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.
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.
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.