Buster Keaton’s debut film One Week (1920) was hailed as the comedy sensation of the year. It ended with a powerhouse one-two gag that still wows audiences today. Buster attempts to move his newly built home which becomes stuck at a train crossing. A train from the east barrels down on the house, but passes safely by on a parallel track, disaster averted. Two beats later, as Buster and the audience breath a sigh of relief, a train from the west plows right through the home, completely demolishing it. The crash was staged in Inglewood, as I report in great detail in my book Silent Echoes, and in this prior post showing the Inglewood station. Keaton repeated the joke eleven years later in his 1931 MGM talkie feature Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (available for viewing at the 36:00 mark here at the Internet Archive), and on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection. In this version (see above) Buster’s small roadster breaks down on the tracks, and is spared by a southbound train before a northbound train does it in. As shown below, the two crash scenes were filmed on the same rail line, a few miles apart.
Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a silly bedroom farce, and as far-removed from Keaton’s classic-style silent comedies as one can imagine. Still, if you can accept it on its own terms, the movie is really quite enjoyable. Buster plays a “never been kissed” bumpkin who is mistaken by the society crowd as a great lover. The final third of the film takes place at a hotel where Buster woos a series of women in rapid succession, and is caught with each conquest by an increasingly impressed bell hop, played by Cliff Edwards (the future voice of Jiminy Cricket). Despite the screwball plot, the train crash sequence from Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is cited by film scholars as an example of how Keaton could successfully introduce visual gags into his talking pictures when given the chance. The movie is also noteworthy because Buster’s actual home (The Italian Villa, at 1018 Pamela Drive in Beverly Hills), appears as the high society playground where Buster meets the other characters. Aside from re-working one of Keaton’s best gags, what is also interesting about the Parlor, Bedroom and Bath crash scene is that it was filmed at the southeast corner of the former Mines Aviation Field, the future home to LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport. Buster’s camera captured rare views of this wide-open landscape at the dawn of the aviation age.
As shown on the above map and photo (both circa 1930), Buster’s car stalled where Collingwood Street (later 114th Street, and now W. Imperial Highway), running east-west, crosses the AT&SF rail line that runs north-south parallel to Redondo Boulevard (now Aviation Boulevard). Mines Field, a former hayfield, was officially dedicated as Los Angeles Municipal Airport on June 7, 1930. Mary Pickford reportedly made the formal dedication.
Above, Buster and actress Joan Peers set off on foot west down what is now the W. Imperial Highway after a train demolishes their car. Behind them stands the former Moreland Aircraft factory. Below, another aerial view of the train crash setting, this time taken during an airshow at Mines Field.
Below, a panorama looking west down the W. Imperial Highway from Aviation Boulevard – the red lines correspond to those on the photo and map above. To avoid possible distraction, the large sign in the background, probably announcing the opening or further development of the new airport, is covered with a cloth. As I explain in my book, while filming Neighbors (1920) Buster put a paper bag on a real street sign for the same reason. The right edge of this panorama was made from narrow slices of clear view in front of the advancing train as the camera panned from left to the right.
Below, the extant east hangar airport building made a prior appearance on film during Feet First, Harold Lloyd’s 1930 talkie re-make of Safety Last!, during a scene where Harold stows away in an airmail delivery sack.
Below, comparable aerial views of 1939 and today, with red field of view lines in the color images corresponding to the map and images above.
For amazing, high detail panoramic photos of the June 7, 1930 opening of the Los Angeles Municipal Airport, check out these images from the Huntington Digital Library: view one, view two, and view three. Be sure to zoom in to see all of the details. Jerry Miles has put together a YouTube video of historic images of Mines Field that you can view here. Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (C) 1931 Turner Entertainment Co. One Week licensed by Douris UK, Ltd. 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. You can read more about the early history of LAX here, and about the east hangar, the first structure built at Mines Field, known as Hangar One, here.
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Great find with that old map of Inglewood. And nice research putting all this together. Very cool.
Hey, thanks Scott. It’s hard to imagine that entire area was once a huge expanse of flat, undeveloped land.
Very cool, John. I always enjoy reading your findings.
I appreciate the detailed information. I grew up 3 blocks from the “crash site” 118th Place one block east of Aviation on Judah Street – this is very nice especially because my father’s favorite movie actor of all time had to be Buster Keaton. thank you so much…
Thank you Neil – I appreciate it.
In the film Love Nest – several of the scenes may have been shot near Bolsa Chica what is now Bolsa “Bay”… just north of Huntington Beach, it was flat calm & shallow … The long row of parked cars that Laurel & Hardy push up a hill & off a cliff is what is now near Baldwin Hills (west side of 405) – My father would point to the west -over to a bluff when we would drive north on the 405 – Fox Hills – Ladera Heights area , long time ago but in there somewhere
This is great history and information!! I do believe the reference above to Moreland Aircraft being on North Douglas should read more like the east side of Aviation and “112th” (a big vacant lot now south of the Proud Bird).
I correct myself, Moreland was on the south side of Imperia, and parralleled Douglas.
Links to nice photo image I took of Mural in El Segundo – of the corner of Mines Field LAX-
Mural is a collage of images an Homage’ to early aviation in the local area-
embedded link – https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-kHcv3t7fOiU/TM3Uqop61UI/AAAAAAAAB98/ZPoml5HcZbk/s640/S1051778.JPG
Link to photo –
You may need to do some further research on who painted the mural etc-
located behind the El Segundo Chevron Station
corner of Main Street & Grand Avenue – El Segundo, Ca
OK to use on your site – by me- I took photo!
please give me some credit for photo …(Neil Larson)
Great photo Neil – I was not aware of this mural. Thanks for sharing.
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Hello and thanks for a great piece of work showing both Hollywood and LAX history. As an airline pilot and a history buff this stuff is right up my alley! Just a comment regarding the comparison shot of the aerial photo from the USC Digital library and the more recent shot. The USC photo appears to be backwards (reversed) so the circled area on the photo consequently references the wrong intersection. Check it out, I’m willing to be corrected but the thing that caught my eye was that the east/west runway appears to be angled in the wrong direction.
Craig – thank you so much. You are absolutely right, and I just corrected it by reversing the photo. Every once in a while the archive photos are unintentionally reversed, and I didn’t catch this time. Thanks again, I appreciate it. John
Circa 1974 the L.A. Herald-Examiner’s Sunday Supplement had an article about a photographer who would pose models in old-timey costumes in front of old buildings, with antique autos or other props. One of the examples, shown in color, had the Santa Fe Inglewood depot (painted red, as was the case with several of their wooden stations by the 1960s.)
I seem to recall finding out, much later, that the depot was gone by the time the article was published, but the fellow had been at it for several years.
Thanks Scott – I see the Inglewood depot appear again and again in the classic era films. It was clearly one of the top stations to film.
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