I only recently became aware of the Selig Polyscope Studio, the first permanent studio built in Los Angeles that opened in 1909 two blocks north from where the Keystone Studio would later open. Focusing on the facility’s distinctive walls and turrets, I realized Charlie Chaplin filmed early scenes here beside the studio, as detailed in this recent Charlie at Selig post, including the movie-within-a-movie scene Charlie and Mabel Normand watch during Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) featuring the Selig Studio’s corner gated entrance (above right).
Once this “new” Selig locale found its place in the mosaic of silent movie geography, the transitive theory of film locations kicked in. The Selig photos confirmed Chaplin filmed here, and in turn the Chaplin movie clues confirmed the next discovery – Buster Keaton filmed his prison gate scene from Convict 13 (1920) at the Selig Studio corner as well.
As I explain in my book Silent Echoes, Keaton filmed his prison comedy Convict 13 primarily at a large outdoor prison set on the backlot Romaine/Cahuenga corner of his small studio (notice the two guard towers, one on the ground, in this 1921 aerial view HollywoodPhotographs.com). When Buster stands on the prison gallows, you can see various Metro Studio buildings further south along Cahuenga behind him.
Despite Buster’s elaborate studio set, I long suspected the corner gate appearing in Convict 13 was actually “real.” First, I knew genuine gates portrayed prison gates in other silent comedies (for example above, the frequently used Los Angeles County Psychopathic Hospital gate explained in my Four Jails post). Keaton’s gate seemed both too detailed, and yet not sufficiently intimidating, to be a set built to look like a prison. I also knew the gate was not filmed at Keaton’s studio, as the steep uphill street at back doesn’t match the flat studio site. So once I became aware of the Selig gate, the pieces fell into place.
Click to enlarge – the proportions and details all match. Keaton’s corner gate at Clifford St. and Glendale Blvd. stands within a curved arch, with staggered rectangular elements filling the curve, matching the Selig gate photo, Clifford St. sloping uphill across the street at back, and this close-up from Tillie’s Punctured Romance.
While addressed more fully in this post, I’ll briefly share that opening scenes from One Week (1920) and Convict 13 were filmed on Los Feliz, when it was still a open road. Click to enlarge – the two left images look west towards the public stairway where Los Feliz turns south – the two right images look east at the corner of Los Feliz and Serrano.
Also awaiting a future post, most Convict 13 golf scenes were filmed at the newly opened California Country Club near Culver City.
A final view of the Selig Studio, later home to Clara Kimball Young – Tommy Dangcil. Notice Buster’s “prison gate” to the left. Below, the corner of Clifford and Glendale, where the Selig Studio entrance gate once stood.