Buster Keaton at the Selig Studio “Prison”

I only recently became aware of the Selig Polyscope Studio, the first permanent studio built in Los Angeles that opened in 1909 two blocks north from where the Keystone Studio would later open. Focusing on the facility’s distinctive walls and turrets, I realized Charlie Chaplin filmed early scenes here beside the studio, as detailed in this recent Charlie at Selig post, including the movie-within-a-movie scene Charlie and Mabel Normand watch during Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) featuring the Selig Studio’s corner gated entrance (above right).

Once this “new” Selig locale found its place in the mosaic of silent movie geography, the transitive theory of film locations kicked in. The Selig photos confirmed Chaplin filmed here, and in turn the Chaplin movie clues confirmed the next discovery – Buster Keaton filmed his prison gate scene from Convict 13 (1920) at the Selig Studio corner as well.

As I explain in my book Silent Echoes, Keaton filmed his prison comedy Convict 13 primarily at a large outdoor prison set on the backlot Romaine/Cahuenga corner of his small studio (notice the two guard towers, one on the ground, in this 1921 aerial view HollywoodPhotographs.com). When Buster stands on the prison gallows, you can see various Metro Studio buildings further south along Cahuenga behind him.

A “real” non-prison gate standing in for a prison – Hank Mann in The Janitor (1919); Charlie Chaplin in Police (1916); Stan Laurel in Detained (1924). See Four Jails post.

Despite Buster’s elaborate studio set, I long suspected the corner gate appearing in Convict 13 was actually “real.” First, I knew genuine gates portrayed prison gates in other silent comedies (for example above, the frequently used Los Angeles County Psychopathic Hospital gate explained in my Four Jails post). Keaton’s gate seemed both too detailed, and yet not sufficiently intimidating, to be a set built to look like a prison. I also knew the gate was not filmed at Keaton’s studio, as the steep uphill street at back doesn’t match the flat studio site. So once I became aware of the Selig gate, the pieces fell into place.

Click to enlarge – the proportions and details all match. Keaton’s corner gate at Clifford St. and Glendale Blvd. stands within a curved arch, with staggered rectangular elements filling the curve, matching the Selig gate photo, Clifford St. sloping uphill across the street at back, and this close-up from Tillie’s Punctured Romance.

While this must wait for future post, I’ll briefly share that opening scenes from One Week (1920) and Convict 13 were filmed on Los Feliz. Click to enlarge – the two left images look west towards the public stairway where Los Feliz turns south – the two right images look east at the corner of Los Feliz and Serrano.

Also awaiting a future post, most Convict 13 golf scenes were filmed at the newly opened California Country Club near Culver City.

A final view of the Selig Studio, later home to Clara Kimball Young  – Tommy Dangcil. Notice Buster’s “prison gate” to the left. Below, the corner of Clifford and Glendale, where the Selig Studio entrance gate once stood.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a brochure HERE.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Convict 13, Edendale | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Buster Keaton’s Scarecrow Adobe

I’m delighted to host guest blogger Jeffrey Castel de Oro’s amazing post regarding the early California history appearing in Buster Keaton’s The Scarecrow. A friend for 20 years, Jeff has contributed many significant locations and photographs to all of my books, including at left two of my favorite of his discoveries, both scenes from Keaton’s Cops – the triangle building that proved to be the former USC College of Dentistry Building, and a scene in the downtown Civic Center on long lost New High Street, in the shadow of the former Hall of Records Building and County Court House. Take it away – Jeff.

A true adobe – looking SE towards the Baldwin Hills.

In the 1920 short film The Scarecrow Buster Keaton’s farmhand character, on the run from a dog he has mistakenly assumed to be rabid, is pursued to a small house made of adobe bricks. After a frantic chase diving in and out the doors and windows Buster climbs a ladder to escape. The dog (portrayed by Luke, who was owned by Buster’s good friend Roscoe Arbuckle) amazingly also climbs the ladder, and the chase continues perilously atop the crumbling walls of the roofless structure.

Due to its scale, density and realistic level of detail, it appears that the adobe depicted in The Scarecrow was an actual found location rather than a set specifically constructed for the scene. In the 1920s there were still remnants of adobe structures on existing farmland, dating back to large land grants given by the Mexican government to encourage settlement of its territory and the use of the land as ranches (ranchos) for raising cattle and sheep. After California became a state in 1850, a series of setbacks beset the rancheros, including a decline in cattle prices, floods and drought. Forced to take out loans, and often unable to read the contracts they signed due to a lack of formal education, grantees began to gradually lose their land.

This 1888 map illustrates a period of transition, after the arrival of the railroad began to dramatically increase the population of Southern California and the still-recognizable ranchos were being divided into smaller and smaller tracts.

Having some familiarity with areas in which Buster Keaton likely filmed, I focused my search on the former rancho areas located on the west side of Los Angeles. There are a few clues to how the house must have looked. The joist holes above the door and windows indicate a porch roof that pitched downward on either end. Additional holes along the base indicate a front porch.

This photo entitled “Adobe on the road to Venice” taken by Los Angeles historian and amateur photographer George W. Hazard is currently housed at the Huntington Library. It was recently made available online as part of the Ernest Marquez Collection. The Huntington estimates that the photograph was taken between 1890 and 1908, the years that George W. Hazard was active as a photographer. Enhancing the porch area reveals structural details matching those suggested by the film frame, most notably the porch roof pitched downward at each end.

Also visible in the film frame are numerous large white rocks embedded in the adobe bricks. By carefully examining the location of these rocks among the pattern of the bricks, comparing them to a closeup of the George Hazard photo, and accounting for some years of weathering, it is possible to definitively match the two structures.

The inscription of the Hazard photo “Adobe on the road to Venice” provides a starting point to locate the house. At the time the photo was taken (as late as 1908) there were very few roads leading directly to Venice. The only prominent route to Venice visible on this 1909 travel map is Washington St. (now Blvd.). David Rumsey Map Collection.

But where exactly on the road to Venice was the adobe located? Just above Buster’s shoulder in this movie frame, where the road bends to the right, can be glimpsed a tall white structure amongst the trees. It features a tower topped with a flagpole or spire, a triangular roof, and a pattern of large windows or openings just below the roof. A full length view of the three-story structure appears between Buster’s legs as he falls over backwards (at the time nearby Culver City had only two-story buildings). Notice too the prominent “MJB Coffee – Why?” coffee pot billboard in the background, a curious advertising campaign that helped to solve John’s prior post about a small Japanese enclave living in Hollywood.

The original La Ballona School (above) located along the bend of Washington Blvd. features details which match the building in the movie frame precisely (see comparison inset). LAPL. It stood from 1865 to 1927 and has been rebuilt twice. A modern elementary school still stands at the location, marked as Historic Site #10 by the Culver City Historical Society in 2001.

This 1921 aerial view looking west across Culver City towards the ocean features the Hal Roach Studios and adjoining Henry Lehrman Studios (yellow oval), the Thomas H. Ince Studios (red oval), and the Goldwyn Studios (green oval), which would become MGM in 1924. Washington Blvd. runs diagonally through the image past the four studios before zig-zagging on its way towards Venice, its canals visible in the upper right corner as a set of 4 parallel vertical lines near the beach (blue oval). Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

La Ballona School (yellow oval) stood to the right (north) of the bend of Washington Blvd. pictured above in this 1921 view. By zooming in on the area surrounding this bend we can see the likely location of the adobe, perhaps indicated by a lone round tree on the south side of the street (red arrow). Since the adobe stood close to the road, it may have already been demolished in this 1921 view.

A closer and clearer view taken in 1925 reveals the likely site for the adobe (red oval) apparently now demolished, related to the school at the bend in the road (yellow oval). Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives. Just below it stands the Plantation Café (pink oval). Built in 1922 by a former vaudevillian and restaurateur named Mike Lyman and his partner V. B. Clark., it would later be purchased by Roscoe Arbuckle in 1928, the same year Buster Keaton would join MGM.

A final view shows the area as it appeared in 1927. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives. The adobe is apparently gone, the farms further subdivided with numerous houses visible. The La Ballona School (orange oval) has been rebuilt, while the Plantation Café (purple oval) remains standing across the street. Nearby can be seen the Culver City Rollerdrome (light blue circle), a large indoor skating arena also visible in Laurel and Hardy’s County Hospital (1932). The Rollerdrome site will soon be marked as Historic Site #14 by the Culver City Historical Society.

This view from Google Earth looking NE shows the contemporary La Ballona Elementary School at the bend of Washington Blvd. Across the street at the former location of the Plantation Café now stands a large NFL Network facility. The location of the adobe was approximately the patch of green grass (yellow circle) near 4018 Tilden Avenue.

A former visual effects artist, Jeffrey Castel de Oro is an amateur historian, genealogist, and hopeful professional archivist, who has been a Buster Keaton fan since first seeing Kevin Brownlow’s documentary A Hard Act to Follow on PBS in 1987. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffcdo. Thank you Jeff for sharing your amazing discovery – yet another example of our common history preserved in the background of silent film.

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Silent Hollywood’s Japanese Enclave

The great silent film comedians Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd filmed more frequently on the 1600 block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard than at any other street in town. Keaton alone filmed scenes for eight different movies on this block. Popular with the studios as a filming location, I’ve

View south – the 1500 block of Cahuenga from Selma to Sunset, where Cahuenga once ended – LAPL

identified over 40 different silent movies staged here so far. Since most silent films are now lost, it’s likely many other productions were filmed here as well. You can read more about this historic Hollywood street HERE and HERE.

But the 1500 block of Cahuenga, between Selma and Sunset one block further south, tells another compelling story. While this street has also appeared in many silent movies, the block provides mute testimony to Japanese-American history in Los Angeles preceding World War II.

It all began with Buster Keaton’s 1921 comedy short The Goat. While fleeing the police Buster runs past a cop beside a grocery store awning that reads “JAPANESE RICE AND TEA.” One of my earliest discoveries, I found this simply by noticing the confusing and once ubiquitous “MJB Coffee – Why?” advertisement appearing in this matching vintage photo looking south down Cahuenga towards Selma. The photo reveals the grocer’s name “Toribuchi,” confirmed by vintage phone books as the Toribuchi Grocery at 1546 Cahuenga.

Originally a small church, the Toribuchi Grocery building previously served as Hollywood’s first fire station, Hose Co. No. 7. LAFire.com. The building was converted to a grocery when the new joint fire/police station opened up the street at 1625-1629 Cahuenga in 1913. I noticed the Japanese rice and tea sign with interest, but didn’t give it much thought until I recently discovered the store also appears in Colleen Moore’s Her Bridal Nightmare (1920)(above right), filmed extensively on Cahuenga.

Click to enlarge – looking west in 1919 at the 1500 block of Cahuenga between Sunset (left, where the street once ended) and Selma (right), showing some of the Japanese establishments once located there. The map below identifies several small “Japanese Lodgings” near the word “Lodging” above. HollywoodPhotographs.com

Then, while searching through the 1919 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps for the 1500 block of Cahuenga, I noticed something unexpected. The map identified a Japanese boarding house, a Japanese laundry, and even a Japanese school on this then sparsely developed street. I already knew the Toribuchi Grocery was located here, and with a little digging it became apparent the 1500 block of Cahuenga between Selma and Sunset was at one time a Japanese enclave, a single-block Hollywood version of Japantown.

Here below is a roster of Japanese-associated names for this single block, keyed to their address and the year such entry appeared in the LA city directories. Mr. Toribuchi relocated his grocery sometime between 1920 and 1927. Click to enlarge each map.

CAHUENGA – from Selma to Sunset
1546       E. H. Toribuchi grocer (1920)
1533       Kitro Suietoni (1920)
1531       S. Tatsukawa (1917)
1529       G. Yoshihashi laundry (1920)
1527       Toribuchi Grocery (1927)
1525       Y. Hisatowi (1927)
1519       Joe Nishigima (1927)
1518       Hollywood Japanese Day Work, M. Suzuki (1917); Eto Boarding House (1920)
1517½   Japanese School
1517       K. Ashina baths (1918) S. Dohara (1920)
1516       Sunrise General Merchandise J.M. Hachiya mgr (1920)
1515       Senzo Imai grocer (1920)

SELMA – from East to West crossing Cahuenga
6374       Japanese Church of Hollywood (1923)
6378       Frank Aiso (1927)
6410       Geo. Yaguchi gardener (1916)
6442       G.J. Matsumoto (1920)

Imagine – at a time when few Japanese resided anywhere in LA, and Hollywood was still sparsely settled, there was once a small enclave on the 1500 block of Cahuenga, directly south from where dozens of silent movies were filmed. Yet there appears to be no record of this history aside from these maps and their related entries in the city directories. How did this enclave form? How did they find each other? (The 1600 block also has some Japanese listings, but no references on the maps.)

While the development of Japanese communities such as Little Tokyo in downtown and in Boyle Heights is well documented, perhaps someday this story will be fully revealed. There are many resources to learn more about Japanese history in Los Angeles, including Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project, the Japanese American National Museum, and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center. Brian Niiya, Content Director for Densho, shared this oral history of James Ito, born in 1914, recalling his family’s fruit and vegetable store on this block of Cahuenga.

Two closing views looking south at Cahuenga addresses, with Colleen Moore in Her Bridal Nightmare and Mr. Hachiya’s Sunrise store at 1516 (left), and Mr. Imai’s one story grocery at 1515 (center of center), with a modern view of 1515 (right), now a cannabis shop.

Looking south down Cahuenga towards Sunset, where Cahuenga originally ended, continuing south along Ivar instead.

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How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part Two

In Daddy-Long-Legs (1919) Mary Pickford portrays an endearing young orphan later sent to college by an anonymous benefactor. Complications ensue when Mary meets her sponsor, unaware of his status, and they fall for each other. Pickford’s most financially successful production to date, this charming film reveals surprisingly varied glimpses of early Los Angeles history as described below.

As revealed in Part One, Mary’s orphanage (upper left) was the same former Occidental College Hall of Letters building Charlie Chaplin would later use to portray a maternity hospital at the beginning of The Kid (1921) (lower left). The former college building was abandoned when Occidental moved to its new, larger Eagle Rock campus in 1914. By 1919 the hall had been vacant for years, and was perfectly cast to portray Mary’s orphanage. Mary filmed here first. You can read all about the deserted campus, and true orphanage locations HERE.

Mary’s 1919 production also traveled far and wide, from Malibu, to downtown, to a fashionable neighborhood near her own home at the time. Two beautiful mansions appearing in the film survive intact.

When wealthy trustees visit the orphanage, spunky Mary has a run-in with their spoiled brat daughter. Above, the family arrives back home at 450 S. Lucerne in Windsor Square, built in 1915. As seen to the left in this 1920 view north (click to enlarge), this Lucerne home (top box) stood just three blocks from Mary’s home in Fremont Place (bottom box), due south of Wilshire Blvd. running left – right. HollywoodPhotographs.com. Mary leased this home for a year in August 1918, moving out a few months after Daddy-Long-Legs premiered.

Above, parked on the 5th Street side of the house, the bratty daughter demands that her parents throw Mary out into the street. Residential historian Duncan Maginnis made this astonishing discovery. Duncan is the author of the amazingly rich and fascinating series of historical blog posts about classic Los Angeles neighborhoods, including BERKELEY SQUARE; WESTMORELAND PLACE; WILSHIRE BOULEVARD; ADAMS BOULEVARD; WINDSOR SQUARE; ST. JAMES PARK; and FREMONT PLACE. You can read more about 450 Lucerne at WINDSOR SQUARE.

Mary departs for college from the stately Southern Pacific Depot, opened late in 1914 (seen above, looking north), that once stood on Central Avenue at 5th. Unlike the far smaller and less formal Santa Fe Depot nearby, the Central Station had underground passages leading to numerous boarding platforms sheltered by distinctive awnings, visible at right. Both depots appeared frequently in early film. USC Digital Library.

Sadly, only narrow glimpses of the station appear in the movie. Above, Mary runs up a ramp from an underground passageway to one of the platforms. Notice the bystander in the central image wearing a conspicuous face mask, a precaution against the Spanish Influenza epidemic (1918-1919) raging during the time of filming. The outbreak cost more lives than were lost fighting World War One.

One of the depot’s twin waiting room clocks, depicted in Daddy-Long-Legs to the upper left, appears to the right in this scene from Souls for Sale (1923), where an extensive sequence was filmed inside the Central Station waiting room.

Above, this lovely title card depicting Mary’s college, painted by Ferdinand Pinney Earle, is nearly an exact represenation of the former Milspaugh Hall at the Los Angeles State Normal School, appearing here (right) in Buster Keaton’s 1927 feature comedy College. Located at Monroe Street and Vermont Avenue, the school was designated in 1919 as the Southern California Branch of the University of California (UCLA), before becoming Los Angeles Junior College in 1929 when the Westwood campus of UCLA opened. Still at the same site, the school is known today as Los Angeles City College.

Mary and her love interest (benefactor) played by Mahlon Hamilton share a quiet moment beside the rock pool at Malibu State Park, then known as Crags Country Club. Exterior filming locations expert Mike Malone, a retired national park ranger who leads fascinating tours and lectures about movies filmed in the Santa Monica Mountains and Paramount Ranch, confirmed the site (see matching red circle detail). The pool appeared in Buster Keaton’s The Paleface (1921) and decades later for scenes from The Planet of the Apes (1968). Color photo Mike Malone.

Click to rotate – 360° view above – when visiting the rock pool today people seem to leave behind their three-piece suits and floor length dresses.

Click to enlarge – above, a wide view of the once famous Busch Sunken Gardens in Pasadena. Huntington Digital Library. Mary filmed here at least twice, including her graduation scenes from Daddy-Long-Legs.

Mary’s graduation procession strolled along these curved paths at the Busch gardens, paired with a matching 1912 view. Mary had previously filmed many scenes here for Stella Maris as well. Millionaire beer brewer Adolphus Busch built the massive gardens in 1904. The park closed in 1938 and was sub-divided into numerous home sites. Pasadena Public Library.

Above, the closing scene from Stella Maris, with Conway Tearle and Mary beside the Busch gardens mill house. Known as “the Old Mill,” it still stands in Pasadena, part of a private residence. California State Library.

Now a wealthy and successful author, Mary boldly decides to confront her benefactor for the first time. She arrives at his home to repay him in full, and to confide in him that she has met a man she truly loves. All ends well when she discovers her true love and her benefactor are one and the same man.

Above, the benefactor’s home was portrayed by the Stearns residence, still standing at 27 St. James Park. Residential historian Duncan Maginnis, who discovered the Lucerne home above, provides a full history of the Stearns home and its environs at this post HERE.

Similar views as Mary exits the cab in front of the Stearns home, the iron fence and brick details still match.

Above, the view east from the cab also reveals at back a giant light post that once stood in the intersection of St. James Park and St. James Place. The small, secluded neighborhood was a popular filming site, appearing in several early comedy shorts. Also looking east (upper right above), the light post appears behind Harold Lloyd attempting suicide-by-automobile early in Haunted Spooks (1920). Looking west lower right above, towards the Stearns house to the far right, the back of the light post appears in Snub Pollard’s Where Am I? (1923).

Site of the happy ending, the benefactor’s home at 27 St. James Park.

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Chaplin’s Earliest Scenes Beside the Selig Studio

When Charlie Chaplin began his film career at the Keystone Studio in 1914, the Selig Polyscope studio (above) stood just two blocks to the north, sandwiched between Clifford and Duane Streets along Allesandro (now Glendale Boulevard) in Edendale. Opening in 1909, Selig was reportedly the first permanent movie studio built in Los Angeles. I was unfamiliar with Selig, but when I first noticed it in a vintage photo, I realized it was the setting for several scenes from Chaplin’s Keystone career.

This rare photo looking NW, conveniently featuring a Clifford/Allesandro corner street sign, reveals the Selig Studio was enclosed by a stucco wall sloping uphill and topped with distinctive miniature turrets. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

A similar wall sloping uphill with matching turrets appears above as Charlie flirts with a pretty girl during Those Love Pangs (1914). Given the matching elements and its location two blocks from the Keystone Studio, I’m convinced Charlie filmed this scene looking west uphill along the Duane Street side of the Selig studio wall.

Next, using the Love Pangs frame (upper left) as a reference, I’m convinced these scenes from Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) were also filmed on Duane Street, further uphill, along the back corner of the Selig studio wall. The short lattice fence beside the children in the Love Pangs frame appears clearly here in the Tillie frames. The two homes at back were 2212 and 2216 Duane Street, now the site of modern apartments.

One discovery often leads to another. During Tillie, Charlie and co-star Mabel Normand seek refuge in a movie theater after stealing Tillie’s (Marie Dressler) pocketbook. They panic when the plot onscreen involves similar thievery, and they find themselves seated next to a detective played by Charley Chase.

After learning that the Selig studio wall facing Allesandro was lined with a series of inset curved arches, it’s clear that the film-within-a-film drama (see above) that upset Charlie and Mabel was filmed alongside the studio wall.

Likewise, this film-within-a-film view from Tillie, above left, shows the Clifford/Allesandro corner gate entrance to the Selig Studio.

A final tidbit, just for fun. While King Vidor’s celebrated “everyman” drama The Crowd (1928) caused a minor stir for daring to show a flush toilet in the background of one domestic scene, often cited as the porcelain appliance’s screen debut, it appears Tillie beat this record by more than a dozen years. There must have been a hardware or plumbing store near the small restaurant where Marie Dressler works during Tillie. The children at back are too fascinated watching Charlie at work to notice they are standing behind a commode, apparently promoted for sale as a sidewalk display.

I detail many other Tillie locations in my book Silent Traces, and other “new” locations elsewhere in this blog (HERE).

Be sure to check out the wonderful Flicker Alley Chaplin at Keystone DVD collection that makes these discoveries possible.

Below, site of the former Selig Polyscope studio at 1845 Glendale Blvd.

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Harpo, Chico, and James Cagney at the Brunswig Mansion

Imagine the star power – Harpo Marx, Chico Marx, and James Cagney all once stood on the same mansion front steps. Classic Los Angeles homes frequently played roles in golden-age films, and the former Brunswig Mansion, once standing at 3528 West Adams, appeared in two 1931 productions; Monkey Business starring the Marx Brothers, and Blonde Crazy with James Cagney and Joan Blondell. LAPL.

Above, Harpo and Chico arrive in style, compared to an establishing shot from Blonde Crazy.

The rose pattern window shades match with Harpo, Chico, and Jimmy.

Matching views east as Jimmy exits the Brunswig porch. The Guasti Mansion next door appears at back. You can read a full account of both homes at Duncan Maginnis’s Adams Boulevard blog posts; the Brunswig, and the Guasti.

Although the full Brunswig address was 3528, in both films the final digit “8” appears to have been knocked off of the pillar.

Although the Brunswig was demolished in 1955, its equally stunning next-door neighbor is still standing, the Gausti Mansion at 3500 West Adams, later owned by movie choreographer Busby Berkeley, and now home to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Garden. Among its many screen appearances, the Gausti is where Laurel & Hardy filmed Another Fine Mess (1930) (read more HERE) and Charley Chase filmed Fast Work (1930) (read more HERE).

Groucho and Harpo would visit another grand mansion to film scenes from Duck Soup (1933) at the Jewett Estate in Pasadena, where Buster Keaton filmed the opening joke from Cops (1922) beside the mansion gate (read more HERE).

Glamorous homes were often leased to studios as filming sites under the Assistance League’s Film Location Bureau, a charity established by Mrs. Hancock Banning. The Bureau maintained a directory of local mansions and estates available for filming. The studios paid rental fees directly to the Bureau, instead of the mansion owner, which the Bureau applied directly for charitable purposes. This efficient scheme for raising money saved studios the expense of building costly sets, and allowed homeowners to contribute to a worthy cause at no expense to themselves. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Film Location Bureau rented out the Brunswig Mansion for use in Pola Negri’s The Spanish Dancer (1923). Hollywood historian Mary Mallory writes about the Film Location Bureau HERE.

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Early Thrill Comedies – Who Was First?

Thrill comedies featuring a star hanging from the side of a tall building have long been a staple of silent films. The photo at left from Play Ball (1925) eloquently explains the brilliant technique with a single image. Starting with Look Out Below in 1919, Harold Lloyd would become the master of the genre, capped by his masterpiece Safety Last! (1923) that still enthralls audiences today. But when was this effect first used in a movie? I pondered this when film historian Jack Theakston inquired about Ignatz’s Icy Injury (1916), one of the earliest thrill films of which he was aware. While it would be fun to declare Ignatz the earliest winner, it’s likely the effect had already been employed for years, perhaps as early as by George Melies.

Using Lantern Media to research Ignatz, the L-KO Kompany’s Billy Armstrong comedy promoted at right in Universal’s The Moving Picture Weekly trade magazine, I quickly happened upon two other contemporary L-KO stunt comedies promoted by Universal, Billie Ritchie’s A Bold, Bad, Breeze (1916), and Dan Russell’s Rough Stuff (1917). As we’ll see, these three films share much in common with each other and with other stunt comedies of the era.

Above, the two stunt images from Ignatz touted in the July 8, 1916 Moving Picture Weekly trade advertisement; (left) looking west down 8th at the Hamburger’s Department Store, and south down Broadway (right). Both scenes were staged from atop the 1912 Chapman Building at the NE corner of 8th and Broadway.

Matching views west – the extant Chapman Building (756 Broadway) has a small two story structure on its large rooftop, where Billy Armstrong crawled around presumably with scaffolding or nets below out of camera range, but far from the 13 story drop to the street.

Click to enlarge – above, looking north up Broadway towards the two story structure atop the Chapman (Investment) Building where the filming took place. The “Examiner” Building (orange) and the four tall buildings immediately behind it all remain standing. USC Digital Library.

Ignatz was filmed atop 756 S. Broadway looking south towards the same block appearing north behind Harold Lloyd, where he filmed the clock scene from Safety Last! atop 908 S. Broadway. Notice the opposite views of the Majestic Theater (M), Tally’s Theater (T), and Hamburger’s (M). Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge – next for discussion is Billie Ritchie’s A Bold, Bad Breeze, pictured here in the July 1, 1916 issue of The Moving Picture Weekly. Billie was filmed atop the extant Southern California Gas Company building at 950 S. Broadway, the same rooftop where Harold Lloyd staged the middle sequence of his climb in Feet First (1930). The “JOSEPH’S” wall sign at the left is where the “RADIO SUPPLY CO.” wall sign is to the right. The L.L. Burns building at back is 908 S. Broadway, where Lloyd staged the clock sequence from Safety Last! Both the 908 and 950 buildings remain standing, but a giant modern apartment complex has been built between them. USC Digital Library.

After solving this location the hard (but fun) way, I then found this full view photo depicting the view up Broadway. The white building behind Billie is where Harold Lloyd later filmed the clock scene from Safety Last!

Last comes Rough Stuff appearing in the August 4, 1917 issue of The Moving Picture Weekly. How did they film it? Again, from atop the same two story structure on the roof of the Chapman Building, only this time looking north. The beautiful white Hass Building in the background, at the NE corner of Broadway and 7th, remains standing, but has been “improved” with a modern facade. LAPL.

This other view from Rough Stuff also reveals the Bullock’s Building to the left, still standing on the NW corner of Broadway and 7th.

This absolutely convincing yet low-tech special effect no longer seems to be employed much today. One of the few (no longer modern) examples I’ve found was the 1985 pilot movie for the TV series Moonlighting with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis. Looking south, the rooftop structure just to the right of Bruce is the same stairway entrance structure the cops are standing on, and pictured here to the right, both looking north.

A modern view from the two story structure atop the Chapman Building towards the Hamburger Building. (C) 2019 Microsoft.

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Harry Houdini Solves a Charlie Chaplin Mystery!

Harry Houdini helped to discover where Charlie Chaplin filmed crucial scenes for his very first movie Making a Living (1914). The initial scene of Charlie’s entire career (below), discovered by Kevin Dale and reported HERE, was staged in front of a residential porch adjacent to the Keystone Studio that is now site for the driveway to a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant!  The former house at 1722 Allesandro appears in five other Chaplin Keystone films and in many other Keystone films as well.

In his debut role, con man Charlie witnesses a spectacular automobile accident caught on film by a reporter, then steals the camera and rushes downtown to apply for work at a newspaper. Above, Charlie stands at the Broadway side of the former Los Angeles Times building on the corner of 1st Street. The building was then barely a year old, rebuilt after a horrific bomb blast destroyed it, killing over twenty people, during a labor dispute in 1910. My book Silent Traces reveals more locations and history from the film. LAPL.

Exploiting the stolen photos, the newspaper churns out “extra” editions of Charlie’s front page story, which he eagerly helps to distribute. Above left, Charlie loads bales of the hot-off-the press edition into the newsboys’ bicycle carts in the alley beside the paper, and above right, hands out more copies to the newsies at the corner office of the paper, where “LARGEST CITY CIRCULATION” appears conspicuously in the window.

Despite the paper boasting of its “largest” circulation, its identity, and hence its location, eluded me for years. But then famed magician Harry Houdini, via champion Houdini historian and blogger John Cox, came to the rescue. In John’s recent Wild About Harry post, he proves Houdini performed a suspended straight-jacket escape in downtown LA on December 4, 1915. John writes how this stunt was frustratingly difficult to confirm until he finally located the story searching microfilm of the Los Angeles Tribune at the downtown public library. When Harry accepted the paper’s challenge to perform the stunt suspended from its headquarters building, it made the front page both when Houdini first tested the block and tackle rigging (at left), and again the next day when he escaped the straight-jacket in two minutes suspended in front of huge crowd. The only newspaper reporting the stunt was the difficult to access Tribune itself, because at the time the competing newspapers ignored the story completely. No wonder confirming the story had been so challenging.

While it was exciting to read Houdini had performed his signature escape in Los Angeles so early in his career, what caught my eye is that the front of the newspaper matched Chaplin’s corner paper office. Founded in 1871, the Los Angeles Express began operating at 719-721 S. Hill Street in 1911, the same year the Los Angeles Tribune morning paper began publishing from the same building. The two papers were later run by the Express-Tribune Company.

When Charlie filmed here the Express was the city’s oldest surviving daily paper. The building parapet reads 1871-1910, presumably to honor the years spent at its former headquarters. In 1917 the Express-Tribune Company advertised that the combined circulation for its two papers exceeded 115,000. Other newspapers complained these figures were fraudulent, and filed suit against the owner-publisher E. T. Earl. While some contemporary accounts of the 1917 lawsuit appear in the Los Angeles Times, I wasn’t able to determine its eventual outcome, and Mr. Earl died suddenly early in 1919. The photo detail at left, attributed to November 1917, shows for some reason the building now deserted, stripped of its EXPRESS name and up for lease. USC Digital Library.

Above, matching window details confirm the site. The 1913 postcard comes courtesy of author-historian Brent Dickerson, who manages the absolutely fascinating A VISIT TO OLD LOS ANGELES website, guiding readers up and down each block of 1900-1920 era downtown Los Angeles.

Above, this 1910 aerial view, a snippet of a wide panorama taken from a hot air balloon (!), shows the alley leading west from Hill Street to Olive Street alongside the Express building (arrow). USC Digital Library.

Looking closer, this frame from a different movie print shows the former Hotel Washington boarding house at 711 S. Olive Street across from the Hill-Olive alley, appearing (right) in this 1907 photo. The hotel was demolished in 1917 to make way for the Coulter’s Dry Good store building (more below), still standing at this spot today. USC Digital Library.

The Hill-Olive alley appearing in the film was defined by five buildings, those flanking each end of the alley, and the Hotel Washington across the street at back (see map, Charlie marked by the star). The area was a booming construction site at the time, and only one of these five buildings (dark gray on map) survives today, the corner at 716-722 S. Olive built in 1906 as headquarters for the Home Telephone & Telegraph Company. The building’s distinctive quartet of pitched roof skylights shown above remain today.

This wider view west down 7th reveals the filming site on Hill Street stood half a block from the Los Angeles Athletic Club at 7th and Olive where Charlie often resided. (Charlie wrote to his brother Syd from the club as early as August 4, 1914). Given the club’s prominent role in Chaplin’s life, and its proximity to where he began his career, it’s easy to imagine Charlie would reflect about his debut filming on Hill Street when visiting the club. Harold Lloyd filmed Never Weaken (1921) on the roof of the Ville de Paris department store (center), built in 1916 after Charlie filmed in the alley. The photo is attributed to November 1917, likely correct, as the right corner of 7th at Hill stands bare (a demolition permit was pulled in September 1917), in preparation for the future Warner Bros. Downtown – Pantages Theater which began construction there in 1919. Astute reader “Skip” suggests the apparent anomaly “1920” on the center roof promotes LA’s projected 1,000,000 census tally for that future year. USC Digital Library.

Looking east along 7th at Olive, this scene of Charlie and the drunk millionaire driving home in City Lights (1931) was staged across the street from the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and one block from Charlie’s debut performance site beside the former newspaper. The Ville de Paris appears at left, along with the Coulter Dry Goods store (built in part on the former Hotel Washington site around the corner).

Above, a final then and now view looking west at the alley side of the 1906 Home Telephone & Telegraph building, still standing. The Coulter Building, rather than the Hotel Washington, now appears at the far end across the street.

Houdini had connections to Buster Keaton as well, including this scene from Harry’s 1919 thriller The Grim Game (1919), filmed at the Chaplin-Keaton- Lloyd Hollywood Alley. I have several posts about the historic locations appearing in Houdini’s The Grim Game HERE.

Be certain to check out the fantastic Chaplin at Keystone DVD set from Flicker Alley.

Below, the 719 S. Hill Street corner where Charlie Chaplin AND Harry Houdini both once stood, creating history, is now a parking lot. But thanks to the work of John Cox and Brent Dickerson, and the incredible array of resources now available online, we can appreciate Charlie’s sense of what Los Angeles looked like over 100 years when he began his career.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Harry Houdini, Los Angeles Historic Core | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part One

In Daddy-Long-Legs (1919) Mary Pickford portrays an endearing young orphan later sent to college by an anonymous benefactor. Complications ensue when Mary meets her sponsor, unaware of his status, and they fall for each other. In what was Pickford’s most financially successful production up to that time, this charming film reveals surprisingly varied glimpses of early Los Angeles history.

To begin, Mary’s orphanage (upper left) was the same former Occidental College Hall of Letters building Charlie Chaplin would later use to portray a maternity hospital at the beginning of The Kid (1921) (lower left). The former college building was abandoned when Occidental moved to its new, larger Eagle Rock campus in 1914. By 1919 the hall had been deserted for years, and was perfectly cast to portray Mary’s orphanage. Mary filmed here first, well before Chaplin. USC Digital Library.

Mary lines up her fellow orphans along the north, back side of the former hall. The projecting left side of the building in the movie frame was later trimmed flush to the back wall, as confirmed by the 1950 Sanborn fire insurance maps. Also trimmed of its upper floor and peaked roof, the building still stands, a modest apartment block in Highland Park, surrounded by bungalows and strip malls. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Mary chases a fellow orphan east along the south face of the building. The Sanborn fire insurance maps confirm the large projecting porch in the movie frame was removed by 1950. Color photo Brad Alexander.

Mary and fellow orphan actor Wesley Barry pose by the NW corner of the building, essentially unchanged but for the landscaping. Color photo Jeffrey Castel de Oro.

Mary runs beside what was likely a prop wall built for the production, at the back, east corner of the building. Color photo Jeffrey Castel de Oro.

Wesley runs east along the south face – the porch now removed and doorway replaced with the two smaller windows at center. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Upper left, Mary chases an orphan along the east side of the hall, the same side appearing with Edna Purviance in The Kid (center). Notice the matching left drain spout in each vintage image. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Mary leads Wesley back inside the west entrance. Color photo Tony Barraza.

Witnessing the anonymous, long-legged shadow of her benefactor inspires Mary to call him “Daddy-Long-Legs.”

As I detail in my Chaplin book Silent Traces, Presidents Taft and Teddy Roosevelt also visited this campus building. So, Mary, the world’s most beloved actress, Chaplin, the world’s most beloved comedian, and two United States Presidents, all once visited this humble site. You can visit the inside of the building at this post HERE. The west entrance to the building is reached by walking between the row of bungalows at 121 N. Avenue 50, in Highland Park. Occidental College Archives and Special Collections.

Above, the left (north) side of the former Charles M. Stimson Library appears in this scene where a bum throws a seemingly worthless jug of hard cider over the wall. Mary and fellow orphan Wesley Barry find the jug and innocently become inebriated. The matching left side of the library appears at left in the above photo. My sense is the towering wall was built for the production – it facilitates the story, and does not appear in vintage photos. The telephoto image left, displaying no wall, looks east at where the bum stood to the left of the corner library. Once part of the Occidental campus, the former Stimson Library occupied the north corner of N. Avenue 50 and N. Figueroa Street. Above USC Digital Library and left California State Library.

A final view showing the west entrance – the left side of the building. (C) 2019 Microsoft. The vacant school building must have had the top floor removed and been converted to apartment use in the 1920s. It first appears listed as the Savoy Apartments, 121 N Av 50, in the 1926 City Directory, while the earliest building permit for the site (July 7, 1925) already describes the building as two stories tall and as “School altered to Apts.” Built in 1904, the building was declared Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument #585 on October 15, 1993.

Not only did Mary film at Occidental before Chaplin, at the time she was living at 56 Fremont Place, across the street from 55 Fremont Place (above left), the mansion later appearing in The Kid when Edna Purviance abandons her infant in a millionaire’s limousine. Mary’s 56 Fremont Place home appears center above in The Red Kimono (1925) – a movie staged with incredible locations, and above right as Jean Harlow’s home in Bombshell (1933). Chaplin’s production records (right) for filming this Fremont Place scene in The Kid simply identifies the setting as “Pickford Street,” tying the location directly to Mary. Given their close association, one can’t help but imagine that Mary was instrumental in bringing these two crucial filming locations to Charlie’s attention.

Daddy-Long-Legs opens with establishing shots explaining some babies are nourished and cared for in beautiful surroundings, while others are born to misery and strife.

The beautiful surroundings pictured above are the conservatories at Eastlake Park east of downtown, renamed Lincoln Park in 1917. The site is now home to a Lincoln Park senior center.

Click to enlarge – the conservatories appear at back, center, in this vintage aerial view looking east at the park – N. Mission Road to the left and Valley Blvd. to the right. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The next opening scene compares laboring orphans to prisoners in a chain gang. This brief shot from DDL reveals the true Los Angeles Orphanage once located at 917 S. Boyle Avenue near Hollenbeck Park. Notice the matching peaked side entrance and fire escape. USC Digital Library.

Later known as the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, this home for girls opened in 1890 and was in use until 1953. Long since demolished, Mary had also earlier staged scenes at this orphanage, above left, for Stella Maris in 1918. USC Digital Library.

Above, another true orphanage scene from Stella Maris. Mary stands by the arch beneath the side entrance stairs at the far lower left of the vintage image. It is fascinating (and frustrating) how often long lost iconic buildings are narrowly presented in silent film.

Now that we’ve covered DDL‘s deserted campus setting, its true orphanage cameos, and how Mary likely influenced Chaplin’s choice of two key scenes from The Kid, we’ll cover all of the MANY remaining locations, in Part Two, including two beautifully preserved mansions. Stay tuned.

Below, 121 N. Avenue 50, the former campus building, where Mary filmed at the west entrance shown here.

Posted in Mary Pickford, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Schindler

Click to enlarge – north up Kings Road at Waring

Several years ago, following my introduction of Sherlock Jr. at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, Los Angeles architect John Trautmann approached me to ask if I had noticed the famous Schindler house which appears in the background as Buster speeds along on his motorcycle.  Located at 835. N. Kings Road, this home would come to be revered as one of the most influential structures of the 20th century.

R.M Schindler (right), with architect Richard Neutra and Neutra’s wife Dionne and child in front of the house where the Neutras lived from 1925 until 1930.

R. M. Schindler was a progressive architect who emigrated from Vienna to work with Frank Lloyd Wright, first in Chicago in 1918, and then in Los Angeles in 1920.  Setting off on his own, Schindler built the Kings Road House in 1922, and for the next three decades went on to experiment with shaping space and making liveable, iconoclastic houses and apartments, mostly throughout Los Angeles.

The Kings Road House is still standing with its grounds intact, although hemmed in now by modern apartment buildings.  Organized on a “pinwheel” plan, in which vistas fly out from the core living spaces into the gardens beyond, it was built as a duplex, where each family could have its own indoor/outdoor realm.  Concrete slabs were poured flat on the ground and tilted vertically to form the walls, in which vertical strips of glass serve as windows.  The home’s rooftop sleeping porch is evident in the 1924 movie frame, but was yet to be constructed in the matching 1922 photo.

The Schindler House is now home to the MAK Center for Art and Architecture.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Sherlock Jr. | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The nearly last – Safety Last – joke

Three different Safety Last! rooftops for the closing scene, 548 S. Spring Street, 3rd and Spring, and 908 S. Broadway.

Surviving his heroic climb up a skyscraper during Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd falls into the arms of his loving fiancé Mildred Davis, waiting for him on the rooftop. As reported in another post, this satisfying conclusion was actually filmed from atop three different buildings all still standing in downtown, 548 S. Spring Street, the Washington Building at 3rd and Spring, and 908 S. Broadway. But as shown here, a fourth building was briefly involved in the final scene. (In all Lloyd employed 17 downtown buildings during his “thrill” comedies – see PDF list of descriptions here).

Harold’s roommate was supposed to make the climb (portrayed by real-life stunt climber Bill Strother), but Harold starts in his place when vengeful cop Noah Young chases Bill inside the building. At each floor of Harold’s climb Bill promises to switch places as soon as he can ditch the cop, a running gag.

The 908 S. Broadway building owners recreate the closing scene – Harold losing his shoes and socks.

Once safe at last on the roof, the movie closes with Harold losing his shoes and socks to a sticky puddle of tar (at left), the final joke of the movie, preceded by “drunken” character actor Earl Mohan helplessly entangled in a volleyball net (below). But the joke preceding Earl, the second to last joke of the entire film, tops off the running gag by showing Noah still chasing after Bill on a faraway roof down below, with Bill still pleading to Harold in tiny intertitle print “I’ll be right back – Soon as I ditch the cop.”

Noah Young chases Bill Strother along the roof of the former Mott Building.

This nearly last Safety Last joke was filmed looking down from the ten story Higgins Building, still standing at 2nd and Main, as Bill and Noah scramble north across rooftops from 141 S. Main to the Mott Building at 135 S. Main. Having studied the other Safety Last downtown locations, I knew this closing gag with Noah and Bill was not filmed near these other spots, and seemingly unsolvable, gave it no further thought.

Revisiting the scene years later, I realized from the light and angles that it was likely filmed looking north from the top of a fairly tall building. I also noticed trolley tracks in the street, and that one building had a finial (F) and a central, triangular parapet (P), while its neighbor had projecting twin bay windows, each sheltered by a curved roof (B) (see above). So I scrutinized vintage aerial photos for tall buildings south of two story parapets and bay windows, and before long found the corner of 2nd and Main. Once identified, numerous ground level photos and vintage maps confirmed the location. This street level view above looks north up Main from 2nd towards City Hall. USC Digital Library.

Above (click to enlarge), this 1927 view is one of several vintage aerial views that helped to identify this closing scene. The arrow marks the camera’s point of view.

Click to enlarge – another view from the Higgins Building looking down on where Noah chased Bill, with City Hall at back. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, the full view in the movie, filmed in 1922, with a matching aerial closeup from 1928.

Above, matching views up Main from Second, with City Hall at back. USC Digital Library and Palmer Conner collection Huntington Digital Library. At left, yet another view – LAPL.

HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.

Below, a matching modern view north up Main Street from the Higgins Building on the left corner.

Posted in Harold Lloyd, Los Angeles Historic Core, Safety Last! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

The Office – Film Noir – and Harold Lloyd

Click to enlarge.  Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) looking south down Witmer towards the Mayfair Hotel.  Dwight, Erin, and Holly from The Office, shown below, stood by the stop sign on the right.  (C) 2011 Google Inc.

What do the television show The Office, the 1950 film noir drama Edge of Doom, and Harold Lloyd’s final silent comedy Speedy (1928) have in common?  They all filmed scenes looking southwest down Witmer Street towards the front of the Mayfair Hotel, at 1256 W. 7th Street, just west of downtown Los Angeles.

The Office (2011) – Erin, Holly, and Dwight on Witmer Street beside the Prince Rupert Apartments. (C) 2011 Google Inc.

In a prior post I write all about the pivotal 2011 episode from The Office where characters Michael Scott and Holly Flax meet on the roof of the Mayfair Hotel, and declare their love for each other.   Prior to that scene, Holly meets with characters Dwight Schrute and Erin Kemper on the street to devise a plan for locating Michael, who had wandered off dazed without his cell phone.  The scene, shown above, was filmed at the NW corner of Witmer and Ingraham, beside what was once called the Prince Rupert Apartments.  Notice the steep slope of the street.

Click to enlarge. The prominent entrance to the Kensington Apartments, 668 Witmer Street, now lost, appears in Edge of Doom – left, and in Speedy – right. The Mayfair Hotel stands at the end in both shots. The Burton Arms Apartments, with the vertical white corner detail, still stands at 680 Witmer.

Harold Lloyd used the slope of Witmer Street to good advantage during an early scene in Speedy, where Harold recovers his idle taxi cab that had accidentally been towed away by a moving van.  As Harold speaks with the truck driver, the taxi breaks loose and rolls down hill running over a traffic cop.

The unusual setting intrigued me, as it featured a downhill slope pointing towards a “T” intersection, capped by an uncommonly tall building, on which a trolley ran along the cross street.   Although Speedy was filmed primarily on location in Manhattan, I also knew many taxi sequences were filmed on Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles.  So I first checked the few trolley-line “T” intersections to be found along Bunker Hill, and in the downtown LA Historic Core, but nothing matched up.  Since other scenes from this sequence were filmed in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I checked nearby locales there as well to see if I could find this setting in New York, but it was another dead end.

From Speedy – a cop about to be flattened by Harold’s taxi, and perhaps the only extant photo record showing the front of the lost Kensington Apartments.

My first break came when I noticed the Mayfair Hotel appeared at back during a scene in Edge of Doom (see above, left), as a troubled youth played by Farely Granger steps into the Kensington Apartments once located at 668 Witmer.  With the Mayfair as a reference point, I now knew what the Kensington looked like, as it appeared on film, even though it is no longer standing.  My second break was my realization (as discussed in my prior post about The Office) that in the 1920s there were tall buildings, such as the Mayfair, located just west of downtown Los Angeles, beyond the Historic Core.  Then, while searching for a file, I somehow come upon the two above images from Edge of Doom and Speedy, and got a hunch to compare them side by side, making the match.

The Burton Arms Apartments, 680 Witmer, as it appears in Speedy, 1928, and today. (C) 2011 Google Inc.

I find it fascinating how this one setting reappears over the decades.  My sense is that “T” intersections are popular when filming for a number of reasons.  First, it cuts down on traffic disruption, as through traffic can be more easily diverted.  Next, it seems to be less visually distracting.  Instead of the lines of the street stretching far off into the distance, drawing the viewer’s eye towards the vanishing point on the horizon, the cross street cuts across the view, creating a backdrop that contains the viewer’s eye.

California Historical Society, Title Insurance and Trust Photo Collection, Department of Special Collections, University of Southern California.  (c) 2012 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp.

The aerial views above look to the north.  The yellow arrow points SW down Witmer towards the Mayfair Hotel on 7th Street (yellow boxes), and the red ovals mark the corner stop sign where Dwight, Erin, and Holly stood (far above).  The pin to the upper right shows the site of the lost Kensington Apartments, now a parking lot.

You can read about how Lloyd filmed Speedy all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, at Coney Island, and in Los Angeles, in my Harold Lloyd location book Silent Visions.

HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.   The Office copyright (c) 2011 NBCUniversal Media, LLC.  Edge of Doom Copyright 1950 The Samuel Goldwyn Company.

Posted in Film Noir, Harold Lloyd, Speedy, The Office, TV Shows | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Chaplin, Keaton, and Lois Weber’s “Suspense” in Beverly Hills

The beautiful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers features dozens of early films created by women, many unseen for decades. One highlight is Lois Weber’s home invasion thriller Suspense (1913). As shown in a prior post, the film provides remarkable views of early Hollywood at the dawn of the movie industry, including below the Lasky-DeMille barn reflected in a side view mirror during the husband’s race home to rescue his threatened family. The “Barn” is now home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, located on Highland Ave. across from the Hollywood Bowl. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

The Lasky-DeMille barn at the corner of Selma and Vine – movie frame reversed for comparison

Leaving early Hollywood behind, the climax of the 1913 film takes place in Beverly Hills, at landmark locations that are today completely unrecognizable.

During his frantic race home, the husband hits a tramp pausing in the middle of an isolated dirt road to light a cigarette. Remarkably, this rural view looks west along Sunset Blvd. in eastern Beverly Hills, where Sunset bends left, south at Doheny Road. The matching tree, and bend in the road, appear in this vintage aerial view. LAPL.

Looking west, moments before the tramp is knocked over by the car. The box marks the same orderly rows of trees in both images, perhaps this was part of the Beverly Hills Nursery, see more below.

A 1922 view north, showing Sunset bending left, south at the “Y” intersection with Doheny Road. The perpendicular road to the right is Doheny Drive. The circle and box mark the same tree, and rows of trees, in the two frames above. LAPL.

Then and now, matching views where Sunset bends left, south, at Doheny Road.

Later during the race home the husband passes a billboard (above) that seems to say “Beverly Hills Nursery,” which once operated along Sunset Blvd.

This scene looking west, as the husband races along Sunset further east of Doheny Drive, appears to show in the distance the trio of domes (see below) spanning the entrance to the recently opened, and then completely isolated, Beverly Hills Hotel.

Above, the once remote Beverly Hills Hotel – USC Digital Library. The hotel appears prominently during Lois Weber’s Lost By A Hair (1914, see below), also part of the Pioneers Blu-ray set. As explained in my book Silent Traces, Charlie Chaplin would later film scenes from The Idle Class (1921, right) at the hotel, including this view of the hotel from what is now Will Rogers Memorial Park across the street.

Above, several 1914 scenes at the Beverly Hills Hotel from Lois Weber’s Lost By A Hair.

Looking north at Sunset Blvd. running from the Beverly Hills Hotel (left oval) to the Doheny Road corner (right oval), with the Beverly Hills Nursery possibly appearing mid-way in between. Santa Monica Blvd. runs diagonally from the lower left to upper right, while the former Beverly Hills Speedway race track stands in the foreground, sheltered from Wilshire Blvd. (running left-right above) by a row of trees. LAPL.

Above left, looking east down Doheny Road, towards where Sunset Blvd. bends to the right (south), as the police race towards the husband’s car (star). The view to the right looks west along Doheny, the star suggests where the husband’s car was parked.

We now throw a little Buster into the mix. This newly discovered footage from Keaton’s The Blacksmith (1922) was filmed nine years later, with a matching view east down Doheny Road (now paved) towards the Sunset Blvd. bend. The blue oval marks both sides of the entrance gate leading to “La Collina,” the Benjamin Meyers estate. You can read a detailed account of the estate HERE.

Contrast enhanced, the view from Suspense of the police racing north from Doheny Road towards the family home (left), and a matching view south from Chaplin’s Shoulder Arms (1918), both show tree-lined Doheny Drive leading at an angle south towards the left-right dark windbreak of trees along Wilshire Blvd. Doheny’s receding angle in each shot tells us Shoulder Arms was filmed further east, closer to Doheny Drive, than Suspense.

Looking north in 1922 reveals the gate to La Collina (blue), the likely site of the family home in Suspense (yellow), and the site where Charlie fooled the German soldiers disguised as a tree in Shoulder Arms (red), relative to perpendicular Doheny Drive to the right. You can read more about Chaplin filming here in my book Silent Traces.

Assuming this scene of the husband running towards the home was filmed where the other scenes were filmed on Doheny Road, then the house (yellow oval) appearing at back is likely the house (yellow oval) in the aerial view below.

Above – click to enlarge – this wider view looking north reveals the gate to La Collina (blue), the likely family home in Suspense (yellow), and the site where Charlie fooled the German soldiers disguised as a tree in Shoulder Arms (red). Nearby, the corner of Cynthia Street and Hammond Street (orange) marks the likely spot of another new scene from Keaton’s The Blacksmith, when Big Joe Roberts chases Buster past a street sign that seems to say “HAMMOND.” The view seems to be looking west down Cynthia from Hammond towards Doheny Drive, and is close to Buster’s scene beside La Collina (blue), below. I have several prior posts about the “new” scenes from The Blacksmith, read more HERE.

The gate to La Collina, looking east with Buster, and looking north in this 1922 view.

Another wide 1922 view showing the La Collina gate (blue), the likely site of the Suspense house – now removed (yellow), and the field where Chaplin disguised himself as a tree in Shoulder Arms (red). HollywoodPhotographs.com.

A final view – Buster, Lois Weber, and Chaplin all filmed near Doheny Road in east Beverly Hills, while it was undeveloped.

Matching views of the La Collina estate gate today.

Kino Lorber Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers. Check out Mary Mallory’s recent post about Lois Weber HERE.

Looking west at Sunset and Doheny Road.

Posted in Beverly Hills, Lois Weber, The Blacksmith | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Alice Howell Early Hollywood Views

We all owe Ben Model a huge debt of gratitude for releasing his fantastic new Alice Howell Collection DVD, featuring 12 shorts starring the delightful (and mostly forgotten) comedienne, sourced from archival materials from the Library of Congress, BFI, DFI, EYE Filmmuseum and Lobster/Blackhawk, each accompanied by Ben’s new piano and theatre organ scores. There are so many early Hollywood connections in these films I could write a series of posts, but here’s a taste to get started.

To begin, not only does Distilled Love (filmed 1918 – released 1920) offer up great views of Oliver Hardy and future Keaton leading lady Sybil Seely (above), but as confirmed by exterior filming locations expert Mike Malone, the bathing beauties diving scene below was staged at the rock pool at Malibu State Park, then known as Crags Country Club. A retired national park ranger, who leads fascinating tours and lectures about Hollywood filming in the Santa Monica Mountains, the Paramount Ranch, and elsewhere, Malone confirmed the diving pool, and that it appeared decades later for scenes from The Planet of the Apes (1968). Color photo Mike Malone.

Next, the prison scenes (below) from A Convict’s Happy Bride (1920), where the inmates are released each day to eat lunch at home, were staged at the former Los Angeles East Side Division (Lincoln Heights) city jail, at 419 N. Avenue 19.

Take A Chance and The Hoose Gow

The jail was a very popular filming location, also appearing in Harold Lloyd’s 1918 short comedy Take A Chance, and during the opening of Laurel & Hardy’s The Hoose-Gow (1929).

The jail also appears, clockwise, in Harold Lloyd’s Bashful (1917) upper left above, Billy Bevan’s Be Reasonable (1921), Lige Conley and Jimmie Adams in A Fresh Start (1920), Billy West’s Rolling Stone (1919), and Snub Pollard’s Nip and Tuck (1923). The jail was originally built in 1909, and expanded in 1913. The jail was re-built again in 1931 to the five-story structure still standing there today (inset right), and later closed in 1965. Known as the Lincoln Heights Jail, the facility became infamous for Bloody Christmas, the vicious beating of Latino prisoners at the hands of the police, that took place on December 25, 1951, and portrayed in the James Ellroy novel and 1997 movie L.A. Confidential.

Last, the 1915 short Father Was A Loafer offers many great views filmed at Castle San Souci, where Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Marie Dressler filmed Tilllie’s Punctured  Romance (1914), as well as scenes filmed in Hollywood on Cahuenga, but those must wait for another post. But as shown above, Alice’s co-star Billie Ritchie lived at 6089 Selma Avenue, still standing over 100 years later.

Alice Howell Collection DVD

The Father Was A Loafer home still standing at 6089 Selma Avenue in Hollywood.

 

 

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The Hollywood Heritage in Lois Weber’s Suspense

The beautiful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is a revelation, a six-disc set featuring dozens of early films created by women, many unseen for decades. One highlight is Lois Weber‘s innovative and aptly titled home invasion thriller Suspense (1913). As shown here, Suspense provides some remarkable views of early Hollywood at the dawn of the movie industry.

A young mother, home alone (also portrayed by Ms. Weber) telephones her husband working late that a tramp is breaking into their home. When the tramp cuts the phone line, the frantic husband steals a car, pursued by the police, who all race furiously to reach the home in time.

Above, the chase kicks into gear as the husband and then the police turn right (south) from Sunset onto Gower, with the Nestor Film Company studios in the background. The view, first identified by noted Hollywood historian Mary Mallory, looks north up Gower towards Sunset. Nestor is credited as Hollywood’s first permanent movie studio. Nestor above, LAPL, the same corner turn right from Sunset onto Gower, at left, taken in 1922 HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The corner Sunset-Gower street sign (oval) visible beside the Nestor Studio during the shot appears much more closely during this shot from One of the Bravest (1914), presented on YouTube by the Dutch EYE Filmmuseum.

[As an aside, both frames above from One of the Bravest mark the earliest film appearance I’ve found of the former Hollywood joint fire/police station (above, left) that opened in 1913 at 1625 – 1929 Cahuenga, south from the corner of Hollywood Boulevard. The above right frame looks north up Cahuenga, showing the fire house to the left side of the frame. Inset photo at right Tommy Dangcil.]

Suspense is noteworthy for its daring camera angles, triptych scenes of the husband, wife, and burglar, inter-cutting between the tramp breaking down doors and the cars racing home, and inventive shots such as here, where the cops chasing the husband appear reflected in his side view mirror.

Thanks to the Blu-ray image quality in this new release, we can see that the Lasky-DeMille barn, at the SE corner of Vine and Selma, appears reflected in the mirror as the crew raced north up Vine. Above, reversing the movie frame for comparison clearly matches this historic view. After Lois Weber filmed here, in December 1913 Cecil B. DeMille, working with Jesse Lasky, leased the barn for the production of The Squaw Man (1914), known as the first feature film produced in Hollywood. The “Barn,” home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, now stands on Highland Ave. across from the Hollywood Bowl. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge – 1919 – looking NW – the arrow runs north up Vine crossing Selma beside the Barn and the rest of the Famous Players Lasky Studio to the right. The next street up with the corner church is Hollywood Blvd. The large white home surrounded by trees, to the left of the cropping mark, is the Jacob Stern estate. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, this 1914 Baist Atlas map shows where the chase first turns right from Sunset onto Gower (right arrow), and then north up Vine past the Lasky-DeMille Barn on Selma (left arrow).

Next, during his frantic race home, the husband hits a tramp pausing in the middle of the road to light a cigarette. As we’ll see in part two of this post, this scene and the movie’s dramatic conclusion were filmed in Beverly Hills, where Sunset bends left, south at Doheny Road, near where Charlie Chaplin filmed his tree disguise scenes from Shoulder Arms (1918) and Buster Keaton filmed newly rediscovered scenes from The Blacksmith (1922). LAPL. Stay tuned for more Suspense!

A related post shows how Weber and other pioneer women filmmakers filmed at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood, years before the gents did.

Kino Lorber Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Below, a matching view north up Gower towards Sunset today.

Posted in Hollywood History, Lois Weber | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother Was Close to Home

It’s time to celebrate the wonderful new Blu-ray release of Harold Lloyd’s classic comedy The Kid Brother by the Criterion Collection. Considered by many to be Lloyd’s masterpiece, this release is simply stunning, a beautiful clear crisp print, a choice between Carl Davis’s stirring orchestral score and the theater organ score recorded by Lloyd’s friend Gaylord Carter, and an abundance of fascinating bonus programs, including my own visual essay Close to Home. Close to Home looks at the many filming locations, including exteriors staged at the historic Lasky Ranch in Burbank, revealing how Lloyd filmed this seemingly remote production within a few miles of his Hollywood studio, while also focusing on Lloyd’s personal home life, and the movie’s domestic themes that had never before played such a role in Lloyd’s films.

Photo by Suzanne Lloyd

To begin, I want to honor Richard Simonton, Jr., who contributes a bonus program of behind the scenes photos and photos of deleted scenes. Richard’s father was one of Harold’s best friends, who regularly screened Lloyd’s films at their home theater, accompanied by Gaylord Carter on their home theater Wurlitzer organ, which Lloyd hired Gaylord to use to record scores for many of his films. Richard Jr. and his brother Robert served as audio engineers for these recording sessions. A veteran Disney Imagineer, Richard Jr. was also good friends with Lloyd, and among his many accomplishments, Richard was one of the principals who helped to establish the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and was instrumental in preserving much of Lloyd’s cinematic and photographic legacy. In 1973 Richard Jr. made a fine grain master positive print of The Kid Brother from the original camera negative shortly before the nitrate negative decomposed. Richard’s rescued print sat patiently in a vault for decades until it was scanned in 4K and digitally restored for this release. The movie looks amazing, for which we all owe Richard a tremendous debt of gratitude, not only here, but for all of the many other pre-1948 Paramount and Fox nitrate prints that found their way into the UCLA archives thanks to Richard’s efforts.

This post covers only a few of the many new discoveries and details revealed in my program. The Kid Brother opens with this incredibly dramatic sunrise scene of a medicine show wagon lumbering along a fire trail on Catalina Island. A matte painting created the V-shaped ridge, and as we’ll see further below, it’s a special effect Lloyd used more than once. (Photo Daniel P. Hogan). The scuttled ship was the Palmyra, an old lumber ship that ran from Seattle to San Pedro for 50 years.

Once part of the Spanish-era Rancho Providencia, the Lasky Ranch in Burbank lay nestled between the Los Angeles River and the hills of Griffith Park. Used as a movie ranch by Universal in 1912, producer Jesse Lasky leased the property for filming in 1918. Paramount built many outdoor sets here during the 1920s. Since Paramount was proudly releasing The Kid Brother, this is where Harold did most of the filming. As I report in a prior post, D.W. Griffith staged the Civil War battles scenes here for The Birth of a Nation (1915), and two massive oaks appearing in the film remain standing today.

Looking east – Lasky Ranch 1922 – Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

In my essay I show a wedge-shaped bullfighting ring (yellow box above) built for Paramount’s 1922 production of Blood and Sand (see inset of director Fred Niblo with Rudolph Valentino beside the set – Donna Hill) while a ranch home and barn set built for Paramount’s The Old Homestead (1922) directed by James Cruze (red box above) appear as the home and barn for Harold’s rival Hank Hooper (below).

The touching scene where Harold climbs a tree to keep Jobyna in sight as she descends from a hilltop was staged on a hill (blue box on the above aerial) looking north towards the site of the Hooper farm. As I demonstrate in the essay, the future site of the Walt Disney Studios that opened in 1940 appears directly north behind Harold during this seemingly “remote” scene.

One revelation from working on the essay was discovering some of the back story regarding Lewis Milestone’s brief association directing The Kid Brother. As reported in Variety on July 7, 1926, the future two-time Oscar-winning director apparently resented Lloyd’s “interference,” and soon quit the project over disputes with his home studio Warner Bros. Co-director Ted Wilde then took over the production, but when Wilde later became ill, Lloyd gag-man Kitty Howe had to step in to finish the picture, earning a co-directing credit. Lantern Media. [Note: prior historical accounts report filming took place at Placentia and Santa Ana Canyon in Orange County, which is technically correct, as in early June Lloyd and Milestone filmed deleted scenes there by the Santa Ana River. Richard Simonton includes several photos from this river shoot in his bonus program.]

Last, while I now believe I made a mistake during my essay, it was pretty neat to find that Harold still has a few tricks up his sleeve. The early scene where the wagon seeks directions to Hickoryville was filmed looking north towards the Lasky Ranch from a fire trail high up in Griffith Park, paired here with matching vintage and contemporary photos (Mary Mallory, color photo E.J. Stephens). The movie frame looks down on what appears to be the Hickoryville sets in the far distance. While it always nagged me a bit there were so many buildings in the shot, and that these buildings stood much further south from where most of the other sets were built historically, with the DVD imagery available at the time I could only look so deep. But now with the Blu-ray to study I believe the appearance of Hickoryville was actually a matte painting of the town buildings superimposed over the trees. So Harold used this time-honored effect a second time during the film, and fooled me with it over 90 years later. [Note: all three images above show the approximate confines of where Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton would later be buried at what is now the Forest Lawn Cemetery that opened in 1952.]

Above, Harold races home to bring Sandoni (Constantine Romanoff) to justice. While the hills and fields of the Lasky Ranch have been graded, preserved now as peaceful cemetery grounds at Forest Lawn, there are moments when the mountain tops still realign with the past (Photo Paul Ayers).

One of the many bonus supplements is the rarely seen early Lloyd short That’s Him (1918). I’ve identified nearly every shot in the film, and hope to post about it some day, but for now, here’s a taste. Above, these views show the SE corner of Ord and New High Street. Lloyd later filmed scenes for From Hand to Mouth (1919) and For Heaven’s Sake (1926) at the SW corner across the street. LAPL. USC Digital Library.

HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc.

Below, the entrance to Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills

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Buster’s Paramount Backlot Plunge

c. 1920s: Buster Keaton with Women in Swimsuits

Buster's Our Hospitality waterfall stunt

Buster’s Our Hospitality waterfall stunt

I’m pleased to update this post to announce that the 2019 San Francisco Silent Film Festival will conclude Sunday May 5, with a 8:00 pm screening of Buster Keaton’s second feature comedy Our Hospitality (1923), to be accompanied by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. Now that Buster’s complete silent film oeuvre is available on Blu-ray, and more historic Hollywood photos become available for study, we continue to learn more about how Buster crafted his amazing comedies. For one, Buster filmed scenes from Cops (1922) at three other studio backlots, including the original Metro Studios next to his own small studio, the pre-MGM Goldwyn Studios in Culver City, and the former Brunton Studios on Melrose, now part of current-day Paramount site.

The Brunton Studio featured a unique “T” shaped concrete pool that Buster employed for two iconic water stunts; the once-lost high-dive gag from his 1921 short comedy Hard Luck, and the waterfall rescue stunt (above) that climaxes Our Hospitality.

Hard Luck

Click to enlarge – the Brunton Studio plunge as it appears in Hard Luck, with the left base of the “T” shaped pool covered over with thin wax made to look like brick. Many studios had backlot plunges, or pools, from which they could film water scenes, but only the Brunton Studio had a pool shaped like a “T” instead of a rectangle. Notice the distinctive background barn appearing in both images. Both views look east down Melrose Avenue. The upper right corner shows part of the original Douglas Fairbanks Studio, at the SE corner of Bronson Avenue, now the site of Raleigh Studios. aerial photo http://www.hollywoodphotographs.com/

Buster and his Chinese family in Hard Luck

Buster and his Chinese family in Hard Luck

During the climax of Hard Luck, Buster climbs a high diving platform, and hoping to impress the bathing beauties assembled to watch, performs a swan dive so far from the tower that he passes the far edge of the pool, and smashes through the brick deck creating a crater. The women peer deep into the hole, unable to see where he has gone. In what Buster would later recount as his biggest laugh-getting gag ever, years later Buster climbs back out of the crater wearing Chinese garb, followed by his Chinese wife and their children. Once considered lost, in many versions of the film the movie fades out just as Buster attempts his dive. But newer releases show the gag play out fully (see above). As Buster describes the scene in a 1929 interview, the left base of the “T” shaped pool was covered with thin wax painted to look like brick, allowing Buster to safely dive into pool deck.

As discussed in the comments below, Buster’s trajectory during the dive looks odd, and the scene cuts just as he touches the deck. Perhaps animation or some other effect supplemented the shot – perhaps what we have available today is an alternate take, while the footage of Buster filming the dive “for real” remains lost. In any case, the dive could only be staged as a true stunt with the arm of a “T” shaped pool covered over, which is precisely what Buster set up. Three years later, Keaton returned to the Brunton plunge to film the truly death-defying waterfall stunt from Our Hospitality.

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A side view of the Our Hospitality waterfall stunt set, built over the “T” shaped plunge at the Brunton Studios on Melrose.  The miniature hillside set standing to the left appears behind Buster during scenes filmed at the brink of the falls (see below), creating the illusion that he was far up off of the ground.  photo Photoplay Productions Ltd.

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The miniature hillside behind Buster is a set, apparent in the prior photo above.

During the climax of Our Hospitality, Buster rescues his girlfriend, played by his first wife Natalie Talmadge, from sweeping over the brink of a waterfall by swinging like a pendulum from a rope tied to a log jammed in the rocks, grabbing her just as she starts to fall.  Buster’s waterfall stunt set was also built astride the special “T” shaped pool that stood at the Brunton Studio, readily apparent in these behind the scenes photos above and further below. The Brunton Studio plunge was located just north of Melrose, due east of the modern Windsor Boulevard entrance gate to the Paramount Studios. Buster’s small studio, at Eleanor and Lillian way, stood just a few blocks away.

Buster at the top of the waterfall set - Paul Gierucki

Buster at the top of the waterfall set and practicing for the stunt – photos Paul Gierucki

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The orientation of the “T” shaped water pool, just north of Melrose, between where Windsor Boulevard and Irving Boulevard (neither yet plotted on this 1921 map) would later terminate at Melrose. The Robertson-Cole Studios and Brunton Studios depicted here are now all part of the modern Paramount Studios site.

This view shows the enclosed Keaton Studio stage (oval) relative to the plunge

This view shows the enclosed Keaton Studio stage (oval) relative to the plunge. aerial photo http://www.hollywoodphotographs.com/

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A view of the empty plunge – The Photodramatist Magazine September 1922.

 

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A front view of the Our Hospitality waterfall stunt set, looking west. photo Photoplay Productions Ltd.

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These shots from Our Hospitality of Buster scaling a cliff, left, and nearly falling from a cliff, center, were filmed on the waterfall stunt set, with the camera placed on its side, a technique frequently used during the 1960s Batman TV series, as Batman and Robin “climbed ” the face of an office building. The true image appears to the right.

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The Paramount Studios Melrose Avenue gate across from Windsor Boulevard. The Brunton Studio plunge once stood on the lot to the right (east) of the modern gate.

Our Hospitality and Hard Luck licensed by Douris UK, Ltd.  Special restored version of  Hard Luck copyright 1987 The Rohauer Collection.

Posted in Buster Keaton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

Buster Keaton and Marceline Day

I’m pleased to update this post to announce the 2019 San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off this year on Wednesday, May 1, with a 7:00 pm screening of Buster Keaton’s 1928 comedy triumph The Cameraman, in a beautiful new restoration undertaken by the Criterion Collection, Warner Bros. and Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna, and accompanied by Timothy Brock conducting an ensemble of students from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music performing his original score. The 2019 SFSFF Award for commitment to the preservation of silent cinema will be presented to Gina Luca Farinelli on behalf of the Cineteca di Bologna before the screening.

Set in New York, but filmed mostly in Hollywood, The Cameraman was Keaton’s last silent feature production, and his first film for his new studio MGM. Buster plays a tintype photographer, selling portraits on the sidewalk, who longs to become a newsreel cameraman in order to impress Sally (played by Marceline Day), a receptionist for the Hearst Newsreel Company.  While I cover the New York and Hollywood locations more extensively in my Keaton book Silent Echoes, here below are a few fun discoveries. (Note: for Manhattan fans, other recent posts reveal the setting of Marceline’s New York apartment appearing in the film at 20 W 58th St, and Buster running beside the newly-opened Bergdorf-Goodman department store, both seen HERE, and the setting for Buster’s New York apartment at 201 E 52nd St, revealed HERE).

Early in the film, Buster leaps aboard a moving fire truck at the iconic intersection of Hollywood and Vine, with the stately Taft Building standing in the background.

This circa 1934 aerial view of Hollywood (below) shows the path (arrow) of Keaton’s fire truck at Hollywood and Vine (1), and later its path as it travels north up Cahuenga towards Hollywood Boulevard (2), before turning left into the former Hollywood fire station (4).   The parking lot across from the fire station (3) is where Buster stows his pet cow Brown Eyes during his feature comedy Go West (1925), and the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley up the street (5) is where a passing car whisks Buster away one-handed during Cops (1922).

Click to enlarge.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

(1) Hollywood and Vine; (2) up Cahuenga; (3) the Go West parking lot; (4) the fire station interior; (5) the Cops alleyway, part of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley.

You can download a PDF tour explaining more than a dozen silent movies filmed on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood here Hollywood’s Silent Echoes Cahuenga Tour 2018.

Jumping to New York, when Sally calls Buster to tell him her plans have changed, and she is free to see him, Buster dashes up 5th Avenue from W 55th Street, and arrives at her apartment before she can hang up the phone. Later, Buster and Sally stroll along the same block.

During one of the few scenes filmed on location in New York, Buster races north up 5th Avenue from the corner of W 55th Street.  To the far right stands the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church.  The spires in the center right background, my original clue to identifying this scene, belong to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the 11th largest church in the world.  In the modern view below the spires are blocked by glass skyscrapers. This stretch of 5th Ave also appears in W.C. Fields’ It’s The Old Army Game (1926), and in Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) – read more HERE.

As mentioned, other posts reveal Madeline’s New York apartment, and Buster’s New York apartment.

The Venice Plunge interior, as it appears during the film.

Another notable location appearing in The Cameraman is the Venice Plunge (now lost), the large indoor swimming pool located beside the former Abbot Kinney Pier, where Buster and Sally go on a date. Charlie Chaplin filmed beside the Venice Plunge in 1915 for his short comedy By The Sea.

The front of the Venice Plunge.  Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

Buster beside the extant home at 2234 Channel Road in Newport Beach.

The conclusion of The Cameraman was filmed in Newport Beach in Orange County. The extant Newport Beach Pavilion appears in one early shot.  The boat race was staged near the south end of  Newport Bay. The oval in this aerial view below shows where the speed boat runs in a circle. The blue dot below show where Buster captures the speed boat on camera, standing before the extant home at 2234 Channel Road, appearing behind Buster during the scenes (at left).

Buster stood near the blue dot above, filming across the channel towards Bayside Drive, as the speed boat races in a circle (oval above). (C) 2012 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (c) 2012 Pictometry International Corp.

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Manhattan, The Cameraman | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Green Acres, Pickfair, Chaplin’s Breakaway Home, and Keaton’s Italian Villa

Below, 1937, Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres (red), Doug and Mary’s Pickfair (blue), Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow), and Buster Keaton’s Italian Villa (orange). Who knew they were all spaced so close together?

Click to enlarge. Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres (red), Buster Keaton’s Italian Villa (orange), Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow), and Pickfair (blue). Flight c-4686, Frame 8 UCSB Library.

I knew Charlie Chaplin’s home (yellow above and left) stood practically next door to Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford’s Pickfair home (blue above and left), but never realized that Charlie lived nearly as close to Buster Keaton (orange above and left), and that they all lived close to Harold Lloyd’s Green Acres estate as well (red above and left). Above, this 1937 photo taken from 8,400 feet shows just how close the five superstars once lived to one another. Another revelation, look at how Lloyd’s massive estate dwarfs the other impressive estates by comparison, perhaps larger in size than the three others combined. At left (Flight C_113, Frame 75 UCSB Library, click to enlarge), a 1927 photo taken at 18,000 feet, from more than twice the altitude, where you can see undeveloped land being graded for Lloyd’s Green Acres (red box), which began construction that year. For reference, the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset (green box) appears at the bottom of the image.

While many words have been written about these stately homes, my goal here is simply to share the marvel of seeing them all for the first time in close proximity to each other. Below, images of Keaton’s Italian Villa, 1018 Pamela Drive, with its grand stairway leading down to the pool. The 1937 aerial view is rotated looking east, to better match the other photos.

Below, Chaplin’s home at 1085 Summit Drive, featuring a long tapering lawn sloping west (left) towards a swimming pool at the far end of the property, a separate path leading to his famous tennis court, and a prominent forecourt (right) with room to park numerous cars. Rumored to have been hastily constructed by Charlie’s studio carpenters, the home was jokingly called the Breakaway House. Charlie Chaplin Image Bankboth.

Architectural historian David Silverman, of LA House Histories, reports David O. Selznick lived due south of Chaplin (see inset, red outline) while by 1937 Fred Astaire lived immediately next door at 1121 Summit Drive (see inset, maroon outline). Below, the Pickfair estate at 1143 Summit Drive, the 1937 aerial view rotated looking east to aid comparison. Notice the distinctive kidney-shaped pool at the far edge. LAPLboth.

Finally, Harold’s massive estate, 1740 Green Acres Drive, had over 40 rooms, with grounds featuring a dozen fountains, an Olympic size pool, and a nine-hole golf course. Be sure to enlarge the 1937 view to enjoy all of the details. California State Libraryboth.

Below, Green Acres portrays a foreign embassy during a 1975 episode of the classic-era TV detective series Columbo, starring Peter Falk. Read all about it HERE.

If you search on Google maps aerial view, you can see that while Pickfair and Charlie’s homes were extensively remodeled, the Pickfair swimming pool appears in the same spot, as does Charlie’s tennis court, while Buster’s and Harold’s beautiful homes, still relatively intact, today stand watch over many other homes occupying their estates’ subdivided grounds. Be sure to read the comments below, where readers identify other famous homes. Please share with me any that you can identify.

Note: Buster only lived here 10 months or so, but check out Duncan Maginnis’s post about Keaton’s now lost former home at 637 S. Ardmore Place. Duncan is the author of the amazingly rich series of blog posts about classic Los Angeles neighborhoods, including BERKELEY SQUARE; WESTMORELAND PLACE; WILSHIRE BOULEVARD; ADAMS BOULEVARD; WINDSOR SQUARE; ST. JAMES PARK; and FREMONT PLACE.

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. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Doug Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Silent Echoes LA Bus Tours and Podcast

Kim Cooper and Richard Schave are a married pair of Los Angeles history titans and guardian angels. Bloggers (Esotouric blog, 1947 Project), authors (The Kept Girl), and podcasters (You Can’t Eat the Sunshine) about everything LA, from Bunker Hill, film noir, true life crimes, and pop culture, they champion preservation of historic sites, conduct lectures and LA-themed literary salons (Los Angeles Visionaries Association – LAVA) with other historians and authors, and lead ESOTOURIC bus tours into the secret heart of Los Angeles, visiting offbeat literary and historic sites. How offbeat? Well, I’m excited to say they’ve invited me to conduct two Silent Echoes bus tours around Los Angeles this coming March 2 and 3. There are still a few spots open for the Sunday tour, and a spot might open here and there for Saturday from random cancellations. I want to thank and promote Kim and Richard for all they do to champion and preserve LA’s rich and unique history. For those who live in LA, be sure to check out their many diverse and fascinating tours.

I also had the honor of being interviewed recently by Mike Gebert for his informative Nitrateville Radio podcast. Aside from being an award-winning food critic (Fooditor) and Chicago food-themed video producer (Sky Full of Bacon), Mike is an authoritative and tireless promoter of classic era film. Moreover, Mike is site administrator for the NITRATEVILLE forum, dedicated to talking, collecting, and preserving classic film, recently celebrating its 11th year anniversary. I’ve enjoyed listening to Mike’s interviews with a variety of experts and authors, and am truly impressed by his insightful questions.

So yes, blatant self-promotion concerning my interview and tours, but I am truly proud and happy to promote ESOTOURIC and NITRATEVILLE , and want to thank Kim, Richard, and Mike for all that they do to promote and preserve our historic and cultural heritage.

I also want to give a shout out to film historian, author, and all-around great guy Frank Thompson, who interviewed me several years ago for his wonderful The Commentary Track classic film podcast.

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