Arbuckle and Keaton Filmed in Culver City Years Before Laurel and Hardy

The Lehrman Studio at the right, built first, before the Roach Studio at left. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard filmed comedies for producer Hal Roach at the Bradbury Mansion Rolin Studio, on Court Hill in downtown Los Angeles, for years before Roach opened his new studio in Culver City in 1920. (Read how they also made early films in Edendale HERE.) Roach built his new facility next door to the Lehrman Studio on Washington Boulevard that opened in 1919 just east of town.  In those early days the center of Culver City barely comprised one short commercial block, Main Street, while nearby Palms, one of the oldest suburbs of LA, barely had two blocks. Since silent comedians require street corners and intersections to stage their gags, these three streets, then essentially in the middle of nowhere, appeared in many Roach productions, starting with Harold and Snub in 1920, and continuing with Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang into the early 1930s. But thanks to the Kino Lorber – Lobster Films Blu-ray release of Keaton’s short films, we can see Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton filmed here first.

Laurel and Hardy fans recognize the north end of Main Street at Venice Boulevard as the site where Stan and Ollie filmed many famous scenes, including the climatic hat-ripping fight (instead of a pie fight, the participants destroy each other’s hats) concluding the 1927 short comedy Hats Off, the Boys’ only non-surviving film.

Pre-dating Roach, Arbuckle and Keaton made their final short comedies The Hayseed (1919) and The Garage (1919) at the Lehrman Studio facilities in Culver City before the Roach Studio was even built.  So when Roscoe and Buster needed street corners and intersections, they too filmed at these streets in Culver City and Palms.  As shown above, Roscoe battles a fire hose at the north end of Main in The Garage.

Above, Buster and Roscoe race up Main towards Venice past the same corner bank appearing eight years later in Laurel & Hardy’s The Second Hundred Years (1927). Notice the prominent “X” trolley crossing sign.

Earlier in The Garage, Luke the dog rips apart Keaton’s pants, forcing Buster to shield himself with a paper kilt sliced from a life-size Harry Lauder billboard. Though covered in front, Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police, setting up two physical gags; Roscoe hiding Buster’s diminutive body from view with his own hulking frame, and assisting Buster to put on a replacement pair of pants as they walk, without pausing, lockstep together.

Looking north, the pants gag was filmed on the middle, left side of Main Street in Culver City, just south from Roscoe’s fire hose scene. Conveniently located to the studios, this modest commercial street, only a single block long and originally divided by planters of palms trees, would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. Notice the crenelated bank building corner at the far right end of the street.

A closer view shows the mid-block alley corner behind Roscoe and Buster, with matching brick wall details at back (box), while the store’s right window reflects the “X” trolley crossing sign (oval) and left window reflects the corner bank. Heavily remodeled, the shop where Buster stole his pants (box in 1921 aerial view looking west) still stands on an alley corner at 3821 Main Street. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, looking south at Roscoe and Laurel & Hardy’s bank corner, left, and the red brick corner to the right where Buster put on his pants.

Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police. Perfectly choreographed and filmed, Buster vanishes from view, both to the cop chasing him, and then to audience, as he walks precisely in unison either directly in front of, or behind, Arbuckle.

Above, Buster runs east along the Venice Blvd. trolley tracks, before turning right onto Motor Ave., as people (box) watch from the second floor above. The small sign on the pole (box) reads “4th St Palms” – the original name for Motor Ave. – the initial clue. Looking east, the same corner store appears in this 1930 aerial photo.

Buster hides behind Roscoe as they walk north past the corner store on Motor, then turn left (west) onto Venice. The front of the corner store (box) above right, was just a block north of the MGM lot, the Goldwyn Studios at the time, and just a few blocks from the bungalow (star) on Grant Ave. Buster would later rent when beginning his career at MGM.

A final locale from The Garage, filmed looking SE from a bluff in Palms, north of Culver City, as the volunteer fire-fighters scan the horizon. Overland Ave. runs south (left to right) behind Buster’s elbow, while the Palms Elementary School on Motor Ave. stands furthest at back above Buster’s helmet, matching the yellow sight-line in this 1923 aerial view. The Porter Sanitarium, prominent to the lower left, was built after the filming.

A year before the Roach Studios opened in Culver City, Roscoe and Buster also filmed many scenes from The Hayseed (1919) in Palms at the intersection of National and Motor Ave., a site that would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. I hope to cover The Hayseed in a future post, but here’s a taste, page 40 from my Harold Lloyd book Silent Visions, showing Roscoe and Buster walking north up Motor from the former Palms Bank building, also appearing in Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under (1920) and Girl Shy (1924).

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.

Below, Roscoe held Buster aloft while he put on his pants in front of this store over 100 years ago, then they turned back and turned left into this alley.

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Harold Lloyd’s Earliest Days Filming in Edendale

The cinematic roots for the three great kings of comedy, Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, trace back to the earliest days of filmmaking. As reported HERE, Chaplin staged scenes from his 1914 Keystone films Those Love Pangs and Tillie’s Punctured Romance alongside the distinctive Mission-style walls of the Selig Polyscope Studio in Edendale (above), reportedly the first permanent movie studio built in Los Angeles. Likewise, as reported HERE, Keaton used the Selig studio gate as a handy prison entrance for his 1920 comedy Convict 13. Once located at 1845 Allesandro (now Glendale Blvd.), the Selig studio stood just two blocks north of the Keystone Studio, originally the Bison Studio.

Edendale was familiar to Chaplin – he filmed the first scene of his career and many others beside a home adjacent to Keystone, and pretended the studio office door was a dentist office (above) in Laughing Gas (1914).

Harold in Lonesome Luke, Circus King (1916). Where was this?

But what about Harold? Lloyd historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd reports in her invaluable Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia that Harold possibly appeared as an extra in at least four lost 1913 Keystone films. She writes he returned to Keystone late in 1914 to appear in at least five more films from February to July 1915, before then returning to work with Hal Roach. Given his brief tenure there, I’m not aware of Lloyd being filmed or photographed anywhere beside the Keystone studio facility.

Above, the Norbig Studios in 1917, just up the street from Keystone. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

But thanks to Annette, historians E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker, and Lloyd photo friend and archivist Richard Simonton, we know Lloyd revisited his Edendale haunts shortly after leaving Keystone to make Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks during June-July 1915, then again to make Lonesome Luke, Circus King during January 1916 (both now lost), and returned at least a third time to film Hey There (1918) between 12/22/1917 – 1/26/1918.

View One – Harold as Lonesome Luke in Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks (1915). Where could this possibly be?

How do we know? To begin, several years ago Richard sent me this Lonesome Luke Ruses View One photo (above) for location identification. I was intrigued, but there weren’t any useful clues, not even that 1619 telephone pole number.

View Two – Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks – a more revealing view

Years passed, when by chance I happened to look again at Harold’s Ruses View One photo. But this time, given my recent familiarity with the Selig Studio, I noticed a clue after all – a hint of some Mission-style towers at back. Mentioning this to Richard, he sent me this slightly more revealing Ruses View Two photo (above), depicting a series of Mission-style towers at back, configured differently than the Selig towers.

A quick check through E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker’s book Early Poverty Row Studios provided the answer. Harold had posed for these Ruses photos at the NW corner of Aaron and Allesandro, with the Norbig Studio behind him up the street, shown in full view earlier in this post. Above to the right, this 1934 photo shows the same corner store at 1739 Allesandro to the left of the studio. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

1923 – the Norbig Studio and Harold’s corner to the left – the Keystone Studio to the right.

Knowing Harold stood kitty-corner from Keystone, I glanced over some Keystone films and found the same grocery appearing in the Charley Chase comedy Peanuts and Bullets (1915) (upper right) and in Roscoe Arbuckle’s Fatty’s New Role (1915) (lower right), both revealing the store owner’s name A. Brener.

Another view of the Brener corner store in Arbuckle’s Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915), and a matching 1923 aerial view of the corner and neighboring Norbig Studio, its sole stage at left.

Marc reports the Rolin film company rented the Norbig Studio and laboratory in 1916, a relation, as seen here, that continued for the 1918 production Hey There, a Lloyd “Glass Character” comedy. Hey There chronicles Harold’s efforts to sneak into a movie studio to return a lost letter to Bebe Daniels. Above, matching views of the Norbig office doorway from the movie (left), and a detail from the broad 1917 Norbig photo further above, with “STUDIO RENTALS” painted below the window.

During one sneak attempt Harold fashions a mustache disguise with his bow tie. Reversing the view (center), the distinctive single window and porch stairs of the home across the street from the front office clearly match the window reflection. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Hey There – matching details of the Norbig Studio gate entrance.

Hey There ends with Harold sprinting away from the Norbig Studio gate on his knees.

But what about Lonesome Luke, Circus King? Well, it too was clearly staged at the Norbig Studio entrance gate, matching the vantage point in this 1921 photo of the facility, named “Reaguer Productions” at the time. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

In closing, Roscoe Arbuckle posed by the same corner store for The Knockout (1914) and Fatty’s New Role (1915). Thanks again to Marc Wanamaker and Richard Simonton for supplying such wonderful photos. Thanks too for the DVD frames from Becoming Charley Chase, American Slapstick, and The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. 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.

[Note: historic records spell the former street name three different ways Allesandro, Alessandro, and Allessandro – take your pick].

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps below. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

Below, a matching view Harold’s corner today at Aaron and now Glendale Blvd. Given Harold’s love of animals, especially Great Danes, it seems fitting it is now the site of an animal hospital.

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Buster Keaton – More Backlot Scenes From Our Hospitality

Buster Keaton’s modest studio made it necessary for him to film many famous scenes at other studios with larger backlots. His pursuit through an archway by an army of police at the climax of Cops (1922) was filmed at the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City (reverse view courtesy David L. Synder, Steven Bingen).

Filming Go West on the abandoned Metro lot, due south of the Keaton Studio

Buster filmed many urban cattle scenes from Go West (1925) at the then-abandoned Metro lot directly across the street from his studio. But the former Brunton Studio on Melrose, future site for Paramount, was his top choice. There, as detailed in these prior post links, he filmed many backlot street scenes from Cops, and Day Dreams (1922), the high dive pool scene concluding Hard Luck (1921), and the elaborate and breathtaking waterfall rescue scene from Our Hospitality. Mary Pickford filmed The Hoodlum (1919) there as well.

Click to enlarge – National Archive Photo 18-AA-16-76 – looking east in 1923 at the studio, with the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at left, Melrose Ave. at right.

The post dives deep into the filming of Buster Keaton’s 1830’s “Hatfield-McCoy” feud-themed feature Our Hospitality (1923) restored by Lobster Films. The more we study his films, the more we understand where and how he staged his elaborate scenes.

Vintage oblique aerial photographs are my favorite research tool. To begin, the National Archive aerial view above reveals the waterfall stunt set Buster built over the giant T-shaped plunge on the studio lot. With this single image we can peek over the fence and tour the entire studio lot.

Buster plays a Yankee traveling South for the first time to inspect his inheritance, unaware the family of the charming girl he meets en route (portrayed by his then-wife Natalie Talmadge) maintains a blood-feud against Keaton’s family. Using various aerial photos, this post shows Natalie’s home town scenes were staged at what was once the Brunton Studio. To get your bearings, below are a few scenes representing Natalie’s home town.

To begin, an establishing view west of Natalie’s home town, with a matching 1922 aerial view.

Closer views shows matching details.

The stepped facade building to the right of the movie frame appears to the right as well.

When Buster, unaware, meets Natalie’s vengeful brother, they pause a moment in front of this stepped doorway, appearing lower right.

The center of the same aerial view reveals the cabin porch where Buster gallantly intervenes in a domestic squabble, only to be attacked by both the husband and the battered wife (their power dynamics are reversed in this publicity still). Notice the husband is sitting on a deck.

Click to enlarge – for perspective, this broad view from a slightly different angle shows both the battling couple’s cabin porch (box) and the pawn shop sign (box) appearing at back during the teeter-totter ladder scene from Cops filmed there a year earlier.

Looking east, another view of these sets.

The large T-shaped plunge to the left – United Studios painted on the fence – Natalie’s home town at back

Paramount: City of Dreams author Steven Bingen reports studio manager M.C. Levee purchased the Brunton Studio in 1921, renaming it then United Studios. Keaton biographer James Curtis reports Buster filmed the water tank scenes there for The Boat (1921), which makes perfect sense. The studio’s tank was large and located just a few blocks away from Keaton’s facility at Eleanor and Lillian Way. By 1922 Buster’s boss and brother-in-law Joe Schenck purchased a majority interest in United Studios, while Levee remained as President.

Keaton’s studio (left box) and the Our Hospitality backot (right box).

Thus, Keaton’s prominent use of the studio was not only convenient, he likely received preferential treatment from Schenck and Levee when filming there, and Schenck earned a few residual dollars each time he rented the space to his star. I love it when visual observations mesh perfectly with the detailed research of historians. For simplicity, and to avoid updating my prior posts, this post refers to the “Brunton” Studio throughout, although it was the United Studios during the filming of Our Hospitality.

Our Hospitality, restored by Lobster Films, is available for sale at Amazon.

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.

Below, the modern Melrose entrance to Paramount. The Our Hospitality scenes were filmed to the right, north of the street.


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How Laurel and Hardy Filmed Duck Soup

Although they had appeared onscreen together in The Lucky Dog (1921), the Hal Roach short Duck Soup (1927) marks the first time Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were paired as comedy leads. They play a couple of hoboes who flee a surly forest ranger conscripting tramps to fight a raging fire. The film begins in Westlake (now MacArthur) Park, where they dash off, grab a bicycle in Culver City, pedal up and down Grand Avenue in Bunker Hill, only to crash in front of a Beverly Hills mansion. This post examines the many classic landscapes appearing in this landmark film.

Forest rangers scour Westlake (MacArthur) Park, looking for bums to fight the fire, with a matching view seen from the other side looking to the NW at right LAPL. It appears the awning shaded a seating area for concerts performed in the pergola standing in the water.

At left, Joe Cobb looks toward the lakeside shaded seating area in the Our Gang comedy Dog Heaven (1927), with a matching color postcard view, LAPL, and closer view of the forest rangers grabbing bums.

Ollie cheerily greets the menacing forest ranger played by Bob Kortman.

Stan and Ollie casually saunter away, followed by the ranger, who tracks their every step as they begin to flee. This was likely filmed in the NW corner of the park, with the now-demolished Regent Apartments peeking over the trees at back. For comparison the same corner of the park revealing the Regent appears to the right in this scene from Lige Conley’s 1920 short A Fresh Start. The Regent (1913-1983) appeared in many films, and portrayed the facade of the restaurant where Charlie Chaplin worked in The Rink (1916), inset, read more HERE.

Looking at the NW corner of the park, with the lawn (oval) where the ranger likely chased the Boys in relation to the Regent – LAPL, USC Digital Library.

Running for their lives, Stan and Ollie turn the sharp corner from Culver Blvd. right (north) up Main Street in Culver City. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

As they pedal away, behind them (yellow box) is the alley (now lost) where they would later unsuccessfully attempt to switch their mismatched pants during Liberty (1929). I document their rooftop antics in that film HERE. While the Culver Hotel remains in the modern view, lower right, the south side of Culver Blvd. across from the corner has been completely redeveloped. (C) 2020 Microsoft.

We now jump to downtown. Here they travel south down Grand from 6th Street.

A point of view shot, left, speeding down Grand toward 5th, with a matching photo view LAPL. The large lawn on the right corner was part of the grounds for the LA Public Library, and is now the site of the library’s Mark Taper Auditorium.

Stan and Ollie race down Grand toward the former library lawn on the corner of 5th, past the former Biltmore Garage on the left, also seen in the 1934 Carole Lombard film Gay Bride upper right.

The bike odessy begins with Stan and Ollie crossing Grand Ave. west along 3rd Street, matching the arrow in this map designed by Piet Schreduers. Shown here, the section of 3rd Street on Bunker Hill above the 3rd Street Tunnel was just two blocks long, running from Angels Flight on Olive to Bunker Hill Ave.

Poor Oliver really pedaled Stan west uphill along 3rd from the corner of Grand. The matching color view comes from Marilyn Monroe’s 1956 movie Bus Stop during a scene intended to portray Phoenix Arizona! The Alta Vista Apartments, far left, appear again later below.

Click to enlarge – this panoramic view shows the backdrop as Stan and Ollie’s stunt doubles race south down Grand toward the corner of 5th. The far left frame comes from the movie, the other frames come from Africa F.O.B. (1922) starring Monte Banks, shown racing on foot down the street. Details mark the doorway to the former Sherwood Apartments at 431 S. Grand, and J. W. Johnson’s garage at 437 S. Grand. The pyramid peeking out in back belonged to the former State Normal School (inset), torn down to accommodate the LA Public Library opening on that site in 1926. LAPL.

Thanks to Jim Dawson, the Sherwood Apartments portray San Francisco (look how steep the street is) during the opening scenes from Ida Lupino’s 1953 drama The Bigamist.

Opposite views of 3rd between Grand and Bunker Hill Ave., with Duck Soup looking west to the left, toward the corner blade sign for the Alta Vista Apartments (inset right), and Harold Lloyd’s race to the church in Girl Shy (1924) looking east to the right. Among Lloyd’s surviving films the corner of 3rd and Grand, depicted here, is where he filmed more often than any other spot in town. Most traffic along 3rd St passed through the tunnel beneath Bunker Hill. Only two blocks long, the short parallel section of  3rd St above the tunnel had little traffic and was easy to shut down for filming. California State Library. Novelist John Fante lived here briefly in 1933, immortalizing it (as the fictional Alta Loma) in his classic 1939 Bunker Hill novel Ask The Dust.

Above, Stan and Ollie travel south down Grand, with a garage at back, matched with stock footage of Bunker Hill used during a traveling car scene for the 1949 Columbia release Shockproof. The footage, available from the Internet Archive, was projected behind the actors sitting in a prop car filming inside a sound stage, creating the illusion they were driving outside. I have an extensive post documenting the numerous landmarks to appear in this Bunker Hill stock footage you can read HERE.

Further south, the lost Zelda Apartments (box) appears in both shots. The tall Sherwood Apartments, mentioned above, towers on the left behind Stan, while the edge of the Sherwood appears to the left of the 1949 frame.

The chase continues, matching views looking up Grand from 5th, with the library lawn to the left, and the former Biltmore Theater (Ben Hur sign) to the right.

A final view, tracing Stan and Ollie’s path along Grand, starting from the Sherwood Apartments to the left, then past the rooftop cars parked at Johnson’s garage to the right, then the Biltmore Garage across the street on the corner, and after crossing 5th, the Biltmore Theater on the other corner, all now lost, with the beautiful pyramid-capped LA Public Library in the foreground.

Leaving downtown behind, the Boys crash in front of 815 N. Alpine Drive in Beverly Hills, once standing on the SW corner of Sunset, and are soon pursued by the rangers. Flight c-4686, frame 24, UCSB Library.

This stately home also portrayed the governor’s mansion during Stan and Ollie’s The Second Hundred Years (1927). The lines and dimensions of the new home suggest the original home was first completely demolished. The neighboring home to the left in the movie frame appears to have since been remodeled.

Los Angeles residential historian Duncan Maginnis made this amazing discovery, and has identified many other homes appearing in classic silent films. He is the author of the amazingly rich and fascinating series of historical blog posts about classic Los Angeles neighborhoods, including BERKELEY SQUARE; WESTMORELAND PLACE; WILSHIRE BOULEVARD; ADAMS BOULEVARD; WINDSOR SQUARE; ST. JAMES PARK; and FREMONT PLACE.

The clue was the Max Whittier mansion looming tall in the background. Once standing on the NW corner of Sunset and Alpine, the Whittier home also no longer exists, but was notorious in the 1980s because a wealthy Saudi prince painted it gaudy colors, and lined the place with nude statues painted flesh color with highlighted genitals and pubic hair, creating quite a sight for tourists along Sunset Blvd. The inset image comes at 1:48 from a Youtube history video about Mr. Whittier. The image with the car above appears at 2:45, while the image above with the children and dog is from the Our Gang comedy Fire Fighters (1922).

Both views look north. Dressed as a maid, Stan loads stolen goods into a moving van, with the Whittier home looming in the background. The aerial view is from 1938.

A modern view shows both homes have been completely rebuilt. (C) 2020 Microsoft.

Captured by the rangers and forced to fight a fire, the movie ends with Stan and Ollie struggling with a loose and powerful fire hose on an open field beside Carson Street, a popular Roach filming site south of the studio. The central home behind them at 8885 Carson appears, for example, in the Charley Chase film All Wet (1927) upper right, and the silent Our Gang comedy The Fourth Alarm (1926) lower right.

As first reported by Jim Dallape as part of the Back Lot Tour blog documenting scenes filmed around the Roach Studio, the final scene was staged in the open field to the south, with the home at 8885 Carson Street (yellow oval) marked in each image. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives; flight c-6926x, frame 36, UCSB Library.

Remarkably this home still stands. While the modern view shows the front facing Carson Street, the side of the home appearing in the film now abuts a cinder-block wall, blocking the view.

I want to express again my thanks to Duncan Maginnis, and my particular thanks to Dave Lord Heath, and his encyclopedic Hal Roach Studio films blog Another Nice Mess, for his insight and assistance with this post. Read Dave’s post about Duck Soup HERE.

Duck Soup was recently restored by Lobster Films following the discovery of a nitrate print at BFI, made possible through the teamwork of Lobster Films, the BFI, and the Library of Congress. I will update this post should it become available to the home market.

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.

Where it all started, near the site of the hobo roundup at MacArthur Park.

Posted in Beverly Hills, Bunker Hill, Duck Soup, Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Keaton’s The Cameraman on the Santa Monica Pier

For their first date in The Cameraman (1928) Buster Keaton and Marceline Day strip down and go swimming in a public pool, because, why not? As reported in my book Silent Echoes, their natatorium adventure was filmed inside the Venice Plunge (1908-1945), once a huge beachside tourist attraction. There’s a keen sense of time-travel to the interior pool scenes, the shiplap walls, the tile floors, you can almost smell the chlorine. LAPL.

When it’s time to return home Buster and Marceline fail to catch an overcrowded bus, not in Venice where the plunge was located, but running down the Santa Monica Pier. The downhill slope in the background was the initial clue. The bus strategically blocks the side of the pier from view, and no shot in the sequence betrays it was filmed on a pier.

Click to enlarge – while Keaton had filmed at other amusement piers, this marked Santa Monica’s first appearance with Buster. Huntington Digital Library. Buster later filmed scenes from Spite Marriage (1929) beside the Hotel Carmel at 1451 Second Street in Santa Monica (read more HERE).

Click to enlarge – after missing the bus, Buster’s rival for Marceline’s affection, smooth-talking Harold Goodwin happens to drive by, and offers them a ride home. Notice the giant La Monica Ballroom in the foreground. Inset above, Buster helps Harold with his car roof. Huntington Digital Library.

As they adjust the roof, the entrance awning to the landmark La Monica Ballroom (1924- 1963) appears at back. Situated on the far end of the pier, the La Monica was once the largest dance hall on the west coast, with a capacity of 5,000. Again the camera angle hides nearly all of the background detail. LAPL.

Of course there’s only room for Buster at back in the rumble seat. As soon as they take off it begins to pour, completely drenching Buster by the time they return to town. As shown above, they drive east along the pier past the Bowling-Billiard building and the Loof Carousel-Hippodrome, both still standing. USC Digital Library.

I was stunned to discover this elaborate sequence was filmed completely on the narrow pier. The complex traveling shot with Buster being drenched required mobile overhead rain sprinklers keeping pace with the car and camera car, and plays onscreen as if staged on a local street rather than 20 feet above the water. The logistics seem staggering.

This begs the question – since they filmed the entire sequence so we would NOT notice it was filmed over the water, on a pier, WHY of all places did they film here? The tracking shot travels quite far, so perhaps instead of relying on hundreds of feet of hose lying beside the route, they simply dropped the feed end of the hose over the side of the pier, and ran the submerged feed line in pace with the car. If true, they soaked Buster with sea water!

You can read how Buster and Marceline begin their date in Manhattan, with Buster leaving his place at 201 E 52nd Street, and departing her place at 20 W 58th Street, at these URL posts.

The Criterion Collection is set to release the Blu-ray restoration of The Cameraman on June 16, 2020, including a bonus feature directed by Daniel Raim interviewing me and Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker.

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.

Posted in Buster Keaton, The Cameraman, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Three Good Fellows – Harold Lloyd, Doug MacLean, and Ben Model

Musician Ben Model is a silent film super-hero. Aside from his duties as resident accompanist for MoMA in New York, the Library of Congress, and performing at silent screenings around the county, his indie Undercrank Productions has released over 20 rare silent movie DVDs, including the delightful Alice Howell Collection. I first learned about Alice, and was to able to enjoy some of her films, thanks to Ben. (This post HERE features a few early Hollywood scenes from her films.)

Ben’s latest release The Douglas MacLean Collection is a revelation. I had never heard of Doug before Ben shared him with us. As Ben describes in his blog, MacLean made light comedy features before Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd switched to feature productions, at the same time Douglas Fairbanks was dropping the light comedy genre to make swashbucklers instead. The collection includes MacLean’s features One a Minute (1921) and Bell Boy 13 (1923), together with a 1920 promotional film portraying the Thomas Ince Studio in Culver City, MacLean’s producer. These films are packed with amazing images and locations, enough for several lengthy posts. But we’ll start with the overlap between MacLean and Harold Lloyd.

To begin, the March 1921 edition of Picture-Play magazine posted above describes Doug’s visit with Harold Lloyd, and how they are a couple of jolly good fellows. Here they are clearly sitting on the Hill Street stunt set built for Harold’s 1920 production High and Dizzy.

Doug must have picked up a few tips from Harold, as his 1923 Bell Boy 13 (upper left) also has a brief stunt scene filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel. A similar set for The Terror Trail (1921) (center and right) reveals the secret.

Next, Doug’s “home town” train station scenes from One a Minute upper left overlaps with Harold’s home town train scenes in Girl Shy (1924) lower left. Paul Ayers, attorney, historian, and hiking trail expert, who has shared many remarkable location discoveries over the years, identified this as the Hynes Union Pacific depot, later destroyed by fire in 1946.

Paul studied many clues confirming the site, including the scene upper left where the partially legible “HYNES” depot sign appears with Marian De Beck (“Marion” in the film credits) during One a Minute. Other clues, looking north during Girl Shy, upper middle, Paul noticed a bit of “uniON PACIfic” between the men sitting on the baggage cart beside Jobyna Ralston, while the two-shot of Doug and Marian looking south, upper right, was filmed on a “U.P. (Union Pacific) 1502” passenger car.

This view looks south while Harold and Jobyna first meet at the Hynes depot in Girl Shy. Notice Jobyna’s personalized chair at the lower right, next to director Fred Newmeyer’s chair. Presumably Harold’s chair is furthest to the right.

Looking west from the Hynes depot, matching views from One a Minute, 1921, left, and stuttering Harold unable to purchase a ticket in Girl Shy, 1924, right, both show the same modest home with a left-facing porch. The house in the Girl Shy frame closer to the depot was built after Doug filmed in 1921.

This 1925 map shows the Hynes depot (red box), and the dozen or so buildings and homes comprising the tiny town about 11 miles north of Long Beach. In Girl Shy, above right, Richard Daniels cheers on Harold as he races west to catch the train departing south from the Hynes depot (yellow oval). The small neighboring communities of Hynes, and Clearwater to the north, were once the dairy capital of Southern California. They unified under the city name Paramount in 1948. The site of the former depot beside the north-south rail line is 7741 Jackson Street. Inset at left,  bustling “downtown” Hynes – UC Irvine Libraries. Inset at right, looking east down Jackson Street towards Hynes.

Switching locales, in One a Minute Doug runs beside the Palms Garage on the SE corner of Motor Ave. and National Blvd., the same view east down National as the cops chase Harold for being a suspected bootlegger in Girl Shy, above right. Situated in Palms, close to the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, this corner garage appears in many Roach productions, especially the silent Our Gang shorts.

Above left, a matching view east down National with Roscoe Arbuckle in The Hayseed (1919). Roscoe and co-star Buster Keaton filmed at the intersection of Motor and National years before it became a common setting in Hal Roach comedies. Remarkably the corner Palms Garage building remains standing today.

With Bell Boy 13 upper left, and Now or Never (1921) upper right, Doug and Harold also both filmed behind the former Santa Fe depot at 1st and Santa Fe, again a common setting for silent films.

In closing, this time Doug’s Bell Boy 13 lower right overlaps with Harold’s Girl Shy, lower left, with scenes staged at the former Southern Pacific Depot at 5th and Central downtown. A popular filming site, the depot also appears with Harold in Just Neighbors (1919), Douglas Fairbanks in When The Clouds Roll By (1919), and Stan Laurel in Mother’s Joy (1923), as explained in detail HERE. USC Digital Library.

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.

Be sure to check out The Douglas MacLean Collection and all of Ben’s other DVD releases. Thank you Ben!

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.

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Buster, Harold, and Stymie at the Venice Pier

A prior post explains Buster Keaton and Orson Welles crossed paths filming in Venice, California. But what about Buster and Our Gang superstar Stymie Beard?

Above Buster in The High Sign (1920) and Orson directing A Touch of Evil (1958). Below – Buster and Matthew “Stymie” Beard.

During the 1933 Our Gang comedy Fish Hooky, the gang’s plan to skip school in order to go fishing back­fires when they discover their teacher has arranged to take the class to the amusement park that day, entirely for free. When they catch up with her at the beach, she shoos them away, warning them that the truant officer is after them.

Above, Our Gang alumna Mary Kornman plays the teacher, and her Our Gang co-star Mickey Daniels (left) plays the truant officer, seen here coyly chatting with Spanky McFarland, Dickie Moore, and Stymie Beard, not yet revealing to them his sinister occupation.

When Mary shoos the gang away, directly above her hand is the entrance to the Nautilus Apartments that once stood at 1811 Ocean Front Walk in Venice, just south of the pier. The red box marks the “Nautilus” signing hanging over the entrance, both in 1933, left, and in Keaton’s 1920 film, center. Before this same entrance is where Buster flashes the “fooled you” high sign to the audience when he does not slip on a banana peel dropped on the sidewalk.

Click to enlarge – above, this 1920 aerial view shows the Nautilus Apartment (yellow star) and the future picnic table site (red box), south of the amusement park pier that would burn down later in 1920, only to be quickly rebuilt. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, a January 9, 1933 ground level view of the Our Gang picnic site (red box) and the Nautilus Apartment (yellow star), by Anton Wagner. California Historical Society.

What’s more amazing, while writing this post I came to realize that the Nautilus Apartment building is still standing! I checked the online building permits for 1811 Ocean Front in Venice, and while undergoing numerous alterations and upgrades over the years, it appears the core building remains.

Fish Hooky has ties to another silent comedy, Harold Lloyd’s Grandma’s Boy (1922). At left triumphant Harold stands over the vanquished bully on the Higuera Bridge over Ballona Creek, due east of the so-called Forty Acres movie studio backlot in Culver City. The same bridge is where Joe Cobb and Allen “Farina” Hoskins persuade the gang to cut school to go fishing instead. Notice the matching farm house in the left and right images.

This view east shows part of the Forty Acres movie set backlot at left, the Higuera Bridge over Ballona Creek, and the same lone farm house to the right. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

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.

Below, the Nautilus Apartment now “Muscle Beach” building.

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