo Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Forcing the Force makes more modest use of the Hill Street Tunnel railing, as a simple hiding place for the women and one cop to hide from the others running up the stairs beside the tunnel. That painted “HOTEL LA CROSSE” sign near the center of the right frame is a dead giveaway. If you watch enough silent comedies, you will see that sign appear over and over again, including during Charlie Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms (1918) and Buster Keaton’s Three Ages (1923).

The Hotel La Crosse, viewed from the railing – Shoulder Arms, Three Ages

In closing, Forcing the Force has one more charming surprise. They built a small interior set on the sidewalk in front of the mansion, facing the railing overlooking the tunnel, so one of the women could peek through her window and react to a policeman approaching her home from the tunnel stairs. In the days preceding CGI and rear projection effects, the only way to present a real life backdrop from the window of a set was to build the set on site. For comparison, the matching right frame is the closing shot from Stan Laurel’s solo 1918 comedy Do You Love Your Wife?, with Stan being led the toward the mansion sidewalk entrance and further back the tunnel stairs.

Hitching a ride, messenger Lonesome Luke arrives in style at the mansion

Forcing the Force, Lonesome Luke Messenger, Chaplin’s Work, and Do You Love Your Wife? each contain many more scenes filmed on Court Hill, showing bits of the mansion and neighboring sidewalks and homes, but it’s time to end this post. If you’ve ever wondered why Hill Street in downtown LA is flat, it’s because Court Hill, the hill that gave Hill Street its name, sadly no longer exists. In the name of progress, Court Hill and the surrounding neighborhood were bulldozed into oblivion. Except for street names, nothing appearing in this post remains today. Movies are time machines – moments of time captured frame by frame and frozen on film. Forcing the Force captures rare and vivid details of downtown LA life from over a century ago. We should all be so grateful to the Eastman Museum for preserving and streaming this evocative film.

I hope you will check out my new YouTube channel.

Below, where once stood mansions, a twin-bore tunnel, and an incline railway, long lost Court Hill is now only a memory, captured on film.

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Silent Locations YouTube Channel

After writing three books, and nearly 300 blog posts explaining the visual history hidden in silent movies, I’ve learned how to make YouTube videos that show this history directly. I’ve prepared over 15 Blu-ray/DVD bonus programs, and been invited to introduce films using PowerPoint over sixty times, so from this reservoir of material I plan to release YouTube videos regularly. Here’s the link to my new channel, and links to each video below.

Silent Locations YouTube Channel 

The channel includes a Playlist of my video presentations hosted by museums and other groups.

Buster Keaton’s studio tour, where Charlie filmed too – score by Frederick Hodges

Harold, Buster, Charlie, Mary and Doug were once neighbors – score by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra

A Hollywood lemon grove became the Charlie Chaplin Studio – with Chaplin’s beautiful score from The Kid

A century ago, Buster Keaton filmed four movies at the then-small USC campus – a few Harold Lloyd and Laurel & Hardy locations too

Silent Footsteps – overlapping clues from a dozen silent films reveal the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley – musical score by Jon Mirsalis

Honor the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood

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