Charlie Chaplin’s 1916 Mutual comedy short One A.M. was unique in many ways. Charlie plays a drunken bon-vivant, returning home after a night on the town. Except for a brief exterior scene with his taxi driver Albert Austin, Charlie plays the entire movie solo inside his home, with no plot beyond his inept attempts to put himself to bed.
Chaplin made the film at his small Lone Star Studio at Lillian Way and Eleanor, that would become Buster Keaton’s home studio four years later. The studio stood a short block south of the Santa Monica Blvd. trolley line. Because a trolley passes Charlie as he struggles exiting the taxi, I had long wondered if Charlie conveniently filmed the scene near his studio.
Silent movies not only document the times in which they were made, they also provide clues for solving location mysteries from other films. Enter the comedy duo Lyons and Moran. (At left, the rear of a distinctive matching home from One A.M. and their Waiting at the Church.)
Working with the Library of Congress, silent film hero Michael Aus has made several early Lyons-Moran comedies (his eBay link) available to the public (sale proceeds benefit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum). In particular, his release Waiting at the Church (1919) (see post HERE) is one of the most visually consequential silent films I’ve ever seen, with scenes filmed all around early La Brea, Highland, and nascent Hollywood Boulevard. Comparing frames above, Waiting at the Church (bottom frame) clearly provides a broader view of Charlie’s taxi scene from One A.M. (top frame). Look at the matching details; the vacant lot, chimneys, small garages facing an alley, and distinctive roof lines.
But wider views from Waiting at the Church, presumably looking east, show a curved irrigation ditch running below the street with the trolley line, guarded by a metal safety railing (above) to protect people from falling into the ditch. Charlie must have exited his taxi near this railing.
I’ve studied the 1919 Sanborn fire insurance maps, the 1920 Baist Atlas, and numerous vintage aerial photos. The section of Santa Monica Blvd. near Chaplin’s Mutual Studio lacks a vacant lot with a setback alley and further offset homes. Likewise, tracking north-south along the Western Ave. trolley line doesn’t seem to match the details. My best guess is that Charlie and Lyons-Moran filmed along the north-south Highland Ave. trolley line, looking east, towards the vacant NE corner of Fountain and Highland (homes were never built on this corner, today the site of a strip mall), with an alley separating Highland from the adjacent block McCadden Place. As further “proof,” Lyons and Moran filmed other scenes from Waiting at the Church on this adjacent block of McCadden Place, just steps from the candidate corner.
Public Appeal – while the available clues seem consistent, there’s no definitive proof. The essential puzzle piece, the curved ditch (presumably running parallel along Fountain, then curving north, then east below Highland and the trolley line, then continuing eastward underground) remains elusive. Does anyone know or recognize this early Hollywood clue? Can someone please solve the Chaplin One A.M. mystery?
During Waiting at the Church Lyons and Moran run up and down La Brea Avenue, a few blocks north or south of Chaplin’s independent studio opened in 1918 at 1416 N. La Brea Ave., providing tantalizing glimpses of Charlie’s neighborhood.
A final view from Waiting at the Church, looking north from the La Brea – Sunset Blvd. corner of the Chaplin Studio. The mansion on the studio grounds where Charlie’s half-brother Syd once lived stood on the SE corner of this intersection.
Please check my prior post about Waiting at the Church HERE. Above, Lyons and Moran flee the former First Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Hollywood and Ivar.
Another Lyons and Moran link with Charlie, they filmed What a Clue Will Do (1917) at 645 New High Street years before Charlie filmed The Kid (1921) at the same spot. Read more HERE.
Charlie’s studio on La Brea was once a lemon orchard. This YouTube video shows more of Charlie’s studio neighborhood.