Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

Buster Keaton and Marceline Day

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Manhattan, The Cameraman | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Silent Echoes LA Bus Tours and Podcast

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

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

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

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

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Hollywood Snapshots – a 1922 Time Machine

Facing a public relations nightmare in 1922 over recent scandals, the film community produced Hollywood Snapshots, a promotional film portraying screen folk as wholesome to middle America. Presented online by the National Film Preservation Foundation, Snapshots captures remarkable images of burgeoning early Hollywood, including Hollywood Boulevard, the Famous Players – Lasky Studio, and the Pickford – Fairbanks Studio.

During Snapshots a rube named Hezekiah travels to Hollywood to witness the decadence first hand. Here, looking east, he boards a  trolley, with the former Methodist Episcopal church at the SE corner of Hollywood and Vine appearing at back. The church was soon demolished to make way for the Taft Building which opened in 1923. USC Digital Library.

Hezekiah departs the trolley near the north end of Cosmo Street, with the Palmer Building, still under construction, behind him to the left, and the Markham Building to the right. The aerial view shows Cosmo looking west towards the corner of Cahuenga. Huntington Digital Library.

The trolley now travels east towards Cahuenga. The Security Bank Building to the left, which opened in 1922 as the tallest building in town, sparked the Hollywood construction boom during the 1920s. The tallest building on the right is the Markham Building.

This 1922 SE view along Hollywood Blvd. shows the church at Vine (oval), Cosmo (box), and the direction of the trolley heading towards Cahuenga. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Looking east down Hollywood Blvd. from Highland, before the landmark First National Bank building was constructed in 1927 on the NE corner to the left. The four story C.E. Toberman Building appears on the SE corner to the right. This corner building is now two stories tall. LAPL.

Further west, and still looking east, we see the H. P. Rehbein Richfield gas station on the SE corner of Sycamore, as it appears in the movie in 1922, left, and again as it appears in Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy (1924) to the right.

The former Garden Court Apartments, 7201 Hollywood Blvd., stood across from Sycamore, appearing in the film, left, and in this Watson Family Photo Archive shot.

Hezekiah asks a local where to search for all of the scandals, in front of the former Hollywood Hotel, at the NW corner of Hollywood and Highland. USC Digital Library.

The film cuts to a shot of LA’s finest marching from the former joint fire/police station at 1629 N. Cahuenga. Tommy Dangcil.

Hezekiah then strolls north past the Vine Street entrance to the Famous Players – Lasky Studio (oval) above. The famous Lasky barn, future home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, stands on the corner of Selma to the left. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

A closer view of the Vine Street entrance, paired with a 1920 photo. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Here, Lois Weber exits the building, providing a slightly wider view, matching this 1922 photo. Many other stars appear in Snapshots leaving this doorway. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

During a brief scene, Carter De Haven (right) orders coke, no, not that kind, but you know, the drink in a bottle, from this vendor set up on Vine Street directly facing the studio. At back, the former home at 1518 Morningside Court (wait, there’s a Hollywood street called Morningside Court?!?) appears as well in this 1919 aerial view looking west across the Famous Players – Lasky Studio. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Mary Pickford’s first husband Owen Moore appears on Second Street on the Brunton Studio lot looking north. She divorced Owen in 1920 to marry Douglas Fairbanks. HollywoodPhotographs.com. Below, a matching view, looking east, showing Moore’s spot (oval) and the direction of the camera. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Another shot in the film shows the corner of the dressing rooms (oval) and the back of the mausoleum at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

With a sudden edit, Hezekiah now walks east along Santa Monica Blvd. towards the entrance gate of the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio. The giant castle set built for Robin Hood, filmed during 1922, appears at back.

A wider view of the entrance. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Soon, Hezekiah strolls past Viola Dana, right corner of photo, eating food just like real people do, pictured at the Armstrong – Carleton Cafe. California State Library.

The film then portrays good clean Hollywood folks relaxing at home. Sid Smith plays on a front lawn with a boy identified as “Master Zukor.” The home has a three digit address that appears to end with a “3.” The many porch details, now painted white, exactly match this photo of 503 S. St. Andrews (center house), now all lost to apartment blocks. UCLA Digital Library. The Sanborn maps confirm the 503 address had an octagonal corner, as depicted here. Strangely, the home was not owned by Smith, but by Charles F. Zaruba, proprietor of the Washington Photoplay Theater. Perhaps this “Zukor” lad is Zaruba’s son Lionel. I wasn’t before aware of Sid Smith – the Internet says the film comedian died from drinking poisoned hooch in 1928. Historic Los Angeles residence expert Duncan Maginnis, together with “Flying Wedge” at the “Noirish LA” photo history site, identified this location – you can read a full post HERE.

Above, devoted son Jack Kerrigan has tea with Mom while playing with his dog. Kerrigan never married, and reportedly lived with his mother and his domestic partner James Carroll Vincent. This view of his porch reveals the home’s 2307 N. Cahuenga address.

Several homes along Cahuenga remain standing. The box marks Jack Kerrigan’s L-shaped house, hidden by the trees, now an apartment block. Huntington Digital Library.

You can see Kerrigan’s L-shaped house (oval) in this SE view of the Hollywood Bowl. Huntington Digital Library.

Above, Lloyd Hughes in front of the Iris Theater (see name on the floor behind him) at 6508 Hollywood Blvd. In 1922 Hughes starred with Mary Pickford in Tess of the Storm Country. As Paramount archivist Charles Stepczyk writes, the advert behind Lloyd is for Frank Mayo’s “Tracked to Earth.” At left, 6508 Hollywood Blvd. as it appears today. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Below, Hezekiah strolls north past the Hollywood Legion Stadium at 1628 N. El Centro. USC Digital Library.

Looking north at the Famous Players – Lasky Studio. The oval marks the famous “barn” on Selma and Vine, now relocated across from the Hollywood Bowl, and home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum. The box at right marks the former stadium at 1628 N. El Centro Ave. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Above left, Rev. Neal Dunn’s “Little Church Around the Corner,” the St. Mary of the Angels Episcopal Church at 1743 N New Hampshire, appears in the film. I couldn’t find a matching photo of the church, but Rev. Dunn was well known then as the “Padre of Hollywood,” who frequently extolled the noble and virtuous Hollywood community to the press. At right, Rev. Dunn officiated the July 31, 1922 wedding of Jack Pickford and Marilyn Miller, hosted by Doug and Mary at Pickfair. That smiling chap in the center next to Dunn looks familiar ; )

The film also shows a typical Sunday morning in Hollywood, with the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist, once located at 7107 Hollywood Blvd. on the NW corner of La Brea, packed with devoted parishioners. LAPL.

Finally, Snapshots includes many cameos appearances. Top row, left to right, 1922 WAMPAS Baby Star Kathryn McGuire (her name is misspelled in the film) before landing roles with Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. and The Navigator, Ramon Navarro during a dueling scene with swords from the lost film Trifling Women, and Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino almost kissing in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Bottom row, left to right, another shot of Rudy, French comedian Max Linder performs his morning calisthenics, and young mother Jane Novak smiles for the camera.

Snapshots also portrays a number of stars exiting the Famous Players – Lasky Studio. Here is a full list of star cameos in order of appearance: Agnes Ayers, Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Anna Q. Nilsson and James Kirkwood, Alta Allen, Mitchell Lewis, June Mathis, Carter De Haven, Owen Moore with director “Vic” Herman, Milton Sills, Walter Heirs, Wesley “Freckles” Barry, Harry Rapf and director Jack Warner, Max Linder, Katherine [sic] McGuire, Viola Dana, Sid Smith and Master Zukor, Jane Novak and daughter Baby Virginia, Jack Kerrigan and his mother, Dorothy Philips, Lloyd Hughes, Rev. Neal Dodd’s “Little Church,” Ramon Navarro in Trifling Women, Lewis Stone, Miss Alice Terry and Rudolph Valentino, “Rudolpho” playing “Armand” to Mme. Nazimova’s “Camille,” Vola Vale with husband Al Russell and son, and “Pal” the canine star.

In closing I want to once again thank photo archivists and historians Marc Wanamaker and Bruce Torrence, whose invaluable photographs make this narrative possible.

Thanks also to the National Film Preservation Foundation for sharing online so many historic films. Be certain to check out my post about the many historic connections among Chaplin, Stan Laurel, and Harold Lloyd with Harry Carey’s Soft Shoes (1925), a wonderfully rich film that the NFPF has also posted online for viewing.

Be sure to read Paramount archivist Charles Stepczyk’s fascinating research paper about how and why Snapshots was made.

Hollywood Snapshots. Copied at 18 frames per second from a 35mm tinted nitrate print preserved by the Academy Film Archive from source material provided by the New Zealand Film Archive. Running Time: 13-1/2 minutes (silent, no music).

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Harry Langdon – His Marriage Wow

Harry Langdon plays a nervous groom and newlywed in his 1925 comedy short His Marriage Wow (1925), available as part of The Mack Sennett Collection: Volume 1 Blu-ray, and the out of print Lost and Found: The Harry Langdon Collection. Absent-minded, Harry first waits patiently for the wedding to begin inside the wrong church, then dashes off hoping to reach the correct church in time. A creepy wedding guest played by Vernon Dent helpfully informs Harry that his bride is so beautiful she must only be interested in collecting Harry’s life insurance policy after they wed. Months later, Harry suspects he’s been poisoned at a family meal, and dinner guest Vernon, now revealed to the audience as a lunatic asylum escapee, offers to drive Harry to the hospital. Will Harry survive their wild ride around 1925 Hollywood?

The late Mrs. Eleanor Keaton on the steps of the Seven Chances church, left and above. She joked that whereas hundreds of women before her had failed, she was the one woman to marry Buster.

Above, Harry filmed at the Greater Page Temple, 2610 La Salle Avenue, the same church where Buster Keaton confronts a mob of angry brides in his 1925 feature comedy Seven Chances. Harry runs from the church, and below, asks a cop for directions, looking east on 1st at Larchmont. This corner appeared in many films, including those made by the Three Stooges and Harold Lloyd.

Larry Fine in Hoi Poloi (1935), Harold Lloyd and family in Hot Water (1924), and Harry Langdon in His Marriage Wow, a panorama at 1st and Larchmont. The home at back still stands.

The same view east on 1st at Larchmont – the corner gas station is now a BofA – the home at back still stands.

Langdon filmed many scenes from his later short film Saturday Afternoon (1926) at this same corner of 1st and Larchmont, here looking south at the SW corner. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Again, Harry in Saturday Afternoon, at 221 S. Larchmont.

The center-of-the-street poles supporting the former Larchmont electric trolley wires were a popular silent film comic device – above, another scene with Harry from Saturday Afternoon.

Returning to His Marriage Wow, thinking his bride is in a taxi Harry dashes north up Edgemont towards Fountain Avenue. The twin bungalow porch roofs at 1259 and 1257 Edgemont St appear to the left, with a corner drug store at back, all still standing today. The same porch roofs and corner drug store appear to the left during this shot of Monty Banks also running north up Edgemont during a scene from Derby Day (1922), one of the comedy shorts presented as part of the wonderful Found at “Mostly Lost”: Volume 2 release of previously unidentified early films, produced by, and in some cases accompanied by, noted silent film musician and preservationist Ben Model, in association with the Library of Congress.

The transitive theory of matching film locations now kicks in. Once the Monty Banks film (upper right) revealed the corner drug store was named the Ambrose Pharmacy, placing it at the SW corner of Edgemont and Fountain, this clue tied down the prior scenes of Harry and Monty running north up Edgemont towards Fountain. The same corner drug store also appeared in Harold Lloyd’s Hot Water, as Jobyna Ralston straightens Harold’s tie as they travel west on Fountain towards Edgemont. Langdon himself later filmed an early scene here for Saturday Afternoon. This color view looking west shows the corner drug store building unchanged, while the church to the right behind Harold, Jobyna, and Harry, was upgraded with a 1930 remodel addition now standing flush with the corner.

The transitive film location theory yielded more discoveries. Once I became aware of Edgemont Street, I realized that these numerous scenes above, the first two from Lloyd Hamilton’s Breezing Along (1927) (“American Slapstick Volume Two” All Day Entertainment), and the rest from Harry’s His Marriage Wow, were all filmed on Edgemont at the SE corner of Fountain, across from the drug store. The corner brick building, and its back doorway pictured above, still stands, while the classic bungalow originally next door was lost to another commercial building.

Above, the back door of 1262 Edgemont, with Lloyd Hamilton, and today. Below, when Harry drops his bride’s wedding ring, it sticks to the tire of a passing car.

Chasing the car for his bride’s wedding ring, Harry runs north up Larchmont towards the corner of Beverly, matching Buster Keaton’s flee to safety in Sherlock Jr. (1924). The two buildings to the left are the same in each shot. At the time the block, now lined with commercial buildings, still had vacant lots. The building directly behind Harry (ironically now demolished) was not yet built when Keaton filmed here.

His Marriage Wow kicks into high gear when Harry accepts a ride with crazy-man Vernon Dent. These two His Marriage Wow automobile scenes and matching Sherlock Jr. scene all show the once elaborately detailed building at the SE corner of Beverly and Larchmont.

Looking south down Larchmont, to the left the SE corner of Beverly appearing above, and to the right, the SW corner appearing in the scenes below. LAPL.

During their wild ride Vernon drives the car into another center trolley pole. The view below matches Lloyd Hamilton, upper right, in the Roscoe Arbuckle directed comedy short The Movies (1925), at the SW corner of Larchmont and Beverly. Today much of the building’s ornamentation has been removed.

Above, Harry and Vernon at left, Lloyd Hamilton upper right, at the SW corner of Larchmont and Beverly.

Above, Vernon and Harry continue their wild ride, traveling west along Hollywood Boulevard. Many 1920s-era landmarks appear during the scene, including the intersection of Hollywood and Cahuenga, below, and this view of the blade sign for Grauman’s Egyptian Theater, opening in 1922, with the towering Hotel Christie appearing at back on the corner of McCadden Place, opening in 1923.

Later, Vernon and Harry drive west past the intersection of Cahuenga, where the building at 6410 Hollywood Blvd., appearing with Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), still stands today.

Above, Harry and Vernon then pause in front of the Hollywood Community Bakery (visible sign in the store window), at 1223 N. Vine on the corner of La Mirada. The twin back wall windows have been filled in, but their outlines remain.

At left, Buster Keaton follows a potential a bride in Seven Chances. Both views look south down Vine from south of or north of Melrose. The small church at back appearing in both scenes (see small rooftop arch), built in 1922 at 600 N. Rossmore, is still standing. You can read much more about Keaton filming this scene HERE.

The Rossmore Apartments, built in 1924, at 649 N. Rossmore Avenue appear at back (yellow oval).

A final shot, Vernon and Harry drive north up Larchmont from the corner of 1st, matching a reverse view photo view. The distinctive building is no longer standing. LAPL.

You can read several posts about Harry Langdon’s The Strong Man (1926) HERE, and other Langdon posts HERE.

Below, looking south down Larchmont from Beverly.

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Laurel & Hardy’s Liberty Rooftop

Shortly after the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presented Laurel & Hardy’s high-rise comedy Liberty (1929), accompanied by Jon Mirsalis, TCM broadcast the 1933 MGM drama Day of Reckoning, starring Richard Dix. The Dix film was full of surprises. For one, young Our Gang star Spanky McFarland was on loan from the Hal Roach Studios to portray Dix’s son. But what really knocked me out was Dix’s rooftop jail fight, staged identically to Stan & Ollie’s comic escapades. Both sequences were filmed atop the Western Costume Building at 939 S. Broadway.

Click to enlarge – the Western Pacific Bldg. at 1031 S. Broadway still stands at back.

After escaping prison in Liberty, Stan and Ollie ditch their prison garb for civilian clothes, but accidentally don each other’s mismatched trousers. They spend most of film attempting to swap pants, only to end up trapped atop a construction site. Coincidentally Richard Dix plays a prisoner in Day of Reckoning as well, convicted for embezzling to appease his spendthrift wife, who promptly dumps him. Dix nearly dies in a fight atop the prison hospital roof, that eventually leads to his release and reunion with his now motherless children, the boy played by Spanky. Considering MGM distributed Roach’s films, it’s conceivable Roach personnel advised the Dix crew about staging the daring fight.

While the rooftop gags in Liberty continue to thrill audiences, the premise of the film was not exactly original. Hal Roach’s 1927 Our Gang comedy The Old Wallop had previously placed the young Our Gang kids in a similar predicament as Stan and Ollie.

Above, The Old Wallop (1927) and Liberty (1929). Here’s a bit of trivia – the actual building permit, pulled on September 29, 1928, for permission to build a 24 foot x 24 foot “motion picture set” for Liberty atop the Western Costume Building. As noted Laurel & Hardy author Randy Skretvedt reports, “the permit is signed on behalf of the Hal Roach Studios by “L French,” or Lewis Alver French, who oversaw the accounting at the studio.  He had been the accountant at a firm Hal Roach worked at when he was a truck driver, and Roach told him that if he ever started his own business, he’d want Mr. French as his accountant. He made good on that pledge!  Lewis’s son was Lloyd French, who became an assistant director and ultimately a director at the Roach lot.”

Because Stan and Ollie’s Liberty was filmed looking south, it provides unique views of Broadway past Olympic (originally 10th Street). Above, the narrow triangle building, now lost, was the rooftop where Harold Lloyd built sets for the first phase of his stunt climbs during Safety Last! (1923) and Feet First (1930).

This view south from Day of Reckoning shows the Los Angeles Railway Building at Broadway and 11th, where Dorothy Devore staged her stunt climbing comedy Hold Your Breath (1924). Again, Dorothy’s movie was filmed looking north. Photo Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Harold Lloyd built a stunt climbing set, looking north, for the second phase of his climb in Feet First atop 950 S. Broadway across the street from the Western Costume Building at 939 S. Broadway, where Stan and Ollie filmed looking south. (C) 2018 Microsoft.

As shown above, rooftop scenes from Liberty and Feet First were staged directly across the street from each other.

For comparison, Dix hangs on for dear life – safely atop the Western Costume Building roof, and safely in front of a rear screen projection. Filming atop rooftops is such a simple and powerful effect – I am baffled why it still isn’t commonly used.

This view north from Day of Reckoning shows the extant building at the corner of 9th and Hill (left), and back of the May Company Building (right), while the RKO Theater (dome) at 8th and Hill has been demolished LAPL.

During Day of Reckoning Una Merkel and her milkman boyfriend take Spanky to the Temple Street side of the Hall of Justice so Spanky can wave at his father Richard Dix.

Above, a farewell view of Stan and Ollie trying to swap pants beside the Adams Hotel alley in Culver City, now lost, paired with a view from Charlie’s Angels (1979), from guest blogger Jim Dallape’s very popular post From Roach’s to Roaches – Stan & Ollie Meet Starsky & Hutch.

Check out this fascinating “Finding Lost Angeles” post about the Western Costume Company where all the scenes were filmed.

Looking south from 939 Broadway today towards the Western Pacific Bldg.

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Before the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

The beautiful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers is a revelation, a six-disc set featuring dozens of early films created by women, many unseen for decades. One of the biggest surprises was witnessing the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley appear in several films, each made years before the gents all filmed there.

Above, matching views from The Purple Mask (1917), written and co-directed by its star Grace Cunard, and Buster Keaton in Cops (1922), both filmed looking east from Cahuenga just south from Hollywood Boulevard. In all, three early Universal films from the Kino Lorber set were filmed here.

A trio of views, The Purple Mask, Harry Houdini in The Grim Game (1919), and Buster in Cops. It makes you wonder, if three early surviving Universal films were made here, as well as Houdini’s early Paramount release, how many films that don’t survive were made here as well? Perhaps a dozen? More?

The alley is T-shaped, the east-west part with Buster appearing above. Here now is the north-south part, looking south at the back of some brick ovens appearing with Grace Cunard in The Purple Mask, and with Chaplin in The Kid (1921). Hollywood was sparsely developed during the mid-teens of the last century. The intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga was one of the few commercial corners in town. Since Universal was close by, the alley was likely used out of necessity or convenience. The Famous Players – Lasky Studio, where Houdini filmed The Grim Game, was closer still, just a couple of blocks away.

Looking north up the alley, from Eleanor’s Catch (1916), starring and directed by Cleo Madison, and Charlie in The Kid. Twenty years ago, before hundreds of silent films became available to home viewers, I’d struggle to find a single location in a single film. Once solved, it somehow felt this must be the setting’s unique appearance on film. These early Universal films completely destroy this false assumption. Instead, it makes perfect sense that these locations were commonly known and frequently used. Thus, when Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd filmed here (for a total of at least six different films), they weren’t pioneers capitalizing on their own clever sense of locales. They were simply filming where everyone already knew to film.

A closer view of the alley stairs, from co-director Lois Weber’s Where Are My Children? (1916) and Charlie and Minnie Stearns in The Kid.

Another trio, Gale Henry in her self-produced comedy The Detectress (1919), Charlie and Minnie, and a scene from a later movie, The Last Edition (1925), a film that makes great use of the alley, and the common thread that originally tied all of the alley discoveries together.

Views looking west down the alley from Cosmo towards Cahuenga, The Purple Mask at left, and Buster Keaton’s Neighbors (1920) at right. Notice the white shed to the right of center in both shots. The far side of Cahuenga across the street has no buildings in the 1917 view. Notice too the corner pole left of center in the Keaton frame – it appears below.

This cast iron corner pole is still present, appearing in 1916 in Eleanor’s Catch, beside Lisa Marie as Vampira in the Johnny Depp biopic Ed Wood (1994), and a modern view today.

Three views looking west towards Cahuenga showing the back of the alley loading dock, in The Purple Mask, Eleanor’s Catch, and The Detectress.

Above, the Cahuenga entrance to the alley appearing with Colleen Moore disguised as a man in Her Bridal Nightmare (1919), and a scene from the Al Christie comedy Hubby’s Night Out (1917) linked on YouTube.

Above, a 1919 view of the T-shaped alley. When Chaplin filmed scenes for The Kid here, the studio records note that on December 1, 1919, he filmed at “Hall’s grocery,” and the next day at “Hall’s alley.” Christopher C. Hall owned a grocery store at 6382 Hollywood Blvd., that backed onto this alley. Further, in 1913 he built the distinctive two story home on the alley at 1645 Cosmo (oval photo above), just steps from his store. So “Hall’s alley” was an appropriate name. The star above marks where the camera stood on Cahuenga to film the back of Mr. Hall’s home appearing in these three scenes above. Note: in Keaton’s view above the trees that belonged to the Jacob Stern estate are blocked from view by the Palmer Building on Cosmo nearing completion. At right, Keaton hides in a laundry basket beside Mr. Hall’s home during Neighbors. Notice the corner cast iron pole behind Buster which still remains. The home was demolished in 1956.

Above, more views of  Mr. Hall’s house at 1645 Cosmo from Billy West’s Don’t Be Foolish (1920) linked on the Internet Archive. Check out Kino Lorber Blu-ray release Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers.

Part of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, a view west from Cosmo towards Cahuenga today, with Mr. Hall’s home long since gone. Zoom to see the corner cast iron pole still standing.

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