The Lens of History – Hollywood before the Chaplin Studio

Above, only part of a vast panoramic view looking south at Hollywood, circa 1906. Can you spot the future site of the Charlie Chaplin Studio, nearly straight ahead? The hill in the foreground would become in 1914 the site to the Bernheimer brothers massive Japanese mansion and gardens, today known as the popular restaurant Yamashiro. Click to enlarge each image. Huntington Digital Library.

A closer view, Orange Drive leads away south to the far left. Running straight north-south for miles, La Brea bends to the NW at the corner of Sunset. This view is a component of the same panorama above, only this time USC Digital Library.

The home facing us to the left of the yellow line (7022 Sunset), had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the right of the yellow line, the future Chaplin Studio site had 7 rows of trees. The far white line at back is De Longpre Avenue, the right white line is La Brea. The one-story home with a single gable standing on the studio site (7062 Sunset), was relocated in July 1914 to accommodate a much larger two-story mansion built in 1914. The mansion came with the sale of the property, and Charlie’s half-brother Syd Chaplin would live there. Starting construction late in 1917, Chaplin dedicated his studio on January 21, 1918.

Looking NE – 7022 Sunset, the home to the right of the yellow line, had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the left of the yellow line, 7 rows of trees stand on the Chaplin Studio. Note Syd Chaplin’s multi-gabled mansion beside the studio tennis court. The studio address is 1416 N. La Brea, now home to the Jim Henson Company. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Again, just part of a similar vast panorama, circa 1918, this time taken from the Bernheimer Estate. Huntington Digital Library.

Can you spot the studio site? This photo likely pre-dates 1918, as the one-story home relocated from the site in 1914 still seems to appear in this view.

Assembled from Chaplin’s pseudo documentary How to Make Movies (1918), this view looks north from De Longpre at the studio site. La Brea runs north at the left.

Jumping a decade ahead, here’s a view east of the Chaplin Studio during the production of The Circus (1928). Note how La Brea bends left (NW) at Sunset, the remaining orchard and tennis court beside Syd’s 7062 Sunset Boulevard mansion, and the giant circus tent set. Buster Keaton filmed a scene from Cops (1922) at the corner of Sunset and Detroit at the lower left of this view – more below. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Above, a 1927 view of Hollywood – click to enlarge. The Yamashiro site (somewhat dark) stands at center. What else do you see? Huntington Digital Library.

Does this help? The same component of the panorama above, again this time from USC Digital Library.

Pointers highlight the circus tent set at left, and studio tennis court. The inset photos show the studio along La Brea and Buster filming Cops at the corner of Sunset and Detroit.

Matching views south and east of Buster filming on Sunset at the corner of Detroit.

Vintage photos help us to envision the once open and rural landscapes of early Hollywood. To conduct your own photo time-travel safari, I highly recommend using Calisphere, a gateway site that allows you to search simultaneously the digital collections from California’s great libraries, archives, and museums.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a matching view north of the studio site – things sure have changed.

Posted in Chaplin Studio, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood History | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Live Virtual Silent Locations Tour with Esotouric

This Saturday January 16, at noon PST, Esotouric, L.A.’s most eclectic sightseeing tour company, is hosting my live virtual silent cinema scavenger hunt through L.A.’s historic Westlake neighborhood. Though webcast live, the event may be viewed later. Click the link below for details.

Silent Echoes Westlake Virtual Tour

I had fun working with Esotouric’s Kim Cooper and Richard Schave before, when we did all-day bus tours of silent movie locations back in 2019, and hope to resume such tours in the near future when circumstances allow. But until then we’ll be hosting a virtual tour around Westlake, showing how Charlie, Buster, and Harold all filmed there. I hope you can join us then.

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Mary Pickford’s “A Beast at Bay” a century before LAX

Mary Pickford’s A Beast at Bay (1912), directed by D.W. Griffith, portends his 1916 feature Intolerance, overlaps with later films starring Mabel Normand, Douglas Fairbanks, and Buster Keaton, and reveals the future site of LAX (!), the Los Angeles International Airport. But faint-hearted viewers in 1912 also complained its cinematic race filmed from speeding cars along bumpy roads was “an abominable practice” – see more below.

Beautifully preserved and visually stunning, and posted on YouTube by The Mary Pickford Foundation, the movie portrays Mary’s kidnapping, and thrilling pursuit by her rescuers, while providing vivid images of the primitive Inglewood and Wiseburn train stops, the isolated dirt road running beside the Santa Fe rail line connecting them, and the vast open expanses of the historic Rancho Sausal Redondo that would grow into Mines Aviation Field, and later become LAX.

Driving beside the Inglewood Station, with a shameless dog sauntering into view, Mary calls potential beau Edwin August a coward for refusing to fight with a drunken bum. Viewed looking west, she dumps Edwin at the SW corner of the station portico, the farthest corner (blocked from view) in the matching photo. Noted Biograph scholar Russell Merritt reports with this film plucky young Mary became one of the first Biograph players (the first woman?) ever to pilot an automobile onscreen. (Chris Milewski, another Pickford/Biograph scholar, reports Eddie Dillon drove himself earlier during A Gold Necklace in 1910.) Before this the company hired anonymous chauffeurs to drive the actors. The station once stood at 320 N. Eucalyptus Ave. in Inglewood, just north of the extant rail line.

Left behind after Mary drives away, Edwin can’t believe his eyes. Far off, an escaped convict has grabbed Mary, forcing her to drive him from a police search party. As seen above, a low-fenced garden once decorated the east side of the Inglewood station.

The police scan Mary driving away with the convict, paired with a matching view looking west of Buster Keaton fleeing the police in The Goat (1921).

The large warehouse, with central doorway appearing behind Edwin, stands roofless nine years later as Buster’s train heads west from Inglewood in The Goat.

Without access to a car, Edwin and the police convince an engineer to follow Mary in his locomotive. Looking east, once the train departs the station, it reveals the C. Ganahl Lumber Co., also appearing when Buster Keaton tows his house north up Eucalyptus Ave. across the tracks at the conclusion of One Week (1920).

Matching views east of the Inglewood station, a very popular filming site. Above left, dastardly Ford Sterling plots to tie poor Mabel Normand to the railroad tracks in the Mack Sennett comedy Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913). Center, Buster and Sybil Seely bid farewell to their demolished home in One Week. Above right, a dozen years later Keaton returned here for Speak Easily (1932), where he was filmed dragged away by a departing train (read more HERE).

Above, the race is on. Matching views north up Redondo Blvd. beside the tracks, with Mary and the convict, left, and the race to stop the Governor’s train during Intolerance, upper right, and Ford tying Mabel to the tracks in Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, lower right. Notice the distinctive tree windbreaks at back, also appearing behind Buster as he blithely extricates his stuck foot during The Blacksmith (1922).

A 1929 NE view of developing Mines Airfield. The five scenes above were staged looking north along Redondo (now Aviation) Blvd. (arrow), with the distinctive windbreak trees once standing south of W. Manchester Ave. marked in yellow. Mostly running parallel to the tracks, the dirt road splits away from the tracks at a 60 degree turn “A” above, then rejoins the tracks with two 90 degree turns, “B” above, discussed further below. LAPL.

Above upper left, Mary’s rescuers arrive at Wiseburn, matched with Intolerance upper right, as friends halt the Governor’s train, seeking his last-minute reprieve from execution for the innocent, wrongly condemned Robert Harron (The Boy). Below, speeding directly toward the camera, Buster arrives in style at Wiseburn during The Goat, one of Keaton’s most iconic scenes.

For good measure, Douglas Fairbanks filmed scenes for The Matrimaniac (1916) at Wiseburn, mentioned by name during the film, as he attempts to sneak a preacher onto the train to officiate Doug’s stealth elopement. Since Wiseburn was simply a crude agricultural loading dock in the middle of nowhere (now the western end of W. 120th St.), Doug’s insert shots beside the Wiseburn “station” were staged miles away instead at former the Pasadena Station, where Buster Keaton filmed other scenes for The Goat and Go West (1925), and where Charlie Chaplin filmed the opening scenes from The Idle Class (1921).

Aside from the locations, it was fun to read A Beast at Bay reviewed as “A melodramatic picture existing chiefly to show a race between an automobile and a locomotive,” with “serviceable” camerawork, and neither Mary nor D.W. warranting a mention by name. The Moving Picture World – June 8, 1912, page 944.

But two months later the film’s “serviceable” camerawork was excoriated by seemingly the world’s most easily offended snowflake, Mr. James J. Wood, who registered his “vigorous protest against the abominable practice” of filming from speeding automobiles. “[T]he eye strain from such pictures is decidedly harmful.” He also takes offense at The Girl and “Her Trust” [sic], another Griffith Biograph thriller filmed along the same rail line, showing a brief tight glimpse of the Inglewood Station porch. The Moving Picture World – August 3, 1912, page 449. Click to enlarge.

The publication’s editor was “obliged to heartily concur” with Mr. Wood’s condemnation of shooting films along bumpy roads, “a fault which can and ought to be eliminated.” How dare they? “[Films] should be taken on smoothly paved streets.” Now pardon me while I retire to my fainting couch, oh mercy me!

For historical completeness these remaining images document the route of the tracks and dirt road once running from Inglewood to Wiseburn. Above, Mary’s view matched with Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, both looking NE, west of the Inglewood station, as the tracks and dirt road (modern W. Florence Ave.) curve to the southwest, approaching the “A” marker on the aerial photo further above.

Mary’s kidnapping shows the same curve in the road seen above, only a reverse POV looking west as the tracks and road bend left (south). The low structures to the upper left of the main frame are identified on maps as “hothouses.”

Above left, while the tracks continue to gently curve to the southwest, the dirt road makes a 60 degree turn due south, splitting away from the tracks at the “A” marker on the above aerial view (where modern W. Florence Ave. turns and ends at W. Manchester Ave.) The hothouses identified on the map stand off camera to the right. The upper right frame is the same road before it splits south, essentially forming a panoramic view with the left image.

After traveling south for two blocks while separated from the tracks, the road makes a 90 degree turn right (west) (where modern Aviation Blvd. turns right at W. Arbor Vitae St.), then a 90 degree turn left (south), to rejoin its due south path directly adjacent to the tracks, the “B” marker on the above aerial view. These scenes from Mary, and Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life, show the zig and zag as the road realigns with the tracks.

The upper left frame shows the train approaching the Wiseburn station, note the vertical “station” sign. Here, the tracks and the road split apart, straddling the station in between. The upper right and lower right frames above show both sides of the same one-story warehouse on the north end of the station, already torn down by the time Intolerance filmed here in 1916. If curious, click to enlarge this giant 1924 USGS topological map, clearly identifying the stations and the route of the tracks and dirt road. No surprise, Edwin proves himself a hero rescuing Mary from the convict, and the film fades with the couple’s embrace.

Bookend train crashes from One Week (left) and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (1931).

In closing, Keaton also staged the famous car crash scene from Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath along the same Redondo Blvd., at the SE corner of Mines Field (read post HERE).

Highly recommended,  A Beast at Bay is fun, entertaining, stunningly clear, with Mary a delight, while also a priceless documentary record of the vast rural expanse that was once greater Los Angeles well over a century ago. Great thanks to The Mary Pickford Foundation for posting it.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a view looking north at the former site of the Wiseburn station, at W. 120th St. and Aviation Blvd., the one-time filming site for Mary, D.W., Buster, and Doug.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, One Week, The Goat | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Buster’s Brazen Bystanders

Bystanders appear frequently in the background of early films, a charming reminder of how the public witnessed the cinematic artform blossom, not only in theaters, but before their very eyes on the streets where they were made. The young girls caught on camera intently watching Charlie Chaplin through a window while he filmed The Kid (1921) (read more HERE) remains an all-time favorite discovery. Since Buster Keaton filmed so frequently on real streets, it’s not surprising onlookers appear throughout his films too. While there are many more, here are a few of the brazen bystanders to appear with Keaton in Cops (1922).

Buster’s encounter assisting Big Joe Roberts into a taxi, and pocketing his wallet, was filmed both in the late afternoon beside 590 N. Vermont (reported HERE), and in the early morning, above, miles away beside 7130 W. Sunset (reported HERE) looking east. Frozen in place, a woman stands unnoticed directly behind Buster at the corner of Sunset and Detroit to witness Joe retrieve his wallet, but not his cash.

View east along Sunset at left – click to enlarge – Buster staged the wallet scene at the lower left street corner, just a short block from the Chaplin Studio – notice the giant tent for filming The Circus. The studio corner lawn with a diagonal driveway beside the tennis court is where Chaplin posed with dogs making The Idle Class (1921) as reported HERE.

As Buster sets off with his wagon of furniture, passing the Aaron Greenfield auto wrecking yard once sited at 1019 S. Los Angeles Street, this intriguing fellow nonchalantly strolls alongside, hands in pants pockets, tie tucked between his shirt buttons. The extant Marsh Strong Building at 9th and Main, with signage for the Continental National Bank, appears to the upper left, while the buildings to the right are long demolished.

Lurking in doorways, left, heading south past the former Pioneer Lumber Co. at 1626 Cosmo in Hollywood, and heading west along 10th (now Olympic) past the side of the former E. A. Featherstone Auto Supplies Store at 958-960 S. Los Angeles St.

An army of police sneaks up behind Buster on New High Street beside the original Hall of Records Building (1911-1973) to the right, before the Civic Center was completely rebuilt, with a crowd of spectators sitting on the wall. The twin lampposts on the wall flank a sidewalk tunnel entrance into the former County Courthouse off camera further right. The landmark LA City Hall, later opening in 1928, would be built on the site to the left. Watching closely you’ll notice bystanders hunched down hiding beside almost every parked car, while the man standing between the cars at the far right even pops his head up like a gopher to stare at the camera.

Here’s a matching full view west down New High from Temple Street revealing the Hall of Records at back and the corner Court House (1891-1932). Jeffrey Castel de Oro first discovered this locale. I find it astounding Buster’s scene played out in full view of these towering public buildings, now all gone, yet only a hint of the buildings appear onscreen. The crenelated tower of the former Los Angeles Times Building at 1st and Broadway (reported HERE) appears furthest back, while the former International Bank Building, the true skyscraper Bill Strother climbs for the long view shots appearing in Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923), stands to the left.

Now the grand champion gawker, legs spread, proudly posed hands on hips like the Jolly Green Giant, as Buster pulls a fast move on some traffic cops.

Buster staged this scene near the Rutland Apartments at 1839 S. Main (reported HERE). Cops is Buster’s only film with no interior scenes, staged at four different backlots and all across Los Angeles. I have identified essentially every scene in the movie.

Buster heads east on Sunset at Detroit while a repairman works the wires and a curious child sits at the corner. The palm trees, and massive tree at back are on Syd Chaplin’s front lawn – he lived at the large home on the Sunset/La Brea corner that came with Chaplin’s studio property. 

I find these bystanders endearing. You can imagine them running home to tell their families over dinner the excitement of watching Buster make a movie. Their presence reminds us of the romance of early Hollywood, when production standards were more relaxed, while confirming that when audiences are captivated by a well-told story they are immune to background distractions. Captured forever, the anonymous images of these curious onlookers will live on at the fringe of film history.

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

A matching view east of the corner of Sunset and Detroit. The vintage corner building has since been demolished.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Cops | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Doug and Mary, Hedda and Jed, The Beverly Hillbillies Hollywood Appeal

What popular 1960s sitcom mentions Nita Naldi, twice, in the same episode? Where Douglas Fairbanks is scolded for pulling pranks, and a prescient plea is made to spare a classic-era movie studio from the wrecking ball? Psychologists say conjuring nostalgia during stressful times, watching old movies and TV shows, is a healthy coping mechanism. So, feeling nostalgic and self-soothing, I recorded a random episode of The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-1971), just to revisit old times. Selecting Season 3, Episode 4, was a spectacularly lucky choice.

A classic “fish out of water” premise, the popular series revolved around the backwoods Jed Clampett family who strike oil on their Ozark homestead, and now nouveau riche, move to a mansion in Beverly Hills.

Entitled Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood (1964 – available on YouTube, also at dailymotion), the episode begins with a mock newscast, as a helicopter reporter flies around the Clampett estate.

Their “Beverly Hills” home, actually located at 750 Bel Air Road in Bel Air, recently sold for $150M. As reported by Lindsay Blake’s I’m Not a Stalker location website, the home also appeared as a location in Bing Crosby’s High Society (1956), and in Jerry Lewis’s Cinderfella (1960), before gaining immortal fame as the home to Jed and the rest of the Clampett kin.

The episode’s plot, and the helicopter news reporter’s story, concerns plans to bulldoze historic Mammoth Studios to build office towers instead, likely inspired by the recent development of Century City on the former backlot of 20th Century Fox. And who owns the studio? Why none other than Jed himself. Above, the reporter’s view of the at-risk studio, in fact being Warner Bros. in Burbank.

But Hollywood champion Hedda Hopper won’t let this stand. The news helicopter zooms in to her office in the foreground Guaranty Building at Hollywood and Ivar.

Within her office, Hedda delivers an impassioned appeal. “Mammoth Pictures is more than just a valuable piece of real estate. It’s a priceless chapter of Hollywood history, written by stars who the world will never, never forget. … a studio so rich in memories should and must be preserved.” Behind Hedda, left to right top row, are George Arliss, possibly Marie Dressler (thanks Steve Massa – can anyone confirm?), Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Lillian Gish, and Clara Bow. The bottom row, left to right, are Janet Gaynor, Wm. S. Hart, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino (blocked from view), Hedda Hopper herself, and Mae West, confirmed by reader Patrick Foran. [Note: a reader shared Buster Keaton and Hedda both died the same day, February 1, 1966.]

These loving close-ups of Barrymore and Gish, and of Hart, Pickford, and Valentino, flash onscreen during Hedda’s appeal.

Hedda finagles a meeting with Jed and his nephew Jethro Bodine, instructing them to visit the forecourt at Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater (now TCL Theaters), to impress on them the weight of Hollywood history.

Once there, Jed and Jethro are shocked to see the forecourt has been vandalized, messing up some poor man’s SEEment (the proper pronunciation and spelling of the word). Bold rascals, they didn’t just leave their footprints, but handprints and names too, just to taunt this poor Sid fellow who must own the place. Diana Wynyard and Judy Garland appear center above, Bob Hope lower right.

Above, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, the premiere inductees. Poor Jed, he understands Doug was a skamp, but can’t believe Mary would stoop so low – “Clara Bow, yeah, she’s a little cut-up, frisky as a kitten, but sweet little Mary” he sighs.

Slight detour – as I report fully HERE, following Doug, Harold Lloyd was the second man, and only the fifth celebrity, to be honored at Grauman’s. Missing much of his right hand, Harold wore his prosthesis for the ceremony.

Note: the Me-TV and YouTube episodes are significantly different, with different dialog and scenes. Granny mentions Nita Naldi twice on Me-TV, around 18:26 and 24:08, but only once at 16:09 on YouTube. The forecourt scenes and dialog differ too. On Me-TV, Jed and Jethro speculate someone must have dared Doug (never one to refuse) to mess up Sid’s fresh SEEment during a premiere, leading Doug to dare Tom Mix, and so on, until all the stars, including poor Mary, overwhelmed by peer pressure, had vandalized the forecourt. Above, Mickey Rooney at center, with a guide to his neighboring signatures.

The YouTube version doesn’t blame Doug, but visits more handprints, where Jethro and Jed discuss Tom Mix and his horse Tony, Norma Talmadge, Gloria Swanson, Bill Hart, and some woman by the name of Betty Grable, exclaims Jethro, who stuck her whole leg in!

Returning to Hedda, she explains to Jed that as owner of the studio, many of those signatures were made by his stars. Does he want them to be remembered only by their footprints in that cement? Feeling personally responsible for “his” stars, and not wanting Mary and the others to be remembered in shame only for their vandalism, upstanding Jed decides to do the right thing and repair the forecourt.

Defending Mary’s honor, Jed nobly begins his repair work. When interrupted by a cop, Jed pleads for him to go easy on her. “You give me an hour and there won’t be a footprint in the whole place, and that’s a promise.” Above, a full guide to the forecourt footprints.

The episode also features views of a modest western movie backlot, which the Clampett’s naively assume is Clampett City, the town their banker Milton Drysdale promised to build once the studio is demolished.

The backlot portraying Clampett City is reported to be the former Jack Ingram Ranch at 22255 Mulholland Drive in Woodland Hills. The sole image I’ve found reported to be filmed there, above left, generally matches the Clampett City frame at right.

The Mammoth Studio entrance was conveniently portrayed by the Filmways Studio where the show was filmed, now the Sunset Las Palmas Studios at 1040 N. Las Palmas Ave. (Note: this was originally the Hollywood Metropolitan Studios, where Harold Lloyd produced his feature films, beginning with Girl Shy (1924), after leaving Hal Roach.) Jed learns he acquired the studio during the Season 3 premiere episode, filmed extensively on the lot (YouTube –

For a closing bit of fun, with the studio saved, Jed decides the best way forward is to film a movie himself, a silent melodrama Little Orphan Elly. Above, for the movie Mr. Drysdale portrays an evil banker who will forgive the mortgage if Elly’s character marries him. Granny had imagined Lillian Gish and John Barrymore in these roles.

Arriving in the nick of time, Honest Jed offers to pay off the mortgage, but the banker hires a seductress (portrayed in the film by Mr. Drysdale’s prim secretary Miss Jane Hathaway), the vamp with eyes no man can resist, to lure away the money. Granny had imagined Bill Hart and Nita Naldi in these roles.

But all ends well when a very Valentino-esque Jethro, with eyes no woman can resist, melts Jane in his arms with a seductive tango. Granny had envisioned Rudy himself for this role. Given Miss Hathaway’s unrequited crush on Jethro, she must have enjoyed dancing with him.

Not something you see everyday – Jed and Hedda, Doug and Mary!

No doubt inspired by the Fox demolition creating Century City, the episode was also sadly prophetic, as the M-G-M and RKO-40 Acres backlots would fall to the wrecking ball in the decades after the show aired. But Hedda’s plea made over 50 years ago remains as true as ever – Hollywood history, so rich in memories, should and must be preserved!

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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The Remarkable Charlie Chaplin Archives

Click to enlarge – auditioning dogs for The Idle Class – Vanity Fair .

The Charlie Chaplin Archives, housed in Bologna and accessible online, hosts thousands of rare photographs, production logs, scripts, and other fascinating studio records and documentation from Chaplin’s life and long career. Pick a favorite film, or subject of interest, and you can happily spend hours exploring these records firsthand.

Look at the enormous, respectful crowd, as Charlie stands on the SE corner of Sunset and La Brea, the front lawn of the beautiful home where his half-brother Sydney lived. The home came with the orchard property Chaplin purchased to build his studio at 1416 N. La Brea. While the Archive captions the photo as Charlie auditioning dogs for A Dog’s Life, Dominique Dugros correctly identifies this being from The Idle Class (1921). The Exhibitors Herald published this photo on May 7, 1921 when the production was still under the working title Vanity Fair, and reported on July 30 Charlie changing the name to The Idle Class to avoid a name conflict. The classic home on Sunset directly behind Charlie is now a Burger King (!), and stripmalls occupy all four corners of this once glamorous, citrus orchard – residential intersection.

Next, a crossword puzzle (from page 6) of the 28 pages of artwork and dozens of other promotional materials for City Lights (1931), with the answers further below in this post. Here’s a PDF link if you want to print it out for home use. The first clue, one across, seven letters is “First name of greatest comedian in Motion Pictures.” Hmm, “Buster” and “Harold” are both six letters, who could it be? 😉

Here’s a favorite, a charming candid view of Charlie walking with best friend Douglas Fairbanks along the main shooting stage, apparently toward Mack Swain during the production of The Gold Rush (1925).

This matching reverse view of the stage is one of three images documenting a rare Hollywood snowfall on January 22, 1921. Chaplin’s office stands to the left.

A poignant mix of heartbreak and the mundane. The July 10, 1919 daily production report notes “Did Not Shoot. Norman Spencer Chaplin passed on today – 4 p.m.” Chaplin’s first child was born on July 7, surviving only 3 days. One page from over 363 daily production reports for The Kid (1921).

In closing, a remarkable production photo reveals how the towering city skyline effect during the opening scene from City Lights was created on Chaplin’s small studio backlot by placing a scale model in the foreground when filming the true two-story set in the far background, the so-called foreground (or hanging) miniature effect. What a stunning achievement – bravo.

I could go on, documenting the complete Italian title card translations for The Kid, or the location of the studio dining room (there was a dining room?), or Buster Keaton’s test costume for Limelight (1952), but you get the idea. With winter approaching, and even more time to be spent indoors, do yourself a favor and explore Charlie’s archive world for yourself.

Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

I didn’t forget! Here are the crossword puzzle answers, also a PDF link if you want to print it out. Chaplin archival documents Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S or © Roy Export Company Establishment. All Rights Reserved
CHARLIE CHAPLIN © Bubbles Incorporated S.A. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Chaplin Studio, City Lights | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Buster, Harold, Mabel, and Doug, and the murder of Wm. Desmond Taylor!

This post contains a variety of odds and ends. To begin, thanks to Tommy Dangcil we can see exactly where Buster Keaton staged a scene from Cops (1922) in front of the grand stairway leading to the former First Baptist Church in Hollywood. Look how the images above match perfectly – click to enlarge.

Side view before the 1935 fire

Tommy is a Hollywood historian (and a feature motion picture lighting engineer) whose newly released third book Hollywood California Through Time compares rare vintage Hollywood images from his private collection with modern color views. I wrote a lengthy post detailing this church discovery (read more HERE), filled with distant or oblique views of the camera-shy church once standing at 6682 Selma Avenue in Hollywood, completely rebuilt in 1936 after a destructive fire. But with Tommy’s beautiful photo we can match Buster exactly to this lost landmark a century later – a ghost of a ghost. BTW, this scene immediately follows Buster’s escape from the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley, see below.

Next, Harold Lloyd’s squabble-with-your-neighbors comedy short, Just Neighbors (1919), includes many scenes staged beside and even inside the grand and long-lost Southern Pacific train depot (read more HERE), and sidewalk scenes on long-lost Court Hill just steps from the former Bradbury Mansion – Rolin Studio, covered in my Lloyd book Silent Visions. But as seen streaming on the Criterion Channel, Harold’s barely legible mailbox address (lower right) confirms the above home still stands at 1127 N. Westmoreland Avenue.

This view north matches the distinctive uphill rise at the end of the street as Harold and co-star neighbor Snub Pollard arrive home. The narrow street still retains the wide median between sidewalk and curb.

Silent film superhero Ben Model of Undercrank Productions has released over twenty rare silent films, with more to come. His recent The Douglas MacLean Collection ended up matching Doug’s feature One A Minute (1921) with the same rural train station appearing later during Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy (1924, above right). It turns out Mabel Normand (above left) portraying a star-struck girl from a small town in Illinois in The Extra Girl (1923), filmed at this station too, part of the Mack Sennett Collection Vol. One.

While Mabel barely catches her train to Hollywood (see her departing POV at left), Harold just misses his train, leading to his epic race by horse, motorcycle, and stolen car to stop an illegal marriage. Read more about the now lost Hynes station once located north of Long Beach HERE.

Last, included with Ben’s Douglas MacLean Collection is the modestly named A Trip Through the World’s Greatest Motion Picture Studios (1920) promoting the Thomas H. Ince Studio in Culver City. While this fascinating reality film deserves a lengthy post of its own, here’s a final tidbit. Portrayed as a loveable goof, always late for work, the film shows Doug gulp his morning coffee, then dash out his front door, along with a view of his apartment courtyard (all above).

But where did Doug live then? At the same 400 A-B to 414 A-B South Alvarado courtyard of duplexes where silent film director William Desmond Taylor was notoriously murdered at his 404-B home in 1922 (upper left photo – taken much later – the women are wearing slacks!). Doug’s wife Faith is widely believed to have seen Taylor’s killer! Hearing a loud noise, she checked out her front door and saw someone leave Taylor’s home, whom she said was dressed “like my idea of a motion picture burglar.” So the movie provides real time glimpses of the future crime scene. Charlie Chaplin’s long-time leading lady Edna Purviance was also Taylor’s neighbor at the time. Note: the main graphic image above incorrectly depicts the MacLeans as living across from Taylor. But the 2-12-1922 Los Angeles Examiner and other sources report their address as 406-B, adjacent to Taylor’s home. Doug’s movie frame exiting his front door confirms this. The foreground steps appearing as Doug leaves his home are the same foreground steps appearing in the upper left photo taken much later. LAPL. LAPL.

Poor Mabel was the last person to see Taylor alive the night he was killed. This photo view looking east (left) shows the courtyard entrance along Alvarado, where Mabel’s car was parked – the black arrow pointing to Taylor’s 404-B home, the highlight matches Doug’s home at 406-B. This supposedly corresponding shot (right) of Doug racing to his car was not filmed at this Alvarado entrance. Given the grade of the 400 block of Alvarado, and the steeply sloped front lawns across the street, Doug’s scene, which even shows a street corner, was staged elsewhere, I guess for a prettier view.

UPDATE: Movie magic, Doug’s dash towards his car was filmed over 5 miles away from his home on Alvarado, with the more scenic home still standing at 3825 W. Adams in the background. Thank you once again to Duncan Maginnis for identifying a classic home – Adams Blvd blog.

Buster’s scene in front of the church immediately follows his escape from the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley by grabbing a passing car one-handed.

Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, the replacement church on Selma in Hollywood that opened in 1936.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Doug MacLean, Harold Lloyd, Mabel Normand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Lyons & Moran – the “good” old days on New High Street

One of my all-time favorite discoveries are the young girls caught on camera intently watching Charlie Chaplin filming scenes from The Kid (1921) (read more HERE).

A closer study of Harold Lloyd’s early short From Hand to Mouth (1919) reveals broader views of where Chaplin filmed these scenes on New High Street north of downtown (read more HERE). But the early comedy team of Eddie Lyons (far left) and Lee Moran beat them both, filming a missing person comedy What A Clue Will Do at this same locale in 1917, providing vibrant and fascinating details of this working class neighborhood. For good measure, they even filmed at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley (see below), again, years before the other comedians.

Lyons and Moran appeared in over 300 early films together under the Universal – Nestor and later Star Comedies banners. To begin, the clueless sleuths seek clues standing beside 645 New High Street, the same numbered doorway where Minnie Stearns wallops Charlie with her umbrella. It’s fun to see details from 100 years ago match perfectly.

With its wide sidewalks, grungy exteriors, and minimum traffic, being only two blocks long, this setting was a perfect locale for both Chaplin and Lloyd’s hard luck stories. The oval marks the Lyons & Moran filming spot, while the “T” intersection to the north at Alpine Street appears behind Harold.

The police chase Harold north past the corner of 641 New High (arrow), the same corner where reporter Edith Roberts searches for her lost notes.

Here both views look south, as Minnie continues to wallop Charlie.

Harold’s drive down the street provides a view of 640 New High to the east, where Eddie meets and flirts with Edith.

Looking north up the east side of the street, left, reveals the 636 New High home site (arrow) of the woman employing Lyons & Moran to find her lost “baby.” Spoiler, he’s really a giant, 30 year old barfly.

Again, Harold’s broader view reveals where Eddie chases after Edith, the arrow pointing to 632 New High.

Looking south, a cop whistles for Lyons & Moran to stop, while Harold chases after the villains, the decorative arched columns of 618 New High (box) appearing in both views.

Remarkably, the building at 618 New High remains standing. While the decorative arches are replaced by sliding metal doors, the upper windows (box) are unchanged.

Looking east along the 600 block of New High, from Ord Street at the left, to Sunset at the right, showing the 640, 636, 632, and 618 addresses, while the star marks the gateway at 645 where we meet Lyons & Moran and where Minnie wallops Charlie.

As I explain in my Lloyd book Silent Visions, Harold filmed many scenes from For Heaven’s Sake (1926) here as well, seen above running south beside the building still standing at the NW corner of Ord.

Given its “colorful” exteriors and close proximity to the Bradbury Mansion Rolin Studio, Lloyd likely filmed many other early (but sadly lost) films along New High. One rare surviving example is That’s Him (1918), included as a bonus to the Criterion Collection release of Lloyd’s The Kid Brother (1927). I’ve identified nearly every shot in the film, and hope to post about it some day, but for now, these views show the SE corner of Ord and New High, a bit north from where Lyons & Moran filmed. LAPL. USC Digital Library.

Jumping over to Hollywood, Lyons & Moran filmed at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley, running down the rickety wooden stairway appearing beside Harry Houdini during his escape from the villains in The Grim Game (1919) (read more HERE).

Eddie and Lee even filmed at the top of these stairs, providing a clear view of the distinctive two story home once standing at 1645 Cosmo. The stairway was removed by the time Buster Keaton filmed Cops (1922) here.

A parting shot looking east in 1890 shows the back of the gateway on New High where we meet Lyons & Moran (yellow box), and still standing on the corner of Ord at 1001 Alameda Street (orange box), the world-famous Philippe The Original restaurant, home to the original French dipped sandwich. Huntington Digital Library.

Discovering Lyons & Moran recently this year has been an absolute thrill. Their early films document dozens of century-old locales, especially Waiting at the Church (1919) (left), which I plan to write about extensively. This prior Time Travelers post uses several of their films to highlight a single vintage photo. I want to thank Michael Aus for working with the Library of Congress to make these entertaining time travel films of Lyons & Moran available to eager fans. You can purchase What A Clue Will Do and other early films HERE, and more Lyons & Moran films HERE. Proceeds benefit the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a rare remaining building along New High, appearing with Lyons & Moran in 1917.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, Lyons and Moran, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Buster Keaton’s Go West Desert – “Frozen” in Time

Vintage movies are time machines, preserving fashion styles, means of transport, and urban locales for us to marvel at decades later. But when filmed at a remote locale, they also remind us a passing century is merely an eye-blink in geologic time.

Buster Keaton filmed the ranch scenes for Go West (1925) in a remote Arizona desert. When visiting there today, dedicated EPA attorney and devoted Keaton fan Marie Muller was struck by the timelessness of the setting. The blue sky, red dirt, and towering mountains represented in her vivid color photographs all must have looked exactly the same to Buster and his crew nearly ten decades before. Above, we are introduced to Keaton’s favorite leading lady, Brown Eyes the cow.

I was privileged to include not only these but many more of Marie’s beautiful photos in my new Go West visual essay prepared for the new Eureka Entertainment Masters of Cinema box set release of Go West, along with Keaton’s Our Hospitality and College. With thanks to Kino-Lorber for graciously sharing, the visual essay I prepared for them about College is also included in the new Eureka release.

In June 1925, Keaton and crew headed east from Hollywood to Kingman Arizona more than 300 miles away. Keaton filmed on location far more than any other comedian, staging productions all across California, and later in Oregon and New York. The Go West production was headquartered in Kingman, with easy access to food and supplies, and even ice to keep the cameras cool in the desert heat. Above, Buster first meets Brown Eyes as she limps by with a rock stuck in her hoof.

While Kingman served as the entry point for Keaton’s crew, all of the ranch scenes, comprising nearly the entire Arizona production, were staged at Tap Duncan’s Valley Ranch more than 50 miles north of Kingman, only accessible even today by Antares Road, a lonely dirt path. Imagine, any necessary prop or production item required back then during filming involved a 100 mile round trip through the desert to Kingman and back.

The cattle loading scenes were filmed in Hackberry, about 20 miles NE from Kingman, and 30 miles south of the Valley Ranch. Located along historic Route 66, it’s easy to visit today. While Buster spent much time here filming in 1925, he did not get his kicks on Route 66 – the famous highway wasn’t given that route number until the following year.

My visual essay contains many other new discoveries not covered in my book Silent Echoes, including guest blogger Jeffrey Castel de Oro tracking down the LA Arts District setting above where Buster is first inspired to “Go West.”

Highly recommended, the Eureka Entertainment Masters of Cinema set not only features restored copies of Our Hospitality, Go West, and College, but nearly a dozen new programs, audio commentaries, and visual essays each specially commissioned for the release. My special thanks to Marie Muller for sharing her photos. I also applaud her sense of adventure. While I once easily made a side-trip to Hackberry during a visit to the Grand Canyon, she braved a single lane desert dirt road for hours and back to visit the former Valley Ranch filming site. Visit where Keaton filmed, virtually on Google Maps, further below.

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

Below, a view east near where Keaton filmed. Swivel the view 360 degrees for a full look.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Go West | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Time Travel to 1919 Hollywood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up.

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

CHASE! A Tribute to the Keystone Cops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up.

Below – site of the 1939 Keystone trolley crash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilshire bisects the park USC Digital Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please help support naming the Chaplin Keaton Lloyd alley in Hollywood by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up.

Below, General Otis at MacArthur park.

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

Time Travelers: Uncovering Old LA in Keaton Comedies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below, the site of the Newport Beach water rescue

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

Buster Keaton – Ghosts of Go West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below – City Hall Park in Manhattan.

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

Charlie Chaplin’s Once Lost Film – A Thief Catcher

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.

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

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

Harold Lloyd’s Earliest Days Filming in Edendale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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