New Chaplin Discovery – Cinecon Talk and Guided Tour

Chaplin filming The Pilgrim in Newhall (now part of Santa Clarita).

Chaplin filming The Pilgrim in Newhall (now part of Santa Clarita). SCVhistory.com.

While preparing my upcoming talk for Cinecon 51 I just realized that Chaplin filmed this rustic church scene from The Pilgrim (1923) in Newhall, near where friend Douglas Fairbanks filmed much of Wild and Woolly in 1917, beside the original Presbyterian Church, built in 1891, that once stood at the west end of Market Street at Newhall Avenue. You can read about the connections between Chaplin’s The Pilgrim and Frank Sinatra’s assassination/kidnap drama Suddenly (1954) in my prior post, and download a written tour at the end of this post.

titlecard50_2cover-slide-blueI will discuss Wild and Woolly, and Harold Lloyd’s masterpiece The Kid Brother (1927), two wonderful films highlighted at the 2015 Cinecon Classic Film Festival, as part of the “Hollywood’s Silent Echoes” presentation I will be giving Labor Day Monday, September 7, 2017, at 11:05 a.m. at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Boulevard. Entirely new, my talk will be filled with many fun surprises about the great silent comedians, and the historic elements captured in their films.

Following my talk and book signing I will again lead a walking tour during the lunch break along Cahuenga Boulevard where Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd filmed so frequently.

The church was built in 1891 and replaced with a modern stucco structure in 1923, the same year Chaplin filmed The Pilgrim.

Click to enlarge – the two camera angles are almost a perfect match. The church was built in 1891 and replaced with a modern stucco structure in 1923, the same year Chaplin filmed The PilgrimSCVhistory.com.

The link below is an updated written tour to over 50 Hollywood filming locations and historic sites associated with Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Stan Laurel, and Harry Langdon. This latest edition includes many new discoveries not found in my books or previously posted tours.

Hollywood’s Silent Echoes Tour – Cinecon 2015 – John Bengtson

For those who live in LA, even if you have plans for an afternoon BBQ, I hope you’ll consider spending Labor Day morning at the Egyptian Theater discovering some fun new insights about early Hollywood.

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.

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Chaplin, Sinatra, The Pilgrim and Noir

Charlie beside the Saugus station in The Pilgrim and as it appears in Suddenly.

Charlie beside the Saugus station in The Pilgrim and as it appears in Suddenly. The unusual movie title refers to the fictional town “Suddenly” in which that movie takes place.

Suddenly 03Classic movies filmed on location provide historic views of the past. Moreover, later films shot at a popular location also provide fresh perspectives of earlier movies filmed at the same spot. A case in point is the Saugus train station appearing both in Charlie Chaplin’s The Pilgrim (1923), and later in the 1954 Frank Sinatra hostage-sniper drama Suddenly. Although the station still exists (relocated to a nearby park a few miles away), it was difficult finding vintage photos of the station in its original setting at the time I was writing about The Pilgrim for my Chaplin book. Thus, seeing the station documented so vividly in the Sinatra film was a revelation for visualizing how Charlie had used the same setting thirty years before Frank.

Chaplin beside the Saugus station, fully revealed in the Suddenly frame, and as it appears today at its new location. Color images by E. J. Stephens.

Charlie (left) runs beside the Saugus station, more fully revealed in the Suddenly frame, and as it appears today at its new location. Color images by E. J. Stephens.

Sniper Sinatra takes aim

Sniper Sinatra takes aim

The Southern Pacific Saugus Train Station was originally located on the east side of San Fernando Road, just south of Drayton Street in what is now called Santa Clarita, a few miles east of the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park, about 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Henry Newhall named the station after the Massachusetts town “Saugus” where his father was born. The station was dedicated in by California Governor Washington Bartlett and Southern Pacific president David D. Colton.  I write in my book that the dedication took place September 1, 1887, while historian John Sweetser posts at the Santa Clarita Valley history site SVCHistory.com that the opening was reported in the June 22, 1888 Los Angeles Daily Herald.

The station as it appears in Suddenly and at its new home. E. J. Stephens.

The station as it appears in Suddenly and at its new home. E. J. Stephens.

The depot was saved from demolition in 1980 when it was relocated three miles south to the Heritage Junction Historic Park, operated by the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, at 24107 San Fernando Road in Newhall. The park sits adjacent to the William S. Hart Regional Park, containing the former ranch and mansion of the famed silent film cowboy and movie director. The Saugus station (at its new setting) appeared more recently in The Grifters (1989) starring Angelica Huston, Annette Bening, and John Cusack. The station’s placement in its new setting now makes the “front” of the station less accessible than the back.

Arriving trains - 1923 and 1954

Arriving trains – 1923 and 1954

Pilgrim 16aaaAs I explain in my book, Chaplin continued filming The Pilgrim in Pasadena, using both the Raymond Station (left), and the Raymond depot – part of the Raymond Hotel (right), both lost to history. You can Pilgrim 14read more about the filming of Suddenly in Saugus in Robby Cress’s entertaining and remarkably broad-ranged movie and television location blog Dear Old Hollywood.

Charlie cools his heels near where Sterling Hayden converses with a group of Secret Service agents.

Charlie cools his heels near where Sterling Hayden converses with a group of Secret Service agents.

My thanks to E. J. Stephens, noted Hollywood historian, author, lecturer and tour guide, and co-host, with Bill West, of the SCVTV movie series “SCV In the Movies,” for providing the color photos.  You can find E. J.’s books about early Warner Bros, early Paramount Studios, and Griffith Park, at this link.

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.  Suddenly (C) 1954 Libra Productions, Inc.

The Saugus station at its new home, 24107 San Fernando Road in Newhall.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Film Noir, The Pilgrim | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Groucho, Buster, and Noir – at the Pasadena Jewett Estate

Buster Keaton beside the Jewett Estate gate in Cops.

Buster Keaton beside the Jewett estate gate in Cops (1922).

1145 Arden Road  03From Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers, to noir classics and the 1980s soap opera Dynasty, the lavish Jewett estate located at 1145 Arden Road in Pasadena has portrayed cinematic wealth and grandeur for nearly a century. Designed by architects Sylvanus Marston & Garrett Van Pelt, and completed in 1915, the Palladian-style villa was once set amidst vast gardens adorned with Italian sculptures and fountains, and remains accessed from a gated entry along a 100-foot-long driveway.

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Matching views of the main entrance and driveway turnaround in the twisted film noir murder classic Born to Kill (1947), starring Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney (top), and in the William Haines – Joan Crawford 1927 comedy-romance Spring Fever. Notice the tree stands towards the south edge of the turnaround.

The estate’s imposing formal gate, appearing during the opening scenes of Buster Keaton’s most famous short film Cops (see above and below), was one of the first location discoveries I ever made. The thrill of visiting that spot in person, and appreciating, beyond the narrow view captured on film, the full 360 degree environment Keaton and his crew experienced when shooting the scene, inspired me to delve more deeply into Buster’s work, and ultimately lead to my first book.

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The gate on Arden Road appearing in Spring Fever (left) compared with Buster in Cops. Shown below, visual clues from Spring Fever help identify scenes from the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup.

Duck Soup 23I first read the Marx Brothers’ political satire Duck Soup (1933) was filmed at the estate in Leon Smith’s film location book Hollywood Goes On Location (1993). The estate lost many formal gardens north of the house when the property was Jewett Estate Through the Ages Magazine Vol 4 No 3 July 1926 pp 22-29  01subdivided (including its original 1201 address), but two popular filming spots appearing with Groucho, the long formal lily pond south of the home (see view, left, looking north towards the home), and the driveway turnaround beside the home entrance, anchored by a massive oak tree, shown above, remain prominent features of the estate.

Groucho and Margaret Dumont, looking south along the lily pond.

From Duck Soup, Groucho and Margaret Dumont, looking south along the formal Lily Pool.

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These detailed views reveal the elaborate circular arbor that stood behind Groucho at the south end of the Lily Pool.  I am unable to determine whether the arbor remains today.

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A modern swimming pool has been installed immediately south of the home where this carved circular lawn ornament once stood.  The view left looks north towards the home, the views to the right, Duck Soup above, and Spring Fever below, look south down the extant Lily Pool.

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From Duck Soup, left, the assembled guests stand at attention awaiting the entrance of Freedonia President Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho), filmed looking north along the formal row of trees that once stood north of the home. The images from Spring Fever, at right, show a similar view (top), and an opposing view looking south from the north garden towards the north end of the home.  Note the Cupid fountain in the lower right.

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Groucho surprises the awaiting guests by making his entrance from the side. The fountain behind him appears identical to the fountain in the Spring Fever frame (left). The estate had several rectangular formal gardens standing north of the home, so Groucho could have filmed elsewhere beside a similar fountain. Otherwise, Groucho likely followed the arrow pointing east in each image. The original gardens north of the home were lost when the estate was subdivided.

Duck Soup 15During one running gag in Duck Soup Groucho is left behind each time Harpo picks him up with a motorcycle sidecar.  For this version of the joke Groucho attempts to outsmart Harpo by sitting on the motorbike instead, Born to Kill 01but even then Harpo prevails, as this time the sidecar drives away, once again leaving Groucho stranded. We know from movies such as Born to Kill and Spring Fever (and confirmed by modern aerial views) that the massive oak tree standing in the driveway turnaround is sf01situated off center, near the south end of the turnaround.  Thus, this view of Harpo fleeing Groucho (left) was filmed at the turnaround looking north.  This landmark tree still guards the home, and is visible from the front gate (see below).

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Matching views looking north towards the driveway turnaround oak tree still standing today.

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As Groucho watches Harpo drive away, looking south along the driveway from the turnaround behind Groucho, a gate tower (oval) appears in the distance, matching the gate tower from Cops (inset).

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Spring Fever/Born To Kill

According to the Los Angeles Times, the original owner William Kennon Jewett was heir to a railroad fortune in Ohio and struck it rich as head of a gold mine in Colorado.  In 2005 the Times reported the 13,498-square-foot house, with nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, nine fireplaces, and an elevator, was listed for sale at $14.5 million.  The estate appears in many early films, including Ann Harding’s Paris Bound (1929) and the sole Amos ‘n Andy feature film Check and Double Check (1930).  As reported in the LA Times, the Mae West feature Goin’ To Town (1935), the long-running prime time soap opera Dynasty, and recent televisions shows such as CSI: Miami, and major films such as Gods and Monsters (1998) and Terms of Endearment (1983), were also filmed at the estate.

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Click to enlarge – looking south at the Jewett estate today, with Cops at top, Duck Soup middle left and right, Spring Fever lower left, and Born to Kill lower right.  All views are oriented properly to the aerial photo, except for the Cops gate which was filmed from the street looking towards the home. The north garden in the Spring Fever frame has been lost to subdivision at the bottom edge. (C) 2015 Microsoft Corporation Pictometry Bird’s Eye (C) 2015 Pictometry International Corp.

The Jewett estate was one of thousands of stately homes, churches, and country clubs, ranging from Burlingame to San Diego, listed in the 1920s-1950s with the Assistance League Film Location Bureau, a charitable organization founded by Mrs. Hancock Banning that rented lavish locations for use by movie studios.  The participating owners allowed filming on their property in exchange for rental fees paid by the studios, that were in turn donated to the Assistance League’s charitable causes.  The win-win arrangement allowed the wealthy to support charity without spending a dime, while saving the studios the tremendous cost of building sets in lieu of filming at true locations.  Mrs. Lee Fay Turner ran the bureau from at least 1929 to 1951.  While further details about this group’s history await discovery, apparently the bureau assisted, for example, with renting locations used for the 1937 production of A Star is Born.

While Buster would later work with the Marx Brothers as a gag writer for M-G-M, I wonder if they ever realized they had both filmed at the Jewett Estate.

While Buster would later work with the Marx Brothers as a gag writer at M-G-M, I wonder if they ever realized they had both once filmed at the Jewett Estate.

Vintage photos Architectural Record Vol. 52, page 34, 1922, and Through the Ages Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 3 July 1926, pp. 22-29.

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Charlie Chaplin City Lights Tour – Author Presentation

2013-09-20_05-39-29-PMCityLightsAs part of the Los Angeles Conservancy Last Remaining Seats film series, on June 13, 2015 I will be introducing Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece City Lights at the spectacular Los Angeles Theater where the film premiered January 30, 1931.  Although the show is now sold out, I have prepared the attached self-guided written tour (see link below) to the many downtown and Wilshire Boulevard film locations appearing during the film that I will cover as part of my presentation.

Albert Einstein and Chaplin at the premiere

Albert Einstein and Chaplin at the premiere

The tour starts at the Los Angeles Theater at 615 S. Broadway, and covers many locations within steps of the theater before heading west along Wilshire Boulevard.  Unlike the gritty locations appearing during The Kid (1921), Chaplin sought out modern and urbane settings for City Lights.  Yet another example of how the varied streets of Los Angeles were used to set the right character and tone for the movies.  After the screening I will be signing copies of my Chaplin book Silent Traces.

Charlie Chaplin City Lights Film Location Tour – John Bengtson

You can read more new discoveries about City Lights and the Los Angeles Theater HERE.

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.

Posted in Chaplin Tour, Charlie Chaplin, City Lights, Los Angeles Historic Core | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Harold Lloyd’s Speedy – Five Fun Facts

Poster - Speedy_01This Saturday morning, May 30, Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd and I will be introducing Lloyd’s final silent comedy Speedy (1928) at the Castro Theater as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s 20th anniversary program. Live musical accompaniment will be provided by Rodney Sauer’s Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.  Here are five fun facts about the movie.

While most

While most “New York” based films contain only a few stock footage establishing shots, Lloyd filmed ALL OVER – from Hamilton Heights north, to the tip of Bowling Green south, as well as in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Coney Island.

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Lou Gehrig has a cameo DURING Babe Ruth’s cameo.  You can read more about Gehrig’s appearance HERE.

Speed (1928) looking south down Witmer towards the Mayfair Hotel (C) 2011 Google

Throughout the film Speedy cuts back and forth between scenes shot in New York and Los Angeles.  This view looks south down Witmer in Los Angeles towards the Mayfair Hotel.  This hotel appears in the 1950 film noir Edge of Doom and in the television series The Office.  (C) 2011 Google.

Buster Keaton (far left) and Al St. John rode the same Witching Waves ride during their short comedy Coney Island (1917) that Harold and Ann Christy rode ten years later filming Speedy

Buster Keaton (far left) and Al St. John rode the same Witching Waves ride at Luna Park during their Roscoe Arbuckle short comedy Coney Island (1917) that Harold and Ann Christy rode ten years later filming Speedy.

Lloyd built a huge New York backlot near Westwood (at back).  The lot stood adjacent to the Westwood Village Memorial Park, where many notables, including Marilyn Monroe, are buried.  A large Mormon temple was built in the backlot site in 1956.

Lloyd built a huge New York backlot (box) near Westwood Village (at back). The lot stood not far from the Westwood Village Memorial Park (dark vegetation left of center), where many notables, including Marilyn Monroe, are buried. A middle school and a large Mormon temple were built on the backlot site.

I’ve posted many other stories about Speedy (see the list HERE), and cover it thoroughly in my Harold Lloyd film locations book Silent Visions.  Here’s also a link to an online article I prepared for the Museum of the Moving Image in New York when I spoke there in 2011.  I’ll be available all this weekend to sign books at the festival.

227 - S2 the birdIn closing, here’s something you don’t see everyday – Harold extending the “digitus impudicus.”

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The Three On A Match – ‘G’ Men – Ann Dvorak connection

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The second Los Angeles High School, located on Fort Moore Hill, appearing in Three On A MatchUSC Digital Library.

Ann in 'G' Men

Ann in ‘G’ Men

This post comes with a shout-out to Christina Rice, Senior Librarian overseeing the invaluable Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection, and author of Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the wonderful biography about the spirited actress who played many standout roles during the early 30s at Warner Bros.  Although Ann does not grace any of the locations revealed here with her presence, her sympathetic portrayal of doomed characters in Three On A Match and ‘G’ Men provides the dramatic focus for both films. For more information about Ann visit Christina’s site http://www.anndvorak.com/.

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The playground scenes opening Three On A Match were filmed behind the second Los Angeles High School. The original wooden Los Angeles High School (standing in the left image directly above the arrow) was completed in 1873, and survived until it was demolished to make way for the Hollywood freeway.

Recently completed City Hall looms in the background during this playground scene from Three On A Match.  LAPL

Recently completed City Hall looms in the foreground (left) and in background (right) during this playground scene from Three On A Match. LAPL

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Three On A Match – Lyle Talbot abducts Ann’s son beside the famous arched bridge at Hollenbeck Park.

Ann’s character in Three On A Match abandons her son and husband for a wild life of booze and drugs with a petty gambler.  Ann’s friend, played by Bette Davis, take Ann’s son to the park, where Ann’s boyfriend kidnaps the child hoping to raise emergency cash to pay off his gambling debts. The harrowing scene was filmed at Hollenbeck Park, where many classic comedy films were staged, including Harold Lloyd’s Haunted Spooks and Girl Shy, Snub Pollard’s It’s A Gift, and the Laurel and Hardy favorite Men O’ War. Years later, the park hosted an elaborate song and dance number for the 1957 Doris Day musical The Pajama Game.

Bette Davis watches over Ann's son as the former 6th Street Bridge straddling Hollenbeck Park appears at back.  Below, a panoramic view of the park, looking south towards the bridge, from Laurel & Hardy's Men O' War and Harold Lloyd's Girl Shy.

Bette Davis watches over Ann’s son as the former 6th Street Bridge spanning Hollenbeck Park appears at back. Below, a panoramic view of the park, looking south towards the bridge, from Laurel & Hardy’s Men O’ War and Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy.

Views of the former 6th Street Bridge from Three On A Match and The Pajama Game.

Views of the former 6th Street Bridge from Three On A Match and The Pajama Game (Doris Day at far right).

Ann holds her own with James Cagney in 'G' Men.

Ann holds her own with James Cagney in ‘G’ Men.

I’ve already covered many film connections between Ann’s next film ‘G’ Men and Buster Keaton’s One Week (see post describing the machine gun car chases staged in Inglewood HERE). But ‘G’ Men contains several other classic locations as well.

'G' Men night scene staged at the former Southern Pacific depot at 5th and Central. USC Digital Library.

‘G’ Men night scene staged at the former Southern Pacific depot at 5th and Central. USC Digital Library.

During ‘G’ Men thugs rescue gangster Danny Leggett (portrayed by Edward Pawley) by staging a dramatic nighttime gun battle with the authorities in front of the former Southern Pacific depot. (A prior post devoted solely to the depot shows how Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, and Stan Laurel all filmed early silent comedies at this spot.)

Views of the depot lobby. USC Digital Library.

‘G’ Men – Edward Pawley is led in handcuffs from the Southern Pacific depot lobby – interior view at right. USC Digital Library.

This view below shows Edward Pawley’s train arriving at the back of the Southern Pacific Depot.  The many awnings depicted here obstruct the view – so some films, such as Harold Lloyd’s Girl Shy, would show trains arriving behind the Santa Fe depot, and yet show the passengers leaving from the front of the Southern Pacific depot a few blocks away!

USC Digital Library.

Views from behind the Southern Pacific depot – at night during ‘G’ Men, in daylight from Our Modern Maidens (1929). USC Digital Library.

The 'G' Men gunfight was staged north of the depot lobby. USC Digital Library.

The ‘G’ Men gunfight was staged on Central Avenue north of the depot lobby. USC Digital Library.

Later in ‘G’ Men, Edward Pawley is led out from the south entrance to the Hall of Justice, providing a remarkable vintage view of the one-time downtown cityscape.  To the left stands the former Federal Building and Post Office (P) at Temple and Main, while the right reveals the side of the former International Bank Building (B).

The view from the Hall of Justice appearing in 'G' Men. Marc Wanamaker - Bison Archives.

The view from the Hall of Justice appearing in ‘G’ Men. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Below, another view showing where Edward Pawley is led from the Hall of Justice during ‘G’ Men.

Looking east toward the Hall of Justice south entrance, and the former post office (P) and bank (B).  USC Digital Library.

Looking east toward the Hall of Justice south entrance, and the former Federal Building and Post Office (P) and bank (B). USC Digital Library.

Matching views looking south from the Hall of Justice towards the post office (P), the International Bank Building (B), and City Hall. USC Digital Library.

Matching views looking south from the Hall of Justice towards the Federal Building and Post Office (P), the International Bank Building (B), and to the right, City Hall. USC Digital Library.

A closing comparison shot of the International Bank Building (B) as it appeared during Bill Strother's real-life climb staged for Safety Last!, and a view looking up Temple at the former Post Office building.  USC Digital Library.

Closer comparison views of the International Bank Building (B) looking west from Temple as it appeared during Bill Strother’s real-life climb staged for Safety Last!, and a view looking up Temple from Main Street at the former Federal Building and Post Office (P). USC Digital Library.

Three On A Match and ‘G’ Men copyright Warner Bros.

The restored and recently re-opened Hall of Justice.

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The Three Stooges, Birth of a Nation, Forest Lawn Trees

BOAN tree study_Page_12

Looking east from Warner Bros. towards the Lasky Ranch. LAPL.

Click to enlarge. Looking east from Warner Bros. towards the Lasky Ranch. LAPL.

The former Lasky Ranch, bordering Griffith Park near Burbank, and future site of the Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Memorial Park which opened in 1952, is steeped in movie history.  Once part of the Spanish-era Rancho Providencia, the Lasky Ranch was used for more than three decades as a filming location for scores of Hollywood productions.  As documented in my book Silent Visions, Harold Lloyd filmed his “rural” comedy The Kid Brother there in 1927, while Rudolph Valentino filmed exteriors for both Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Blood and Sand (1922) at the ranch (see below).

Playing the Ponies 09As shown here, the ranch also appears in an unlikely pair of films, D.W. Griffith’s monumental yet incredibly racist Civil War epic The Birth of A Nation (1915), and the Three Stooges comedy short Playing The Ponies (1937).  Several massive ancient oak trees that witnessed both productions are still standing today.

Looking east at the battle field from The Birth of A Nation.  John Hillman.

Looking east at the battle field from The Birth of A Nation.  Trees N1 and 3 above are still standing. John Hillman SilentCinema.com.

It is well-documented that Griffith staged the Civil War battlefield sequences from The Birth of A Nation at the Lasky Ranch.  Above, by stitching together a production still from the movie, and test footage of the battlefield, both looking east, a prominent group of trees (the BOAN group) appears to the south (right) side of the field, consisting of a near tree (N1), a far tree immediately behind it (F2), a small tree standing where the two images overlap (S), and tree 3 and tree 4.  Also visible are two hills, H1 and H2, and a path running between them.

Click to enlarge.  Marc Wanamaker - Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge.  Notice the BOAN group of trees (yellow oval), and the distinctive trio of trees (orange oval) . Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

This circa 1922 view above looks east, showing the field of view (yellow lines) of the BOAN battlefield images above, and the dirt path between hills H1 and H2. The blue line marks the Los Angeles River.  Beyond the hills lies a clever bullring set from Rudolph Valentino’s Blood and Sand (see below).

The bullring set from Blood and Sand.

The bullring set from Blood and Sand. Only a 1/16th slice was needed to capture the shots.

The aerial image below, looking south at the Lasky Ranch, references the Three Stooges in Playing The Ponies.

Marc Wanamaker - Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge. Looking south at the Lasky Ranch. The yellow oval marks the BOAN tree group; the orange oval marks the nearby trio.  Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

The aerial view above looks south towards the Lasky Ranch horse race track and the same path and hills H1 and H2 discussed above.  The inset image of Curly, Larry, and Moe reveals trees 4 and 3, part of the BOAN tree group (yellow oval).

Looking west, as Curly's stunt double runs beside the BOAN group of trees (yellow) and the trio (orange).

Looking west, as Curly’s stunt double runs past the BOAN tree group (yellow) and the trio (orange).

Looking east at the rack track, and the BOAN group of trees (yellow) and trio (orange).  USC Digital Library.

Looking east at the rack track, and the BOAN tree group (yellow) and trio (orange). USC Digital Library.

Below, more views looking west at trees 4 and 3, part of the BOAN tree group.

Two views west towards trees 4 and 3, part of the BOAN group.

Two views west towards trees 4 and 3, part of the BOAN tree group.

If you’re not overloaded yet, the following steps in my analysis are even more technical, so hold on, or you can just take my word and skip to the end.  :)   To begin, let’s take another look at the BOAN tree group (below).

This image from Playing The Ponies provides a rare view west at the BOAN tree group.

This image from Playing The Ponies provides a rare view west at the BOAN tree group.  We’ll return to this image later.

Next, the image below shows how the Lasky Ranch was heavily graded while being converted into a cemetery, removing or changing many landmarks.  Hills H1 and H2 were lowered (to accommodate more burial plots), and the battlefield was scraped flat.

Marc Wanamaker - Bison Archives.

Looking south. The battle field area from The Birth of A Nation was heavily graded (wavy lines) to provide for more burial plots. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Trees F2 and S from the BOAN tree group were lost during the Forest Lawn conversion.  Hundreds of pine trees, now 60 years old, were later planted among the sturdy native oaks to complete the landscaping.

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Detail from above. Due to the grading of the battlefield site, trees F2 and S of the BOAN group (yellow) were removed. The trio (orange) was left alone.

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Click to enlarge – trees N1 and 3.

There remain today at Forest Lawn several massive oak trees, standing among smaller second and third generation oaks, and dozens of pine trees, now 60 years old, that were planted in the 1950s as part of the cemetery landscaping.  These massive oak trees must include those that appear during The Birth of A Nation, and Playing The Ponies – but how can we be sure which is which? By using logic, aerial views from Google Maps, and studying the candidate trees in person, I am convinced that trees N1 and 3, appearing in both films, are the two trees identified at left.

How do we know which tree is which?

How can we know the answer? By accounting for each tree. (C) Google.

By visiting Forest Lawn in person, it quickly became evident which tree is which.  First, many trees in the above aerial view are pine trees, planted 60 years ago, and thus were not present during the filming.  Next, there are a few scattered, small oak trees that represent second or third generation young growth. Then there are three massive oak trees that line up in position with the original trio of trees (orange oval).  Likewise, we know trees F2 and S of the BOAN group were lost during the conversion.  If we assume that the smaller tree 4, which stood away from the BOAN group, was sacrificed to make way for more burial plots, then the two massive trees standing south of the trio must be the surviving trees N1 and 3.  Since there are no other massive oak tree candidates from which to choose, these two trees must be the ones to appear in The Birth of A Nation.

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This reverse detail from Playing The Ponies shows that tree N1 has many trunks, and tree 3 is more “Y” shaped.

As further collaboration, the black and white image above comes from that detailed west-looking image appearing in Playing the Ponies.  While the original view looks west, to aid with comparison I flipped the image to approximate how it would appear when looking east.  With this visual approximation, we would expect tree N1 to have many dense trunks, and would expect tree 3 to be somewhat “Y” shaped.  When viewed in person, trees N1 and 3 are both consistent with this expectation.

The vintage trees plotted in Photoshop over a modern view.

My friend “Skip” plotted the tree positions from the vintage photo as circles in Photoshop over a modern view.

Then and Now - 100 years apart.

Then and Now – 100 years apart.

Trees N1 and 3 were already massive and old during the production of The Birth of A Nation one hundred years ago.  Today they stand as silent witnesses to a century of movie history.

Playing The Ponies Copyright 1937 Columbia Pictures Corporation of Cal. Ltd.

View of the BOAN trees at Forest Lawn.

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