A Tale of Two Train Wrecks (and One Airport) – by Buster Keaton

Train crashes from One Week in Inglewood (left), and Parlor, Bedroom and Bath at the future site of LAX (right).

Buster Keaton’s debut film One Week (1920) was hailed as the comedy sensation of the year.  It ended with a powerhouse one-two gag that still wows audiences today.   Buster attempts to move his newly built home which becomes stuck at a train crossing.  A train from the east barrels down on the house, but passes safely by on a parallel track, disaster averted.  Two beats later, as Buster and the audience breath a sigh of relief, a train from the west plows right through the home, completely demolishing it.  The crash was staged in Inglewood, as I report in great detail in my book Silent Echoes, and in this prior post showing the Inglewood station.  

Keaton repeated the joke eleven years later in his 1931 MGM talkie feature Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (available for viewing at the 36:00 mark here at the Internet Archive), and on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection.   In this version (see above) Buster’s small roadster breaks down on the tracks, and is spared by a southbound train before a northbound train does it in.  As shown below, the two crash scenes were filmed on the same rail line, a few miles apart.

Click to enlarge 1930 map.  The upper oval in Inglewood marks the One Week train crash, the lower oval near Mines Aviation Field (future home to LAX) marks the Parlor, Bedroom and Bath train crash.  The long stretch of train tracks running north-south, and the frontage road running parallel to the tracks, was a popular spot to film locomotive chases for movies such as Intolerance (1916) and Barney Oldfield’s Race for a Life (1913).

Reginald Denny carries an unconscious Buster towards Keaton’s actual home, The Italian Villa, used as a location for Parlor, Bedroom and Bath.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is a silly bedroom farce, and as far-removed from Keaton’s classic-style silent comedies as one can imagine.  Still, if you can accept it on its own terms, the movie is really quite enjoyable.  Buster plays a “never been kissed” bumpkin who is mistaken by the society crowd as a great lover.  The final third of the film takes place at a hotel where Buster woos a series of women in rapid succession, and is caught with each conquest by an increasingly impressed bell hop, played by Cliff Edwards (the future voice of Jiminy Cricket).  Despite the screwball plot, the train crash sequence from Parlor, Bedroom and Bath is cited by film scholars as an example of how Keaton could successfully introduce visual gags into his talking pictures when given the chance.  The movie is also noteworthy because Buster’s actual home (The Italian Villa, at 1018 Pamela Drive in Beverly Hills), appears as the high society playground where Buster meets the other characters.

Aside from re-working one of Keaton’s best gags, what is also interesting about the Parlor, Bedroom and Bath crash scene is that it was filmed at the southeast corner of the former Mines Aviation Field, the future home to LAX, the Los Angeles International Airport.  Buster’s camera captured rare views of this wide-open landscape at the dawn of the aviation age.

In the photo (looking east) the AT&SF train tracks run left to right, crossing Collingwood Street where the red lines meet.  The red lines mark the field of view visible during Keaton’s crash scene, as shown below.  The left red line points to the Mines Aviation Field east hangar, still standing, and the right red line points to the former Moreland Aircraft factory, both appearing in the film.  USC Digital Archive (c) 2004 California Historical Society

As shown on the above map and photo (both circa 1930), Buster’s car stalled where Collingwood Street (later 114th Street, and now W. Imperial Highway), running east-west, crosses the AT&SF rail line that runs north-south parallel to Redondo Boulevard (now Aviation Boulevard).   Mines Field, a former hayfield, was officially dedicated as Los Angeles Municipal Airport on June 7, 1930.  Mary Pickford reportedly made the formal dedication.

This view to the SW, after the car is demolished, looks to the Moreland Aircraft factory that opened in 1929 along what is now N. Douglas Street. The factory fell victim to the Great Depression, and closed in 1933. Upper left, view of the back – Huntington Digital Library, upper right, view of the front – Los Angeles Times Copyright 1929.

Above, Buster and actress Joan Peers set off on foot west down what is now the W. Imperial Highway after a train demolishes their car.  Behind them stands the former Moreland Aircraft factory.  Below, another aerial view of the train crash setting, this time taken during an airshow at Mines Field.

The train crash setting, this time looking to the SE during an air show at Mines Field.  Notice the packed grandstands, and the fields filled with parked cars.  USC Digital Archive (c) 2004 California Historical Society.

As Buster struggles to free his car you can see the airfield access road jog to the left (west).

Below, a panorama looking west down the W. Imperial Highway from Aviation Boulevard – the red lines correspond to those on the photo and map above.  To avoid possible distraction, the large sign in the background, probably announcing the opening or further development of the new airport, is covered with a cloth.  As I explain in my book, while filming Neighbors (1920) Buster put a paper bag on a real street sign for the same reason.  The right edge of this panorama was made from narrow slices of clear view in front of the advancing train as the camera panned from left to the right.

1931 – view west down W. Imperial Highway from Aviation Boulevard.

2012 – view west down W. Imperial Highway from Aviation Boulevard.  (C) 2012 Microsoft Corporation.

Below, the extant east hangar airport building made a prior appearance on film during Feet First, Harold Lloyd’s 1930 talkie re-make of Safety Last!, during a scene where Harold stows away in an airmail delivery sack.

Above, Harold Lloyd’s plane lands at Mines Field in Feet First.  Lower left photo -National Register; modern day photo Julius Yang.

Below,  comparable aerial views of 1939 and today, with red field of view lines in the color images corresponding to the map and images above.

The upper red line points to the still extant east hangar building. The Moreland building has long since been demolished. (C) 2012 Google.

For amazing, high detail panoramic photos of the June 7, 1930 opening of the Los Angeles Municipal Airport, check out these images from the Huntington Digital Library: view one, view two, and view three.  Be sure to zoom in to see all of the details.

Jerry Miles has put together a YouTube video of historic images of Mines Field that you can view here.

Parlor, Bedroom and Bath (C) 1931 Turner Entertainment Co.  One Week licensed by Douris UK, Ltd.  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.

You can read more about the early history of LAX here, and about the east hangar, the first structure built at Mines Field, known as Hangar One, here.

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11 Responses to A Tale of Two Train Wrecks (and One Airport) – by Buster Keaton

  1. Pingback: A Tale of Two Train Wrecks (and One Airport) – by Buster Keaton | The Bioscope | Scoop.it

  2. Great find with that old map of Inglewood. And nice research putting all this together. Very cool.

  3. Jes Gear says:

    Very cool, John. I always enjoy reading your findings.

  4. Neil Larson says:

    I appreciate the detailed information. I grew up 3 blocks from the “crash site” 118th Place one block east of Aviation on Judah Street – this is very nice especially because my father’s favorite movie actor of all time had to be Buster Keaton. thank you so much…

    • Thank you Neil – I appreciate it.

      • Neil Larson says:

        In the film Love Nest – several of the scenes may have been shot near Bolsa Chica what is now Bolsa “Bay”… just north of Huntington Beach, it was flat calm & shallow … The long row of parked cars that Laurel & Hardy push up a hill & off a cliff is what is now near Baldwin Hills (west side of 405) – My father would point to the west -over to a bluff when we would drive north on the 405 – Fox Hills – Ladera Heights area , long time ago but in there somewhere

  5. Mark Shoemaker says:

    This is great history and information!! I do believe the reference above to Moreland Aircraft being on North Douglas should read more like the east side of Aviation and “112th” (a big vacant lot now south of the Proud Bird).

  6. Neil Larson says:

    Links to nice photo image I took of Mural in El Segundo – of the corner of Mines Field LAX-
    Mural is a collage of images an Homage’ to early aviation in the local area-
    embedded link – https://lh6.googleusercontent.com/-kHcv3t7fOiU/TM3Uqop61UI/AAAAAAAAB98/ZPoml5HcZbk/s640/S1051778.JPG

    Link to photo –

    https://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/sdFhuwOZFOIrzcKOhIxU89MTjNZETYmyPJy0liipFm0?feat=directlink


    You may need to do some further research on who painted the mural etc-
    located behind the El Segundo Chevron Station
    corner of Main Street & Grand Avenue – El Segundo, Ca
    OK to use on your site – by me- I took photo!
    please give me some credit for photo …(Neil Larson)

  7. Great photo Neil – I was not aware of this mural. Thanks for sharing.

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