Buster Keaton Steamboat Bill, Jr. locations

Buster Keaton filmed his final independent production Steamboat Bill, Jr. in Sacramento, California.  By the time Keaton and company came to town, Sacramento had become a popular location for Hollywood films.  Historian Paul Frobose discovered these Sacramento locations, and has written a fascinating account for the Sacramento County Historical Society (Golden Notes, Summer 1992) recounting Sacramento’s heady days as a remote location during silent-era Hollywood.  Aside from such scenic wonders as its rivers, farmlands, and proximity to the Sierras, at the time Sacramento was also an “open” town, with a booming underground economy of bootleg liquor, gambling, and prostitution.  San Francisco was also a leisurely ferry ride away for weekend adventures.  No doubt these pastimes attracted Hollywood’s visiting film company members.

The final scenes from the movie were filmed at Keaton’s small studio, some shown here, and represent the end of Keaton’s remarkable eight-year run of independent production before joining MGM.

This modified slide show is not animated.

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17 Responses to Buster Keaton Steamboat Bill, Jr. locations

  1. Pingback: Spread Your Wings & Fly | Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art

  2. Barry West says:

    I think my grandfather was an extra in this movie.
    I’m thinking he would have been one of the young black men working the docks. Hopefully I can find a dvd of this movie.


    • Hi Barry – the movie is available on Blu-ray now, which has great detail. I wouldn’t know what to look for, but you could rent the DVD from Netflix, and if you think you can spot him, tell me the scene, and I can capture a higher resolution image to send to you. John


  3. Pingback: Buster Keaton in Northern California | an ode to dust

  4. I live in Sacramento and am making a short little video about these locations. I was wondering if it would be ok to use image #18 and also to link people to your site and amazon page?


  5. Ron says:

    Slide #11–Are you sure those stacks aren’t part of the PGE building. The Water Plant did not have any structures like that.


    • Hi Ron – slide #4 shows the same stacks as #11, they were close to the water. You may be right – the vintage maps I worked from show the water facility there, but I don’t have any other vintage info or photos about that facility. In either case the water intake tower in the river is still there. Thanks for the tip – John


      • Ron says:

        Somewhere in the Sacramento History Center website is an aerial photo of that area.
        The photo is before the Tower Bridge was built. My memory of the photo shows
        those towers right at the PGE building. Having worked for the City Water Department for
        36 years, I can verify that except for the old intake structure all the plant was east of
        Bercut Drive


  6. garagehero1 says:

    Just finished watching the film on Classic Hollywood Movies. I am 61 and I last saw it in a film class in my 20s and I first saw it on Channel 28, KCET in Los Angeles when I was 12. Still one of the best movies ever made. Those stunts, even by todays standards, are amazing. I see his influence on Jackie Chan, Wes Anderson and many others these days. Thank you for the slide show.


    • Thanks GH – yes, one of the best films ever made. Our biographies sound similar, I must have watched it the first time on KCET the same year, and being the same age, as you.


  7. Junko says:

    Hi John. I’d love to see the slide show, but it doesn’t seem to be working. How can I see the content of it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Junko – on my screen it appears as a window with, along the bottom, a right and left arrow, taking you one by one through the “1 of 20” slides. I don’t know if this helps, but it works on my computer.


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