One of my all time favorite Keaton location discoveries was finding these statues appearing in Buster Keaton’s short film Hard Luck (1921). During the scene, Buster eludes the police by posing among the statues of a park monument. The scene was filmed in Westlake (now MacArthur) Park, near the corner of Wilshire and Park View Street, and remains one of the most prominent locations in Keaton’s oeuvre.
Sculpted in 1920 by Paul Troubetskoy, the central figure is Civil War veteran General Harrison Gray Otis, the original owner-editor-publisher of the Los Angeles Times. This explains the figure to the left of a newsboy hawking a paper. The soldier figure appearing to the right has since disappeared, apparently hit by a car. The figures stand in what was originally named Westlake Park (created in 1885), and renamed after General MacArthur in 1942.
A few years before teaming with partner Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel visited this site in 1923 to film the exact same gag for his short film White Wings, available as part of Kino’s The Stan Laurel Collection Volume 2. We’ll never know if Stan was copying Buster’s gag, paying tribute to it, or simply unaware of the similarities. (In Stan’s partial defense, Librarian Dace Taube of the USC Regional History Center, Department of Special Collections, who helped me to discover the setting, explained L.A.’s early parks had few other statues from which to choose).
[[Update: Anthony Balducci explains that comedian (and noted Chaplin impersonator) Billy West performed the identical joke, at the identical setting, in the 1922 comedy short Don’t Be Foolish, beating Stan, as it were, to the punch in copying Buster. To my eye Keaton framed the image best, as his silhouette stands clearly against the sky, while Stan and Billy are lost a bit in the jumble of figures and shapes.]]
At the time Buster and Stan filmed here, Wilshire Boulevard terminated at the west side of Westlake Park, and did not extend to downtown until a causeway across the lake was completed in late 1934.
This aerial view above of the park, looking west, was likely taken in 1924 after the completion of the Elks Club Building standing prominently in the center. Photo from Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Zooming in, we can see the cluster of statues at the west end of the park, near the sidewalk, facing the terminus of Wilshire Boulevard.
This view looks east at the newly opened causeway constructed across the park lake, extending Wilshire Boulevard into Orange Street on the other side. For continuity, the Orange street name was subsumed into the Wilshire name.
A view of the statues today, with the soldier figure missing. If you’re ever in the neighborhood you can now stand in the footprints of three great men, Otis, Keaton, and Laurel.
I am absolutely as pleased as punch to have found this blog! I was just searching for “silent movies” on wordpress and your site came up and, lo and behold, I’ve had your Chaplin and Keaton books for a few years now and am excited to have learned that you released a Lloyd book as well.
Many thanks for doing what you do and I can’t wait to go back and read all your other posts on the fantastic films of these three fellows (and of Langdon too, I see!).
May I include a link to your site on my blog page as well?
Hi Daniel – thank you so much. I would be honored to be linked.
If you’re in the LA area, I will be hosting a presentation of Never Weaken and Girl Shy May 22 at the Egyptian Theater, participating in the June 29 Safety Last screening you’re aware of, and will be part of Brownlow’s screening of The General for AMPAS on July 20.
Here are my positive thoughts about that Google Chaplin Doodle:
I thought the Chaplin homage was quite charming. It was filmed ten miles or so from Google headquarters in Niles California, literally across the street from where the former Essanay Studio used to be, and includes the same hillside backgrounds appearing in some scenes from Chaplin’s original The Tramp (1915), filmed in Niles. The Tramp is the film that concludes with Charlie walking off down the lonely road for the first time. The train station appearing in the Doodle film appears briefly behind Edna Purviance during a scene in The Champion (1915).
The Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum helped with its production. The museum screens silent films every Saturday in the same small theater that originally showed Chaplin films in 1915. The Essanay Studio was only half a block further west. Can you imagine watching a Chaplin film in a theater Chaplin visited, and that is located just 200 feet away from where the film was made? Frederick Hodges, who plays at the museum frequently, played the score. The newspaper Chaplin reads at the beginning of the film includes a full mock-up of stories, including a large photo of David Kiehn. His photo did not appear because of the tight shot.
Some have complained that it was not enough “like” Chaplin – to which I say, Billy West, and several other imitators of their day, had a difficult time being “like” Chaplin as well. Being inimitable is part of Chaplin’s appeal. The Chaplin imitator used here was simply one of the Google Doodle crew, not some actor hired for the role.
The film is imperfect, but to my thinking the fact that a mega corporation like Google actually encouraged a dozen or so creative people to work hard producing a sincere tribute is quite remarkable. And they actually cared enough to film it where Chaplin once filmed. How many other corporate-sponsored silent film tributes will be produced this year? Moreover, this project will have just a brief day in the sun. I suspect they posted it a day early in order to give it a bit longer play time.
So I say bravo, warts and all.
And …. Happy Birthday Charlie!
Wow, John! Thanks so much for not only a reply but a nice thoughtful and thorough reply. I was thinking of writing a little film ‘review’ so to speak of Google’s Chaplin tribute but alas, you said it first and said it better! 🙂
In my blog I gave kudos to Google for observing Houdini’s birthday but the Chaplin tribute truly topped it be a longshot. I’d love to see a Lloyd tribute in which maybe a Lloyd-like character can dangle from a clock which happens to be one of the O’s in Google or maybe have a big O’ in Google fall down around Buster Keaton a la Steamboat Bill Jr.
As I mentioned, I have your Chaplin & Keaton books and I just moved to Simi Valley and am a mere 2 or 3 miles from the Three Ages locations. I’m looking forward to making a day out of finding those locations and specifically finding that rocky pool that Buster took a bath in. It’s really quite magical seeing these locations. It seems like a whole world away yet seeing them somehow brings it into our every day. In my daily commute I would always drive passed the Pasadena bridge, featured in The Kid, and decided to one day alter my route and drive over it. I was giddy with excitement and smiled the whole time I was crossing it.
I’m going to try most earnestly to get out to both Lloyd showings, at the Egyptian and at the Orpheum. The Orpheum is a certainty as I already got my tickets but I’m going to aim for the Egyptian showing as well. I’ll introduce myself if I get the chance.
I have a site where I post showing of silent films in LA ( http://silentla.wordpress.com/silent-los-angeles-calendar/ ) and posted both events as well as mentioning your book signing.
Again, thanks for such a thoughtful reply. I am thoroughly enjoying your books as well as this site. Many thanks for doing what you do.
Thanks Daniel. The Garden of the Gods appeared in hundreds of films, so there are many connections to be found. I discuss it a little on the bonus program I did for the new Kino Three Ages Blu-ray/Ultimate DVD release.
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Billy West performed the same routine at the same site in DON’T BE FOOLISH (1922).
Thanks Anthony – I did not know that. Do you have a frame grab you could share?
John, I am sorry that the quality is poor. West is standing at the rear of the statue pretending to be a second newsboy.
Hey Anthony – thank you so much for the image. I updated the post with your new discovery.
Reblogged this on That Dark Alley.
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