Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields filmed alongside the same Astoria apartment building, nine years apart. Who knew? While working on a post connecting Fields’ It’s The Old Army Game with Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928) and Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) (all filmed at 5th Ave. and 57th St. in New York), I was reminded that Keaton had later filmed a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria. I hadn’t seen them for years, and nearly fell out of my chair during The Chemist (1936), as it was clear Keaton filmed beside the same apartment appearing with W.C. Fields in Running Wild (1927) (see my detailed post about Fields filming in Astoria HERE). The apartment still stands at the SW corner of 35th Ave. and 35th St. in Astoria – opposite from the studio on the NE corner. Buster was already familiar with Astoria, as his prior Educational short Blue Blazes was also filmed in Queens, mostly along 34th Ave. north of the studio (see my detailed post HERE).
Buster plays an erstwhile chemist, who early in the film tries his love-potion on Marlyn Stuart. She’s parked beside the 35-10 35th St. entrance to the __ Gardens apartment, around the corner from the same apartment depicted from the side, above.
The apartment is one of four identical buildings that fill up the north end of the block along 35th Ave. between 34th and 35th Streets. Keaton’s unit on the SW corner of 35th St., with its adjoining twin further south, both appear above as Keaton tempts Marlyn with his love potion.
Marlyn’s boyfriend objects to the experiment, dragging Buster from the car. Looking north up 35th St. we see the studio laboratory building (box) on the NW corner of 35th Ave. up the street from the small box marking the general spot of Buster’s car. The main shooting stage (1) stands just off camera to the right. Note the barbershop pole.
Later in the film, Buster develops a powdered compound that explodes on contact with water. When the bad guys accidentally coat themselves with the powder, Buster rounds them north up the street with a threatening seltzer bottle. The same apartment awning during Marlyn’s scene appears behind them. To the right, Fields drives west along 35th Ave. towards the same corner in Running Wild, with matching barber shop poles, and corner signs for the Studio Pharmacy.
Armed with his seltzer bottle, Buster leads the bad guys west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St., as first shown at the top of this post. Directly above, pausing for a moment between the two apartment blocks, the group realizes it is about to rain and dash further west along the street towards the jail house. The sepia movie frame, from Fields’ Running Wild, also looks west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St.
Buster and Bill face each other, nine years apart.
The Chemist marks a reunion of sorts – the first time in 11 years, since portraying “Friendless” in Go West (1925), that Buster’s character wears his trademark flat hat. (As a joke a store clerk briefly slips the hat on Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), but that was decidedly not his character’s hat.)
The Chemist and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.
Below, looking SW at the Astoria corner where Bill and Buster filmed. The corner of the studio stands directly opposite, behind.