Buster Keaton’s modest studio made it necessary for him to film many famous scenes at other studios with larger backlots. His pursuit through an archway by an army of police at the climax of Cops (1922) was filmed at the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City (reverse view courtesy David L. Synder, Steven Bingen).
Buster filmed many urban cattle scenes from Go West (1925) at the then-abandoned Metro lot directly across the street from his studio. But the former Brunton Studio on Melrose, future site for Paramount, was his top choice. There, as detailed in these prior post links, he filmed many backlot street scenes from Cops, and Day Dreams (1922), the high dive pool scene concluding Hard Luck (1921), and the elaborate and breathtaking waterfall rescue scene from Our Hospitality. Mary Pickford filmed The Hoodlum (1919) there as well.
The post dives deep into the filming of Buster Keaton’s 1830’s “Hatfield-McCoy” feud-themed feature Our Hospitality (1923) restored by Lobster Films. The more we study his films, the more we understand where and how he staged his elaborate scenes.
Vintage oblique aerial photographs are my favorite research tool. To begin, the National Archive aerial view above reveals the waterfall stunt set Buster built over the giant T-shaped plunge on the studio lot. With this single image we can peek over the fence and tour the entire studio lot.
Buster plays a Yankee traveling South for the first time to inspect his inheritance, unaware the family of the charming girl he meets en route (portrayed by his then-wife Natalie Talmadge) maintains a blood-feud against Keaton’s family. Using various aerial photos, this post shows Natalie’s home town scenes were staged at what was once the Brunton Studio. To get your bearings, below are a few scenes representing Natalie’s home town.
To begin, an establishing view west of Natalie’s home town, with a matching 1922 aerial view. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
Closer views shows matching details.
The stepped facade building to the right of the movie frame appears to the right as well. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
When Buster, unaware, meets Natalie’s vengeful brother, they pause a moment in front of this stepped doorway, appearing lower right. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
The center of the same aerial view reveals the cabin porch where Buster gallantly intervenes in a domestic squabble, only to be attacked by both the husband and the battered wife (their power dynamics are reversed in this publicity still). Notice the husband is sitting on a deck.
Click to enlarge – for perspective, this broad view from a slightly different angle shows both the battling couple’s cabin porch (box) and the pawn shop sign (box) appearing at back during the teeter-totter ladder scene from Cops filmed there a year earlier.
Looking east, another view of these sets.
Paramount: City of Dreams author Steven Bingen reports studio manager M.C. Levee purchased the Brunton Studio in 1921, renaming it then United Studios. Keaton biographer James Curtis reports Buster filmed the water tank scenes there for The Boat (1921), which makes perfect sense. The studio’s tank was large and located just a few blocks away from Keaton’s facility at Eleanor and Lillian Way. By 1922 Buster’s boss and brother-in-law Joe Schenck purchased a majority interest in United Studios, while Levee remained as President.
Thus, Keaton’s prominent use of the studio was not only convenient, he likely received preferential treatment from Schenck and Levee when filming there, and Schenck earned a few residual dollars each time he rented the space to his star. I love it when visual observations mesh perfectly with the detailed research of historians. For simplicity, and to avoid updating my prior posts, this post refers to the “Brunton” Studio throughout, although it was the United Studios during the filming of Our Hospitality.
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.
Below, the modern Melrose entrance to Paramount. The Our Hospitality scenes were filmed to the right, north of the street.