Keaton’s Missing Scene and Cameraman Tricks

Early in The Cameraman (1928) neophyte newsreel photographer Buster Keaton submits his double-exposed mistake-filled audition movie footage to the M-G-M Newsreel General Offices in ‘New York,’ resulting in a complete disaster. At left, Buster watches in horror as his double-exposed fiasco plays out on screen.

To begin, as shown above, one brief double-exposed scene depicts a US battleship proudly steaming west up 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles towards the corner of Figueroa.

Another wild shot, upper right, was taken from the steps of the New York Public Library looking north towards the surviving Postal Life Building at the SE corner of 5th Avenue and 43rd Street (yellow box in each image). The demolition of the former Temple Emanu-El (1868-1927) synagogue once standing at the NE corner of 5th and 43rd, appears underway during the Keaton frame (it was demolished floor by floor, see detail at right, with blue stars marking the remaining height). Knowing the precise date when the temple was demolished (I don’t) would help establish whether Keaton’s crew took this shot during their brief New York visit, or whether doctored “stock” footage was used instead. USC Digital Library.

A third crazy shot looks SE from Columbus Circle in New York towards the entrance to Central Park.

But remarkably, the disastrous footage contained a further joke. During George Pratt’s 1958 interview with Keaton, transcribed in Kevin W. Sweeney’s book Buster Keaton: Interviews, Buster describes rushing to a Park Avenue hotel to film a noted Admiral of the US Navy, and mistakenly filming the splendidly uniformed hotel doorman instead. Although Pratt and Keaton discuss how this “Admiral” footage is missing, for a time this scene appeared intact in a low-resolution file once available on the Internet Archive. I captured these frame grabs there in 2013. Here’s a Nitrateville chat group discussion about the missing footage.

More remarkable, this apparently now missing scene was filmed at the recently opened Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Since the hotel reportedly opened in January 1928, its appearance with Buster could very well mark its screen debut as a filming location.

The side of the hotel on S. El Camino Drive appeared behind Chaplin during City Lights (1931) when Charlie spies a cigar butt on the sidewalk while driving his millionaire friend’s luxury car (see full post HERE). Charlie leaps from the car and grabs the butt before another bum can take it, leaving the bewildered bum behind as he drives off. Much later the hotel gained recognition as the movie setting for the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts 1990 prostitution comedy, I mean romantic comedy Pretty Woman, itself now 30 years old.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE.

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7 Responses to Keaton’s Missing Scene and Cameraman Tricks

  1. Fernando Martín Peña says:

    Hi John! Beatiful post, as always.
    The admiral scene was only partially in prints made in the 60s and 70s. You could see Buster rushing to the hotel and read the title “The admiral is coming out”, like in your captures, but after that the whole resolution of the gag wasn’t there. I’ve got an old 16mm. with the truncated scene. I suppose that when Turner put out the film for the home market, somebody decided to edit the whole thing out.
    See you in SF!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Fernando – wow! You seem to have all of the missing scenes! It’s my understanding The Cameraman was recently restored by Criterion Collection, Cineteca di Bologna and Warner Bros., but without this scene. Have you contacted them? See you in SF – thanks again, John

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob Borgen says:

    Didn’t realize I had walked by one of those spots (7th and Fig) two nights ago. Thanks for this great time travel!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Jeffrey Risen says:

    I emember seeing the footage in a 16mm print screeing in NYC around 1970. Even had the old (Real old) Film< Inc logo before the feature. It was my first time seeing the film and always surprised when it was missing on all subsequent prints. Reading this makes me feel I was not crazy when I insist on the footage did exist. Was some small theater running it in the Times Square area (like 46th St or so). Around the same time the Elgin in the Vilaage had revived all the Keatons that Roheauer was handling. I seem to remember it had al the footage of Buster running around and shooting the sequences that became the jumbled multi exposure reel that still exists. Sequence was probably under2 minutes, but I swear I saw it at that time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Bill Counter says:

    Superb! Thanks, John.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Time Travelers: Uncovering Old LA in Keaton Comedies | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

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