How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part One

In Daddy-Long-Legs (1919) Mary Pickford portrays an endearing young orphan later sent to college by an anonymous benefactor. Complications ensue when Mary meets her sponsor, unaware of his status, and they fall for each other. In what was Pickford’s most financially successful production up to that time, this charming film reveals surprisingly varied glimpses of early Los Angeles history.

To begin, Mary’s orphanage (upper left) was the same former Occidental College Hall of Letters building Charlie Chaplin would later use to portray a maternity hospital at the beginning of The Kid (1921) (lower left). The former college building was abandoned when Occidental moved to its new, larger Eagle Rock campus in 1914. By 1919 the hall had been deserted for years, and was perfectly cast to portray Mary’s orphanage. Mary filmed here first, well before Chaplin. USC Digital Library.

Mary lines up her fellow orphans along the north, back side of the former hall. The projecting left side of the building in the movie frame was later trimmed flush to the back wall, as confirmed by the 1950 Sanborn fire insurance maps. Also trimmed of its upper floor and peaked roof, the building still stands, a modest apartment block in Highland Park, surrounded by bungalows and strip malls. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Mary chases a fellow orphan east along the south face of the building. The Sanborn fire insurance maps confirm the large projecting porch in the movie frame was removed by 1950. Color photo Brad Alexander.

Mary and fellow orphan actor Wesley Barry pose by the NW corner of the building, essentially unchanged but for the landscaping. Color photo Jeffrey Castel de Oro.

Mary runs beside what was likely a prop wall built for the production, at the back, east corner of the building. Color photo Jeffrey Castel de Oro.

Wesley runs east along the south face – the porch now removed and doorway replaced with the two smaller windows at center. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Upper left, Mary chases an orphan along the east side of the hall, the same side appearing with Edna Purviance in The Kid (center). Notice the matching left drain spout in each vintage image. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Mary leads Wesley back inside the west entrance. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Witnessing the anonymous, long-legged shadow of her benefactor inspires Mary to call him “Daddy-Long-Legs.”

As I detail in my Chaplin book Silent Traces, Presidents Taft and Teddy Roosevelt also visited this campus building. So, Mary, the world’s most beloved actress, Chaplin, the world’s most beloved comedian, and two United States Presidents, all once visited this humble site. You can visit the inside of the building at this post HERE. The west entrance to the building is reached by walking between the row of bungalows at 121 N. Avenue 50, in Highland Park. Occidental College Archives and Special Collections.

Above, the left (north) side of the former Charles M. Stimson Library appears in this scene where a bum throws a seemingly worthless jug of hard cider over the wall. Mary and fellow orphan Wesley Barry find the jug and innocently become inebriated. The matching left side of the library appears at left in the above photo. My sense is the towering wall was built for the production – it facilitates the story, and does not appear in vintage photos. The telephoto image left, displaying no wall, looks east at where the bum stood to the left of the corner library. Once part of the Occidental campus, the former Stimson Library occupied the north corner of N. Avenue 50 and N. Figueroa Street. Above USC Digital Library and left California State Library.

A final view showing the west entrance – the left side of the building. (C) 2019 Microsoft. The vacant school building must have had the top floor removed and been converted to apartment use in the 1920s. It first appears listed as the Savoy Apartments, 121 N Av 50, in the 1926 City Directory, while the earliest building permit for the site (July 7, 1925) already describes the building as two stories tall and as “School altered to Apts.” Built in 1904, the building was declared Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #585 on October 15, 1993.

Not only did Mary film at Occidental before Chaplin, at the time she was living at 56 Fremont Place, across the street from 55 Fremont Place (above left), the mansion later appearing in The Kid when Edna Purviance abandons her infant in a millionaire’s limousine. Mary’s 56 Fremont Place home appears center above in The Red Kimono (1925) – a movie staged with incredible locations, and above right as Jean Harlow’s home in Bombshell (1933). Chaplin’s production records (right) for filming this Fremont Place scene in The Kid simply identifies the setting as “Pickford Street,” tying the location directly to Mary. Given their close association, one can’t help but imagine that Mary was instrumental in bringing these two crucial filming locations to Charlie’s attention.

Daddy-Long-Legs opens with establishing shots explaining some babies are nourished and cared for in beautiful surroundings, while others are born to misery and strife.

The beautiful surroundings pictured above are the conservatories at Eastlake Park east of downtown, renamed Lincoln Park in 1917. The site is now home to a Lincoln Park senior center.

Click to enlarge – the conservatories appear at back, center, in this vintage aerial view looking east at the park – N. Mission Road to the left and Valley Blvd. to the right. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The next opening scene compares laboring orphans to prisoners in a chain gang. This brief shot from DDL reveals the true Los Angeles Orphanage once located at 917 S. Boyle Avenue near Hollenbeck Park. Notice the matching peaked side entrance and fire escape. USC Digital Library.

Later known as the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, this home for girls opened in 1890 and was in use until 1953. Long since demolished, Mary had also earlier staged scenes at this orphanage, above left, for Stella Maris in 1918. USC Digital Library.

Above, another true orphanage scene from Stella Maris. Mary stands by the arch beneath the side entrance stairs at the far lower left of the vintage image. It is fascinating (and frustrating) how often long lost iconic buildings are narrowly presented in silent film.

Now that we’ve covered DDL‘s deserted campus setting, its true orphanage cameos, and how Mary likely influenced Chaplin’s choice of two key scenes from The Kid, we’ll cover all of the MANY remaining locations, in Part Two, including two beautifully preserved mansions. Stay tuned.

Below, 121 N. Avenue 50, the former campus building, where Mary filmed at the west entrance shown here.

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7 Responses to How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part One

  1. Always so interesting to read. Your meticulous research lulls me into thinking we could actually reach back and touch the silent film era, with each of your photos a visual projection, serving as a time machine linking my computer to yours until a connection to another past world is made. And in a way, this is exactly its purpose. The architectural remnants you locate are like discovering a temple long overgrown by time, your posts like missals of illumination. Part of me feels that if we could but hang on to more historical knowledge we would become more attuned to our past and more aware of the continuum of our existence, that we too are just borrowers of time and space. For this reason, our architecture should be built to last, to endure as a message to future generations, of what we were all about, our dreams, our cares, our values, and, along with literature and films, form enduring stories of our time.

    • Thank you TT for your thoughtful words, I really appreciate this. Movies are time machines – capturing our bygone customs, automobiles, architecture. It’s strange, but I’ve studied enough vintage photos and maps to be able to visit these lost places in my mind’s eye. Visiting a spot in person, seeing the present, visualizing the past, each site is fixed in its place, and we are but passing through. These classic films provide the gateway.

  2. Films are indeed a gateway, but it takes a knowledgeable, enthusiastic guide to create a memorable and enriching experience. Your knowledge is a wonderful thing. Thank you for sharing, and by sharing, enlightening.

  3. Brad Alexander says:

    John, this was a really wonderful post, full of detailed information about a fantastic building that has become obscure and neglected over the decades, but now has new life due to your research and writing. Its amazing to see old pictures the Occidental College Hall of Letters building during its prime, with photographs of film stars and U.S. presidents, and realize that it is now just an old anonymous apartment building with people living there who probably have no idea of its history in academia and silent films. It is a truly remarkable site, and we should consider ourselves lucky that it still stands. There are dozens of other filming locations throughout Los Angeles that are well-known by film fans, but this site is my personal favorite due to its obscurity, and I recommend visiting it to all of your readers. I also enjoyed seeing your pictures of the Stimson library – its just too bad that it was torn down with the rest of the remarkable college campus. Thank you once again for shining a light on these forgotten gems and preserving our history.

  4. Pingback: How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part Two | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

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