Happy New Year everyone! For some reason 2020 and its prior century silent-era counterpart resonate with me more so than 2019-1919 ever did. The Roaring Twenties are with us again. This widely viewed classic photo of Buster making his 1929 New Year’s Resolutions struck me when I realized it was likely filmed on the steps of the Grant Avenue bungalow Keaton rented just east of MGM. As described below, reprising a prior post, Buster had already staged numerous publicity photos (see below) on the front lawn of the bungalow he rented near the studio before moving to his “Keaton Kennel” dressing room on the MGM lot in 1930. Given the 1929 photo date, the matching visual clues in the background (window patterns, driveway), and the numerous similar photos conclusively proven to have been staged on Grant Avenue, I’m confident he posed for this photo there too.
When Buster Keaton joined MGM in 1928, he rented a bungalow near, but off site from, the MGM campus, infuriating studio head Louis B. Mayer, as Keaton was (one of) the only star(s) to rent space off of the lot. To rectify this, in 1930 or so MGM built Keaton a personal dressing room on the MGM lot, with living space and private kitchen, jokingly dubbed Keaton’s Kennel. My earlier post identifies exactly where the Kennel stood on the MGM lot, not far from the New York backlot set where Keaton filmed scenes from The Cameraman (1928) and Sidewalks of New York (1931).
But where was Keaton’s original bungalow off campus? He writes at page 214 of My Wonderful World of Slapstick that it was located where the Irving Thalberg Memorial Building now stands in Culver City, which places it on former Grant Avenue. Studying vintage maps and aerial photos, there were only a few candidate homes.
Somehow I came across these fun photos I had seen years before, Buster posing before a wide angle camera lens to create a series of distorted, attention-grabbing images. I then found a photo of him posing with director Edward Sedgwick, and realized that the background street in each image looked familiar.
As confirmed by the Sanborn fire insurance maps and these aerial views, Keaton staged all four photos adjacent to MGM looking east down Grant Avenue towards the distinctive tiled roof of the Noice and Son funeral parlor at the corner of Madison and Grant.
A closer study shows Keaton posed for all four photos in front of the center home, a duplex actually, with the address 10132 – 10132-1/2 Grant Avenue. Given there were so few other candidate homes available, it seems most likely Keaton would only pose in front of the place he was actually renting.
Given Keaton is wearing a similar short sleeve shirt, and the picture codes for the wide view shots and these radio poses all seem to begin with “MCMP,” I think it likely Buster took these above interior shots inside the same Grant Avenue bungalow, all as part of the same publicity shoot. Notice the plain curtains, fancy light fixture, and flowery wallpaper.
This photo of Buster (wearing long sleeves) with his sons and his father Joe was taken inside the Kennel on the MGM lot – the picture codes of Buster and his sons posing outside of the Kennel (4673, 4675) match the code for this interior view (4670), as do their clothes. The curtains here are not plain, and there appears to be no wallpaper. As such, I believe the above radio photos above were not taken inside the Kennel.
Below, a matching view east along what was once Grant Avenue, taken in front of the Thalberg Building entrance.
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Thanks for another great share and Happy New Year to you as well.
Can you make a clarification for me please?
If I understand your post correctly, Grant Avenue no longer exists?
Is the Madison you mention, the same road as North Madison that exists today in the East Hollywood area, running north/south, roughly between Santa Monica Blvd and the 101? There are also bits of South Madison south of the 101.
I’m having a little difficulty locating the spot of Keaton’s bungalow today.
Kind regards, Greg
Hi Greg – it’s confusing, as Grant Ave, only one block long, no longer exists. It ran from the former east side of MGM to Madison Avenue, roughly to where the Sony Studios Madison Gate now stands on Madison between Washington Blvd. and Culver Blvd. The Irving Thalberg Building stands on the site. I posted the Google site above – here’s a link to the map https://goo.gl/maps/BLfYSsAJ78rDpuETA
Got it John.
Thanks for the link.
Thank you John for your wonderful blog. I live in Culver City and have been a silent movie fan since childhood. My Grandfather Bob Effros, jazz trumpeter performed in many of the silent films.
Thank you so much Barbara. I enjoyed reading about your grandfather – http://bobeffros.blogspot.com/2014/02/a-brief-biography-of-bob-effros.html
Happy New Year, John. Very interesting post.
Hey! Mayer, as Keaton was (one of) the only star(s) to rent space off of the lot.