Silent Movie Day celebrates the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

On September 29, 2021, the inaugural National Silent Movie Day, Hollywood Heritage celebrated the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley with this beautiful plaque.

This story by the Hollywood Partnership provides a good overview of that special day. https://hollywoodpartnership.com/post/first-ever-national-silent-movie-day-comes-to-hollywood

It was crowded by the entrance – photo above Esotouric.

Left to right, Jackie Coogan’s grandson Keith Coogan, me – John Bengtson, Hollywood Heritage President Brian Curran, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, Harold Lloyd’s grand-daughter Suzanne Lloyd, Cinecon President Stan Taffel, Charlie Chaplin’s grand-daughter Kiera Chaplin, Buster Keaton’s great-grand-daughter Keaton Talmadge, Chaplin’s life-long cameraman Rollie Totheroh’s grand-son David Totheroh. Photo Harrison Engle.

A century later, five living descendants of Charlie, Buster, Harold, Jackie Coogan, and Rollie Totheroh meet for the first time, where their ancestors (little Jackie excepted) all once spent days filming.

The sign and plaque unveiled – photo Harrison Engle

This post HERE on the National Silent Movie Day site also explains the day. More than a dozen volunteers from Hollywood Heritage and the EaCa Alley Property Owners worked hours and hours to make this special day happen, for which I will always be grateful.

Step by silent footstep, clues from a dozen silent films collectively reveal a century-old secret, the humble Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley where three timeless comedies were made.

 

Here below is the text of my brief speech at the ceremony, explaining the nine-way improbability this alley exists:

Hi everyone – Happy National Silent Movie Day!  I’m John Bengtson, thank you so much for coming.

Imagine yourself standing here in 1914 when the movies in Hollywood began. The modest corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood Blvd. was an early town center. Hollywood was so undeveloped then that south of where we’re standing was just empty fields and vacant lots. Charlie Chaplin built his studio in the middle of a lemon grove, and kept dozens of trees on his lot after it opened in 1918.

This block, the 1600 block of Cahuenga, was the center of early silent filming. I’ve identified 50 silent movies filmed here, more so than for any other Hollywood street. And this block was also the favorite Hollywood street with Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. Charlie filmed four movies here, Harold filmed five, and Buster filmed here eight times.

Why here? Well the Famous Players Lasky Studio, the original site of the Hollywood Heritage Barn, stood two blocks away at Selma and Vine, and Universal City was just a mile or two north. So this was the easiest place to shoot a handy street corner. As a bonus, our alley stood nearby. I’ve identified two dozen movies filmed at the alley, many from Universal, and it was exciting to see early Universal directors like Lois Weber, Cleo Madison, and Grace Cunnard had filmed here too. Given how so many silent films are lost, it’s easy to imagine many more movies were filmed at the alley as well.

Just here at this entrance to the alley flapper superstar Colleen Moore snuck past during Her Bridal Nightmare, the King of Hollywood Douglas Fairbanks ran in fleeing for his life in Flirting With Fate, Oliver Hardy, without his moustache, and before being paired with Stan Laurel, chased Billy West out of this entrance during Rivals, and the Handcuff King, escape artist Harry Houdini, dramatically fled from this entrance during The Grim Game.

Which brings us to our special guests. Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, the three kings of silent comedy each filmed a masterpiece at this alley; The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last!; each inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, cinema’s highest honor. This six-way constellation of iconic stars and timeless films is absolutely unique in Hollywood history. I’ve struggled how to convey how staggeringly unlikely it is for this place to exist. It’s like hitting a hole-in-one, but more precisely, hitting a hole-in-one six times in a row.

But it’s more remarkable than that. First, after 100 years this alley still exists. The favorite places for Charlie, Buster, and Harold to shoot, like Bunker Hill, the old Chinatown, and Ducommun Street downtown, no longer exist. They are buried under freeways or redeveloped into oblivion. So our little alley surviving more than a century counts as hole-in-one number seven.

Next, overlapping clues from a dozen silent films allowed this mystery to be solved. The key was a little-known newspaper drama from 1925 called The Last Edition. Most movies filmed here only looking in one direction or another. But The Last Edition filmed in eight different directions – it was the Rosetta Stone tying all the other movies together. The movie languished in an archive unseen for 90 years until the San Francisco Silent Film Festival restored and screened this entertaining film. If The Last Edition had not been revived, solving this mystery, we wouldn’t be here today. So that counts as hole-in-one number eight.

Last, I want to thank Hollywood Heritage, led by President Brian Curran, and the EaCa Alley Property owners, especially David Gajda and Aziz Banayan for hosting this event. More than a dozen people have each worked hours and hours to make today happen. Hollywood Heritage is such an important charity, they are all volunteers, and they work so hard to protect and preserve Hollywood landmarks and history. So, in these crazy, stressful times, when everyone is already so busy, Hollywood Heritage and the EaCa Alley owners somehow got together and decided to make today happen, and they did. So I want to thank them all again, and recognize today’s happy ceremony as our incredible hole-in-one number nine.

Don’t worry, we’re not going to play a full round of golf. Before I finish, I also want to thank Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and his office staff for their support.

In closing, think back a hundred years, and put yourself in their place. Can you imagine? In one way or another, Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd each spent days filming here. They knew this alley; it was significant to them, they woke up mornings and drove here to work, and made landmark films here that became milestones in their careers. I have no doubt in later years they kept the memory of this place with them for as long as they lived. And now we can share these memories with them too. So with that, thank you once again to everyone for making this special day happen.

Here’s to the next hole-in-one! Thank you.

This entry was posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Hollywood History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Silent Movie Day celebrates the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

  1. Michael Madden says:

    Well done. Congratulations

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. rangerdon says:

    Glad to see your long effort rewarded, and the site memorialized for others. Not so glad to see the 1984’ing of the homage to INTOLERANCE removed because DW made Birth of a Nation. I wonder if those responsible for that act have ever seen Intolerance, or Broken Blossoms – both of them pioneering attacks on intolerance and racists?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bob Borgen says:

    Great story and photos — and so glad that you got this done — congrats on this achievement.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Kevin Dale says:

    Thanks John! This is so cool!❤️❤️❤️

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Greg LaRiviere says:

    Nice work John.
    I am as thrilled as you are to finally see this come to fruition!
    …and for those of you who are not from California, I can tell you John is spot on in his assessment of just how amazing it is to note that this particular alley still exists.
    While southern California truly has some wonderful history, we are mostly very bad at protecting it from the wrecking ball of progress.
    Thanks to John’s unrelenting work, I think we can all feel a little bit of pride in being connected to Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd Alley!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Gregg Davidson says:

    Great job and speech, John. Glad for the recognition of three movie giants and the alley that ties them together. It is amazing that the alley still survives and its celebration will keep it there. Though I couldn’t attend Silent Movie Day in person I was happy to particiapte online with the UCLA and LA Library Aloud programs which featured Suzanne Lloyd.

    Keep up your great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark Mason says:

    Congratulations John, and everyone involved. It looks like a great day. I would have loved to have been there. Warmest regards from the United Kingdom.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Michael Bailey says:

    I loved seeing all the family descendants present. It made it all it far more poignant.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. thetactfultypist says:

    What a wonderful speech!
    Amazing when the stars and the place align with those that appreciate them.
    Thank you for the information, insight, and entertainment!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Robert says:

    So cool.
    Hey how about a plaque to the right of 241 N Figueroa for Anna May Wong?
    (or howzabout an honorary Oscar for her!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • What is at 241 N. Figueroa? She is getting an honorary US coin, but I’m all for more recognition. Thank you so much – John

      Like

      • Robert says:

        241 N Figueroa is currently home to Los Angeles County Central Center. The address was once the site of the Wong family laundry where Anna grew up. It was here she dreamt of becoming a star. The Wong family lived there from 1910 to 1934.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Brad Alexander says:

    Congratulations John! Your years of outreach and advocacy to establish the alley have paid off for everyone. What a great event, especially with the five descendants being there, and your speech was a birdie, eagle, and hole-in-one combined. I can’t wait to travel to Hollywood and see the alley again.

    Liked by 1 person

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