The climax to Harry Houdini’s debut feature film The Grim Game (1919) involved the real-life mid-air collision of two airplanes captured on film (discussed in my prior post HERE). The extraordinary footage was worked into the story by filming the supposed crash landing of each plane, created by dropping prop planes, suspended nose down out of camera range, onto the ground. I had no idea where this sequence was filmed, until I happened to glance at a large aerial photo of the Famous Players – Lasky Studio, that once stood on Selma and Vine. I noticed that two homes on the studio backlot photograph looked familiar, then suddenly remembered that Lasky had produced Houdini’s film. A quick check with the movie confirmed the unsurprising fact that the crash was staged at the backlot of the same studio that produced the film.
This revelation solved another mystery. In my first post about The Grim Game I reported that Houdini filmed a brief scene at a Hollywood alley that Buster Keaton would use a few years later in Cops (see below). Why was Houdini’s simple scene filmed at this spot? The answer lies with the Famous Players – Lasky Studio.
As shown below, the plane crash site at the studio backlot was barely two blocks east of the alley on Cahuenga! In 1919 this alley was both close by, but also rather unique, as there were few other commercial buildings in town at the time. Following Houdini’s lead, Buster Keaton (Neighbors, Cops), Charlie Chaplin (The Kid), and Harold Lloyd (Never Weaken, Safety Last!), would all later film at this convenient alley.
This earlier 1919 view (below) looks west from the backlot plane crash site towards the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Boulevard. Most of Cahuenga (running left-right at the top of the photo) is still undeveloped.
This closer view of the studio (below) shows the backlot homes (box), and “The Barn” standing on the corner of Selma and Vine.
Built in 1901, the Lasky – De Mille Barn that stood at Vine and Selma became home to the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co. in 1913, where the company’s first feature film The Squaw Man was co-directed by Cecile B. De Mille in 1914. Lasky merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Co., creating the Famous Players – Lasky Studio, that would later become Paramount Pictures Corporation. When Paramount relocated to its present site on Melrose Avenue, “The Barn” was relocated there too, where it served for many years as a gymnasium and location set. The Barn was donated to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and now sits at 2100 N. Highland Avenue in the parking lot across from the Hollywood Bowl. In 2014 the Lasky-DeMille Barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.