The Artist Locations Part 5 – Chaplin’s City Lights

Click to enlarge. From The Artist, character George Valentin's Tears of Love on the Los Angeles Theater screen, at left. Color image Floyd B. Bariscale

In a tribute to the theater's namesake, the Great Seal of the City of Los Angeles hangs above the proscenium arch - circa 1931. California State Library Mott-Merge Collection

The Los Angeles Theater, located at 615 S. Broadway in the Los Angeles Theater District, has a remarkable connection to two of the most audacious hit movies in Hollywood history, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931), and Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist (2011).  Filmed 80 years apart, the two movies share a common conceit  – both, against all odds, are presented without spoken dialog.  Just as newspaper accounts today are abuzz with how bold it is for The Artist to be presented in the digital era without spoken dialog, contemporary newspapers stories marveled at Chaplin’s endeavors to continue with the silent format.  The January 29, 1931 Los Angeles Times description of City Lights as the first non-dialogue film of importance to be produced since the advent of the talkies” could apply to The Artist today.

The screen of the Los Angeles Theater appears in The Artist during the premiere of character George Valentin’s self-financed production Tears of Love (see above), a silent flop that wipes out George financially.  The screen of the Los Angeles Theater had witnessed such high stakes drama once before, as it was here, in real life, that Charlie Chaplin premiered his self-financed silent production, City Lights, on January 30, 1931, the inaugural screening for the newly opened theater.   Fortunately for Chaplin, City Lights was a tremendous financial and critical success, cementing his reputation as a risk-taking artist who refused to bow to popular trends.

Click to enlarge. California State Library Mott-Merge Collection

The lobby of the Los Angeles Theater appears later in The Artist (at left), as George, now down on his luck, and Uggie the dog attend a screening of character Peppy Miller’s latest hit movie Guardian Angel.  As George leaves the screening, a woman stops him as he descends the lobby stairs.  But she is not a fan who remembers George from the past – she just wants to pet the dog hello.

The lavish French Baroque-styled Los Angeles Theater was Broadway’s last great movie palace.  Although built in 1930, after the Crash, it was designed to surpass the opulent neighboring palaces built during the Roaring 20’s.   (The nearby Orpheum Theater, built in 1926, also appears in The Artist, see this post).  The lobby features gilt ornamentation, bronze bannisters, mirrors, and crystal chandeliers, all centered around a sun-burst motif.  The main auditorium, which could easily seat 3000 persons, has 2200 seats, allowing much extra room between rows for the comfort of patrons.  The theater’s many innovations included individual electric cigaret-lighters on every dressing table in the ladies’ French cosmetic room, with cosmeticians and maids in attendance; a limit of six seats to a row, doing away with the annoyance caused by late arrivals; two children’s playrooms and a sound-proof nursery; a model cafe; an exhibition room for objets d’art; and a club lounge with a dancing floor; all while a periscope system of prisms relayed the projection of the identical picture shown on the screen in the main auditorium to miniature screens in the lounge rooms and in the nursery.

The exterior shots of the theater screening Peppy Miller’s Guardian Angel were filmed on the Warner Bros. backlot, across the street from the set used for the theater marquee showing George Valentin’s film A Russian Affair, and later Peppy’s hit film Beauty Spot.  I show how the Beauty Spot marquee fits on the WB backlot in my original post in this series.  By enlarging the aerial view below, you can see the row of exterior sets where the Guardian Angel sequence was staged.  Apparently the large billboard of Peppy below was added in post-production, as it does appear in the behind-the-scenes shots below.

Click to enlarge. Aerial view (c) 2011 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird's Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp.

This view below shows the Warner Bros. backlot street where all of the movie theater exteriors from The Artist were filmed.  The colored boxes help to distinguish each use.

On the Warner Bros. backlot. The yellow box marks the Guardian Angel marquee (below left), the red box marks the A Russian Affair and Beauty Spot marquee (below right), and the blue box marks the marquee used for George's doomed silent film Tears of Love.

These two marquees stand on opposite sides of the same Warner Bros. backlot street

The Artist (C) La Petite Reine, The Weinstein Company.  

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.

1931 - the world premiere of City Lights at the Los Angeles Theater. California State Library Mott-Merge Collection

The Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, host venue to the world premiere of City Lights (left).

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9 Responses to The Artist Locations Part 5 – Chaplin’s City Lights

  1. Pingback: The Artist – Locations, Chaplin, and Pickford | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

  2. Pingback: The Artist Locations Part 5 – Chaplin’s City Lights | The Bioscope |

  3. Gregg D says:

    Another great post. Love your series on The Artist locales. One added bit about the Los Angeles Theater: The fire curtain cost $50,000 (in 1931) is a B.F. Shearer panel depicting an 18th century garden scene with three dimensional figures using horse hair. When the LA Conservancy used the theater as part of its first Last Remaining Seats series in 1987, the curtain hadn’t been used in many years and they were afraid if they lowered it before the movie they might not be able to raise it again and that would have been the end of the show. So after the movie ended, they lowered it and audience went wild as they had never seen the elaborate curtain before. And yes, thankfully, they were able to raise it again.


  4. Pingback: The Artist – Locations, Chaplin, and Pickford (repost) | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

  5. Carolyn says:

    I was wondering where the exterior of the hospital was filmed, in the scene where Peppy is going to visit George after the fire. And the interior? Does anyone know?


    • Hi Carolyn – the hospital exteriors were filmed at the American Film Institute, as mentioned towards the end of my first post.

      There is a map that shows several locations, including the “hospital” in the recent archives at LA dot CURBED dot COM


  6. Pingback: The Artist and its Amazing Ties to Chaplin, Pickford, Keaton and Lloyd | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

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