Harold Lloyd’s The Kid Brother Was Close to Home

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

Photo by Suzanne Lloyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below, the entrance to Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills

Posted in Harold Lloyd | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Buster’s Paramount Backlot Plunge

c. 1920s: Buster Keaton with Women in Swimsuits

Buster's Our Hospitality waterfall stunt

Buster’s Our Hospitality waterfall stunt

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

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

Hard Luck

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

Buster and his Chinese family in Hard Luck

Buster and his Chinese family in Hard Luck

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

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


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


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

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

Buster at the top of the waterfall set - Paul Gierucki

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


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

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

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


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



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


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


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

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

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

Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman

Buster Keaton and Marceline Day

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hollywood Heritage plans to celebrate the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley and has launched a GoFundMe campaign to install signs, a plaque, and even an honorary mural. https://gofund.me/e712eed1 Cheers to Hollywood Heritage, a California nonprofit public benefit 501(c)(3) corporation. If you want to honor a favorite star, or to recognize Hollywood’s origins and hidden history, please consider making a tax-deductible donation, and please share this campaign. You may also 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. https://gofund.me/e712eed1

Posted in Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Doug Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Mary Pickford | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Silent Echoes LA Bus Tours and Podcast

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hollywood Snapshots – a 1922 Time Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A wider view of the entrance. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Hollywood History, Hollywood Tour | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Harry Langdon – His Marriage Wow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below, looking south down Larchmont from Beverly.

Posted in Harry Langdon | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Laurel & Hardy’s Liberty Rooftop

Shortly after the San Francisco Silent Film Festival presented Laurel & Hardy’s high-rise comedy Liberty (1929), accompanied by Jon Mirsalis, TCM broadcast the 1933 MGM drama Day of Reckoning, starring Richard Dix. The Dix film was full of surprises. For one, young Our Gang star Spanky McFarland was on loan from the Hal Roach Studios to portray Dix’s son. But what really knocked me out was Dix’s rooftop jail fight, staged identically to Stan & Ollie’s comic escapades. Both sequences were filmed atop the Western Costume Building at 939 S. Broadway. [Update – hear my interview @ 22:12 on Patrick Vasey’s Laurel & Hardy Blogcast – https://anchor.fm/laurelandhardyblog/embed/episodes/26–Liberty-1929-with-John-Bengtson-and-Randy-Skretvedt-e1ntcip/a-a8hn6kn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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

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

Posted in Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Before the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Hollywood Tour, Lois Weber | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Chaplin falls for The Kid – every scene now identified

Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece The Kid (1921) tells the story of the Little Tramp discovering, trying to avoid, and eventually falling in love with an abandoned infant, played out scene by scene at the end of this post. As I write in a prior post, you can see bystanders watching the filming, such as a delighted girl peeking through a screen door as Charlie strolls by a matron with a baby carriage. But where was this filmed? [UPDATE – my new YouTube video shows this entire post – https://youtu.be/7NG7JeIfKcs

Likewise, Charlie gives the baby to an old man at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood (left), but then the old man exits an alley beside a 713 address, nowhere near Hollywood. Where was this filmed? As shown below, every scene in the entire sequence leading to Charlie falling for the kid is now identified. While many of these locations appear in my book Silent Traces, and in other posts including How Charlie Chaplin Filmed The Kid, these two key scenes eluded detection for years.

Click to enlarge – 1935 view looking west at the existing Hall of Justice, the Plaza de los Angeles, and Olvera Street. The red oval (left) marks the old man with the baby, the yellow oval marks where the thieves stood, and the orange oval (right) marks the matron with the stroller. Chaplin filmed many scenes in Chinatown, and both north and south of the Plaza. Chinatown would be demolished to build the Union Train Station. Much of the area to the left is now lost to the 101 freeway. USC Digital Library

To begin, let’s focus on when the thieves discover there’s an abandoned baby inside their stolen car. This was filmed at the back of the former Rescue Mission, beside a rail spur branching off from the main rail line along Alameda, next to a crumbling brick wall. Although the above photo was taken over a dozen years later, the yellow oval marks where they stood. Below, the yellow “X” marks where they stood.

Above, the yellow “X” and yellow oval show where the thieves stood when they realize there’s a baby inside the car. The aerial view directly above looks east, taken at the time Chaplin filmed, with building #2 on the corner of Alameda, running left-right, and Aliso, running up-down along the right. This entire view is now lost to the freeway. The red arrow above and to the right marks the old man’s path along an alley beside 713 N. Alameda. If you click to enlarge the movie frame, you’ll see “713” beside the doorway, and a sign on the alley wall that seems to say “Lew Wai Sun Chair Repairing 715 Alameda” – matching the 1921 city directory entry for chair repairer Lew Wai Sun at 715 N Alameda. The vintage Baist and Sanborn fire insurance maps confirm the alley setting at the time of filming, all just steps from where the car thieves discover the baby.

Click to enlarge. More than fifteen years after Chaplin filmed, the alley and one story building where the old man stepped towards Alameda (red arrow) appears here filled in with a two story building. The gray buildings were constructed after Chaplin filmed. The corner building (2) at Alameda and Aliso was demolished for a gas station. USC Digital Library

The above photo (click to enlarge) shows the same 713 doorway appearing beside the old man, only the original alley and one story wood structure to the right are replaced by a brick two story building. The crumbling building where the thieves stood (yellow oval above) has been rebuilt.

Next, I had long suspected the scene where the matron beats Charlie with her umbrella (above center) was filmed in Chinatown. After all, Chaplin filmed many other scenes there, and the shot of the thieves speeding into Chinatown from Alameda down Napier, above left, revealed some good candidate buildings on the right side of the street. But pesky facts got in the way. First, a reverse view photo of Napier (at right) showed these buildings had arched windows and doorways, unlike the rectangular windows and doors appearing in Chaplin’s scene. Further, the 645 address above the center doorway precluded any street within Chinatown. So I was stuck.

A big break came when author Carrie Pomeroy contacted me with some questions about The Kid, and to share some information she had garnered after spending a week in Bologna, Italy (!) poring over the Chaplin Studio production records for The Kid.

Charlie with Minnie (and her baby Virginia) Stearns at THE Hollywood alley

Charlie with the “Legit Bum” Dan Dillon at THE Hollywood alley

For starters, among Carrie’s many fascinating accounts, she reports: “For December 1, 1919, the records say they filmed at Hall’s Grocery with Minnie Stearns (the umbrella-wielding mother), her baby daughter Virginia Stearns, Walter Lynch as a cop, and Dan Dillon, described as “Legit Bum” on the daily production sheet.” I searched the city directories, and discovered there was a Hall’s Grocery once located at 6382 Hollywood Boulevard. The back of Hall’s Grocery stood along, wait for it, the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley! While I was already absolutely certain about the alley, it was fun to have this confirmed in the records, and I now knew the names of all of the actors, and when Chaplin filmed there. When filming there again the next day the studio records refer to it as “Hall’s Alley.”

Dan Dillon, who plays the “legit bum” (Charlie’s not legit?) was busy the next day December 2, 1919, filming at three places – “Hall’s Alley, Chinatown and Mexican Quarters.” We now know “Hall’s Alley” means the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood, and that “Chinatown” refers to the alley at 713 Alameda. But where were these Mexican Quarters?

To begin, this frame of the girl peeking at Charlie has a Spanish sidewalk sign reading “Reparacion de Calazado” or “Shoe Repair,” while a 645 address appears over a doorway. With Chinatown mostly east and south of the Plaza, I realized that “645” and “Mexican Quarters” might indicate the streets a few blocks north of the Plaza. So Carrie’s report put me on the right track.

Harold Lloyd runs towards Charlie’s spot

As it often happens, the best clues for solving a location are found in other films. Harold Lloyd, Snub Pollard, and other Hal Roach stars filmed frequently along New High Street north of the Plaza. Somehow, when glancing at Lloyd’s appearance in From Hand to Mouth (1919), I noticed the low brick buildings with rectangular doors and windows, and made the connection. After a quick flurry checking maps and other features, it was clear Charlie had filmed on New High Street beside the same buildings where Lloyd had filmed.

Above, views north (left) and south (right) of 641-643 New High Street (red box).

During another scene in From Hand to Mouth, the gap between the buildings, spanned by a wooden gate support, appears in both views above. The corner of Ord Street appears behind Harold.

As Harold travels further south down New High Street, the peaked roof (oval) behind Charlie comes into view.

Harold returned in 1926 to film scenes from For Heaven’s Sake. Here, Harold runs south down New High towards the corner of Ord Street.

Again from For Heaven’s Sake, looking north, Harold races a wagon south down New High from the corner of Ord Street.

Last, a final view south on New High from For Heaven’s Sake, with the same “645” building (red box) in each shot. The building marked “Y” is a bakery built in 1923, replacing the building “Z” that stood during Charlie’s December 2, 1919 filming.

Wrapping things up, Carrie also reported that Edna filmed at “Sunset Park” on December 4, 1919, Lafayette Park’s former name. While direct photo confirmation remains elusive, I’d long suspected Edna filmed her forlorn bench scenes here. The Los Angeles Times reports the city began plans to change the Sunset Park name in January 1919, with the new park name officially dedicated with great ceremony on September 6, 1920. Thus, late in 1919 the Chaplin studio records used what was then the correct name for the park.

Lafayette (Sunset) Park in City Lights

Lafayette Park is on Wilshire Boulevard next to the Town House Apartments at Wilshire on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue, where Charlie buys up all the Blind Flower Girl’s flowers in City Lights. The park is close to where Chaplin filmed several other movies, so it was familiar territory to him. So with Carrie’s help this final shot of the sequence was also identified.

Here below is every shot in the sequence where Charlie first encounters and falls in love with the kid, followed by a brief identification of each shot.

Edna abandons the baby in a limousine parked at 55 Fremont Place, later the home of Muhammad Ali, then enters Sunset Park. Thieves steal the car, and drive east down W. 8th Street, which shows the back of 55 Fremont Place. The thieves (identified by Carrie from the studio records as Albert Austin and A. Thalasso) discover the infant after parking the car behind the skid row Rescue Mission, where train tracks branch off from Alameda south of the Plaza de los Angeles downtown. Thalasso hides the baby at the north end of the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood, then the thieves drive down Napier Street from Alameda into the heart of the former Chinatown. Back at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley in Hollywood (i) Charlies discovers the infant, (ii) tries to return him to Minnie Stearns, and (iii) hands the baby to Dan Dillon, the legit bum. NEW – returning south of the Plaza downtown, Dillon, the legit bum carries the baby at 713 Alameda. NEW – Dillon, the legit bum strolls near 645 New High Street north of downtown, and places the baby in Minnie’s baby carriage. Charlie dodges a cop (identified by Carrie as Walter Lynch) back in Hollywood at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. New – back on New High Street, Charlie strolls past Minnie, who bashes him with her umbrella, and calls in Walter the cop. The sequence ends with Charlie sitting on a curb on a backlot set at his Hollywood studio at 1416 N. La Brea, where he falls for the kid, and decides to raise him as his own son.

Carrie’s biggest surprise was discovering The Kid was not shot chronologically as she had expected. The scenes with Edna at the hospital and the thieves stealing the car and dumping the baby were the first scenes filmed in August 1919, followed by scenes with Chaplin and the baby in the attic and Jackie Coogan and Chaplin in the attic later that month. Scenes developing Edna’s story (the church wedding, the Pasadena Bridge sequence) weren’t shot until much later, in November, and to her surprise, the scenes here with Chaplin finding and trying to get rid of the baby were actually filmed in December 1919. The reception scene at which Edna and Carl Miller’s characters meet and the scene with Carl Miller in his artist’s garret weren’t filmed until February 1920. Carrie reports Edna and Carl’s outdoor balcony party scenes were filmed at the residence of Annie Stimson at 845 W. Adams Blvd., a home still standing.

My new YouTube video shows the discoveries in this post

Click to enlarge. A final view north, showing the matron’s baby carriage (orange oval) on New High Street to the left, the circular Plaza right of the center, where the thieves discover the baby (yellow oval), and the alley beside 713 N. Alameda (red arrow, oval) far right.

All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment. Used with permission. Check out the wonderful Blu-ray edition of The Kid – Criterion Collection.

Below, the site at 645 New High Street, now a parking lot.

Posted in Chaplin - Keaton - Lloyd Alley, Charlie Chaplin, For Heaven's Sake, Harold Lloyd, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Keaton’s Bungalow Outside MGM

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

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

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

A 1924 view north of Grant Avenue next to the then Goldwyn Studio, before the funeral parlor on Grant and Madison (red box) was constructed. Keaton posed within the yellow box. HollywoodPhotographs.com

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

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

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

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

Inside the Keaton Kennel

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

UPDATE: from Robert Mouton – Wallace Berry took over Keaton’s Kennel inside MGM, August 1933 The New Movie Magazine – see comments below.

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

Posted in Buster Keaton, Culver City, Keaton Studio | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Oliver Hardy at the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley

The block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard was the most popular spot in town to film silent movies. As I’ve written in numerous tours and posts, everyone filmed there, from Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Even Stan Laurel, Harry Langdon, and Lloyd Hamilton filmed there. But it seemed that one holdout, until now, was Oliver Hardy. Instead, it turns out he was one of the first stars to film on this hallowed ground.

The Dutch Eye Filmmuseum recently posted Chaplin imitator Billy West’s 1918 barber shop comedy His Day Out (see YouTube link below) co-starring Oliver Hardy as his comic foil. Hardy had a long career in films before pairing with Stan Laurel in 1927, and appeared in many Billy West comedies, often channeling Chaplin’s nemesis Eric Campbell.

During the film Hardy briefly appears beside a barber pole, belonging to H. F. Graham’s barber shop at 1649 Cahuenga, off camera to the left. Oliver is in fact exiting from the 1651 Cahuenga vulcanizing store next door – notice the distinctive “FREE AIR” sign. Confirming the site, Colleen Moore filmed her 1920 comedy Her Bridal Nightmare beside the same vulcanizing store, where you can read “TUBES” and “TIRES” in the window, and see more clearly the store corner next to an alley entrance. That’s her sitting on the ground.

Looking west at Cahuenga running left to right, with Hollywood Blvd. at the right. Ollie and Colleen filmed their scenes across the street from where Buster Keaton runs onto Cahuenga from the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley to catch a passing car one-handed in Cops (1922) (see inset at top of post above). The arrow marks Buster’s path running towards Cahuenga. Mary Pickford filmed at the same alley spot as Colleen, and Douglas Fairbanks climbed the three story Fremont Hotel to the left in this view – read more HERE.

Reversing Keaton’s frame from Cops reveals the cut off corner of the vulcanizing store across the street reflected in the window, matching the modern view. Hardy stood just to the right of the modern palm tree. You can actually read “TIRES” and TUBES” reflected over the Keaton movie frame corner doorway.

The Pest - Rivals_Page_2

UPDATE: as reported HERE, Oliver Hardy (and Billy West) actually filmed at the alley in their 1925 comedy Rivals, see above.

Blink and you’ll miss it, but at 10:54 Hardy steps outside directly across the street from the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. Say what you will about Billy West, but he was very adept with his impersonation.

A merged panoramic view west down the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley towards where Oliver Hardy stood on Cahuenga (arrow), created from The Detectress (1919) left, and The Last Edition (1925). By 1925 the vulcanizing store had become a restaurant.

One interesting detail, reflected behind Ollie we can see the gas station that once stood on the NE corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga before the 6 story Security Trust and Savings Bank Building was completed there in 1922, Also appearing, the 5-globe style street lamps that once stood along Hollywood Blvd., as appearing in this detail photo of Harold Lloyd from Why Worry? (1923) standing at the NW corner of the same intersection.

His Day Out is remarkable for other reasons. To begin, the opening sequence was filmed beside Hollywood glamour portrait photographer Nelson Evans’ studio once located at 6039 Hollywood Blvd., next door to the St. Anne’s Infant Home. Signs for both appear during the film. The view matches a similar scene from Harold Lloyd’s 1918 comedy Look Pleasant Please, appearing here with Snub Pollard.

His Day Out also includes scenes filmed (upper right) at the south gated auto entrance to noted architect Edwin Bergstrom’s mansion at 590 N. Vermont, later home to theater magnate Alexander Pantages, before it was razed in 1951 to build a Jewish community center (now home to West Coast University). The upper left images combine scenes from Harry Houdini’s feature The Grim Game (1919) with the opening scenes from Keaton’s Cops, both at the mansion’s north pedestrian entrance gate (read more about The Grim Game HERE). The bottom wide shot of the mansion entrance was stitched together from pioneer film-maker Lois Weber’s 1916 drama Where Are My Children?

Above, matching views of the Bergstrom mansion appearing in His Day Out, left, and in Where Are My Children?

Returning to Hollywood, Colleen Moore (dressed as a man) and Harry Houdini both filmed beside the Cahuenga entrance to the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd alley. The alley staircase behind them appears in this full reverse view from The Detectress. The staircase was removed by the time Keaton filmed Cops.

Before becoming a Japanese grocery – LAFire.com

Above left, Colleen Moore ran all around Cahuenga during Her Bridal Nightmare, here matching views south from the corner of Selma towards the Toribuchi Grocery, featuring “Japanese Rice and Tea” appearing in Buster Keaton’s The Goat (1921). Originally a small church, the grocery building previously served as Hollywood’s first fire station, Hose Co. No. 7, replaced by the larger joint fire/police station up the block that opened in 1913. The Sanborn maps and old phone books show that around 1920 there were a number of Japanese businesses, a Japanese laundry, baths, lodgings, and even a small Japanese school along Cahuenga north of Sunset. The story of this small Japanese enclave in Hollywood merits further attention.

His Day Out – courtesy Eye Filmmuseum; Her Bridal Nightmare courtesy Serge Bromberg-Lobster Films

Below, Oliver and Colleen’s vulcanizing store is now an adult book shop.

Posted in Laurel and Hardy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields in Astoria

Click to enlarge – Buster Keaton filmed The Chemist and W.C. Fields filmed Running Wild beside the same apartment on the SE corner of 35th Ave. and 35th St. The Astoria studios where they both worked stands on the opposite NE corner.

Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields filmed alongside the same Astoria apartment building, nine years apart. Who knew? While working on a post connecting Fields’ It’s The Old Army Game with Keaton’s The Cameraman (1928) and Harold Lloyd’s Speedy (1928) (all filmed at 5th Ave. and 57th St. in New York), I was reminded that Keaton had later filmed a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria. I hadn’t seen them for years, and nearly fell out of my chair during The Chemist (1936), as it was clear Keaton filmed beside the same apartment appearing with W.C. Fields in Running Wild (1927) (see my detailed post about Fields filming in Astoria HERE). The apartment still stands at the SW corner of 35th Ave. and 35th St. in Astoria – opposite from the studio on the NE corner. Buster was already familiar with Astoria, as his prior Educational short Blue Blazes was also filmed in Queens, mostly along 34th Ave. north of the studio (see my detailed post HERE).

Buster plays an erstwhile chemist, who early in the film tries his love-potion on Marlyn Stuart. She’s parked beside the 35-10 35th St. entrance to the __ Gardens apartment, around the corner from the same apartment depicted from the side, above.

The apartment is one of four identical buildings that fill up the north end of the block along 35th Ave. between 34th and 35th Streets. Keaton’s unit on the SW corner of 35th St., with its adjoining twin further south, both appear above as Keaton tempts Marlyn with his love potion.

Marlyn’s boyfriend objects to the experiment, dragging Buster from the car. Looking north up 35th St. we see the studio laboratory building (box) on the NW corner of 35th Ave. up the street from the small box marking the general spot of Buster’s car. The main shooting stage (1) stands just off camera to the right. Note the barbershop pole.

Later in the film, Buster develops a powdered compound that explodes on contact with water. When the bad guys accidentally coat themselves with the powder, Buster rounds them north up the street with a threatening seltzer bottle. The same apartment awning during Marlyn’s scene appears behind them. To the right, Fields drives west along 35th Ave. towards the same corner in Running Wild, with matching barber shop poles, and corner signs for the Studio Pharmacy.

Armed with his seltzer bottle, Buster leads the bad guys west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St., as first shown at the top of this post. Directly above, pausing for a moment between the two apartment blocks, the group realizes it is about to rain and dash further west along the street towards the jail house. The sepia movie frame, from Fields’ Running Wild, also looks west along 35th Ave. from the corner of 35th St.

Buster and Bill face each other, nine years apart.

The Chemist marks a reunion of sorts – the first time in 11 years, since portraying “Friendless” in Go West (1925), that Buster’s character wears his trademark flat hat. (As a joke a store clerk briefly slips the hat on Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), but that was decidedly not his character’s hat.)

The Chemist and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.

Below, looking SW at the Astoria corner where Bill and Buster filmed. The corner of the studio stands directly opposite, behind.

Posted in Astoria, Buster Keaton, New York, W.C. Fields | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Buster Keaton’s Kennel on the MGM lot

Click to enlarge – 1932 – looking SE along Washington Blvd. towards the back of Keaton’s Kennel (box) on the MGM lot. The “New York” set appearing in The Cameraman (1928) appears to the far right.

Keaton at the MGM gate – Free and Easy (1930)

As one of MGM’s biggest stars, Buster Keaton once had a private bungalow dressing room on the studio lot, jokingly dubbed “Keaton’s Kennel.” A reader correctly wrote long ago that the Kennel stood along the north side of the lot, but the precise location remained a mystery. So when noted biographer James Curtis (who’s busy now working on Keaton) asked me to look into the Kennel, I eagerly jumped in. As we’ll see, part of the challenge is that Keaton himself conflated facts and descriptions of the place.

To begin, what did the Kennel look like? These publicity photos of Buster with his sons Bobby and Jimmy show the Kennel was quite narrow, with only a double window and a single door facing a covered porch, with a sidewalk path to the right, leading to the front steps, and a large building looming very close on the left side. At right, an inside view with grandpa Joe Keaton, taken the same day (notice the matching clothes).

View SE showing the 4 too wide bungalows (*) on Grant Ave. Steven Bingen.

Keaton writes at page 214 of My Wonderful World of Slapstick that his bungalow was located where the Irving Thalberg Memorial Building now stands, and that it was named the “Kennel” because Keaton’s 170 pound St. Bernard dog Elmer was a fixture sunning himself on the front porch. But as shown in vintage aerial views and the Sanborn fire insurance maps, the bungalows along what was then Grant Ave. (later replaced by the Thalberg Building) were more than twice as wide as the Kennel.

View NW showing the 4 too wide bungalows (*) on Grant Ave. HollywoodPhotographs.com

Keaton joined MGM in 1928, yet the Kennel does not appear on the 1929 Sanborn fire insurance map, nor in early 1930 aerial photographs of the studio. So perhaps it was built late in 1930. The Kennel photo at right, taken during the same publicity photo session as the other shots (notice the matching clothes), shows Buster and his sons hanging up to dry the distinctive pajama costume Keaton wore during Parlor, Bedroom, and Bath, released February 28, 1931, suggesting the Kennel was built prior to that date. Other accounts explain that Keaton began his MGM tenure renting a bungalow near, but off-site from, the MGM campus, infuriating studio head Louis B. Mayer, as Keaton was the only star to rent space off of the lot. Since Keaton worked at MGM for more than two years before the Kennel was built, the likely scenario is that Keaton indeed first began renting a place off campus on Grant Ave., as he remembers in his book, and then later moved on campus once the Kennel was built. (You can read about Keaton’s Grant Ave. bungalow HERE). For some reason Keaton conflates the Grant Ave. bungalow and the MGM Kennel in his account. [Update – Johnny Weissmuller gives Buster an aerial swimming lesson, revealing the east side of the Kennel behind them.]

So where was the Kennel? At left, it stands in the center of this 1934 aerial view looking north. Notice how it is long and skinny, with a sidewalk path along the right to the front porch. The broad view above shows it stood along Washington Blvd. directly across from the terminus of Motor Ave, immediately to the right of Rehearsal Hall A (A). Further east of the Kennel stood the Short Subject Department (B), originally John Gilbert’s Spanish bungalow, the First Aid Department (C), the Little Red Schoolhouse (D), and more dressing rooms (E), all as reported by Steven Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester, and Michael Troyan in their wonderful book M-G-M: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. The red arrow above points east along the “New York” backlot appearing in The Cameraman and The Sidewalks of New York (1931).

Click to enlarge – view SE – the Kennel (box) in relation to a scene from The Cameraman.

As shown here, the Kennel stood just yards to the east of the “New York” backlot set where Keaton filmed The Cameraman in 1928 (before the Kennel was built), and later scenes for The Sidewalks of New York in 1931 (after the Kennel was built). Given the proximity, I like to imagine Keaton walking from the Kennel to film his 1931 scenes on the “New York” backlot.

Above, three views looking east along the “New York” backlot, The Cameraman, upper left, The Sidewalks of New York, lower left, and a matching 1933 aerial view.

UPDATE: from reader Robert Mouton – Wallace Berry took over Keaton’s Kennel inside MGM, August 1933 The New Movie Magazine.

Keaton was abruptly fired early in 1933, following completion of What No Beer? (Keaton staged the beer barrel avalanche from that film on Court Street – read about it HERE.) The Kennel remained long enough following Keaton’s departure in 1933 to appear in a 1934 aerial view, but a later aerial view shows it was demolished by 1947.

You can read all about Keaton’s prior Grant Ave. bungalow just outside of MGM at THIS POST.

Below, the MGM gate today, where Keaton stood (see top of post) during Free and Easy.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Culver City, Keaton Studio | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Buster Keaton’s Blue Blazes in Astoria

While working on posts covering W.C. Fields filming It’s The Old Army Game (1926) and Running Wild (1927) at the Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, I remembered Keaton had made a few short comedies for Educational in Astoria in 1936.

I hadn’t seen these films for many years, and with the image quality available at the time, never gave them much thought for study. I did note back then that the firehouse appearing in Blue Blazes (1936) was still standing at 37-22 29th St. (Museum of the Moving Image). But once I checked out Kino Lorber’s “Lost Keaton” Blu-ray release of Keaton’s 16 Educational shorts, I was excited to see so many Astoria locales and looked deeper.

As we’ll see, Keaton filmed three sequences from Blue Blazes on 34th Ave. that runs along the north end of the Astoria Studio. When Paramount closed the plant down it became available for independent productions during the 1930s such as Keaton’s shorts for Educational. At the start of WWII the US Army bought the studio, where it became the Signal Corps Photographic Center, and later the Army Pictorial Center, covering war efforts and producing training films. This 1955 aerial view looking north at the studio, with 34th Ave. at back, comes from Bob Perkins, host of the Army Pictorial Center website, that honors the people who worked there.

Keaton kicks off Blue Blazes with an amazing stunt (A) below, slipping off the back of a speeding fire engine, and sliding and rolling into a sitting position.

(A) The turn begins looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., with the doorways to 37-11 and 37-17 34th Ave. in the left background.

Completing the left turn on to 37th St., we see to the south the white square corners of 34-11 37th St., the entrance (yellow line) of the two story home 34-15 37th St., and then repeating patterns of four identical apartments further down the street. I’ll mention these buildings again during scene (B) below.

Keaton’s three scenes on 34th Ave. (A) looking east down 34th Ave. from 37th St., (B) looking NE at the corner of 34th Ave. and 36th St., and (C) looking NE on the corner of 34th Ave. and 37th St.

Buster filmed sequence (A) above, and two later scenes (B) and (C) further below, at 34th Ave. along 36th and 37th Streets, within a block of the studio facing 35th Ave. between 35th and 36th Streets. This aerial detail shows 34th Ave. at the north end of the studio.

(not local) Above, following Buster’s spill, the engine suddenly stops to reverse directions. This scene was not filmed adjacent to the studio, but beside a large apartment at 30-76 35th St. a few blocks due north of the studio which is also on 35th St.

Buster chases after his engine past the apartment at 30-76 35th St.

Buster grabs the passing engine, pulling him mid-air, reminiscent of his prior stunt in Day Dreams (1922), filmed along Santa Monica Blvd. a few blocks west of his studio.

(B) Returning close to the studio, the crew races south and makes a screeching left turn. As Buster hops off to hook up a hose to the corner hydrant, the engine continues without him.

(B) Buster’s fire truck traveled south down 36th St. past a trio of  tall-short-tall homes that are still standing. The home to the right (32-79) with the side windows (box) faced a vacant lot both in 1936 and in this 2007 Google Street View photo. This home is now flanked by a modern two-story home.

(B) Continuing south down 36th St., the tree (circle) standing in front of the now lost home address 32-83 appears later in the film, at right, as the newspaper reporters snap Buster’s photo rescuing the fire chief’s daughters. The lost home’s front steps (red box) and the side of the house with windows now blocked by a modern home (yellow box) appear in the previous pair of images above. The inset view shows the reporters driving north up 36th St. from the corner of 34th Ave.

(B) Buster runs with the hose to the corner of 36th St. as his engine races east down 34th Ave. without him. The buildings to the upper right behind him are the same appearing in this prior scene (inset).

(B) Looking more closely, the matching buildings along 37th St. further confirm the site. The building at left, with the square bay towers, is 34-11 37th St., while the short building next door is 34-15. Then four identical apartment blocks stand in a row, now painted with contrasting details. These are the same buildings all appearing down the street behind Buster after he falls from the back of the fire engine during scene (A) discussed above.

(B) Another aerial view looking north at Buster’s spot (yellow circle) on 34th Ave. and 36th St., lining up with the buildings on 37th St. The red circle matches scene (A) above and scene (C) below.

Bob Perkins, the Army Pictorial Center website, reports the above 1955 aerial view was sent to him by Ron Hutchinson (HUTCHINSON, RON, SP5, still photographer, assistant cameraman and projectionist, January 1961 to January 1963).

(B) then and now – looking east down 34th Ave. from the corner of 37th St.

(C) The final sequence close to home features Buster’s one-man fire brigade, an assembly of wagons, ladders and bicycles.

(C) Buster crosses 34th Ave. at 37th St. The corner home was later extended to the rear (red circle). Notice the one-way street sign both now and at the time of filming.

(C) A closer view up the street reveals matching window details (yellow line) on the apartment at 32-85 37th St.

Above – click to enlarge – a final overview of Buster’s numerous filming sites along 34th Ave. with the studio in the foreground. The house portrayed as W.C. Fields’ home in Running Wild (1927) (inset) still stands a bit north of 34th Ave. at 32-62 35th St. beyond the left edge of this photo. You can read my Running Wild post HERE.

Blue Blazes and Keaton’s 15 other short films made for Educational (1934-1937) are available in the “Lost Keaton” set from Kino Lorber.

Below, a Google Street View of the apartment at 30-76 35th St., the more remote location not appearing in the above aerial view.


Posted in Astoria, Buster Keaton, New York | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

It’s The Old Army Game – W.C. Fields in New York with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd

The wonderful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of W. C Fields and Louise Brooks in It’s The Old Army Game (1926) is a must-have for any Fields, Brooks, or silent comedy fan. As I’ve reported at length in several prior posts, Fields and Brooks filmed extensively on location in Ocala, Florida, as well as at El Mirasol in Palm Beach. But capping things off, Fields also filmed many scenes in New York, where Buster Keaton filmed The Cameraman and Harold Lloyd filmed Speedy.

It’s The Old Army Game involves a New York real estate swindler played by William Gaxton who uses Fields’ Florida drug store to sell questionable investments to the local townsfolk, but has a change of heart after falling for Louise Brooks. Midway during the film we’re introduced to a couple of New York police detectives planning a trip south to Florida to arrest Gaxton.

The establishing shot for the detectives was filmed in 1926 on the front steps of what was then Precinct 9A in New York, formerly at 150 W. 68th St. The matching photo of Precinct 28 was taken on April 3, 1918, as posted courtesy of Lynne Awe at PoliceNY.com., whose great uncle Edward Policke is somewhere in the photo.  The NYPD precincts were redrawn and renumbered twice during the 1920s. According to NYPDAngels.com, Precinct 28 was renumbered Precinct 9A on July 18, 1924, and renumbered again to Precinct 20 on July 3, 1929. At right, a 1923 Bromley Map of New York showing the 28th.

(This matching 1930 Bromley map shows the renumbered 20th.) Pat Storino at NYPDHistory.com confirms the precinct’s identity-changing history, with this image from the NYPD Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. The caption explains the 1927 photo shows the officers of the 9A Precinct, “currently the 20th Precinct, located at 150 West 68th Street, west of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The photo, which was taken in the summer of 1927, was lent to Brooks Costume Company in 1966 for technical assistance in the Broadway production of ‘Auntie Mame.'” Thus, the original Precinct 28, later becoming Precinct 20, was captured on film in 1926 during the brief time it was numbered 9A.

While a generic gray-glass high rise at the SW corner of Broadway and W. 68th has subsumed Fields’ precinct house, its cousin, the 19th Precinct house across Central Park at 153 E. 67th St., reveals their common architectural DNA. Given that the movie was made in Astoria Queens, where Fields also filmed Running Wild (1927) (see post here), I wondered how they chose this seemingly “remote” station, but even so, it was less than five miles from the studio.

These evocative scenes of all the policemen at the former 9A Precinct whets our appetite for when Fields visits Manhattan later in the film.

To begin, we’re introduced to Fields driving south down 5th Ave. from 57th St., the northern-most of five traffic towers behind him. Most notably, behind Fields to the left is the Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion (see similar detail at upper right, and as it appears, at right, looking south down 5th in Keaton’s The Saphead (1920)). When Harold Lloyd came to New York in 1927 to film Speedy, his matching view of 57th at the upper left reveals the mansion had already been demolished to make way for Bergdorf Goodman. The color view shows the Plaza Hotel towering over the Vanderbilt.

Click to enlarge maps above. As reported in the January 1921 Popular Science magazine, five traffic towers, using the block signal system originally developed by the railroads, were installed on traffic islands along 5th Ave. at 34th, 38th, 42nd, 50th, and 57th Streets. First installed in 1920, the towers were replaced with permanent bronze towers in 1923. By sending electric signals to control men located in each tower, the master signalman at 42nd St. could control the lights along 5th, allowing all 5th Ave. traffic to move at the same time. Despite its initial success, the tower islands blocked traffic lanes, and were removed in 1929.

As I report in my Harold Lloyd book Silent Visions, Harold filmed Speedy extensively along 5th Ave. while driving Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium. Above, looking north, are the traffic towers at 34th St. left, and 42nd St. right, appearing in Speedy.

Returning to Fields, after driving a bit further south, he turns left from 5th onto E. 55th St. Notice the Vanderbilt mansion, red line, replaced now by Bergdorf Goodman in the modern view. Several buildings along 5th Ave. at back have been remodeled or rebuilt, but the two within the matching boxes appear unchanged.

Matching street signs from 1926 and today. I don’t know if E. 55th was one way at the time, or if the sign was a prop.

As Fields completes his left turn onto E. 55th we see what was then the Hotel Gotham at the left, and the 5th Ave. Presbyterian Church to the right.

Fields looking west, Keaton looking south. It nearly seems mandatory to include 5th Ave. if you’re going to film on location in New York. Two years after Fields, Buster’s sprint to Marceline Day’s apartment in The Cameraman (1928) (she thinks she’s still talking to him on the phone after agreeing to a date when he appears suddenly behind her), was filmed looking south down 5th Ave. at 55th, with the same Hotel Gotham and 5th Ave. Presbyterian Church appearing at back. In prior posts, Bob Egan located both Buster’s Manhattan apartment, and Marceline Day’s apartment, bookending this scene.

A panorama of Keaton’s sprint up 5th Ave. from 55th, compared to Fields’ left turn.

With a trick of editing, Fields is no longer on E. 55th, but on E. 62nd, where his car breaks down after being struck by oncoming traffic. Bob Egan found these locations as well. Looking west, the corner building to the left is the Knickerbocker Club, founded in 1871. The headquarters at 2 E. 62nd St. was completed