College Days for Harold and Buster

Neither Harold Lloyd nor Buster Keaton attended college (were there any silent stars who did?), yet they each made campus comedy feature films.  Lloyd’s The Freshman (1925) was a smash hit, while Keaton made his modest College (1927) as a low-cost follow-up to his epic but financially disappointing masterpiece The General (1926).

Exposition Park across from the USC campus, circa 1925.  A formal sunken rose garden occupies most of the image.  Los Angeles Public Library – Security Pacific National Bank Collection

At the time the USC campus comprised only a handful of buildings, and the UCLA campus was not yet even built.  While each comedian staged sports practice scenes (football for Harold, baseball for Buster) at Bovard Field, the small athletic field behind the no longer extant USC Old College Building, both comedians had to improvise to find collegiate settings for their films.  Instead, as shown here, each used the stately grounds of Exposition Park across the street from USC to complete their filming.

The State Building.  Lloyd filmed in the left side of the courtyard (see below).  Harold and Buster both filmed near the bottom right corner.

Harold attracts a hungry crowd inside the State Building courtyard

Harold and Buster, walking on the same sidewalk, a few steps apart, forming nearly a panoramic view of the SE corner of the State Building.  To the right, Zumberge Hall at USC appears in the far distance above the man’s white cap.

In The Freshman an upperclassman abuses Harold’s goodwill by inviting an increasingly larger crowd of students to join them for free sundaes, Harold’s treat.  The crowd accumulates alongside the former State Exposition Building (Bowen Hall) at Exposition Park, now the site of the modernistic Museum of Science and Industry, situated due north of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.  The east wing of the State Building also appears as more people join the crowd.  Buster filmed at the SE corner of the State Building for his scene from College.  In the background you can see the low wall surrounding the sunken rose garden, and Zumberge Hall in the far distance.

This is the same spot as the prior image of Buster, only looking east, not north. The lawn bowling club house at the park appears behind Buster

Filmed at the same spot, when Buster tells his girl that he made the crew rowing team you can see the lawn bowling club house that once stood as part of Exposition Park in the background.

The stately Los Angeles County Natural History Museum also appears in both films.  In College, on his way to rescue the girl, Buster races east past the south side of the museum, as shown above, while in The Freshman, a gang of hungry students walks north towards the front steps of the museum.  Keaton returned to the front steps of the museum to film scenes for Spite Marriage (1929), his second MGM feature comedy.

The museum front steps, facing east towards the sunken garden, appearing in Keaton’s Spite Marriage.  USC Digital Collections – Spite Marriage (c) 1929 Turner Entertainment Co.

Looking east, USC and environs, circa 1925.  The oval marks the no longer extant State Building, the arrows mark Harold and Buster’s paths towards the front, and along the side, of the museum facing the sunken garden, and the box to the lower left marks the Bovard Field locker room discussed below.

Despite filming on the USC campus, neither The Freshman nor College makes use of any USC buildings except for the locker room at Bovard Field appearing in both films (see below).

Football practice for Harold, baseball for Buster, at Bovard Field on the USC campus.  The locker room doorway to the right of Buster’s head appears in the left image from The Freshman.  Harold and Buster are equally inept at their respective sports.

The same Bovard Field locker room above appears during the second half of the 1927 Johnny Arthur film The Draw-Back, presented by CINEMATEKfilms (see YouTube below).  The Draw-Back has many unique views of Bovard Field, where Buster Keaton staged a baseball game in College, and a football game in Three Ages (1923), and where Lloyd filmed the football practice scenes in The Freshman.  Moreover, a very young John Wayne appears to be seen at 14:50 and 24:38.  At 24:38 you can also see the locker room filmed by Lloyd and Keaton, directly above, as well as the twin domes to the Shrine Auditorium.  The opening scenes from The Draw-Back was staged in front of the Natural History Museum, mentioned further above, where Keaton filmed Spite Marriage.

Lloyd’s Safety Last! to the left, Keaton’s Seven Chances to the right, the Bovard Administration Building (box) appears in each film.

Although the USC campus buildings do not appear in Harold and Buster’s respective college movies, except during the sports practice scenes, the USC Bovard Administration Building does appear in other Lloyd and Keaton productions.  As shown above, it appears while Harold tries to catch a trolley to work in Safety Last!, and as Buster flees a mob of jilted brides in Seven Chances.

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. College frame images reproduced courtesy of The Douris Corporation, David Shepard, Film Preservation Associates, and Kino International Corporation

This entry was posted in Buster Keaton, College, Exposition Park, Harold Lloyd, The Freshman, USC and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to College Days for Harold and Buster

  1. Mary Mallory says:

    I just saw College this afternoon, and you do see one USC Building in the film. The football game and scenes are filmed in the Coliseum.


  2. Hi Mary – Yes, Buster films a lengthy sequence failing every track event imaginable in the Coliseum. Although the sport complex is home field for the USC Trojans, it is not part of the USC campus, as it is owned instead jointly by the State of California, the County of Los Angeles, and the City of Los Angeles.

    As I mention in the post, what’s interesting is that despite Harold and Buster both filming campus movies at USC, neither actually shows much of the campus, each showcasing Exposition Park instead.

    I discuss all of the details of Buster filming College in my book.



  3. kittypackard says:

    Hi John! I know this isn’t the most appropriate place to post this, but I just wanted to tell you that I received a copy of Silent Visions in this morning’s mail and greatly look forward to spending the evening devouring it fully! 🙂


  4. John, you ask if any silent stars went to college. I don’t know about others, but Theda Bara went to the University of Cincinnati for two years before she moved to New York in 1908. And what a lovely website you have – it’s great to compare “then” with “now.”


  5. Thanks Christopher
    Christopher is the author of an intended trilogy of murder mysteries starring Theda Bara as the amateur detective protagonist. The first volume is called Directors Cut – it looks fascinating


  6. Pingback: Bones of the Past – the Bones TV Pilot and Buster Keaton | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

  7. Pingback: Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman leads the San Francisco Silent Film Festival | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

  8. This blog proved to be a valuable resource while watching Buster Keaton’s film, “College.” Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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