Keaton’s The General on location in Cottage Grove

aageneral1aThe San Francisco Silent Film Festival special one-day “Silent Autumn” event opens Saturday morning, September 20, 2014, with a trio of classic Laurel & Hardy silent shorts, and features a 7:00 p.m. screening of Buster Keaton’s 1926 Civil War masterpiece The General, accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra.

Video 01Keaton filmed The General nearly 90 years ago on location in Cottage Grove, Oregon.  Not only do many locations that appear in the movie remain unchanged, but as explained in this brief video hosted by A.M.P.A.S., you can see that most of the filming took place within steps of the hotel where Keaton and crew stayed during production.


Then and Now – 221 South 16th Street in Cottage Grove, Oregon, appears behind Buster during filming.

The Silent Autumn festival also includes Rudolph Valentino in The Son of the Sheik, a typical cinema program from 1914, the year Charlie Chaplin began making movies, and the influential German horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

You can read more about how Keaton filmed The General and his other classic comedies in my book Silent Echoes.

The General is available on Blu-ray from Kino International, and includes a bonus program that I prepared. Below, a Google Street View of the above filming site.

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Silent Era Hollywood Tour – Cinecon 50 – Author Presentation

Cover slide blueAttached to this post is a self-guided written tour to Hollywood silent film locations and studios that I have prepared in connection with the “Hollywood’s Silent Echoes” presentation I will be giving Friday, August 29, 2014, at 10:55 a.m. at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard, as part of the Cinecon 50 – Classic Film Festival.  With this tour you can follow a number of points I will cover during my presentation.

titlecardThe written tour starts at Hollywood and Vine, and encompasses nearly 50 filming locations and historic sites associated with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Stan Laurel, and Harry Langdon, including several new discoveries not found in my books or previously posted tours.

Aside from early Hollywood, my talk this year will focus on Chaplin’s origins and some interesting connections between D.W. Griffith and Buster Keaton. 

During the lunch break after my talk I will lead a quick walking tour from the theater of the historic 1600 block of Cahuenga nearby.  I look forward to seeing you at Cinecon 50!

Hollywood’s Silent Echoes Tour – Cinecon 2014 – John Bengtson

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Charlie Chaplin’s Echo Park Home – 100 Years Later


Cruel, Cruel Love – Charlie’s handyman races up the steps to 1629 Park Avenue (center), also appearing behind Chaplin (oval) as he stands at the NE corner of Echo Park.

Mabel Normand, Chaplin, Mack Swain, and Eva Nelson in Mabel’s Married Life (1914) beside the Echo Park bridge.

Mabel Normand, Chaplin, Mack Swain, and Eva Nelson in Mabel’s Married Life (1914) beside the Echo Park bridge.

As I explain in my book Silent Traces, Charlie Chaplin filmed several early comedies in Echo Park, just a few blocks south of the Keystone Studio where he began his film career 100 years ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that Chaplin and other Keystone stars also filmed beside homes that are still standing directly across the street from the park. As shown above and elsewhere below, Chaplin’s home in Cruel, Cruel Love (1914) is located at 1629 Park Avenue, at the NE corner of Logan Street. Other remaining homes along Park Avenue appear in Keystone films too (see below), standing just a few blocks east from where Chaplin filmed on Sunset Boulevard 100 years ago, as reported HERE.

Looking west along Park Avenue from Logan - scenes from A Film Johnie (left) and A Flirt's Mistake (right).

Looking west along Park Ave. from Logan St. – scenes from A Film Johnnie (left) and A Flirt’s Mistake (right).

01I began paying attention to the front porches appearing in early Keystone films after noticing that a dozen other movies were shot beside the front porch where Chaplin filmed the initial scene of his career (as reported HERE).

The porch in the Chaplin/Mabel Normand comedy Mabel at the Wheel (1914) reveals a “1629” address and an array of distinctive potted plants that clearly matches Chaplin’s porch in Cruel, Cruel Love (see below).

Four views of the 1629 Park Ave. porch.  Clockwise - A Flirt's Mistake, Mabel at the Wheel, today, and Cruel, Cruel Love

Click to enlarge.  Four views of the 1629 Park Ave. porch, now closed over; clockwise from upper left, Roscoe Arbuckle in A Flirt’s Mistake, Mabel Normand in Mabel at the Wheel, today, and Cruel, Cruel Love.

I also noticed a group of small bungalows that appears both in Cruel, Cruel Love and in Chaplin’s A Film Johnnie (1914), that reveal a street corner consistent in appearance to a corner appearing in the Roscoe Arbuckle comedy A Flirt’s Mistake (1914). The Arbuckle corner reveals a street sign reading “Park Ave” (see below).


Click to enlarge. Matching views from Cruel, Cruel Love (top), A Film Johnnie (bottom) and A Flirt’s Mistake (right).  The street sign (orange oval) reads “Park Ave.”

Although hard to spot at first, I finally noticed that Chaplin’s “potted plant” porch also appears in A Flirt’s Mistake (see above), tying the pieces together.  So on a hunch, I researched “Park Ave” in connection with the 1629 “potted plant” address, and found that Chaplin’s Cruel, Cruel Love home is still standing due north of Echo Park at 1629 Park Avenue.


Cruel, Cruel Love – Chaplin’s handyman runs along the north edge of Echo Park.  The home on the NW corner of Park and Logan (oval) is still standing.

Remarkably, a second home appearing both in Cruel, Cruel Love and in A Flirt’s Mistake, at the NW corner of Park and Logan, is also still standing (see above), as is the group of bungalows, just up the street, at what was originally 1711 – 1715 Park Ave (see below).

Standing between the corner home and the bungalows, on what was a vacant lot during the 1914 filming, is an apartment block built in the 1920s

Cruel, Cruel Love (top), A Film Johnnie (bottom). Between the bungalows and the corner home, on what was a vacant lot during the 1914 filming, is an apartment block (oval) built in the 1920s.

These two views from A Flirt's Mistake are keyed to the view north up Logan Street.

Two views from A Flirt’s Mistake keyed to north up Logan Street.  1629 Park Ave. stands to the right.

Below is a broad overview of the filming sites related to the north end of Echo Park. The arrow points west along Park Avenue past the corner of Logan.


Click to enlarge. Three views from Cruel, Cruel Love; looking west past Logan from Park, looking at the porch of 1629 Park Ave., and a view from the corner of Echo Park towards 1629 Park Ave.

Perhaps most remarkably, when an ambulance arrives at Charlie’s home during Cruel, Cruel Love, the camera looks due west along Park Avenue, past Echo Park to the left (south), towards vintage homes on a hill in the far background that are still standing on N. Bonnie Brae Street. I can’t identify the homes positively, but they are likely among the four pictured here.

Click to enlarge. Perhaps most remarkably, when an ambulance arrives at Charlie’s home during Cruel, Cruel Love, the camera looks due west along Park Avenue, past Echo Park to the left (south), towards vintage homes on a hill in the far background (yellow ovals) that are still standing on N. Bonnie Brae Street. I can’t identify the homes positively, but they are likely among the four pictured here at the upper right.

These ovals mark where Chaplin filmed on Sunset Blvd, just a few blocks west from Echo Park

These ovals mark where Chaplin filmed other scenes from Cruel, Cruel Love on Sunset Blvd, just a few blocks west from Echo Park

Chaplin at Keystone from Flicker Alley: Copyright (C) 2010 by Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project.  Today photos Copyright (C) 2014 Google Inc.; Bing Maps Bird’s Eye – (C) 2014 NAVTEQ, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (C) 2014 Pictometry International Corp., (C) 2014 Microsoft Corporation.

1629 Park Avenue on Google Street View.


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Chaplin’s First Scene – a Very Busy Place to Film

Chaplin's first on-screen appearance

Chaplin’s on-screen debut.  Movie theater audiences first set eyes on Chaplin, this image of Chaplin, on February 2, 1914, 100 years ago.

In one of my earliest posts (reprinted below), I reported that the site of Chaplin’s first scene, from his initial movie Making a Living (1914), was filmed in front of a residential porch adjacent to the Keystone Studio that is now the site of a drive-way for a Jack-In-The-Box restaurant.  Upon further study, I realized that this porch appeared in FIVE other Chaplin Keystone films, and that the same porch appeared in many other Keystone films as well.  Here, below, are these five other Chaplin films, followed by five more Keystone titles, all filmed on the porch of the home that once stood due north of the Keystone Studio, where Chaplin filmed his very first scene.

01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10

[Reprint of original post]  Following the release of the Chaplin at Keystone DVD Collection, for which I prepared a bonus feature program, Kevin Dale contacted me wondering if Chaplin had filmed the opening scene from his inaugural film Making a Living in front of the home adjoining the Keystone Studio.  The Keystone Studio environs frequently appear in Keystone productions, and after close study I am convinced Kevin is correct.  Assuming they shot Making a Living in sequential order, this marks the very first scene of Chaplin’s entire career.  It also means that when the film opened on February 2, 1914, 100 years ago, it was through this scene that movie audiences were first introduced to young Mr. Chaplin.  The site is now a driveway to a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant, while the main filming stage remains in use today as a Public Storage warehouse.

View of the Keystone Studio. The large stage with the sign on the roof is still standing.

The large Keystone Studio stage with the sign on the roof is still standing. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

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Comparing details likely confirms the location.  Notice the matching white trim of the square front porch steps, and the matching pair of palm trees.

The site is located approximately at 1710 Glendale Boulevard in Echo Park.  Bing Maps Bird’s Eye – © 2010 NAVTEQ, Pictometry Bird’s Eye © 2010 Pictometry International Corp., © 2010 Microsoft Corporation.

Chaplin at Keystone: Copyright (C) 2010 by Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project.

Young Mr. Chaplin stood here:

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Max Linder Shines Again in Seven Years Bad Luck

1366 E Palm in Altadena lr

Click to enlarge – Max Linder in 1921 beside the extant home at 1366 E Palm in Altadena

KINO-DVD-Master5Dapper Max Linder, the pioneering French silent film comedian affectionately dubbed “The Professor” by Charlie Chaplin, will be taking the spotlight soon. Max’s 1921 feature comedy Seven Years Bad Luck will be screened at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, and will be released by Kino-Lorber on video along with three other Linder films as part of The Max Linder Collection. Preservationist and

The Blacksmith - new footage

The Blacksmith – new footage

entertainer Serge Bromberg, the founder of Lobster Films (the company responsible for restoring these films), will be presenting Seven Years Bad Luck at the festival on June 1 at 10:00 a.m.  The previous day, on May 31 at noon, Bromberg will screen a host of film treasures, including the recently discovered “lost” version of  Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith, as featured here in my three-part series of posts.

Although born in France, Linder moved to the United States in 1918, and was soon filming across Los Angeles and Hollywood at the same spots favored by his American contemporaries.  Below, Max races north up Cahuenga across Hollywood Boulevard.


Looking toward the SE corner of Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard. Max (red oval) races up Cahuenga while the yellow oval marks where Buster Keaton grabbed a passing car one-handed in Cops (1922).

The intersection of Cahuenga and Hollywood Boulevard, depicted in Max’s movie, upper left, above, has appeared in dozens of films and in several of my prior posts, including this one about Mary Pickford HERE.


Lost to the Santa Monica freeway, this home once stood at 15 Berkeley Square.  Comedy producer Hal Roach lived on the same gated block at No. 22.

Seven Years Bad Luck includes scenes filmed at the Santa Fe Depot, an extremely popular place to film, including the  Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy comedy short Berth Marks (1929) (below).


Ollie and Stan in Berth Marks (left) – Max at right.  The same Western Union sign (oval) appears in each shot.

Below, a view of Max at the front of the former  Santa Fe depot.

7 Years Bad Luck - Santa Fe Depot Front

There are many more locations to report, but I’ll close with a connection between Max and the D.W. Griffith 1916 masterpiece Intolerance.  Both movies include scenes filmed on Buena Vista Street beside the former L.A. County Jail.


Click to enlarge. Max hides behind a car in Seven Years Bad Luck (upper left) – the Dear One desperately races to halt the execution of an innocent man in Intolerance (upper right).  The car in both movie images is pointed the same direction east up Buena Vista Street, standing near the oval in the photo, by the side of the L.A. County Jail fronting Temple Street.

Seven Years Bad Luck restoration (C) 2014 Lobster Films.

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Keaton’s Heart in San Francisco – The Navigator

Buster Keaton in The Navigator ca

Buster Keaton in The Navigator looking north up Divisadero towards the corner of Broadway, in San Francisco.

The 2014 San Francisco Silent Film Festival concludes Sunday, June 1, with a screening of Buster Keaton’s 1924 classic The Navigator, a personal favorite of Buster, and one of his most successful films.


Early on The Navigator features a joke involving a U-turn.  I won’t spoil the punchline, but it’s striking that the sequence was filmed hundreds of miles from Hollywood in the luxurious Pacific Heights neighborhood of San Francisco.  As I explain with three examples in this post, Keaton the filmmaker went to great lengths to capture perfect scenes for this movie.


Click to enlarge – portraying Buster’s mansion, the residence of Mr. A.D. Moore stood at 2500 Divisadero, once the only home on the east side of the street.  The entrance-way to Buster’s mansion appearing in the movie has no flight of steps down, and thus was filmed elsewhere.

Although two Keaton biographies mention Buster filming scenes from The Navigator in San Francisco, neither cites a source for this detail, and neither provides a rationale for deciding to shoot so remotely.


(Click to enlarge) Then and Now – the red brick home at the far left has lost its front portico, while the neighboring white portico home has been torn down and replaced with two smaller homes.  At back, the homes on the SW and NW corners of Broadway remain standing.  The chimneys on the back NW corner home have been relocated from exterior to interior walls. At right, four homes now replace the Moore residence.

22Keaton was both pragmatic and uncompromising as a filmmaker.  He filmed dozens of prosaic insert shots for his movies, such as scenes of people walking along sidewalks, or crossing streets, directly across the street from his small studio.  But as shown above, he would travel hundreds of miles to find the perfect setting for a gag.

As I ponder in my book Silent Echoes, Keaton could have staged this U-turn scene from The Navigator at any number of posh Los Angeles neighborhoods.  But as you watch the scene, instead of seeing rows of mansions on either side of the street receding into the distance, you’ll notice you don’t see anything at all.

Navigator 05By filming from a low angle on the crest of a hill, Buster eliminated the background, focusing our attention on the foreground action.  We may never know whether Keaton used this gag as a ploy to take a fun trip to San Francisco he could write off as an expense, or whether instead he thought the setting was so perfectly configured for portraying the joke that it justified an excursion north, but either way Buster carefully exploited San Francisco’s unique topography to full effect.

1236825_622268294516016_1118312546_nA second example of Keaton’s determination when filming The Navigator occurs early on as well.  As a visual storyteller, Keaton wanted to show in a single shot both the conspirators planning to destroy an ocean liner and the ship itself.  To do so, in an era preceding the rear-screen projection special effect (see convincing example at left!), Keaton built a special set on a bluff overlooking the Redondo Beach pier (see below).  Notice that the temporary set had no roof, but was instead covered with muslin to diffuse the natural sunlight for filming.


The conspirators hatch their evil plan from within a tiny set overlooking Redondo Beach.

The Black Pirate

The Black Pirate

The Navigator’s stunning underwater sequence provides a third example of Keaton’s uncompromising dedication to his craft.  It was common practice at the time for movies to depict underwater scenes by placing a narrow aquarium, filled with bubbles and live fish, between the camera and the actors, hoisted on wires to appear buoyant while working on a dry set.  Filming the dry actors through the “window” of the aquarium created a serviceable underwater image.  Douglas Fairbanks used this technique to great effect for a brief “swimming” shot of  marauding thieves in The Black Pirate (1926).

Navigator 09aAnd yet for The Navigator Keaton donned a deep-sea diving suit, and spent a month filming in the clear but frigid waters of Lake Tahoe.  He didn’t have to do this.  Buster could have used The Black Pirate effect (above), or easily hired a stunt man to take his place in the identity-concealing suit.  Instead Buster built a diving helmet with a special glass panel large enough to reveal his entire face, so the audience would always know it was really him beneath the waves.  Buster knew the audience could tell the difference between a true and staged effect, and thus did his utmost to film things without fakery throughout his career.  The resulting scene completely captures your attention, and ranks among the best (and perhaps only) true underwater sequence from the entire silent film era.

nav 02Was there ever a more heroic filmmaker than Buster Keaton?  Buster clambered around trains, paddle-wheelers, and sailing ships; navigated white-water rapids and the open ocean; outran hordes of police and herds of cattle; rode horses; worked with lions and bears; braved cyclones, dodged collapsing buildings, and plunged off of waterfalls.  And for a month he donned a 200 pound claustrophobic suit to film at the bottom of Lake Tahoe.  Buster put his heart and soul into every movie he made, and as a result, ninety years later they still continue to amaze and entertain.

Day Dreams

Day Dreams

PS – as I explain in my book, Keaton previously staged a chase scene from his short film Day Dreams (1922) in San Francisco, while ingeniously cutting back and forth with scenes filmed in Hollywood.  You can read about these North Beach/Financial District locations at this link below.

Buster Keaton San Francisco Location Tour

Here’s The Navigator U-turn setting as it appears today.


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Chaplin – Caught In the Rain 100 Years Ago by the 2nd St Tunnel


Caught in the Rain (1914) – looking east down 2nd Street from near Bolyston Street towards Bunker Hill.

Charlie Chaplin’s lucky 13th Keystone Studio movie Caught in the Rain was released May 4, 1914, one hundred years ago today. Although Chaplin credits this film in his autobiography as his first directorial effort, Chaplin biographer David Robinson suggests otherwise, due to the handwritten filmography Charlie sent to his brother Syd in August 1914, citing a prior film, Twenty Minutes of Love, as one of Charlie’s “own.”


Looking east towards the Hotel Stanley at the SE corner of 2nd and Flower.  The left box marks the uphill slope of 2nd Street that was excavated reaching towards where the west portal of the tunnel (right box) was built at Flower St.

In either case, the clarity of Caught in the Rain (part of the Chaplin at Keystone collection from Flicker Alley, restored by Cineteca di Bologna and the British Film Institute in association with Lobster Films), provides a rare view of early Los Angeles, looking east down 2nd Street towards Bunker Hill, with the downtown Los Angeles core, out of sight, on the other side of the hill.

East view towards the west portal of the tunnel under construction, with the Hotel Stanly (box) looking down.  A comparable view of the finished tunnel

East view towards the west portal of the tunnel under construction, with the Hotel Stanley (box) looking down. A comparable view of the finished west portal appeared in the Mack Sennett comedy Circus Today (1926).


November 7, 1920 – Los Angeles Times

2nd Street had long been a major transportation bottleneck, as traffic from Hollywood and Glendale had to be diverted south from 2nd Street, around Bunker Hill, before entering the city. Construction of the 2nd Street Tunnel began in 1921, nearly seven years after Chaplin had filmed.

Times File Photo -- Opening of the Los Angeles 2nd St. Tunnel.The 2nd Street Tunnel was hailed as the greatest undertaking of its kind that Los Angeles had put through, both longer and wider than the city’s first tunnel, built at 3rd Street in 1900.  Completion of the tunnel, which commenced April 11, 1921, was optimistically projected to take 15 months.  By the time it officially opened on July 25, 1924, more than 39  months had passed.  The photo at right shows the east portal during the tunnel’s opening celebration.

crop hotel stanleyThe trolley tracks appearing in the movie frame at top turned right (south) at Figueroa, to avoid going over the hill.  The Hotel Stanley at the SE corner of 2nd and Flower Street (highlighted above and at left) overlooked the west portal of the completed tunnel.

Chaplin at Keystone: Copyright (C) 2010 by Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project.

A comparable view today on Google Street View.



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