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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

But this crazy corner was too good for the other comedians to pass up, so above left, appears the Roach-produced Snub Pollard short Fifteen Minutes (1921), part of Ben Model’s Undercrank Productions’ Found at Mostly Lost DVD release, while Larry Semon appears upper right in Frauds and Frenzies (1918), and Hank Mann appears lower right in The Janitor (1919).

Above, more views with Snub Pollard at the crazy corner from Fifteen Minutes. Early in my research when I noticed different comedians using the same location, I felt it was a lucky coincidence. But instead it’s become increasingly clear that these locations were commonly known and shared within the small, tightly-knit film community.

Above left, Fifteen Minutes also has scenes filmed a block away from the crazy corner, looking south from Sanchez Alley down Arcadia towards Los Angeles Street, now lost to the freeway, matching scenes appearing in Buster Keaton’s Neighbors (1920) above center, and Cops (1922) above right.

Los Angeles Street runs left-right below the Plaza, intersecting with sloped Alameda Street. The red circle marks the crazy corner, the blue circle the fire station museum, and the yellow circle marks the lost corner of Sanchez Alley.

Today the view south down Los Angeles Street from Alameda is subsumed by a landscaping plaza, shown below on Google Maps. The brick substation building is still standing to the right of the palm tree.

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 HERE.

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Happy “Roaring Twenties” New Year at Keaton’s Bungalow

If only he knew what was in store. Buster on the steps of his Grant Avenue bungalow, just outside of MGM

View west past bungalow (star) towards MGM

Happy New Year everyone! For some reason 2020 and its prior century silent-era counterpart resonate with me more so than 2019-1919 ever did. The Roaring Twenties are with us again. This widely viewed classic photo of Buster making his 1929 New Year’s Resolutions struck me when I realized it was likely filmed on the steps of the Grant Avenue bungalow Keaton rented just east of MGM. As described below, reprising a prior post, Buster had already staged numerous publicity photos (see below) on the front lawn of the bungalow he rented near the studio before moving to his “Keaton Kennel” dressing room on the MGM lot in 1930. Given the 1929 photo date, the matching visual clues in the background (window patterns, driveway), and the numerous similar photos conclusively proven to have been staged on Grant Avenue, I’m confident he posed for this photo there too.

When Buster Keaton joined MGM in 1928, he rented a bungalow near, but off site from, the MGM campus, infuriating studio head Louis B. Mayer, as Keaton was (one of) the only star(s) to rent space off of the lot. To rectify this, in 1930 or so MGM built Keaton a personal dressing room on the MGM lot, with living space and private kitchen, jokingly dubbed Keaton’s Kennel. My earlier post identifies exactly where the Kennel stood on the MGM lot, not far from the New York backlot set where Keaton filmed scenes from The Cameraman (1928) and Sidewalks of New York (1931).

But where was Keaton’s original bungalow off campus? He writes at page 214 of My Wonderful World of Slapstick that it was located where the Irving Thalberg Memorial Building now stands in Culver City, which places it on former Grant Avenue. Studying vintage maps and aerial photos, there were only a few candidate homes.

Somehow I came across these fun photos I had seen years before, Buster posing before a wide angle camera lens to create a series of distorted, attention-grabbing images. I then found a photo of him posing with director Edward Sedgwick, and realized that the background street in each image looked familiar.

A 1924 view north of Grant Avenue next to the then Goldwyn Studio, before the funeral parlor on Grant and Madison (red box) was constructed. Keaton posed for all of the photos, including the 1929 Resolution photo at the top of this post, within the yellow box. Assuming the duplex to the right was symmetrical, the window pattern visible on the right (east) side of the duplex matches the window pattern appearing behind Buster’s Resolution photo, which shows the left (west) side. The driveway also matches the Resolution photo. HollywoodPhotographs.com

As confirmed by the Sanborn fire insurance maps and these aerial views, Keaton staged all four photos adjacent to MGM looking east down Grant Avenue towards the distinctive tiled roof of the Noice and Son funeral parlor at the corner of Madison and Grant.

1933 view south of Grant Avenue, showing the funeral home (red) and lawn where Keaton posed (yellow).

A closer study shows Keaton posed for all four photos in front of the center home, a duplex actually, with the address 10132 – 10132-1/2 Grant Avenue. Given there were so few other candidate homes available, it seems most likely Keaton would only pose in front of the place he was actually renting.

Given Keaton is wearing a similar short sleeve shirt, and the picture codes for the wide view shots and these radio poses all seem to begin with “MCMP,” I think it likely Buster took these above interior shots inside the same Grant Avenue bungalow, all as part of the same publicity shoot. Notice the plain curtains, fancy light fixture, and flowery wallpaper.

Inside the Keaton Kennel

This photo of Buster (wearing long sleeves) with his sons and his father Joe was taken inside the Kennel on the MGM lot – the picture codes of Buster and his sons posing outside of the Kennel (4673, 4675) match the code for this interior view (4670), as do their clothes. The curtains here are not plain, and there appears to be no wallpaper. As such, I believe the above radio photos above were not taken inside the Kennel.

Below, a matching view east along what was once Grant Avenue, taken in front of the Thalberg Building entrance.

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

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Buster Keaton at the Selig Studio “Prison”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Buster Keaton’s Scarecrow Adobe

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

A true adobe – looking SE towards the Baldwin Hills.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Buster Keaton, Culver City, The Scarecrow | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Silent Hollywood’s Japanese Enclave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chaplin’s Earliest Scenes Beside the Selig Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Edendale, Keystone Studio, Tillie's Punctured Romance | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Harpo, Chico, and James Cagney at the Brunswig Mansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in James Cagney, Marx Brothers | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Early Thrill Comedies – Who Was First?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harry Houdini Solves a Charlie Chaplin Mystery!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Mary Pickford Filmed Daddy-Long-Legs Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Schindler

Click to enlarge – north up Kings Road at Waring

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

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

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

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

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

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

The nearly last – Safety Last – joke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Office – Film Noir – and Harold Lloyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matching views of the La Collina estate gate today.

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

Looking west at Sunset and Doheny Road.

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