Buster Keaton’s Blue Blazes in Astoria

While working on posts covering W.C. Fields filming It’s The Old Army Game (1926) and Running Wild (1927) at the Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, I remembered Keaton had made a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria in 1936.

I hadn’t seen these films for many years, and with the image quality available at the time, never gave them much thought for study. I did note back then that the firehouse appearing in Blue Blazes (1936) was still standing at 37-22 29th St. (Museum of the Moving Image). But once I checked out Kino Lorber’s “Lost Keaton” Blu-ray release of Keaton’s 16 Educational shorts, I was excited to see so many Astoria locales and looked deeper.

As we’ll see, Keaton filmed three sequences from Blue Blazes on 34th Ave. that runs along the north end of the Astoria Studio. When Paramount closed the plant down it became available for independent productions during the 1930s such as Keaton’s shorts for Educational. At the start of WWII the US Army bought the studio, where it became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, and later the Army Pictorial Center, covering war efforts and producing training films. This 1955 aerial view looking north at the studio, with 34th Ave. at back, comes from Bob Perkins, host of the Army Pictorial Center website, that honors the people who worked there.

Keaton kicks off Blue Blazes with an amazing stunt (A) below, slipping off the back of a speeding fire engine, and sliding and rolling into a sitting position.

(A) The turn begins looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., with the doorways to 37-11 and 37-17 34th Ave. in the left background.

Completing the left turn on to 37th St., we see to the south the white square corners of 34-11 37th St., the entrance (yellow line) of the two story home 34-15 37th St., and then repeating patterns of four identical apartments further down the street. I’ll mention these buildings again during scene (B) below.

Keaton’s three scenes on 34th Ave. (A) looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., (B) looking NE at the corner of 34th Ave. and 36th St., and (C) looking NE on the corner of 34th Ave. and 37th St.

Buster filmed sequence (A) above, and two later scenes (B) and (C) further below, at 34th Ave. along 36th and 37th Streets, within a block of the studio facing 35th Ave. between 35th and 36th Streets. This aerial detail shows 34th Ave. at the north end of the studio.

(not local) Above, following Buster’s spill, the engine suddenly stops to reverse directions. This scene was not filmed adjacent to the studio, but beside a large apartment at 30-76 35th St. a few blocks due north of the studio which is also on 35th St.

Buster chases after his engine past the apartment at 30-76 35th St.

Buster grabs the passing engine, pulling him mid-air, reminiscent of his prior stunt in Day Dreams (1922), filmed along Santa Monica Blvd. a few blocks west of his studio.

(B) Returning close to the studio, the crew races south and makes a screeching left turn. As Buster hops off to hook up a hose to the corner hydrant, the engine continues without him.

(B) Buster’s fire truck traveled south down 36th St. past a trio of  tall-short-tall homes that are still standing. The home to the right (32-79) with the side windows (box) faced a vacant lot both in 1936 and in this 2007 Google Street View photo. This home is now flanked by a modern two-story home.

(B) Continuing south down 36th St., the tree (circle) standing in front of the now lost home address 32-83 appears later in the film, at right, as the newspaper reporters snap Buster’s photo rescuing the fire chief’s daughters. The lost home’s front steps (red box) and the side of the house with windows now blocked by a modern home (yellow box) appear in the previous pair of images above. The inset view shows the reporters driving north up 36th St. from the corner of 34th Ave.

(B) Buster runs with the hose to the corner of 36th St. as his engine races east down 34th Ave. without him. The buildings to the upper right behind him are the same appearing in this prior scene (inset).

(B) Looking more closely, the matching buildings along 37th St. further confirm the site. The building at left, with the square bay towers, is 34-11 37th St., while the short building next door is 34-15. Then four identical apartment blocks stand in a row, now painted with contrasting details. These are the same buildings all appearing down the street behind Buster after he falls from the back of the fire engine during scene (A) discussed above.

(B) Another aerial view looking north at Buster’s spot (yellow circle) on 34th Ave. and 36th St., lining up with the buildings on 37th St. The red circle matches scene (A) above and scene (C) below.

Bob Perkins, the Army Pictorial Center website, reports the above 1955 aerial view was sent to him by Ron Hutchinson (HUTCHINSON, RON, SP5, still photographer, assistant cameraman and projectionist, January 1961 to January 1963).

(B) then and now – looking east down 34th Ave. from the corner of 37th St.

(C) The final sequence close to home features Buster’s one-man fire brigade, an assembly of wagons, ladders and bicycles.

(C) Buster crosses 34th Ave. at 37th St. The corner home was later extended to the rear (red circle). Notice the one-way street sign both now and at the time of filming.

(C) A closer view up the street reveals matching window details (yellow line) on the apartment at 32-85 37th St.

Above – click to enlarge – a final overview of Buster’s numerous filming sites along 34th Ave. with the studio in the foreground. The house portrayed as W.C. Fields’ home in Running Wild (1927) (inset) still stands a bit north of 34th Ave. at 32-62 35th St. beyond the left edge of this photo. You can read my Running Wild post HERE.

Blue Blazes and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.

Below, a Google Street View of the apartment at 30-76 35th St., the more remote location not appearing in the above aerial view.

 

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4 Responses to Buster Keaton’s Blue Blazes in Astoria

  1. rangerdon says:

    As always, many thanks. Thanks also for the link to the Army Pictorial Center.

    Cheers,

    Don Scott

    On Sun, Sep 2, 2018 at 5:42 PM Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more) wrote:

    > John Bengtson posted: ” While working on posts covering W.C. Fields > filming It’s The Old Army Game (1926) and Running Wild (1927) at the > Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, I remembered > Keaton had made a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria in ” >

    • Thanks Don – it’s fascinating to me that if a building stands long enough it accumulates decades of history that is often unknown. The movies are our special tool to grab back some of this lost history. John

  2. Rex Kingsbury says:

    John…Thanks so much for all you do. I always enjoy your new posts and looking back on those posts from previous years. In the best sense of the word, your website is found hidden treasure and it never gets “old!”
    Rex Kingsbury

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