Roscoe Arbuckle, Al St. John, and Buster Keaton must have had special fun making their Comique film Good Night Nurse (1918), leaving their Long Beach studio behind to film certain scenes at the Arrowhead Hot Springs resort 75 miles to the east. Nestled in the foothills north of San Bernardino, beneath the giant arrowhead-shaped outcropping lending the region its name, the resort was a popular tourist attraction with long ties to Hollywood. The naturally occurring hot springs were promoted for their curative effects, and the hotel complex appearing in the film was built there in 1905.
Roscoe portrays a drunken husband, dragged by his frustrated wife to dry out at the No Hope Sanitarium. Buster plays Roscoe’s doctor, while Al portrays one of the orderlies, and, as confirmed by renowned silent comedy expert and author Steve Massa, this fully “cured” discharge patient (right) with missing teeth. Eager to escape, Roscoe dresses in drag with a wig and stolen nurse’s outfit, only to run into a suddenly love-struck Keaton, who smiles and flirts shamelessly with Roscoe.
Below, the “cured” patient hobbles beside the curved bay of the hotel dining room on the west end of the complex.
The hot springs were well known to the Native Americans, and Spanish missionaries, leading to the first modest resort that opened here in the 1860s. The 1906 Sanborn fire insurance map for the resort shows a large bath house for men, complete with a barber shop, adjoining a smaller separate bath house for women, both covered, standing north of the hotel, accessible by an open bridged walkway beside the main entrance. A tennis court adjoined the bath houses to the east, its fence appears behind Roscoe (left). Standing apart from the hotel, further back, was an oval-shaped “Hot Lake,” likely the concrete pool appearing in the film (right), with nearby quarters and dining room for the servants and staff. As a history buff, it’s frustrating to see how little use Arbuckle as director made of the locale. A tight shot of the back entrance porch, a scene played out at the east end of the hotel, nothing on
screen suggests that it was filmed at such a grand and remote locale. While we’re fortunate vintage photos of the hotel are available for study, they were all taken from quite a distance. Thus, a century later, the only detailed views available to us are the brief glimpses appearing in the movie.
Already well-established when the Comique crew came to film, the resort grew in popularity through the years, providing Hollywood types a place to relax and play and get away from it all. By 1938 a group including Joseph M. Schenck, Constance Bennett, Al Jolson, Darryl Zanuck, and Claudette Colbert were reported to have purchased the resort, only to have the hotel burn to the ground the same year. Famed African-American architect Paul R. Williams designed plans for a new six-story resort, opening in 1939, that continued to attract golden-era stars for many years. Esther Williams was a frequent guest, and Humphrey Bogart filmed High Sierra here in 1941. Elizabeth Taylor spent part of her honeymoon (the first one!) here in 1950 – at the time her father-in-law Conrad Hilton owned the place. But as jet travel made far-flung getaways more appealing, the resort lost favor, eventually shutting down in the 1950s. The hotel was purchased by the Campus Crusade for Christ in 1962. Long shuttered, recent accounts say the property is now available for sale.
I want to thank Lea Stans, whose informative series of posts about the Arbuckle-Keaton Comique films, including Good Night Nurse, tipped me off about the Arrowhead Resort in the first place. Her Silent-ology blog is dangerous to Google, but always entertaining.
For a full story about the resort, read Ruth Nolan’s article for KCET “The Arrow Rises Again: San Bernardino’s Famed and Forgottern Architectural Wonder.”
The City of San Bernardino also has a great post about the Arrowhead Resort, including photos of the two hotels built there prior to the 1905 hotel.
Good Night Nurse: Buster Keaton – The Shorts Collection, from Kino and Lobster Films.
If you drag this Google view photo down a bit, you’ll see the arrowhead, blocked by the message box.