Time Travel to 1919 Hollywood

Imagine when Hollywood was still a town, with stately homes, dirt roads, orchards, and scores of vacant lots. Vintage photos are compelling, but silent films are true time machines, placing you at the spot to see and breathe a slice of reality. Working with the Library of Congress, Michael Aus has made such early films available to the public (his eBay link), including several early Lyons-Moran comedies. Watching them is a revelation. In particular, his release Waiting at the Church (1919) is one of the most visually consequential silent films I’ve ever seen, with scenes filmed all around La Brea, Highland, and nascent Hollywood Boulevard (above, from Cahuenga to Ivar). Scratching the surface, this introductory post selects just one scene per film to illustrate Hollywood’s past. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

To begin, groom Eddie Lyons and best man Lee Moran flee for an urgent errand at the opening of Waiting at the Church, staged beside the former First Methodist Episcopal Church on the corner of Hollywood and Ivar. California State Library.

Lyons and Moran appeared in over 300 films together under the Nestor and later Star Comedies banners. The church was demolished in 1923 for the Guaranty Building standing there today.

Cinematically mismatched character actors approach the corner of Hollywood and Ivar, beside the original branch library, in Mrs Plum’s Pudding (1915 !!). LAPL.

Opening in 1907, the original branch library was relocated in 1922, to allow a more modern library facility to be built on the corner in 1923. This structure itself was moved half a block south to 1623 Ivar in 1939. That facility was later destroyed by arson in 1982, with a new library opening at 1623 Ivar in 1986. A streamline moderne building stands on the NW corner of Hollywood and Ivar today, it’s building permit issued late in 1939.

Eddie Lyons plays a country bumpkin in Taking Things Easy (1919), looking north up Cahuenga toward the corner of Hollywood Blvd. Note the awning for “GREEN ROOM CAFE” in both images. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

This corner once existed because the remainder of the street was still empty lots!

During early December 1919, Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes here discovering an abandoned baby for The Kid (1921). A popular filming spot, in part due to the limited alternative locations at the time, the same setting appears in several early Universal films, including this matching view from Eleanor’s Catch (1916).

At back, that corner iron post to the left of Charlie is still present (right), part of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley. At the time the east-west cross arm of the alley was nearly as long as the north-south stretch. In 1919 Hollywood was growing so quickly that even by the early 1920s many original landmarks were lost to progress. This PDF tour documents the 1600 block of Cahuenga, the busiest silent film location street in town.

I want to thank Michael Aus for working with the Library of Congress to make these entertaining time-travel films available to eager fans. Visit his eBay listing where you can purchase these films directly. Proceeds from the sale benefit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Also thanks to silent film super-hero Ben Model whose Undercrank Productions has released over 20 rare silent movie DVDs. His Silent Comedy Watch Party, a live-streamed silent comedy film show with live piano accompaniment, hosted each Sunday at 3 pm EDT with co-host film historian Steve Massa, provides laughs and sense of community to an appreciative shelter-in-place audience. Ben and Steve screened Waiting at the Church recently – you can watch it at their YouTube link HERE.

Last, another nod of gratitude to accomplished authors, photo archivists, and historians Marc Wanamaker and Bruce Torrence, for preserving priceless views of Hollywood’s past.

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 Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Hollywood History, Lyons and Moran | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops

CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops, honors these still universally recognized icons of silent comedy with an anthology of entertaining and informative essays assembled and edited by Lon & Debra Davis. Historian Sam Gill provides the foreword, joined by noted authors such as Joe Adamson, Rob King, and Brent Walker, to name a few, making this the first major book devoted to the klutzy troupe. One fun fact I hadn’t appreciated until deftly explained by Lea Stans of Silent-ology fame, in her chapter debunking numerous myths, the Cops never appeared in a starring series of films, but only as supporting characters enhancing the mayhem in other movies. While this is her print book authorial debut, Lea is a wonderful, informed writer, who covers all aspects of silent film history and culture in her always fascinating Silent-ology blog.

One of the best aspects of hosting this Silent Locations blog are the inquiries and fun discoveries shared by readers. Charley Hepperle inquired about a photo of the Cops (left) staged for Hollywood Cavalcade, appearing in his blog devoted to Southern California life in 1939. Where was the photo taken? His post referred to Ralph Cantos’s blog about the LARy and Pacific Electric Railways, which featured a different Cops-trolley photo staged for Hollywood Cavalcade.

That second photo looked familiar, as Hollywood hero Marc Wanamaker had shared the same photo to introduce Randy Skretvedt’s Chapter 12 in the new Cops book. Remarkably, Marc’s photo provided an ever-so-slightly wider view to the right, offering a tantalizing bit of street sign reading “RIDGE.“

Long story short, after crowd-sourcing ideas with Charley and Pacific Electric trolley author Steve Crise, we confirmed these 1939 photos were staged along Douglas Street, a mere 81 years ago, in the hills appropriately adjacent to Echo Park, where so many Keystone comedies took place.

Above, matching views south down Douglas towards the corner of Ridge Way, with the sign detail (inset) from Marc Wanamaker’s 1939 photo. The back apartment with the distinctive stairway was built in 1931, while the front corner apartment, a vacant lot in the 1939 photo, was built in 1940.

Above, the formal porch roof of the quaint bungalow standing at 1008 Douglas, appears to the left in both 1939 photos, and today.

Sadly, this beautiful two-story, four-flat unit at the same site, 1014 Douglas, built in 1907, was demolished in 1960. The house to the left remains standing. BONUS: as reported in the book, and in my blog HERE, even Charlie Chaplin played a Cop, during the previously lost film A Thief Catcher (1914), rediscovered by producer-historian Paul Gierucki.

Above, the Douglas Street filming site near Echo Park was situated at the very north end of the Los Angeles Railway “I” line (circle at left), which allowed the remaining 99% of the line to continue in service during these stunts. This view above north shows the line end, at Douglas and Kensington. Robert T. McVay photo – Robert Cantos Collection.

CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops. All proceeds from the book will be allocated to the cause of silent film preservation.

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.

Below – site of the 1939 Keystone trolley crash.

Posted in Keystone Studio | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Buster Keaton – Hard Luck, The Goat – closeups at Westlake Park

Click to enlarge – Westlake Park – 1923. Focus on the top corner and bottom center of the park – National Archives

Vintage movies and photos are time machines. This rare 1923 photo reveals exactly where Buster Keaton flees from Big Joe Roberts during The Goat (1921) nearly a century ago.

This detail looks SE at the 7th Street and Alvarado corner of Westlake (now MacArthur) Park. The photo shows the very same bushes and streetlamps appearing alongside Buster.

Buster’s path (arrow) into the park. LAPL

Remarkably, the corner gas station at back in 1921 (you can barely read “Wilshire Oil Company Inc.” beside Joe’s hat) was moved to 1717 W 6th Street nearby the following year, with the corner site developed into store fronts, that in 1947 would become home to world-famous Langer’s Delicatessen. The Alvarado Theater and Newell Apartments further behind the gas station site remain standing, the rooftop stairwell enclosures match (red ovals above). Buster filmed other scenes from The Goat, and from My Wife’s Relations (1922), beside the Alvarado Arms and Weymouth apartments nearby, still standing further south on Alvarado.

Wilshire bisects the park USC Digital Library

Westlake Park was a very popular movie location, recognizable in early films because its central lake was much wider than the narrow competing lakes at Echo and Hollenbeck Parks. Sadly, Westlake lay directly in the path of Wilshire Blvd., a major thoroughfare, which originally terminated at the west side of the park. Despite protests and court battles, Wilshire was extended across the park in 1934, dividing the lake and park in two and forever changing its appeal. In 1942, while WWII was still raging, the park commission changed the name to MacArthur Park, at the behest of Wm. Randolph Heart’s campaign to promote the general as a viable Presidential candidate.

Other silent-era landmarks appear in the main photo, including the Ansonia Apartments, barely visible at the far left center edge, that portrays Edna Purviance’s home in A Woman of Paris (1923), and the now lost Regent Apartments at the lower left corner, that portrayed the front of the restaurant where Charlie Chaplin worked in The Rink (1916). The Dresden Apartments at the top center edge, is the mystery building Bill Strother climbs early during Safety Last! (1923).

Keaton filmed scenes here for Hard Luck earlier the same year. Above, looking north from Lake Street towards 7th Street and the park, a block west from Alvarado, despondent yet resourceful Buster avails himself of some free rope with which to attempt suicide. Notice to the left (west) the grass median between the sidewalk and curb – this once residential street was originally lined with stately homes.

In conclusion, a trio of statues honoring Gen. Harrison Otis, the Civil War veteran/original owner/editor/publisher of The Los Angeles Times newspaper, provide effective camouflage for Buster to pose frozen hiding from the police in Hard Luck, a joke Stan Laurel later copied or independently devised for his 1923 solo comedy White Wings.

The figures stood at the park entrance terminus of Wilshire Blvd., with Otis pointing west down the boulevard towards the sea. Otis’s home once stood across the street (left corner foreground), that would house the Otis Arts Institute beginning in 1918, now the Otis College of Art and Design (since relocated to Westchester). After the boulevard extension split the park, the figures were rotated 90 degrees, so the figure of Otis now points north. The foreground figure (a surveyor?) is now absent, perhaps hit by a car. LAPL.

The featured aerial photo of this famous park is one of many historic public domain photographs available from the National Archives.

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.

Below, General Otis at MacArthur park.

Posted in Buster Keaton, The Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Time Travelers: Uncovering Old LA in Keaton Comedies

Criterion’s The Cameraman Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including Oscar-nominated Daniel Raim’s 2020 documentary Time Travelers: Uncovering Old LA in Keaton Comedies, revealing newly discovered connections between Keaton’s MGM debut and the earliest films of his career. Raim’s recent works include Image Makers, chronicling pioneering cinematographers such as Gregg Toland, Rollie Totheroh, and James Wong Howe, broadcast on TCM, and the acclaimed Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story, rated 97% “Fresh” on RottenTomatoes, streaming on Netflix. A “reel” life Valentine, Harold and Lillian spotlights famed storyboard artist Harold Michelson and his wife, Lillian, a film researcher, who worked on hundreds of movies during Hollywood’s golden age. Daniel’s profile of Alfred Hitchcock’s longtime production designer Robert Boyle, The Man on Lincoln’s Nose, was nominated for Best Documentary Short.

This February I had the honor of working on Time Travelers with Daniel (a new hero) by taking one of my all-time heroes, the incredibly knowledgeable and generous Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker, on a tour of Hollywood locales where Buster filmed. Marc has appeared in over 30 Hollywood documentaries.

Another all-time hero, Leonard Maltin, reviewed our Time Travelers program as “breathtaking – I’ve never seen a more meaningful or resonant presentation of then and now footage.”

Cinematographer Battiste Fenwick, who works frequently with Daniel, filmed us walking along Hollywood and Vine and other sites. Spending that pre-shelter-in-place day conversing and sharing meals with Daniel, Marc, and Battiste was a fascinating time I will long remember.

Another frequent Raim collaborator, celebrated animator and designer Patrick Mate, honored the occasion with this cartoon of Marc and me blithely walking past Buster on our tour. Although Patrick wasn’t involved with our project, his transitional illustrations vividly enhance the Image Makers and Harold and Lillian documentaries.

While I cover The Cameraman locations extensively in my book Silent Echoes, working with Daniel inspired me to revisit the film, and I’ve now identified essentially every scene. This post supplements material discussed either in Time Travelers or in my many prior The Cameraman posts.

Time Travelers opens with a beautiful shot of the Santa Monica Pier, where (explained HERE) Keaton shot an elaborate scene drenched by overhead sprinklers in a moving car. Buster’s audition newsreel movie footage is loaded with double-exposed mistakes (fully explained HERE), including a battleship steaming along 7th Street and Figueroa in downtown LA. And with help from NYC expert Bob Egan (PopSpotNYC.com) nearly every Manhattan location is covered in prior posts, including tourist home movies of Buster filming at City Hall Park.

One highlight of the documentary concerns my favorite new discovery that comes after Buster rescues Marceline from drowning at the boat race (staged in Newport Beach (oval in 1927 photo above) near where a small public pier stands today at 2100 Channel Road). UC Santa Barbara – c-113_1098.

When Buster runs off seeking drug store supplies to resuscitate her, cowardly Harold Goodwin swoops in to play the hero. Returning too late, Buster sees them stroll away arm in arm.

I’m familiar with 1920s era Newport Beach (Buster previously filmed there four times) and knew the little drug store wasn’t located anywhere near that beach community. Checking the scene, a brief shot revealed it was a two-story building with a high digit 3689 address. Playing a hunch, I checked a vintage phone book and quickly found Mrs. C. F. Claiborne’s grocery at 3689 Motor Avenue on the corner of Regent in Palms, just north of the MGM studio in neighboring Culver City. The large generic “DRUGS” sign was a self-explanatory prop – you can see ads for grocery items like Salada Tea and Nucoa Margarine in the window, above right.

The Sanborn maps and various aerial views confirmed the site, a two-story corner shop with matching background buildings, landscaping, and wide sidewalk median all as appearing in the movie. During the scene (above) Buster scares off a cat resting on the front steps. I successfully pleaded with Daniel to include me mentioning the cat in the program because: (a) people love cats, and (b) how clueless would it look if I noticed the street address but NOT the startled cat! The Cinema Cats blog also reports this surprise feline cameo.

As I explain in the documentary, while this “drug” store was likely selected for being conveniently located just steps away from MGM, it must have had a special resonance for Buster, because he had started his career nearby, filming The Hayseed (1919) with his friend and mentor Roscoe Arbuckle just a few blocks up the street at the Arden Grocery on the corner of Motor and National. (In my on-camera excitement I erroneously inflated the timespan between the Arbuckle and MGM films from nine years to eleven.) What’s more, Buster filmed an early scene from Sherlock Jr. (1924), possibly directed by Arbuckle, across from the same Arden Grocery, also where Stan Laurel filmed Kill or Cure (1923). So Buster carried many strong associations with Motor Avenue before filming his drug store scene there for MGM.

In the program I forgot to mention, as reported HERE, Buster and Roscoe also filmed scenes from The Garage (1919) (upper left and left oval above) on Motor and Venice, just a block south of that same The Cameraman site (lower left and right oval above).

As shown above, the two Motor Avenue film locations representing the birth and zenith of his career were just blocks away from the Grant Avenue bungalow Buster rented outside the MGM studio as his dressing room (oval above), reported in detail HERE. Louis B. Mayer would later insist Buster use instead the “Keaton’s Kennel” dressing room specially built for him on the studio lot, reported HERE. Imagine Buster’s state of mind. His friend Roscoe had been blacklisted from films for years, Buster had lost his independent studio, and despite MGM’s promises, was fighting tooth and nail over every scene. Now, traveling from his bungalow to the drug store site, Buster likely drove by the very spot where long ago he and Roscoe had once made a movie together. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

My favorite moment in the documentary is when Marc and I are standing at Hollywood and Vine as I describe Buster jumping aboard a moving fire engine at this corner. Just then a bright red, equally large tour bus makes the same left turn before us, and Marc doubles over exclaiming “JUST LIKE THIS! THAT’S THE FIRE ENGINE!” That still makes me smile.

Speaking of smiling, don’t miss Buster’s priceless blink-and-you’ll- miss-it reaction closing Daniel’s show, as the over-eager crowd of extras pushing Buster around elicits a most non-stoneface-like response.

My blog now features NINE posts addressing The Cameraman. This link HERE promoting the 2019 restored screening of the film by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, provides a brief overview of the primary filming locations.

It was tremendously gratifying working with Daniel and Marc. I hope you check out the new The Cameraman release, specially priced at 50% off until August 2 at Barnes & Noble, and our new Time Travelers program. Also on sale, for which I’ve also prepared new visual essays, are Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last!, The Freshman, and The Kid Brother. You can read more about my The Kid Brother essay Close to Home at this post HERE.

The Cameraman images © 1928 Turner Entertainment Co. Time Travelers images © 2020 The Criterion Collection

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps at this link. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

Below, the site of the Newport Beach water rescue

Posted in Buster Keaton, Culver City, The Cameraman | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Buster Keaton – Ghosts of Go West

I’m pleased to share another post by guest blogger Jeffrey Castel de Oro, who has made many wonderful Keaton discoveries over the years (read his popular prior post about the adobe appearing in Buster’s The Scarecrow HERE.) This ghostly image above shows Buster sitting in what is now the downtown Arts District. Where? How? Jeff will explain all – take it away, Jeff.

Recently John shared images with me from Buster Keaton’s Go West. It’s a short but pivotal scene early in the film. Buster portrays “Friendless” who, due to his lonesome social status, finds himself wandering from town to town. After a stop in bustling New York City where he quickly finds himself overwhelmed by the crowds, he pauses for a moment near this loading dock where he discovers a woman’s handbag containing a small pistol. The sight of this firearm prompts an imaginary ghostly vision of Horace Greely to appear, giving this young man the idea to board a nearby railcar and “Go West.”

Assuming this scene was likely shot in Los Angeles, John noticed the “ghost sign” faint lettering “IMPERIAL WARE” on the building just over the train car, but the clues for this location weren’t adding up. There was a local business named Imperial Warehouse that existed at 2415 E. 14th Street in Los Angeles, contemporary to the time Go West was filmed in 1925, but examining aerial photos of this location showed details that did not appear to match the film still. And why was the lettering so faded? Was this perhaps a former location of the Imperial Warehouse?

I decided to take a different approach and focus on the lettering of the neighboring building. One of my favorite resources for researching older historic material is Google Books. It can help to differentiate from standard Google search results which are often too contemporary. Sometimes just a partial glimpse of a publication (often all that Google makes available, due to copyright issues) is enough to reveal some clues. Searching the terms “CHAS. S. – FRESH MEATS” visible on the far back wall behind Buster revealed the name “Hardy” (above left) in the United States Congressional Serial Set (1912). Further searching for Chas S. Hardy Meats in Google Books led me to this report showing a Chas S. Hardy in San Diego (above right) from the Report of the Federal Trade Commission on the Meat Packing Industry, Part 1. The hearings were in 1919, which seemed like a good ballpark date since Go West was made in 1925. I also noticed there were few other meat packers listed here for California during this time period.

Could Buster have filmed this small scene in San Diego? Further research revealed an address for the Charles S. Hardy Meat Company at 702 6th Street in San Diego, in an area now known as the Gaslamp Quarter – not a match for the industrial warehouses and railroad tracks indicated by the film frame. It also would have been impractical and unnecessary for Buster to film such a short scene so far away from Los Angeles. Was “Hardy” a false lead?

Still searching in Google Books, I then found a legal document Decisions of the Railroad Commission of the State of California: Volume 8 which details a complaint filed by Charles S. Hardy regarding the commodity rate for shipping fresh meats and packing house products from Los Angeles to San Diego, citing an unfair advantage for Los Angeles companies. This indicated Charles S. Hardy also had facilities in the Los Angeles area. I searched the Los Angeles Public Library online historic phone directories and discovered a listing for Chas. S Hardy in the 1924 volume. Then another hit from Southwest Builder and Contractor (1922) provided the street number 861.

Armed finally with an actual address, I visited another favorite website for research; Historic Aerials. Their collection of images is a virtual time machine. Simply entering an address can reveal multiple aerial shots and topographic maps spanning many years. The following image reveals 861 Traction Ave in 1948. Several details seem to match the film still, including nearby railroad tracks and a loading dock that comes to a point.

Checking contemporary Google Earth for 861 Traction Avenue, the location is now a parking lot, however the adjacent building at 843 Traction Avenue still exists!

Returning to the historic phone directories, I found the California Warehouse Company at 843 Traction Avenue in 1923. Also sharing this address in 1923, the Binford Building.

It turns out this is the back of a building (actually two very closely adjacent buildings) in the Arts District of Los Angeles that includes the Binford Lofts. This exterior filming location recently depicted the home of the main characters in Zooey Deschanel’s television series New Girl – a location explored in detail by Lindsay Blake on her excellent filming location blog iamnotastalker.com.

After checking back in with John he located this excellent image from 1934, showing the Chas. S. Hardy building, still standing in the spot which today is a parking lot. FrameFinder c-2917 z-36.

It turns out Buster is utilizing an area he would return to later in the film. In the sequence pictured above, Buster is standing on top of the train as it turns right entering the Santa Fe freight depot off 4th Street near downtown. We can see the California Warehouse Co. and directly above Buster’s head a sign that says “Hardy.” The matching color views were taken in 1996 and 2020. Note the long row of rectangular windows behind Buster along the Santa Fe loading dock.

This same dock with the rectangular windows appears viewed from the other side, visible in the far left background, beyond what appears to be a picket fence, as Buster takes his seat near the beginning of the film.

This aerial shot from 1931 further illustrates the spatial relationship between these locations: Yellow Star = seated Buster location; 1  Binford Lofts (New Girl future location) at 837 Traction Ave.; 2  California Warehouse Co. at 843 Traction Ave.; 3  Chas S. Hardy Fresh Meats at 861 Traction Ave.; 4  Santa Fe Loading Dock – the red arrow indicates the path of the train. FrameFinder c-1930_86.

[Update: Click to enlarge – here’s an early view of the Santa Fe freight yard, looking to the NE, showing the front of the California Warehouse building to the left (the arrow marks where Buster sat at back), before the Binford Building was built next door to the left.]

Above is a photograph of the location taken by me on a visit to the site last month. The prominent building is the former California Warehouse Company (2). Buster’s location is again marked with a yellow star. The lone tall palm tree approximately marks the spot where the Chas S. Hardy Fresh Meats building once stood (3). The reddish-brown structure below it is a dog park for the massive Aliso Apartment complex to the left, construction has now been completed since the corresponding Google Earth image above.

Matching views – 1925 and 2020. So often Buster Keaton’s filming locations reveal interesting aspects of Los Angeles history. It’s also intriguing that in this case, even the simple location standing in for “New York” utilized the Chas S. Hardy Meat Company and the California Warehouse Company – actual industrial sites that played a role in the California cattle and agricultural economies.

Above, the neighboring Maxwell House Coffee warehouse on 4th and Mateo Street, across from the depot site, in 1925, 1996, and 2020, now converted to office space. The 1996 image still bears ghost signs for Maxwell House Coffee. The color views are somewhat blocked by the 4th Street Bridge built in 1930. LAPL.

So, why does a faded ghost sign for “IMPERIAL WAREhouse” (above) appear in 1925 on the back wall of the California Warehouse Company? I have not found any evidence that it was a location for the business called Imperial Warehouse. My theory is that the term was used as an adjective rather than a proper name. Perhaps it was a term for a public warehouse where tenants would rent space, similar to a Roman horreum. Or perhaps it was simply a place to store agricultural goods from the Imperial Valley. I’m still unclear why that label was on the side of the California Warehouse Company, or why the letters were so faded in 1925.

Above, the east side of the Binford Building (Buster sat behind at the back right corner) now boasts this striking mural. Visiting the site in 2020 during a global pandemic was certainly a unique experience. This area of Los Angeles known as the Arts District is experiencing yet another re-imagining designed to attract technology-based companies. (Here’s a link to the Los Angeles Conservancy PDF tour of the LA Arts District.) Ample new residential construction is mixed in with the older revitalized industrial buildings. Traffic was light and most of the businesses were closed. The few people I saw were all wearing masks and everybody was keeping their distance. Much of the area is hemmed in with various fences and locked gates, even under the best of circumstances. An overzealous security guard prevented me from entering a completely empty parking lot to take a photograph.

Above, similar views from 1925, 1996, and 2020. The freight depot site is now a modern apartment complex. The long freight building to the right now houses SCI-Arc, the Southern California Institute of Architecture.

Above, three views of the Coca Cola Building on 4th Street, now modern lofts. I often wonder what Buster might think of a stranger from the future, wandering around his filming locations with a clipboard and a camera. He probably would never have imagined the technology that brought this person there in the first place (however, in 1925, he certainly would have remembered the tragic 1918 Influenza Pandemic). Exploring these locations somehow makes the past more tangible, by grounding timeless cinematic art in contemporary reality. It’s a form of time travel which drew me to John Bengtson’s work in the first place, and why I continue to find his discoveries so fascinating. I’m all too happy to join in the hunt for clues when I can. [Modern color photos by Jeffrey Castel de Oro].

Thank you so much Jeff for sharing where and how you found these remarkable locations. I still can’t get over how you solved “CHAS. S. – FRESH MEATS.”

In closing, I’m pleased to report that Jeff’s discoveries will be part of a new visual essay I’ve helped create for Eureka Entertainment’s upcoming Masters of Cinema box set release of Go West, along with Keaton’s Our Hospitality and College. Dedicated EPA attorney and devoted Keaton fan Marie Muller visited the remote Arizona ranch site where Buster filmed (see above), and shared her wonderful photos, that will be featured in this program too.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps at this link. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

Below, a view from the 4th Street Bridge, built in 1930 after Buster completed filming in 1925.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Go West | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Caught on Camera – Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman in New York

The Criterion Collection’s stunning new Blu-ray release of Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman and Spite Marriage is loaded with bonus special features, including a new documentary Time Travelers I had the privilege of making with historian Marc Wanamaker and Oscar-nominated director Daniel Raim, to be covered soon in a future post. Also included is So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM, a 2004 documentary by Kevin Brownlow and Christopher Bird, poignantly hosted by Buster’s friend, the late actor James Karen. At right, Buster poses at Washington Square.

As reported in my book Silent Echoes and in other posts, Buster traveled to New York to capture many authentic city street scenes for The Cameraman (co-star Marceline Day’s NYC apartment was HERE; Buster’s apartment was HERE), but the crowds and the remote logistics were challenging, so the balance of the movie was filmed at the MGM backlot. Above, matching former Yankee Stadium views by Mark E. Phillips, host of the fascinating NYC in Film movie locations blog.

Newspaper accounts report Buster spent his first day in town filming a tickertape parade for Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to swim the English Channel, and later filmed scenes of her greeted at City Hall Park by Hizzoner Mayor Jimmy Walker.

Indeed, as reported, opening scenes from The Cameraman (at left) depict Gertrude and Jimmy smiling side-by-side posing for the cameras. But is there more to Keaton’s brief NYC adventure? Of course – as reported in Brownlow’s documentary, a tourist filmed Buster busy at work (below), with massive crowds in the background watching him (notice the twin camera tripods beside the reflector).

Where was this? I wisely contacted New York pop culture locations expert Bob Egan (PopSpotNYC.com), who previously solved other The Cameraman Manhattan locations. Unaware of Gertrude’s connection, Bob quickly provided the answer – City Hall Park, collaborating the news accounts of Buster filming there. Although the background crowds watching Buster seem impressive, they were likely there to witness Gertrude being honored rather than to witness Buster himself.

This view from the tourist home movie looks north, showing the northern-most of the two subway kiosks there, and the west side of extant City Hall. The home movie cameraman then moved east near the west side of the City Hall steps to film scenes looking west at this same kiosk.

The same kiosk, viewed looking west towards the SW corner of Broadway and Murray (now a modern glass high-rise) from near the west side steps of City Hall. As the camera pans left during the full scene, the other kiosk across the way comes into view. The New York Public Library.

Click to enlarge – above, this northern view of City Hall shows the two adjacent subway kiosks, and the orientation of the tourist’s different camera angles. The view right shows both kiosks. Library of Congress.

Another view west past the two subway kiosks toward the corner of Broadway and Murray during a similar celebration for Amelia Earhart. The New York Public Library.

A final tidbit (no, not Keaton’s bum), this bus tracking shot from The Cameraman was filmed heading south down Hope Street past the 8th Street corner blade sign of the former Hotel Morgan (“HOTEL MO”). The corner blade sign also appears at back in this view west along 8th toward Hope. Noted biographer James Curtis, currently wrapping up his epic Keaton biography, inquired about this because the veracity of a certain source depended on whether this scene was either filmed in LA or New York. He didn’t tell me whether I had confirmed or disproved the source, but it was in LA! KCET.

Be sure to check out Criterion’s new The Cameraman release.  So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (C) 2004 Turner Entertainment Co.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps at this link. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Another recent post – Keaton filmed elaborate rain scenes for The Cameraman on the Santa Monica Pier, without revealing it was filmed on a pier, presumably for easy access to the ocean water.

Below – City Hall Park in Manhattan.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Manhattan, The Cameraman | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Charlie Chaplin’s Once Lost Film – A Thief Catcher

A once lost Chaplin film rediscovered?! It made international headlines a decade ago when producer-historian Paul Gierucki found and preserved A Thief Catcher (1914), a Ford Sterling comedy featuring Charlie Chaplin in a supporting role portraying a Keystone Cop. You can read Paul’s full account of his remarkable discovery in Chapter 4 of the newly released anthology of historical essays Chase! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops complied and edited by Lon & Debra Davis. The vintage photos to follow were all generously provided by Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Paul found the treasure inside a steamer trunk at an antique show, unaware of its significance until he screened it for the first time months later. The walk, splayed feet, trim moustache, and unique mannerisms, beyond doubt this was Charlie Chaplin! One can only imagine Paul’s excitement upon realizing he was the first person in decades to witness Charlie’s long forgotten performance.

While recovering any lost film is exciting, A Thief Catcher (ATC) provides great insight into Chaplin’s early career. As Brent Walker reports in his invaluable Mack Sennett’s Fun Factory, ATC was filmed between January 4 to 26, 1914, overlapping the production dates for Chaplin’s debut trio of films (above): (i) Making A Living (Chaplin’s first film, dressed as a dandy, not a tramp) completed January 9, (ii) Kid Auto Races in Venice (Chaplin’s first appearance in public dressed as the tramp) completed January 11, and (iii) Mabel’s Strange Predicament (considered the tramp’s first appearance before a camera) completed January 12, and also featuring exterior scenes with Mabel Normand beside the Raymond Hotel (see end of this post.)

Given the relative production dates for each film, their tendency to be shot sequentially, and Charlie’s appearance towards the end of the story, he likely played his ATC cameo later in January after completing his debut trio of films on the 12th, making ATC his fourth film. Charlie started his next featured role Between Showers on January 27, the day after ATC wrapped production on the 26th, and 15 days after completing Mabel’s Strange Predicament, which begs the question – did Charlie make any other (lost) cameos during those otherwise unaccounted-for two weeks?

Scenes from ATC before Charlie appears, crime witness Ford Sterling, left, fearing for his life, with murderous thieves Mack Swain and heavily made-up Edgar Kennedy plotting his demise.

Looking north – the former Pathe West Coast Studio – 1807 Allesandro, between Branden and Clifford

The discovery of ATC has more stories to tell. Just as my recent familiarity with Edendale led to posts about Chaplin and Keaton filming early scenes there beside the Selig Polyscope Studio (Chaplin – HERE, Keaton – HERE), and Lloyd filming there beside the Norbig Studio (HERE), yet another Edendale facility plays a role, this time the rarely photographed Pathe West Coast Studio pictured above.

To begin, chased by murderous thieves, Ford stumbles panic-stricken along the already badly decaying wall of the Pathe West Coast Studio. The Edendale studio once stood directly between the Norbig Studio to the south and Selig Studio to the north, all further up Allesandro from the Keystone Studio. The five Mission-style arches in the circa 1911 full view photo further above are missing in Ford’s ATC frame, while two store fronts (box) and the Selig Studio towers (box and image to the far right) up the street in the photo remain in view during his scene. The photo above, and ATC scenes with Ford, are the only images I’ve been able to locate of this short-lived studio.

Next, Ford’s dog races to warn the Keystone Cops of his danger. Paired with this circa 1910 image, we see the “police” station in ATC (left) is actually the Keystone Studio front office building at 1712 Allesandro (right – click to enlarge), formerly the Edendale Grocery (below).

The same “police” station appears during Roscoe Arbuckle’s 1913 comedy Fatty Joins the Force (above left), paired with a 1909 view of the lone building while it was still a grocery.

It seems beyond belief this humble grocery served as studio headquarters. But look above at this later view of the studio – where did the grocery go?

More confusing, the city directories and early maps continue to show 1712 as the studio office address, before and after 1914. How is that possible?

The answer? The matching pyramidal skylights above reveal the grocery wasn’t demolished, but given a face lift! The studio pulled a permit for this work on January 14, 1914, to “remove present front and build new front to be plastered and dashed” for the office at 1712 Allesandro.

They started reconstruction even while ATC was still in production, since this view of the cops racing to the rescue, looking north on Allesandro along the studio cutting room windows, already shows scaffolding and construction equipment in place. Those low palm trees at back, on the front lawn of the home to the left of the studio, appear behind Charlie in his Making a Living frame at the top of this post. At right, the building permit issued January 14.

So ATC wraps on January 26, Chaplin completes Between Showers on January 31, then starts his next movie, A Film Johnnie, on February 1. But wait a minute. Isn’t A Film Johnnie staged in front of the Keystone Studio? A title announces the Keystone players arriving at work, as Ford Sterling slips and falls, and then Roscoe Arbuckle exits his car.

(Above, star-struck Charlie jokes with Roscoe Arbuckle and Ford Sterling as they enter the studio.) So how could they stage A Film Johnnie beside the Keystone Studio in February during all this reconstruction? They didn’t. Rather than show the actors beside the humble grocery building as it was being retrofitted, they arrived for work instead beside the beautiful Bryson Apartments, then brand new (above right), and still standing at 2701 Wilshire Blvd. (see post HERE). That’s quite an upgrade.

With the store’s facelift completed, the aging star was ready once again for her closeups. By June 1914 the rejuvenated studio office portrayed a sporting goods shop in Chaplin’s Mabel’s Married Life, upper left with Mabel Normand, and a restaurant that September in Chaplin’s His Trysting Places, upper right with Mack Swain, and portrayed a restaurant again that November in Roscoe Arbuckle’s Leading Lizzie Astray.

The revamped office also resumed portraying police stations, here at left in Chaplin’s Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) with Marie Dressler, and in Arbuckle’s 1915 films Fatty’s New Role, upper right, and Fatty’s Plucky Pup, lower right. Notice “POLICE” painted on the sidewalk – it appears faintly beside Mabel’s sporting goods shop further above.

Wrapping up, in June 1914 the remodeled studio front even portrayed a dentist office for Chaplin’s Laughing Gas (above). The door mat likely covers the word “POLICE.”

So, ATC not only captures a long forgotten and revelatory early Chaplin performance, it provides a rare glimpse of the camera-shy Pathe West Coast Studios, and likely the final onscreen appearance of the Keystone Studio’s original grocery store facade. So much history hidden in a once-lost film.

Too good not to share – Mabel Normand filmed the exteriors for Mabel’s Strange Predicament (Charlie’s 2nd film) at the front entrance to the magnificent, and long lost Raymond Hotel in Pasadena (1901-1934). South Pasadena Public Library.

Thanks to the wonderful Flicker Alley Chaplin at Keystone DVD collection, and Paul Gierucki’s two releases The Mack Sennett Collection: Volume 1 Blu-ray and The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, for the comparison movie frames. Thanks too, once again, to Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives for the vintage photos.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps below. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

A comparable modern view on Google Maps of the headquarters site, with the original Keystone shooting stage at back, now a Public Storage Warehouse.


Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Edendale, Keystone Studio, Mabel Normand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Arbuckle and Keaton Filmed in Culver City Years Before Laurel and Hardy

The Lehrman Studio at the right, built first, before the Roach Studio at left. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard filmed comedies for producer Hal Roach at the Bradbury Mansion Rolin Studio, on Court Hill in downtown Los Angeles, for years before Roach opened his new studio in Culver City in 1920. (Read how they also made early films in Edendale HERE.) Roach built his new facility next door to the Lehrman Studio on Washington Boulevard that opened in 1919 just east of town.  In those early days the center of Culver City barely comprised one short commercial block, Main Street, while nearby Palms, one of the oldest suburbs of LA, barely had two blocks. Since silent comedians require street corners and intersections to stage their gags, these three streets, then essentially in the middle of nowhere, appeared in many Roach productions, starting with Harold and Snub in 1920, and continuing with Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang into the early 1930s. But thanks to the Kino Lorber – Lobster Films Blu-ray release of Keaton’s short films, we can see Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton filmed here first.

Laurel and Hardy fans recognize the north end of Main Street at Venice Boulevard as the site where Stan and Ollie filmed many famous scenes, including the climatic hat-ripping fight (instead of a pie fight, the participants destroy each other’s hats) concluding the 1927 short comedy Hats Off, the Boys’ only non-surviving film.

Pre-dating Roach, Arbuckle and Keaton made their final short comedies The Hayseed (1919) and The Garage (1919) at the Lehrman Studio facilities in Culver City before the Roach Studio was even built.  So when Roscoe and Buster needed street corners and intersections, they too filmed at these streets in Culver City and Palms.  As shown above, Roscoe battles a fire hose at the north end of Main in The Garage.

Above, Buster and Roscoe race up Main towards Venice past the same corner bank appearing eight years later in Laurel & Hardy’s The Second Hundred Years (1927). Notice the prominent “X” trolley crossing sign.

Earlier in The Garage, Luke the dog rips apart Keaton’s pants, forcing Buster to shield himself with a paper kilt sliced from a life-size Harry Lauder billboard. Though covered in front, Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police, setting up two physical gags; Roscoe hiding Buster’s diminutive body from view with his own hulking frame, and assisting Buster to put on a replacement pair of pants as they walk, without pausing, lockstep together.

Looking north, the pants gag was filmed on the middle, left side of Main Street in Culver City, just south from Roscoe’s fire hose scene. Conveniently located to the studios, this modest commercial street, only a single block long and originally divided by planters of palms trees, would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. Notice the crenelated bank building corner at the far right end of the street. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

A closer view shows the mid-block alley corner behind Roscoe and Buster, with matching brick wall details at back (box), while the store’s right window reflects the “X” trolley crossing sign (oval) and left window reflects the corner bank. Heavily remodeled, the shop where Buster stole his pants (box in 1921 aerial view looking west) still stands on an alley corner at 3821 Main Street. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, looking south at Roscoe and Laurel & Hardy’s bank corner, left, and the red brick corner to the right where Buster put on his pants.

Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police. Perfectly choreographed and filmed, Buster vanishes from view, both to the cop chasing him, and then to audience, as he walks precisely in unison either directly in front of, or behind, Arbuckle.

Above, Buster runs east along the Venice Blvd. trolley tracks, before turning right onto Motor Ave., as people (box) watch from the second floor above. The small sign on the pole (box) reads “4th St Palms” – the original name for Motor Ave. – the initial clue. Looking east, the same corner store appears in this 1930 aerial photo. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Buster hides behind Roscoe as they walk north past the corner store on Motor, then turn left (west) onto Venice. The front of the corner store (box) above right, was just a block north of the MGM lot, the Goldwyn Studios at the time, and just a few blocks from the bungalow (star) on Grant Ave. Buster would later rent when beginning his career at MGM. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

A final locale from The Garage, filmed looking SE from a bluff in Palms, north of Culver City, as the volunteer fire-fighters scan the horizon. Overland Ave. runs south (left to right) behind Buster’s elbow, while the Palms Elementary School on Motor Ave. stands furthest at back above Buster’s helmet, matching the yellow sight-line in this 1923 aerial view. The Porter Sanitarium, prominent to the lower left, was built after the filming.

A year before the Roach Studios opened in Culver City, Roscoe and Buster also filmed many scenes from The Hayseed (1919) in Palms at the intersection of National and Motor Ave., a site that would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. I hope to cover The Hayseed in a future post, but here’s a taste, page 40 from my Harold Lloyd book Silent Visions, showing Roscoe and Buster walking north up Motor from the former Palms Bank building, also appearing in Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under (1920) and Girl Shy (1924).

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley 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 and share it with others.

Below, Roscoe held Buster aloft while he put on his pants in front of this store over 100 years ago, then they turned back and turned left into this alley.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Culver City, Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Harold Lloyd’s Earliest Days Filming in Edendale

The cinematic roots for the three great kings of comedy, Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, trace back to the earliest days of filmmaking. As reported HERE, Chaplin staged scenes from his 1914 Keystone films Those Love Pangs and Tillie’s Punctured Romance alongside the distinctive Mission-style walls of the Selig Polyscope Studio in Edendale (above), reportedly the first permanent movie studio built in Los Angeles. Likewise, as reported HERE, Keaton used the Selig studio gate as a handy prison entrance for his 1920 comedy Convict 13. Once located at 1845 Allesandro (now Glendale Blvd.), the Selig studio stood just two blocks north of the Keystone Studio, originally the Bison Studio.

Edendale was familiar to Chaplin – he filmed the first scene of his career and many others beside a home adjacent to Keystone, and pretended the studio office door was a dentist office (above) in Laughing Gas (1914).

Harold in Lonesome Luke, Circus King (1916). Where was this?

But what about Harold? Lloyd historian Annette D’Agostino Lloyd reports in her invaluable Harold Lloyd Encyclopedia that Harold possibly appeared as an extra in at least four lost 1913 Keystone films. She writes he returned to Keystone late in 1914 to appear in at least five more films from February to July 1915, before then returning to work with Hal Roach. Given his brief tenure there, I’m not aware of Lloyd being filmed or photographed anywhere beside the Keystone studio facility.

Above, the Norbig Studios circa 1925, just up the street from Keystone. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

But thanks to Annette, historians E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker, and Lloyd photo friend and archivist Richard Simonton, we know Lloyd revisited his Edendale haunts shortly after leaving Keystone to make Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks during June-July 1915, then again to make Lonesome Luke, Circus King during January 1916 (both now lost), and returned at least a third time to film Hey There (1918) between 12/22/1917 – 1/26/1918.

View One – Harold as Lonesome Luke in Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks (1915). Where could this possibly be?

How do we know? To begin, several years ago Richard sent me this Lonesome Luke Ruses View One photo (above) for location identification. I was intrigued, but there weren’t any useful clues, not even that 1619 telephone pole number.

View Two – Ruses, Rhymes and Roughnecks – a more revealing view

Years passed, when by chance I happened to look again at Harold’s Ruses View One photo. But this time, given my recent familiarity with the Selig Studio, I noticed a clue after all – a hint of some Mission-style towers at back. Mentioning this to Richard, he sent me this slightly more revealing Ruses View Two photo (above), depicting a series of Mission-style towers at back, configured differently than the Selig towers.

A quick check through E.J. Stephens and Marc Wanamaker’s book Early Poverty Row Studios provided the answer. Harold had posed for these Ruses photos at the NW corner of Aaron and Allesandro, with the Norbig Studio behind him up the street, shown in full view earlier in this post. Above to the right, this 1934 photo shows the same corner store at 1739 Allesandro to the left of the studio. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

1923 – the Norbig Studio and Harold’s corner to the left – the Keystone Studio to the right. HollywoodPhotographs.com

Knowing Harold stood kitty-corner from Keystone, I glanced over some Keystone films and found the same grocery appearing in the Charley Chase comedy Peanuts and Bullets (1915) (upper right) and in Roscoe Arbuckle’s Fatty’s New Role (1915) (lower right), both revealing the store owner’s name A. Brener.

Another view of the Brener corner store in Arbuckle’s Fatty’s Tintype Tangle (1915), and a matching 1923 aerial view of the corner and neighboring Norbig Studio, its sole stage at left.

Marc reports the Rolin film company rented the Norbig Studio and laboratory in 1916, a relation, as seen here, that continued for the 1918 production Hey There, a Lloyd “Glass Character” comedy. Hey There chronicles Harold’s efforts to sneak into a movie studio to return a lost letter to Bebe Daniels. Above, matching views of the Norbig office doorway from the movie (left), and a detail from the broad circa 1925 Norbig photo further above, with “STUDIO RENTALS” painted below the window. [UPDATE: Eagle-eyed reader Mike Forster noticed a telling detail, the sign to the right of the door for “HARRY K – eaton PRODUC – tions.” This is likely the former Universal silent comedian Harry Keaton (later Keatan) who also made films for L-KO and Century, formed his own small production companies, and was much later involved with low budget films in the 1940s-50s. The 1925 and 1930 city directories contain listings for Harry Keaton Productions at 1751 Glendale Blvd., the alternate street name for Allesandro. Buster Keaton’s younger brother was also named Harry, but seems the unlikely candidate represented by this small production company sign.]

During one sneak attempt Harold fashions a mustache disguise with his bow tie. Reversing the view (center), the distinctive single window and porch stairs of the home across the street from the front office clearly match the window reflection. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Hey There – matching details of the Norbig Studio gate entrance.

Hey There ends with Harold sprinting away from the Norbig Studio gate on his knees.

But what about Lonesome Luke, Circus King? Well, it too was clearly staged at the Norbig Studio entrance gate, matching the vantage point in this 1921 photo of the facility, named “Reaguer Productions” at the time. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

In closing, Roscoe Arbuckle posed by the same corner store for The Knockout (1914) and Fatty’s New Role (1915). Thanks again to Marc Wanamaker and Richard Simonton for supplying such wonderful photos. Thanks too for the DVD frames from Becoming Charley Chase, American Slapstick, and The Forgotten Films of Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. 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.

[Note: historic records spell the former street name three different ways Allesandro, Alessandro, and Allessandro – take your pick].

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by posting a review on Google maps below. Prototype sign design – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure HERE.

Below, a matching view Harold’s corner today at Aaron and now Glendale Blvd. Given Harold’s love of animals, especially Great Danes, it seems fitting it is now the site of an animal hospital.

Posted in Edendale, Harold Lloyd, Keystone Studio | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Buster Keaton – More Backlot Scenes From Our Hospitality

Buster Keaton’s modest studio made it necessary for him to film many famous scenes at other studios with larger backlots. His pursuit through an archway by an army of police at the climax of Cops (1922) was filmed at the Goldwyn Studios in Culver City (reverse view courtesy David L. Synder, Steven Bingen).

Filming Go West on the abandoned Metro lot, due south of the Keaton Studio

Buster filmed many urban cattle scenes from Go West (1925) at the then-abandoned Metro lot directly across the street from his studio. But the former Brunton Studio on Melrose, future site for Paramount, was his top choice. There, as detailed in these prior post links, he filmed many backlot street scenes from Cops, and Day Dreams (1922), the high dive pool scene concluding Hard Luck (1921), and the elaborate and breathtaking waterfall rescue scene from Our Hospitality. Mary Pickford filmed The Hoodlum (1919) there as well.

Click to enlarge – National Archive Photo 18-AA-16-76 – looking east in 1923 at the studio, with the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at left, Melrose Ave. at right.

The post dives deep into the filming of Buster Keaton’s 1830’s “Hatfield-McCoy” feud-themed feature Our Hospitality (1923) restored by Lobster Films. The more we study his films, the more we understand where and how he staged his elaborate scenes.

Vintage oblique aerial photographs are my favorite research tool. To begin, the National Archive aerial view above reveals the waterfall stunt set Buster built over the giant T-shaped plunge on the studio lot. With this single image we can peek over the fence and tour the entire studio lot.

Buster plays a Yankee traveling South for the first time to inspect his inheritance, unaware the family of the charming girl he meets en route (portrayed by his then-wife Natalie Talmadge) maintains a blood-feud against Keaton’s family. Using various aerial photos, this post shows Natalie’s home town scenes were staged at what was once the Brunton Studio. To get your bearings, below are a few scenes representing Natalie’s home town.

To begin, an establishing view west of Natalie’s home town, with a matching 1922 aerial view. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Closer views shows matching details.

The stepped facade building to the right of the movie frame appears to the right as well. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

When Buster, unaware, meets Natalie’s vengeful brother, they pause a moment in front of this stepped doorway, appearing lower right. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The center of the same aerial view reveals the cabin porch where Buster gallantly intervenes in a domestic squabble, only to be attacked by both the husband and the battered wife (their power dynamics are reversed in this publicity still). Notice the husband is sitting on a deck.

Click to enlarge – for perspective, this broad view from a slightly different angle shows both the battling couple’s cabin porch (box) and the pawn shop sign (box) appearing at back during the teeter-totter ladder scene from Cops filmed there a year earlier.

Looking east, another view of these sets.

The large T-shaped plunge to the left – United Studios painted on the fence – Natalie’s home town at back

Paramount: City of Dreams author Steven Bingen reports studio manager M.C. Levee purchased the Brunton Studio in 1921, renaming it then United Studios. Keaton biographer James Curtis reports Buster filmed the water tank scenes there for The Boat (1921), which makes perfect sense. The studio’s tank was large and located just a few blocks away from Keaton’s facility at Eleanor and Lillian Way. By 1922 Buster’s boss and brother-in-law Joe Schenck purchased a majority interest in United Studios, while Levee remained as President.

Keaton’s studio (left box) and the Our Hospitality backot (right box). HollywoodPhotographs.com

Thus, Keaton’s prominent use of the studio was not only convenient, he likely received preferential treatment from Schenck and Levee when filming there, and Schenck earned a few residual dollars each time he rented the space to his star. I love it when visual observations mesh perfectly with the detailed research of historians. For simplicity, and to avoid updating my prior posts, this post refers to the “Brunton” Studio throughout, although it was the United Studios during the filming of Our Hospitality.

Our Hospitality, restored by Lobster Films, is available for sale at Amazon.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE.

Below, the modern Melrose entrance to Paramount. The Our Hospitality scenes were filmed to the right, north of the street.


Posted in Buster Keaton, Our Hospitality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How Laurel and Hardy Filmed Duck Soup

Although they had appeared onscreen together in The Lucky Dog (1921), the Hal Roach short Duck Soup (1927) marks the first time Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were paired as comedy leads. They play a couple of hoboes who flee a surly forest ranger conscripting tramps to fight a raging fire. The film begins in Westlake (now MacArthur) Park, where they dash off, grab a bicycle in Culver City, pedal up and down Grand Avenue in Bunker Hill, only to crash in front of a Beverly Hills mansion. This post examines the many classic landscapes appearing in this landmark film.

Forest rangers scour Westlake (MacArthur) Park, looking for bums to fight the fire, with a matching view seen from the other side looking to the NW at right LAPL. It appears the awning shaded a seating area for concerts performed in the pergola standing in the water.

At left, Joe Cobb looks toward the lakeside shaded seating area in the Our Gang comedy Dog Heaven (1927), with a matching color postcard view, LAPL, and closer view of the forest rangers grabbing bums.

Ollie cheerily greets the menacing forest ranger played by Bob Kortman.

Stan and Ollie casually saunter away, followed by the ranger, who tracks their every step as they begin to flee. This was likely filmed in the NW corner of the park, with the now-demolished Regent Apartments peeking over the trees at back. For comparison the same corner of the park revealing the Regent appears to the right in this scene from Lige Conley’s 1920 short A Fresh Start. The Regent (1913-1983) appeared in many films, and portrayed the facade of the restaurant where Charlie Chaplin worked in The Rink (1916), inset, read more HERE.

Looking at the NW corner of the park, with the lawn (oval) where the ranger likely chased the Boys in relation to the Regent – LAPL, USC Digital Library.

Running for their lives, Stan and Ollie turn the sharp corner from Culver Blvd. right (north) up Main Street in Culver City. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

As they pedal away, behind them (yellow box) is the alley (now lost) where they would later unsuccessfully attempt to switch their mismatched pants during Liberty (1929). I document their rooftop antics in that film HERE. While the Culver Hotel remains in the modern view, lower right, the south side of Culver Blvd. across from the corner has been completely redeveloped. (C) 2020 Microsoft.

We now jump to downtown. Here they travel south down Grand from 6th Street.

A point of view shot, left, speeding down Grand toward 5th, with a matching photo view LAPL. The large lawn on the right corner was part of the grounds for the LA Public Library, and is now the site of the library’s Mark Taper Auditorium.

Stan and Ollie race down Grand toward the former library lawn on the corner of 5th, past the former Biltmore Garage on the left, also seen in the 1934 Carole Lombard film Gay Bride upper right.

The bike odessy begins with Stan and Ollie crossing Grand Ave. west along 3rd Street, matching the arrow in this map designed by Piet Schreduers. Shown here, the section of 3rd Street on Bunker Hill above the 3rd Street Tunnel was just two blocks long, running from Angels Flight on Olive to Bunker Hill Ave.

Poor Oliver really pedaled Stan west uphill along 3rd from the corner of Grand. The matching color view comes from Marilyn Monroe’s 1956 movie Bus Stop during a scene intended to portray Phoenix Arizona! The Alta Vista Apartments, far left, appear again later below.

Click to enlarge – this panoramic view shows the backdrop as Stan and Ollie’s stunt doubles race south down Grand toward the corner of 5th. The far left frame comes from the movie, the other frames come from Africa F.O.B. (1922) starring Monte Banks, shown racing on foot down the street. Details mark the doorway to the former Sherwood Apartments at 431 S. Grand, and J. W. Johnson’s garage at 437 S. Grand. The pyramid peeking out in back belonged to the former State Normal School (inset), torn down to accommodate the LA Public Library opening on that site in 1926. LAPL.

Thanks to Jim Dawson, the Sherwood Apartments portray San Francisco (look how steep the street is) during the opening scenes, at left, from Ida Lupino’s 1953 drama The Bigamist.

Opposite views of 3rd between Grand and Bunker Hill Ave., with Duck Soup looking west to the left, toward the corner blade sign for the Alta Vista Apartments (inset right), and Harold Lloyd’s race to the church in Girl Shy (1924) looking east to the right. Among Lloyd’s surviving films the corner of 3rd and Grand, depicted here, is where he filmed more often than any other spot in town. Most traffic along 3rd St passed through the tunnel beneath Bunker Hill. Only two blocks long, the short parallel section of  3rd St above the tunnel had little traffic and was easy to shut down for filming. California State Library. Novelist John Fante lived here briefly in 1933, immortalizing it (as the fictional Alta Loma) in his classic 1939 Bunker Hill novel Ask The Dust.

Above, Stan and Ollie travel south down Grand, with a garage at back, matched with stock footage of Bunker Hill used during a traveling car scene for the 1949 Columbia release Shockproof. The footage, available from the Internet Archive, was projected behind the actors sitting in a prop car filming inside a sound stage, creating the illusion they were driving outside. I have an extensive post documenting the numerous landmarks to appear in this Bunker Hill stock footage you can read HERE.

Further south, the lost Zelda Apartments (box) appears in both shots. The tall Sherwood Apartments, mentioned above, towers on the left behind Stan, while the edge of the Sherwood appears to the left of the 1949 frame.

The chase continues, matching views looking up Grand from 5th, with the library lawn to the left, and the former Biltmore Theater (Ben Hur sign) to the right.

A final view, tracing Stan and Ollie’s path along Grand, starting from the Sherwood Apartments to the left, then past the rooftop cars parked at Johnson’s garage to the right, then the Biltmore Garage across the street on the corner, and after crossing 5th, the Biltmore Theater on the other corner, all now lost, with the beautiful pyramid-capped LA Public Library in the foreground.

Leaving downtown behind, the Boys crash in front of 815 N. Alpine Drive in Beverly Hills, once standing on the SW corner of Sunset, and are soon pursued by the rangers. Flight c-4686, frame 24, UCSB Library.

This stately home also portrayed the governor’s mansion during Stan and Ollie’s The Second Hundred Years (1927). The lines and dimensions of the new home suggest the original home was first completely demolished. The neighboring home to the left in the movie frame appears to have since been remodeled.

Los Angeles residential historian Duncan Maginnis made this amazing discovery, and has identified many other homes appearing in classic silent films. He 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.

The clue was the Max Whittier mansion looming tall in the background. Once standing on the NW corner of Sunset and Alpine, the Whittier home also no longer exists, but was notorious in the 1980s because a wealthy Saudi prince painted it gaudy colors, and lined the place with nude statues painted flesh color with highlighted genitals and pubic hair, creating quite a sight for tourists along Sunset Blvd. The inset image comes at 1:48 from a Youtube history video about Mr. Whittier. The image with the car above appears at 2:45, while the image upper left image above comes from the Alice Howell comedy Distilled Love (1920), in which Oliver Hardy plays a villain.

Both views look north. Dressed as a maid, Stan loads stolen goods into a moving van, with the Whittier home looming in the background. The aerial view is from 1938.

A modern view shows both homes have been completely rebuilt. (C) 2020 Microsoft.

Captured by the rangers and forced to fight a fire, the movie ends with Stan and Ollie struggling with a loose and powerful fire hose on an open field beside Carson Street, a popular Roach filming site south of the studio. The central home behind them at 8885 Carson appears, for example, in the Charley Chase film All Wet (1927) upper right, and the silent Our Gang comedy The Fourth Alarm (1926) lower right.

As first reported by Jim Dallape as part of the Back Lot Tour blog documenting scenes filmed around the Roach Studio, the final scene was staged in the open field to the south, with the home at 8885 Carson Street (yellow oval) marked in each image. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives; flight c-6926x, frame 36, UCSB Library.

Remarkably this home still stands. While the modern view shows the front facing Carson Street, the side of the home appearing in the film now abuts a cinder-block wall, blocking the view.

I want to express again my thanks to Duncan Maginnis, and my particular thanks to Dave Lord Heath, and his encyclopedic Hal Roach Studio films blog Another Nice Mess, for his insight and assistance with this post. Read Dave’s post about Duck Soup HERE.

Duck Soup was recently restored by Lobster Films following the discovery of a nitrate print at BFI, made possible through the teamwork of Lobster Films, the BFI, and the Library of Congress. I will update this post should it become available to the home market.

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 and share it with others.

Where it all started, near the site of the hobo roundup at MacArthur Park.

Posted in Beverly Hills, Bunker Hill, Duck Soup, Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Keaton’s The Cameraman on the Santa Monica Pier

For their first date in The Cameraman (1928) Buster Keaton and Marceline Day strip down and go swimming in a public pool, because, why not? As reported in my book Silent Echoes, their natatorium adventure was filmed inside the Venice Plunge (1908-1945), once a huge beachside tourist attraction. There’s a keen sense of time-travel to the interior pool scenes, the shiplap walls, the tile floors, you can almost smell the chlorine. LAPL.

When it’s time to return home Buster and Marceline fail to catch an overcrowded bus, not in Venice where the plunge was located, but running down the Santa Monica Pier. The downhill slope in the background was the initial clue. The bus strategically blocks the side of the pier from view, and no shot in the sequence betrays it was filmed on a pier.

Click to enlarge – while Keaton had filmed at other amusement piers, this marked Santa Monica’s first appearance with Buster. Huntington Digital Library. Buster later filmed scenes from Spite Marriage (1929) beside the Hotel Carmel at 1451 Second Street in Santa Monica (read more HERE).

Click to enlarge – after missing the bus, Buster’s rival for Marceline’s affection, smooth-talking Harold Goodwin happens to drive by, and offers them a ride home. Notice the giant La Monica Ballroom in the foreground. Inset above, Buster helps Harold with his car roof. Huntington Digital Library.

As they adjust the roof, the entrance awning to the landmark La Monica Ballroom (1924- 1963) appears at back. Situated on the far end of the pier, the La Monica was once the largest dance hall on the west coast, with a capacity of 5,000. Again the camera angle hides nearly all of the background detail. LAPL.

Of course there’s only room for Buster at back in the rumble seat. As soon as they take off it begins to pour, completely drenching Buster by the time they return to town. As shown above, they drive east along the pier past the Bowling-Billiard building and the Loof Carousel-Hippodrome, both still standing. USC Digital Library.

I was stunned to discover this elaborate sequence was filmed completely on the narrow pier. The complex traveling shot with Buster being drenched required mobile overhead rain sprinklers keeping pace with the car and camera car, and plays onscreen as if staged on a local street rather than 20 feet above the water. The logistics seem staggering.

This begs the question – since they filmed the entire sequence so we would NOT notice it was filmed over the water, on a pier, WHY of all places did they film here? The tracking shot travels quite far, so perhaps instead of relying on hundreds of feet of hose lying beside the route, they simply dropped the feed end of the hose over the side of the pier, and ran the submerged feed line in pace with the car. If true, they soaked Buster with sea water!

You can read how Buster and Marceline begin their date in Manhattan, with Buster leaving his place at 201 E 52nd Street, and departing her place at 20 W 58th Street, at these URL posts.

The Criterion Collection is set to release the Blu-ray restoration of The Cameraman on June 16, 2020, including a bonus feature directed by Daniel Raim interviewing me and Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker.

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.

Posted in Buster Keaton, The Cameraman, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Three Good Fellows – Harold Lloyd, Doug MacLean, and Ben Model

Musician Ben Model is a silent film super-hero. Aside from his duties as resident accompanist for MoMA in New York, the Library of Congress, and performing at silent screenings around the county, his indie Undercrank Productions has released over 20 rare silent movie DVDs, including the delightful Alice Howell Collection. I first learned about Alice, and was to able to enjoy some of her films, thanks to Ben. (This post HERE features a few early Hollywood scenes from her films.)

Ben’s latest release The Douglas MacLean Collection is a revelation. I had never heard of Doug before Ben shared him with us. As Ben describes in his blog, MacLean made light comedy features before Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd switched to feature productions, at the same time Douglas Fairbanks was dropping the light comedy genre to make swashbucklers instead. The collection includes MacLean’s features One a Minute (1921) and Bell Boy 13 (1923), together with a 1920 promotional film portraying the Thomas Ince Studio in Culver City, MacLean’s producer. These films are packed with amazing images and locations, enough for several lengthy posts. But we’ll start with the overlap between MacLean and Harold Lloyd.

To begin, the March 1921 edition of Picture-Play magazine posted above describes Doug’s visit with Harold Lloyd, and how they are a couple of jolly good fellows. Here they are clearly sitting on the Hill Street stunt set built for Harold’s 1920 production High and Dizzy.

Doug must have picked up a few tips from Harold, as his 1923 Bell Boy 13 (upper left) also has a brief stunt scene filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel. A similar set for The Terror Trail (1921) (center and right) reveals the secret.

Next, Doug’s “home town” train station scenes from One a Minute upper left overlaps with Harold’s home town train scenes in Girl Shy (1924) lower left. Paul Ayers, attorney, historian, and hiking trail expert, who has shared many remarkable location discoveries over the years, identified this as the Hynes Union Pacific depot, later destroyed by fire in 1946.

Paul studied many clues confirming the site, including the scene upper left where the partially legible “HYNES” depot sign appears with Marian De Beck (“Marion” in the film credits) during One a Minute. Other clues, looking north during Girl Shy, upper middle, Paul noticed a bit of “uniON PACIfic” between the men sitting on the baggage cart beside Jobyna Ralston, while the two-shot of Doug and Marian looking south, upper right, was filmed on a “U.P. (Union Pacific) 1502” passenger car.

This view looks south while Harold and Jobyna first meet at the Hynes depot in Girl Shy. Notice Jobyna’s personalized chair at the lower right, next to director Fred Newmeyer’s chair. Presumably Harold’s chair is furthest to the right.

Looking west from the Hynes depot, matching views from One a Minute, 1921, left, and stuttering Harold unable to purchase a ticket in Girl Shy, 1924, right, both show the same modest home with a left-facing porch. The house in the Girl Shy frame closer to the depot was built after Doug filmed in 1921.

This 1925 map shows the Hynes depot (red box), and the dozen or so buildings and homes comprising the tiny town about 11 miles north of Long Beach. In Girl Shy, above right, Richard Daniels cheers on Harold as he races west to catch the train departing south from the Hynes depot (yellow oval). The small neighboring communities of Hynes, and Clearwater to the north, were once the dairy capital of Southern California. They unified under the city name Paramount in 1948. The site of the former depot beside the north-south rail line is 7741 Jackson Street. Inset at left,  bustling “downtown” Hynes – UC Irvine Libraries. Inset at right, looking east down Jackson Street towards Hynes.

Switching locales, in One a Minute Doug runs beside the Palms Garage on the SE corner of Motor Ave. and National Blvd., the same view east down National as the cops chase Harold for being a suspected bootlegger in Girl Shy, above right. Situated in Palms, close to the Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, this corner garage appears in many Roach productions, especially the silent Our Gang shorts.

Above left, a matching view east down National with Roscoe Arbuckle in The Hayseed (1919). Roscoe and co-star Buster Keaton filmed at the intersection of Motor and National years before it became a common setting in Hal Roach comedies. Remarkably the corner Palms Garage building remains standing today.

With Bell Boy 13 upper left, and Now or Never (1921) upper right, Doug and Harold also both filmed behind the former Santa Fe depot at 1st and Santa Fe, again a common setting for silent films.

In closing, this time Doug’s Bell Boy 13 lower right overlaps with Harold’s Girl Shy, lower left, with scenes staged at the former Southern Pacific Depot at 5th and Central downtown. A popular filming site, the depot also appears with Harold in Just Neighbors (1919), Douglas Fairbanks in When The Clouds Roll By (1919), and Stan Laurel in Mother’s Joy (1923), as explained in detail HERE. 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.

Be sure to check out The Douglas MacLean Collection and all of Ben’s other DVD releases. Thank you Ben!

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.

Posted in Doug MacLean, Harold Lloyd | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Buster, Harold, and Stymie at the Venice Pier

A prior post explains Buster Keaton and Orson Welles crossed paths filming in Venice, California. But what about Buster and Our Gang superstar Stymie Beard?

Above Buster in The High Sign (1920) and Orson directing A Touch of Evil (1958). Below – Buster and Matthew “Stymie” Beard.

During the 1933 Our Gang comedy Fish Hooky, the gang’s plan to skip school in order to go fishing back­fires when they discover their teacher has arranged to take the class to the amusement park that day, entirely for free. When they catch up with her at the beach, she shoos them away, warning them that the truant officer is after them.

Above, Our Gang alumna Mary Kornman plays the teacher, and her Our Gang co-star Mickey Daniels (left) plays the truant officer, seen here coyly chatting with Spanky McFarland, Dickie Moore, and Stymie Beard, not yet revealing to them his sinister occupation.

When Mary shoos the gang away, directly above her hand is the entrance to the Nautilus Apartments that once stood at 1811 Ocean Front Walk in Venice, just south of the pier. The red box marks the “Nautilus” signing hanging over the entrance, both in 1933, left, and in Keaton’s 1920 film, center. Before this same entrance is where Buster flashes the “fooled you” high sign to the audience when he does not slip on a banana peel dropped on the sidewalk.

Click to enlarge – above, this 1920 aerial view shows the Nautilus Apartment (yellow star) and the future picnic table site (red box), south of the amusement park pier that would burn down later in 1920, only to be quickly rebuilt. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above, a January 9, 1933 ground level view of the Our Gang picnic site (red box) and the Nautilus Apartment (yellow star), by Anton Wagner. California Historical Society.

What’s more amazing, while writing this post I came to realize that the Nautilus Apartment building is still standing! I checked the online building permits for 1811 Ocean Front in Venice, and while undergoing numerous alterations and upgrades over the years, it appears the core building remains.

Fish Hooky has ties to another silent comedy, Harold Lloyd’s Grandma’s Boy (1922). At left triumphant Harold stands over the vanquished bully on the Higuera Bridge over Ballona Creek, due east of the so-called Forty Acres movie studio backlot in Culver City. The same bridge is where Joe Cobb and Allen “Farina” Hoskins persuade the gang to cut school to go fishing instead. Notice the matching farm house in the left and right images.

This view east shows part of the Forty Acres movie set backlot at left, the Higuera Bridge over Ballona Creek, and the same lone farm house to the right. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE.

Below, the Nautilus Apartment now “Muscle Beach” building.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Mary Pickford, the Talmadge Sisters, and Buster Keaton at the Brunton Studio

The Hoodlum (1919), Mary Pickford’s second independent production, followed her triumphant debut self-production Daddy Long Legs (1919). DDL brims with so much Los Angeles history and locations it took two lengthy posts to cover them all, HERE and HERE, and was noteworthy in particular for filming the orphanage exteriors at the abandoned Occidental College Hall of Letters where Charlie Chaplin later filmed The Kid (1921).

In The Hoodlum Mary plays a spoiled rich girl living with her wealthy grandfather in a 5th Avenue mansion. Her life is transformed when her estranged sociologist father visits from England to study New York slums for his book, and she chooses to live with him there. After a rough start (she arrives in a chauffeured limousine, above), Mary learns to navigate slum life, empathize with the less fortunate, and falls for a young man played by Kenneth Harlan, falsely imprisoned due to her grandfather’s corruption.

As Kevin Brownlow reports in his beautifully illustrated coffee table book Mary Pickford Rediscovered, the critics were duly impressed that the East Side slum scenes were actually filmed in California. Quoting Brownlow “[a]rt director Max Parker built a splendidly convincing section of New York at the Brunton Studios (later Paramount). His work was so extraordinary that he ought to be better known. He changed his style radically in the 1920s and became the designer for the frothy and glamourous pictures made for Cecil B. DeMille’ company, Producers Distributing Corporation.”

Click to enlarge – view east of The Hoodlum “Y” configured street set running left-right at photo center. Melrose Avenue appears to the right – San Diego Air and Space Museum.

As numerous vintage aerial photographs reveal, Mary indeed filmed The Hoodlum on the Brunton lot, employing a “Y” configured street slum set running south that remained standing long enough to appear in later productions, including Buster Keaton’s Day Dreams (1922) and Lloyd Hamilton’s The Speeder (1922).

Above, the back end of the “Y” set appears appears as Craigen Street in The Hoodlum, left, and with Lloyd Hamilton in The Speeder. Dave Stevenson – Looser Than Loose.

Broader views of the “Y” set, The Hoodlum at left, and Buster’s failed career as a street sweeper, in white uniform to the left of center, in Day Dreams. Note: the right side of the set also appears during Keaton’s Cops (1922) when Buster mistakenly purchases a horse and wagon for $5.00.

Next during Day Dreams Keaton plays an inept chorus line spear carrier who disrupts the show. Thrown from the theater while still dressed in Roman garb, Keaton attracts the attention of a suspicious cop. Looking closely, the posters on the theater wall behind Buster promote movies starring Norma and Constance Talmadge. Buster had married their sister Natalie Talmadge the prior year at producer Joe Schenck’s country home in Bayside, Long Island. Anita Loos was the bridesmaid, Constance was matron of honor, and Ward Crane, who later played the sheik in Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924), was best man.

Norma starred as Kathleen in the 1922 romantic drama Smilin’ Through, a Norma Talmadge Production for First National. Keaton later paid another indirect tribute to Norma in his 1926 feature Battling Butler, when her Talmadge apartment building at 3278 Wilshire Boulevard, stood in for Alfred Butler’s mansion at the beginning of the film (left).

Constance starred as Josephine Gerson in the 1921 romantic comedy Woman’s Place, also featuring Kenneth Harlan, which was written by Anita Loos’s husband John Emerson.

Above, other views of the “Y” shaped Brunton backlot set. USC Digital Library here and here. Since these images are attributed to 1918, either much of the set was already built prior to Mary’s production, or the archive photo dates are only approximate.

Aerial views of the Brunton studio reveal where Keaton filmed other important scenes on the Brunton backlot, covered in prior posts, including the teeter-totter fence scene in Cops, and the swimming pool high dive in Hard Luck, and the waterfall rescue scene in Our Hospitality. Above, awaiting a future post, Natalie Talmadge’s southern hometown in Our Hospitality was also staged on the Brunton backlot (left box above – click to enlarge), while the waterfall set Buster built for Our Hospitality clearly appears in the right above box, next to Melrose Avenue. National Archives.

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.

Above, a comparable modern view east along Melrose of what is today the Paramount Studio (C) 2020 Microsoft.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Keaton’s Missing Scene and Cameraman Tricks

Early in The Cameraman (1928) neophyte newsreel photographer Buster Keaton submits his double-exposed mistake-filled audition movie footage to the M-G-M Newsreel General Offices in ‘New York,’ resulting in a complete disaster. At left, Buster watches in horror as his double-exposed fiasco plays out on screen.

To begin, as shown above, one brief double-exposed scene depicts a US battleship proudly steaming west up 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles towards the corner of Figueroa.

Another wild shot, upper right, was taken from the steps of the New York Public Library looking north towards the surviving Postal Life Building at the SE corner of 5th Avenue and 43rd Street (yellow box in each image). The demolition of the former Temple Emanu-El (1868-1927) synagogue once standing at the NE corner of 5th and 43rd, appears underway during the Keaton frame (it was demolished floor by floor, see detail at right, with blue stars marking the remaining height). Knowing the precise date when the temple was demolished (I don’t) would help establish whether Keaton’s crew took this shot during their brief New York visit, or whether doctored “stock” footage was used instead. USC Digital Library.

A third crazy shot looks SE from Columbus Circle in New York towards the entrance to Central Park.

But remarkably, the disastrous footage contained a further joke. During George Pratt’s 1958 interview with Keaton, transcribed in Kevin W. Sweeney’s book Buster Keaton: Interviews, Buster describes rushing to a Park Avenue hotel to film a noted Admiral of the US Navy, and mistakenly filming the splendidly uniformed hotel doorman instead. Although Pratt and Keaton discuss how this “Admiral” footage is missing, for a time this scene appeared intact in a low-resolution file once available on the Internet Archive. I captured these frame grabs there in 2013. Here’s a Nitrateville chat group discussion about the missing footage.

More remarkable, this apparently now missing scene was filmed at the recently opened Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Since the hotel reportedly opened in January 1928, its appearance with Buster could very well mark its screen debut as a filming location.

The side of the hotel on S. El Camino Drive appeared behind Chaplin during City Lights (1931) when Charlie spies a cigar butt on the sidewalk while driving his millionaire friend’s luxury car (see full post HERE). Charlie leaps from the car and grabs the butt before another bum can take it, leaving the bewildered bum behind as he drives off. Much later the hotel gained recognition as the movie setting for the Richard Gere/Julia Roberts 1990 prostitution comedy, I mean romantic comedy Pretty Woman, itself now 30 years old.

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.

Posted in Buster Keaton, The Cameraman | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Silent Comedy’s Crazy Corner

Quick – what are some essential elements for a silent comedy? A park bench? An angry cop? A banana peel? If you think about it, one absolutely essential geographic element is the humble street corner. It doesn’t matter what the corner looks like. It simply has to hide the cop lurking around the other side, so both the film comic and audience will be startled when he jumps into view. Other times a broad point of view reveals both sides of the corner, allowing the audience to anticipate the cop grabbing the unsuspecting comic, or showing two dashing figures on a collision course.

Perhaps the most frequently depicted cinematic corner is the NE corner of Motor and Woodbine in Palms, California. Located a mile or two from the former Hal Roach Studios in Culver City, the extant corner seems to appear in nearly every Roach production ever made, including early Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, and Charley Chase comedies, and numerous Our Gang films. Facing to the south and to the west, the corner remains fully illuminated nearly all day, perfect for filming.

Here above, from the early Our Gang talkie comedy Boxing Gloves (1929), Joe Cobb and Norman “Chubby” Chaney repeatedly bump into each other running around this blind corner, spilling the soft drinks they vainly keep purchasing as a treat for Jean Darling whom they hope to impress. This corner even appears in the debut Our Gang film. The same view today, appears at right.

But we’re going to study a far more eccentric corner, located just off the Plaza de Los Angeles in downtown. The narrow corner of Alameda Street and Los Angeles Street witnessed many of the silent comedy greats, and was used by Harold Lloyd at least three times.

While Buster Keaton did not film at the corner per se, above here are matching views from Alameda looking down Los Angeles Street towards the Plaza, as seen in this vintage photo, above left (El Pueblo Monument Photo Collection), and matching view from Keaton’s The Goat (1921). The two story brick building to the right of Buster, the former electric yellow car Los Angeles Railway substation, still stands (see today view on Google Maps below). As I report in this prior post HERE, the fire station appearing behind Buster, facing the Plaza, survives today as a fire house museum, and appears incongruously as a Washington D.C. locale during the premiere episode of the Fox Network crime drama Bones, see matching views to the left.

The crazy corner stood just a few blocks away from the Bradbury Mansion – Rolin film studio on Court Hill, where Hal Roach and Harold Lloyd launched their film careers.

Above, a closer view of the narrow corner, and its appearance in the Harold Lloyd short That’s Him (1918), restored by archivist Dino Everett at USC, and released as a bonus feature to the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927). (I prepared a special visual essay for this release – Close to Home, read more HERE.)

Above, two more Harold Lloyd shorts filmed at this same corner, Off the Trolley (1919) upper right, and Hand to Mouth (1919) lower right. Given the number of early Lloyd films produced from the Bradbury Mansion studio nearby, now lost, he likely staged scenes from other movies here as well.