Before the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

The beautiful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is a revelation, a six-disc set featuring dozens of early films created by women, many unseen for decades. One of the biggest surprises was witnessing the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley appear in several films, each made years before the gents all filmed there.

Above, matching views from The Purple Mask (1917), written and co-directed by its star Grace Cunard, and Buster Keaton in Cops (1922), both filmed looking east from Cahuenga just south from Hollywood Boulevard. In all, three early Universal films from the Kino Lorber set were filmed here.

A trio of views, The Purple Mask, Harry Houdini in The Grim Game (1919), and Buster in Cops. It makes you wonder, if three early surviving Universal films were made here, as well as Houdini’s early Paramount release, how many films that don’t survive were made here as well? Perhaps a dozen? More?

The alley is T-shaped, the east-west part with Buster appearing above. Here now is the north-south part, looking south at the back of some brick ovens appearing with Grace Cunard in The Purple Mask, and with Chaplin in The Kid (1921). Hollywood was sparsely developed during the mid-teens of the last century. The intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga was one of the few commercial corners in town. Since Universal was close by, the alley was likely used out of necessity or convenience. The Famous Players – Lasky Studio, where Houdini filmed The Grim Game, was closer still, just a couple of blocks away.

Looking north up the alley, from Eleanor’s Catch (1916), starring and directed by Cleo Madison, and Charlie in The Kid. Twenty years ago, before hundreds of silent films became available to home viewers, I’d struggle to find a single location in a single film. Once solved, it somehow felt this must be the setting’s unique appearance on film. These early Universal films completely destroy this false assumption. Instead, it makes perfect sense that these locations were commonly known and frequently used. Thus, when Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd filmed here (for a total of at least six different films), they weren’t pioneers capitalizing on their own clever sense of locales. They were simply filming where everyone already knew to film.

A closer view of the alley stairs, from co-director Lois Weber’s Where Are My Children? (1916) and Charlie and Minnie Stearns in The Kid.

Another trio, Gale Henry in her self-produced comedy The Detectress (1919), Charlie and Minnie, and a scene from a later movie, The Last Edition (1925), a film that makes great use of the alley, and the common thread that originally tied all of the alley discoveries together.

Views looking west down the alley from Cosmo towards Cahuenga, The Purple Mask at left, and Buster Keaton’s Neighbors (1920) at right. Notice the white shed to the right of center in both shots. The far side of Cahuenga across the street has no buildings in the 1917 view. Notice too the corner pole left of center in the Keaton frame – it appears below.

This cast iron corner pole is still present, appearing in 1916 in Eleanor’s Catch, beside Lisa Marie as Vampira in the Johnny Depp biopic Ed Wood (1994), and a modern view today.

Three views looking west towards Cahuenga showing the back of the alley loading dock, in The Purple Mask, Eleanor’s Catch, and The Detectress.

Above, the Cahuenga entrance to the alley appearing with Colleen Moore disguised as a man in Her Bridal Nightmare (1919), and a scene from the Al Christie comedy Hubby’s Night Out (1917) linked on YouTube.

Above, a 1919 view of the T-shaped alley. When Chaplin filmed scenes for The Kid here, the studio records note that on December 1, 1919, he filmed at “Hall’s grocery,” and the next day at “Hall’s alley.” Christopher C. Hall owned a grocery store at 6382 Hollywood Blvd., that backed onto this alley. Further, in 1913 he built the distinctive two story home on the alley at 1645 Cosmo (oval photo above), just steps from his store. So “Hall’s alley” was an appropriate name. The star above marks where the camera stood on Cahuenga to film the back of Mr. Hall’s home appearing in these three scenes above. Note: in Keaton’s view above the trees that belonged to the Jacob Stern estate are blocked from view by the Palmer Building on Cosmo nearing completion. At right, Keaton hides in a laundry basket beside Mr. Hall’s home during Neighbors. Notice the corner cast iron pole behind Buster which still remains. The home was demolished in 1956.

Above, more views of  Mr. Hall’s house at 1645 Cosmo from Billy West’s Don’t Be Foolish (1920) linked on the Internet Archive. Check out Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Part of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, a view west from Cosmo towards Cahuenga today, with Mr. Hall’s home long since gone. Zoom to see the corner cast iron pole still standing.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Hollywood Tour, Lois Weber | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chaplin falls for The Kid – every scene now identified

Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece The Kid (1921) tells the story of the Little Tramp discovering, trying to avoid, and eventually falling in love with an abandoned infant, played out scene by scene at the end of this post. As I write in a prior post, you can see bystanders watching the filming, such as a delighted girl peeking through a screen door as Charlie strolls by a matron with a baby carriage. But where was this filmed?

Likewise, Charlie gives the baby to an old man at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood (left), but then the old man exits an alley beside a 713 address, nowhere near Hollywood. Where was this filmed? As shown below, every scene in the entire sequence leading to Charlie falling for the kid is now identified. While many of these locations appear in my book Silent Traces, and in other posts including How Charlie Chaplin Filmed The Kid, these two key scenes eluded detection for years.

Click to enlarge – 1935 view looking west at the existing Hall of Justice, the Plaza de los Angeles, and Olvera Street. The red oval (left) marks the old man with the baby, the yellow oval marks where the thieves stood, and the orange oval (right) marks the matron with the stroller. Chaplin filmed many scenes in Chinatown, and both north and south of the Plaza. Chinatown would be demolished to build the Union Train Station. Much of the area to the left is now lost to the 101 freeway. USC Digital Library

To begin, let’s focus on when the thieves discover there’s an abandoned baby inside their stolen car. This was filmed at the back of the former Rescue Mission, beside a rail spur branching off from the main rail line along Alameda, next to a crumbling brick wall. Although the above photo was taken over a dozen years later, the yellow oval marks where they stood. Below, the yellow “X” marks where they stood.

Above, the yellow “X” and yellow oval show where the thieves stood when they realize there’s a baby inside the car. The aerial view directly above looks east, taken at the time Chaplin filmed, with building #2 on the corner of Alameda, running left-right, and Aliso, running up-down along the right. This entire view is now lost to the freeway. The red arrow above and to the right marks the old man’s path along an alley beside 713 N. Alameda. If you click to enlarge the movie frame, you’ll see “713” beside the doorway, and a sign on the alley wall that seems to say “Lew Wai Sun Chair Repairing 715 Alameda” – matching the 1921 city directory entry for chair repairer Lew Wai Sun at 715 N Alameda. The vintage Baist and Sanborn fire insurance maps confirm the alley setting at the time of filming, all just steps from where the car thieves discover the baby.

Click to enlarge. More than fifteen years after Chaplin filmed, the alley and one story building where the old man stepped towards Alameda (red arrow) appears here filled in with a two story building. The gray buildings were constructed after Chaplin filmed. The corner building (2) at Alameda and Aliso was demolished for a gas station. USC Digital Library

The above photo (click to enlarge) shows the same 713 doorway appearing beside the old man, only the original alley and one story wood structure to the right are replaced by a brick two story building. The crumbling building where the thieves stood (yellow oval above) has been rebuilt.

Next, I had long suspected the scene where the matron beats Charlie with her umbrella (above center) was filmed in Chinatown. After all, Chaplin filmed many other scenes there, and the shot of the thieves speeding into Chinatown from Alameda down Napier, above left, revealed some good candidate buildings on the right side of the street. But pesky facts got in the way. First, a reverse view photo of Napier (at right) showed these buildings had arched windows and doorways, unlike the rectangular windows and doors appearing in Chaplin’s scene. Further, the 645 address above the center doorway precluded any street within Chinatown. So I was stuck.

A big break came when author Carrie Pomeroy contacted me with some questions about The Kid, and to share some information she had garnered after spending a week in Bologna, Italy (!) poring over the Chaplin Studio production records for The Kid.

Charlie with Minnie (and her baby Virginia) Stearns at THE Hollywood alley

Charlie with the “Legit Bum” Dan Dillon at THE Hollywood alley

For starters, among Carrie’s many fascinating accounts, she reports: “For December 1, 1919, the records say they filmed at Hall’s Grocery with Minnie Stearns (the umbrella-wielding mother), her baby daughter Virginia Stearns, Walter Lynch as a cop, and Dan Dillon, described as “Legit Bum” on the daily production sheet.” I searched the city directories, and discovered there was a Hall’s Grocery once located at 6382 Hollywood Boulevard. The back of Hall’s Grocery stood along, wait for it, the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley! While I was already absolutely certain about the alley, it was fun to have this confirmed in the records, and I now knew the names of all of the actors, and when Chaplin filmed there. When filming there again the next day the studio records refer to it as “Hall’s Alley.”

Dan Dillon, who plays the “legit bum” (Charlie’s not legit?) was busy the next day December 2, 1919, filming at three places – “Hall’s Alley, Chinatown and Mexican Quarters.” We now know “Hall’s Alley” means the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood, and that “Chinatown” refers to the alley at 713 Alameda. But where were these Mexican Quarters?

To begin, this frame of the girl peeking at Charlie has a Spanish sidewalk sign reading “Reparacion de Calazado” or “Shoe Repair,” while a 645 address appears over a doorway. With Chinatown mostly east and south of the Plaza, I realized that “645” and “Mexican Quarters” might indicate the streets a few blocks north of the Plaza. So Carrie’s report put me on the right track.

Harold Lloyd runs towards Charlie’s spot

As it often happens, the best clues for solving a location are found in other films. Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, and other Hal Roach stars filmed frequently along New High Street north of the Plaza. Somehow, when glancing at Lloyd’s appearance in From Hand to Mouth (1919), I noticed the low brick buildings with rectangular doors and windows, and made the connection. After a quick flurry checking maps and other features, it was clear Charlie had filmed on New High Street beside the same buildings where Lloyd had filmed.

Above, views north (left) and south (right) of 641-643 New High Street (red box).

During another scene in From Hand to Mouth, the gap between the buildings, spanned by a wooden gate support, appears in both views above. The corner of Ord Street appears behind Harold.

As Harold travels further south down New High Street, the peaked roof (oval) behind Charlie comes into view.

Harold returned in 1926 to film scenes from For Heaven’s Sake. Here, Harold runs south down New High towards the corner of Ord Street.

Again from For Heaven’s Sake, looking north, Harold races a wagon south down New High from the corner of Ord Street.

Last, a final view south on New High from For Heaven’s Sake, with the same “645” building (red box) in each shot. The building marked “Y” is a bakery built in 1923, replacing the building “Z” that stood during Charlie’s December 2, 1919 filming.

Wrapping things up, Carrie also reported that Edna filmed at “Sunset Park” on December 4, 1919, Lafayette Park’s former name. While direct photo confirmation remains elusive, I’d long suspected Edna filmed her forlorn bench scenes here. The Los Angeles Times reports the city began plans to change the Sunset Park name in January 1919, with the new park name officially dedicated with great ceremony on September 6, 1920. Thus, late in 1919 the Chaplin studio records used what was then the correct name for the park.

Lafayette (Sunset) Park in City Lights

Lafayette Park is on Wilshire Boulevard next to the Town House Apartments at Wilshire on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue, where Charlie buys up all the Blind Flower Girl’s flowers in City Lights. The park is close to where Chaplin filmed several other movies, so it was familiar territory to him. So with Carrie’s help this final shot of the sequence was also identified.

Here below is every shot in the sequence where Charlie first encounters and falls in love with the kid, followed by a brief identification of each shot.

Edna abandons the baby in a limousine parked at 55 Fremont Place, later the home of Muhammad Ali, then enters Sunset Park. Thieves steal the car, and drive east down W. 8th Street, which shows the back of 55 Fremont Place. The thieves (identified by Carrie from the studio records as Albert Austin and A. Thalasso) discover the infant after parking the car behind the skid row Rescue Mission, where train tracks branch off from Alameda south of the Plaza de los Angeles downtown. Thalasso hides the baby at the north end of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood, then the thieves drive down Napier Street from Alameda into the heart of the former Chinatown. Back at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood (i) Charlies discovers the infant, (ii) tries to return him to Minnie Stearns, and (iii) hands the baby to Dan Dillon, the legit bum. NEW – returning south of the Plaza downtown, Dillon, the legit bum carries the baby at 713 Alameda. NEW – Dillon, the legit bum strolls near 645 New High Street north of downtown, and places the baby in Minnie’s baby carriage. Charlie dodges a cop (identified by Carrie as Walter Lynch) back in Hollywood at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. New – back on New High Street, Charlie strolls past Minnie, who bashes him with her umbrella, and calls in Walter the cop. The sequence ends with Charlie sitting on a curb on a backlot set at his Hollywood studio at 1416 N. La Brea, where he falls for the kid, and decides to raise him as his own son.

Carrie’s biggest surprise was discovering The Kid was not shot chronologically as she had expected. The scenes with Edna at the hospital and the thieves stealing the car and dumping the baby were the first scenes filmed in August 1919, followed by scenes with Chaplin and the baby in the attic and Jackie Coogan and Chaplin in the attic later that month. Scenes developing Edna’s story (the church wedding, the Pasadena Bridge sequence) weren’t shot until much later, in November, and to her surprise, the scenes here with Chaplin finding and trying to get rid of the baby were actually filmed in December 1919. The reception scene at which Edna and Carl Miller’s characters meet and the scene with Carl Miller in his artist’s garret weren’t filmed until February 1920. Carrie reports Edna and Carl’s outdoor balcony party scenes were filmed at the residence of Annie Stimson at 845 W. Adams Blvd., a home still standing.

Click to enlarge. A final view north, showing the matron’s baby carriage (orange oval) on New High Street to the left, the circular Plaza right of the center, where the thieves discover the baby (yellow oval), and the alley beside 713 N. Alameda (red arrow, oval) far right.

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. Check out the wonderful Blu-ray edition of The Kid – Criterion Collection.

Below, the site at 645 New High Street, now a parking lot.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Charlie Chaplin, For Heaven's Sake, Harold Lloyd, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Keaton’s Bungalow Outside MGM

When Buster Keaton joined MGM in 1928, he rented a bungalow near, but off site from, the MGM campus, infuriating studio head Louis B. Mayer, as Keaton was (one of) the only star(s) to rent space off of the lot. To rectify this, in 1930 or so MGM built Keaton a personal dressing room on the MGM lot, with living space and private kitchen, jokingly dubbed Keaton’s Kennel. My earlier post identifies exactly where the Kennel stood on the MGM lot, not far from the New York backlot set where Keaton filmed scenes from The Cameraman (1928) and Sidewalks of New York (1931).

But where was Keaton’s original bungalow off campus? He writes at page 214 of My Wonderful World of Slapstick that it was located where the Irving Thalberg Memorial Building now stands in Culver City, which places it on former Grant Avenue. Studying vintage maps and aerial photos, there were only a few candidate homes.

Somehow I came across these fun photos I had seen before, Buster posing before a wide angle camera lens to create a series of distorted, attention-grabbing images. I then found a photo of him posing with director Edward Sedgwick, and realized that the background street in each image looked familiar.

A 1924 view north of Grant Avenue next to the then Goldwyn Studio, before the funeral parlor on Grant and Madison (red box) was constructed. Keaton posed within the yellow box. HollywoodPhotographs.com

As confirmed by the Sanborn fire insurance maps and these aerial views, Keaton staged all four photos adjacent to MGM looking east down Grant Avenue towards the distinctive tiled roof of the Noice and Son funeral parlor at the corner of Madison and Grant.

1933 view south of Grant Avenue, showing the funeral home (red) and lawn where Keaton posed (yellow).

A closer study shows Keaton posed for all four photos in front of the center home, a duplex actually, with the address 10132 – 10132-1/2 Grant Avenue. Given there were so few other candidate homes available, it seems most likely Keaton would only pose in front of the place he was actually renting.

Given Keaton is wearing a similar short sleeve shirt, and the picture codes for the wide view shots and these radio poses all seem to begin with “MCMP,” I think it likely Buster took these above interior shots inside the same Grant Avenue bungalow, all as part of the same publicity shoot. Notice the plain curtains, fancy light fixture, and flowery wallpaper.

Inside the Keaton Kennel

This photo of Buster (wearing long sleeves) with his sons and his father Joe was taken inside the Kennel on the MGM lot – the picture codes of Buster and his sons posing outside of the Kennel (4673, 4675) match the code for this interior view (4670), as do their clothes. The curtains here are not plain, and there appears to be no wallpaper. As such, I believe the above radio photos above were not taken inside the Kennel.

Below, a matching view east along what was once Grant Avenue, taken in front of the Thalberg Building entrance.

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Oliver Hardy at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

The block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard was the most popular spot in town to film silent movies. As I’ve written in numerous tours and posts, everyone filmed there, from Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Even Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon, and Lloyd Hamilton filmed there. But it seemed that one holdout, until now, was Oliver Hardy. Instead, it turns out he was one of the first stars to film on this hallowed ground.

The Dutch Eye Filmmuseum recently posted Chaplin imitator Billy West’s 1918 barber shop comedy His Day Out (see YouTube link below) co-starring Oliver Hardy as his comic foil. Hardy had a long career in films before pairing with Stan Laurel in 1927, and appeared in many Billy West comedies, often channeling Chaplin’s nemesis Eric Campbell.

During the film Hardy briefly appears beside a barber pole, belonging to H. F. Graham’s barber shop at 1649 Cahuenga, off camera to the left. Oliver is in fact exiting from the 1651 Cahuenga vulcanizing store next door – notice the distinctive “FREE AIR” sign. Confirming the site, Colleen Moore filmed her 1920 comedy Her Bridal Nightmare beside the same vulcanizing store, where you can read “TUBES” and “TIRES” in the window, and see more clearly the store corner next to an alley entrance. That’s her sitting on the ground.

Looking west at Cahuenga running left to right, with Hollywood Blvd. at the right. Ollie and Colleen filmed their scenes across the street from where Buster Keaton runs onto Cahuenga from the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley to catch a passing car one-handed in Cops (1922) (see inset at top of post above). The arrow marks Buster’s path running towards Cahuenga. Mary Pickford filmed at the same alley spot as Colleen, and Douglas Fairbanks climbed the three story Fremont Hotel to the left in this view – read more HERE.

Reversing Keaton’s frame from Cops reveals the cut off corner of the vulcanizing store across the street reflected in the window, matching the modern view. Hardy stood just to the right of the modern palm tree. You can actually read “TIRES” and TUBES” reflected over the Keaton movie frame corner doorway.

Blink and you’ll miss it, but at 10:54 Hardy steps outside directly across the street from the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. Say what you will about Billy West, but he was very adept with his impersonation.

A merged panoramic view west down the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley towards where Oliver Hardy stood on Cahuenga (arrow), created from The Detectress (1919) left, and The Last Edition (1925). By 1925 the vulcanizing store had become a restaurant.

One interesting detail, reflected behind Ollie we can see the gas station that once stood on the NE corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga before the 6 story Security Trust and Savings Bank Building was completed there in 1922, Also appearing, the 5-globe style street lamps that once stood along Hollywood Blvd., as appearing in this detail photo of Harold Lloyd from Why Worry? (1923) standing at the NW corner of the same intersection.

His Day Out is remarkable for other reasons. To begin, the opening sequence was filmed beside Hollywood glamour portrait photographer Nelson Evans’ studio once located at 6039 Hollywood Blvd., next door to the St. Anne’s Infant Home. Signs for both appear during the film. The view matches a similar scene from Harold Lloyd’s 1918 comedy Look Pleasant Please, appearing here with Snub Pollard.

His Day Out also includes scenes filmed (upper right) at the south gated auto entrance to noted architect Edwin Bergstrom’s mansion at 590 N. Vermont, later home to theater magnate Alexander Pantages, before it was razed in 1951 to build a Jewish community center (now home to West Coast University). The upper left images combine scenes from Harry Houdini’s feature The Grim Game (1919) with the opening scenes from Keaton’s Cops, both at the mansion’s north pedestrian entrance gate (read more about The Grim Game HERE). The bottom wide shot of the mansion entrance was stitched together from pioneer film-maker Lois Weber’s 1916 drama Where Are My Children?

Above, matching views of the Bergstrom mansion appearing in His Day Out, left, and in Where Are My Children?

Returning to Hollywood, Colleen Moore (dressed as a man) and Harry Houdini both filmed beside the Cahuenga entrance to the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. The alley staircase behind them appears in this full reverse view from The Detectress. The staircase was removed by the time Keaton filmed Cops.

Before becoming a Japanese grocery – LAFire.com

Above left, Colleen Moore ran all around Cahuenga during Her Bridal Nightmare, here matching views south from the corner of Selma towards the Toribuchi Grocery, featuring “Japanese Rice and Tea” appearing in Buster Keaton’s The Goat (1921). Originally a small church, the grocery building previously served as Hollywood’s first fire station, Hose Co. No. 7, replaced by the larger joint fire/police station up the block that opened in 1913. The Sanborn maps and old phone books show that around 1920 there were a number of Japanese businesses, a Japanese laundry, baths, lodgings, and even a small Japanese school along Cahuenga north of Sunset. The story of this small Japanese enclave in Hollywood merits further attention.

His Day Out – courtesy Eye Filmmuseum; Her Bridal Nightmare courtesy Serge Bromberg-Lobster Films

Below, Oliver and Colleen’s vulcanizing store is now an adult book shop.

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Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields in Astoria

Click to enlarge – Buster Keaton filmed The Chemist and W.C. Fields filmed Running Wild beside the same apartment on the SE corner of 35th Ave. and 35th St. The Astoria studios where they both worked stands on the opposite NE corner.

Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields filmed alongside the same Astoria apartment building, nine years apart. Who knew? While working on a post connecting Fields’ It’s The Old Army Game with Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928) and Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) (all filmed at 5th Ave. and 57th St. in New York), I was reminded that Keaton had later filmed a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria. I hadn’t seen them for years, and nearly fell out of my chair during The Chemist (1936), as it was clear Keaton filmed beside the same apartment appearing with W.C. Fields in Running Wild (1927) (see my detailed post about Fields filming in Astoria HERE). The apartment still stands at the SW corner of 35th Ave. and 35th St. in Astoria – opposite from the studio on the NE corner. Buster was already familiar with Astoria, as his prior Educational short Blue Blazes was also filmed in Queens, mostly along 34th Ave. north of the studio (see my detailed post HERE).

Buster plays an erstwhile chemist, who early in the film tries his love-potion on Marlyn Stuart. She’s parked beside the 35-10 35th St. entrance to the __ Gardens apartment, around the corner from the same apartment depicted from the side, above.

The apartment is one of four identical buildings that fill up the north end of the block along 35th Ave. between 34th and 35th Streets. Keaton’s unit on the SW corner of 35th St., with its adjoining twin further south, both appear above as Keaton tempts Marlyn with his love potion.

Marlyn’s boyfriend objects to the experiment, dragging Buster from the car. Looking north up 35th St. we see the studio laboratory building (box) on the NW corner of 35th Ave. up the street from the small box marking the general spot of Buster’s car. The main shooting stage (1) stands just off camera to the right. Note the barbershop pole.

Later in the film, Buster develops a powdered compound that explodes on contact with water. When the bad guys accidentally coat themselves with the powder, Buster rounds them north up the street with a threatening seltzer bottle. The same apartment awning during Marlyn’s scene appears behind them. To the right, Fields drives west along 35th Ave. towards the same corner in Running Wild, with matching barber shop poles, and corner signs for the Studio Pharmacy.

Armed with his seltzer bottle, Buster leads the bad guys west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St., as first shown at the top of this post. Directly above, pausing for a moment between the two apartment blocks, the group realizes it is about to rain and dash further west along the street towards the jail house. The sepia movie frame, from Fields’ Running Wild, also looks west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St.

Buster and Bill face each other, nine years apart.

The Chemist marks a reunion of sorts – the first time in 11 years, since portraying “Friendless” in Go West (1925), that Buster’s character wears his trademark flat hat. (As a joke a store clerk briefly slips the hat on Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), but that was decidedly not his character’s hat.)

The Chemist and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.

Below, looking SW at the Astoria corner where Bill and Buster filmed. The corner of the studio stands directly opposite, behind.

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Buster Keaton’s Kennel on the MGM lot

Click to enlarge – 1932 – looking SE along Washington Blvd. towards the back of Keaton’s Kennel (box) on the MGM lot. The “New York” set appearing in The Cameraman (1928) appears to the far right.

Keaton at the MGM gate – Free and Easy (1930)

As one of MGM’s biggest stars, Buster Keaton once had a private bungalow dressing room on the studio lot, jokingly dubbed “Keaton’s Kennel.” A reader correctly wrote long ago that the Kennel stood along the north side of the lot, but the precise location remained a mystery. So when noted biographer James Curtis (who’s busy now working on Keaton) asked me to look into the Kennel, I eagerly jumped in. As we’ll see, part of the challenge is that Keaton himself conflated facts and descriptions of the place.

To begin, what did the Kennel look like? These publicity photos of Buster with his sons Bobby and Jimmy show the Kennel was quite narrow, with only a double window and a single door facing a covered porch, with a sidewalk path to the right, leading to the front steps, and a large building looming very close on the left side. At right, an inside view with grandpa Joe Keaton, taken the same day (notice the matching clothes).

View SE showing the 4 too wide bungalows (*) on Grant Ave. Steven Bingen.

Keaton writes at page 214 of My Wonderful World of Slapstick that his bungalow was located where the Irving Thalberg Memorial Building now stands, and that it was named the “Kennel” because Keaton’s 170 pound St. Bernard dog Elmer was a fixture sunning himself on the front porch. But as shown in vintage aerial views and the Sanborn fire insurance maps, the bungalows along what was then Grant Ave. (later replaced by the Thalberg Building) were more than twice as wide as the Kennel.

View NW showing the 4 too wide bungalows (*) on Grant Ave. HollywoodPhotographs.com

Keaton joined MGM in 1928, yet the Kennel does not appear on the 1929 Sanborn fire insurance map, nor in early 1930 aerial photographs of the studio. So perhaps it was built late in 1930. The Kennel photo at right, taken during the same publicity photo session as the other shots (notice the matching clothes), shows Buster and his sons hanging up to dry the distinctive pajama costume Keaton wore during Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath, released February 28, 1931, suggesting the Kennel was built prior to that date. Other accounts explain that Keaton began his MGM tenure renting a bungalow near, but off-site from, the MGM campus, infuriating studio head Louis B. Mayer, as Keaton was the only star to rent space off of the lot. Since Keaton worked at MGM for more than two years before the Kennel was built, the likely scenario is that Keaton indeed first began renting a place off campus on Grant Ave., as he remembers in his book, and then later moved on campus once the Kennel was built. For some reason Keaton conflates the Grant Ave. bungalow and the MGM Kennel in his account.

So where was the Kennel? At left, it stands in the center of this 1934 aerial view looking north. Notice how it is long and skinny, with a sidewalk path along the right to the front porch. The broad view above shows it stood along Washington Blvd. directly across from the terminus of Motor Ave, immediately to the right of Rehearsal Hall A (A). Further east of the Kennel stood the Short Subject Department (B), originally John Gilbert’s Spanish bungalow, the First Aid Department (C), the Little Red Schoolhouse (D), and more dressing rooms (E), all as reported by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan in their wonderful book M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. The red arrow above points east along the “New York” backlot appearing in The Cameraman and The Sidewalks of New York (1931).

Click to enlarge – view SE – the Kennel (box) in relation to a scene from The Cameraman.

As shown here, the Kennel stood just yards to the east of the “New York” backlot set where Keaton filmed The Cameraman in 1928 (before the Kennel was built), and later scenes for The Sidewalks of New York in 1931 (after the Kennel was built). Given the proximity, I like to imagine Keaton walking from the Kennel to film his 1931 scenes on the “New York” backlot.

Above, three views looking east along the “New York” backlot, The Cameraman, upper left, The Sidewalks of New York, lower left, and a matching 1933 aerial view.

Keaton was abruptly fired early in 1933, following completion of What No Beer? (Keaton staged the beer barrel avalanche from that film on Court Street – read about it HERE.) The Kennel remained long enough following Keaton’s departure in 1933 to appear in a 1934 aerial view, but a later aerial view shows it was demolished by 1947.

Below, the MGM gate today, where Keaton stood (see top of post) during Free and Easy.

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Buster Keaton’s Blue Blazes in Astoria

While working on posts covering W.C. Fields filming It’s The Old Army Game (1926) and Running Wild (1927) at the Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, I remembered Keaton had made a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria in 1936.

I hadn’t seen these films for many years, and with the image quality available at the time, never gave them much thought for study. I did note back then that the firehouse appearing in Blue Blazes (1936) was still standing at 37-22 29th St. (Museum of the Moving Image). But once I checked out Kino Lorber’s “Lost Keaton” Blu-ray release of Keaton’s 16 Educational shorts, I was excited to see so many Astoria locales and looked deeper.

As we’ll see, Keaton filmed three sequences from Blue Blazes on 34th Ave. that runs along the north end of the Astoria Studio. When Paramount closed the plant down it became available for independent productions during the 1930s such as Keaton’s shorts for Educational. At the start of WWII the US Army bought the studio, where it became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, and later the Army Pictorial Center, covering war efforts and producing training films. This 1955 aerial view looking north at the studio, with 34th Ave. at back, comes from Bob Perkins, host of the Army Pictorial Center website, that honors the people who worked there.

Keaton kicks off Blue Blazes with an amazing stunt (A) below, slipping off the back of a speeding fire engine, and sliding and rolling into a sitting position.

(A) The turn begins looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., with the doorways to 37-11 and 37-17 34th Ave. in the left background.

Completing the left turn on to 37th St., we see to the south the white square corners of 34-11 37th St., the entrance (yellow line) of the two story home 34-15 37th St., and then repeating patterns of four identical apartments further down the street. I’ll mention these buildings again during scene (B) below.

Keaton’s three scenes on 34th Ave. (A) looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., (B) looking NE at the corner of 34th Ave. and 36th St., and (C) looking NE on the corner of 34th Ave. and 37th St.

Buster filmed sequence (A) above, and two later scenes (B) and (C) further below, at 34th Ave. along 36th and 37th Streets, within a block of the studio facing 35th Ave. between 35th and 36th Streets. This aerial detail shows 34th Ave. at the north end of the studio.

(not local) Above, following Buster’s spill, the engine suddenly stops to reverse directions. This scene was not filmed adjacent to the studio, but beside a large apartment at 30-76 35th St. a few blocks due north of the studio which is also on 35th St.

Buster chases after his engine past the apartment at 30-76 35th St.

Buster grabs the passing engine, pulling him mid-air, reminiscent of his prior stunt in Day Dreams (1922), filmed along Santa Monica Blvd. a few blocks west of his studio.

(B) Returning close to the studio, the crew races south and makes a screeching left turn. As Buster hops off to hook up a hose to the corner hydrant, the engine continues without him.

(B) Buster’s fire truck traveled south down 36th St. past a trio of  tall-short-tall homes that are still standing. The home to the right (32-79) with the side windows (box) faced a vacant lot both in 1936 and in this 2007 Google Street View photo. This home is now flanked by a modern two-story home.

(B) Continuing south down 36th St., the tree (circle) standing in front of the now lost home address 32-83 appears later in the film, at right, as the newspaper reporters snap Buster’s photo rescuing the fire chief’s daughters. The lost home’s front steps (red box) and the side of the house with windows now blocked by a modern home (yellow box) appear in the previous pair of images above. The inset view shows the reporters driving north up 36th St. from the corner of 34th Ave.

(B) Buster runs with the hose to the corner of 36th St. as his engine races east down 34th Ave. without him. The buildings to the upper right behind him are the same appearing in this prior scene (inset).

(B) Looking more closely, the matching buildings along 37th St. further confirm the site. The building at left, with the square bay towers, is 34-11 37th St., while the short building next door is 34-15. Then four identical apartment blocks stand in a row, now painted with contrasting details. These are the same buildings all appearing down the street behind Buster after he falls from the back of the fire engine during scene (A) discussed above.

(B) Another aerial view looking north at Buster’s spot (yellow circle) on 34th Ave. and 36th St., lining up with the buildings on 37th St. The red circle matches scene (A) above and scene (C) below.

Bob Perkins, the Army Pictorial Center website, reports the above 1955 aerial view was sent to him by Ron Hutchinson (HUTCHINSON, RON, SP5, still photographer, assistant cameraman and projectionist, January 1961 to January 1963).

(B) then and now – looking east down 34th Ave. from the corner of 37th St.

(C) The final sequence close to home features Buster’s one-man fire brigade, an assembly of wagons, ladders and bicycles.

(C) Buster crosses 34th Ave. at 37th St. The corner home was later extended to the rear (red circle). Notice the one-way street sign both now and at the time of filming.

(C) A closer view up the street reveals matching window details (yellow line) on the apartment at 32-85 37th St.

Above – click to enlarge – a final overview of Buster’s numerous filming sites along 34th Ave. with the studio in the foreground. The house portrayed as W.C. Fields’ home in Running Wild (1927) (inset) still stands a bit north of 34th Ave. at 32-62 35th St. beyond the left edge of this photo. You can read my Running Wild post HERE.

Blue Blazes and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.

Below, a Google Street View of the apartment at 30-76 35th St., the more remote location not appearing in the above aerial view.

 

Posted in Astoria, Buster Keaton, New York | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments