W.C. Fields Running Wild in New York

Having studied the new Blu-ray release of W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks in It’s The Old Army Game (1926) (with more posts to come), let’s focus on the beautiful Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of Fields’ Running Wild (1927), another wonderful comedy loaded with visual history, this time filmed in Astoria, Queens. Fields plays a meek shipping clerk, a widower cherished by his adult daughter, but cruelly mistreated by his second wife and step-son. When accidentally hypnotized, Fields roars to life, rightfully asserting himself the master at both work and at home. The movie was filmed at the Paramount Astoria Studios on 35th Avenue and 35th Street, with many exteriors filmed within a block or two of the studio.

Looking north – three of many scenes staged close to the studio (large arched roof). Fields’ house (upper right) stands at 32-62 35th Street, while Fields walks to work (middle) along the corner opposite from the studio. Roaring with confidence, Fields drives east (lower left) along 35th Avenue from 33rd Street towards the studio. (C) 2018 Microsoft

Above, scenes from throughout the movie were all filmed close to the studio.

Meek and superstitious, Fields walks to work, careful to avoid stepping on any cracks, and later dodging a ladder set up on the sidewalk.

Walking to work, carefully not stepping on cracks or beneath a ladder.

These early scenes above were filmed walking east along 35th Avenue towards the SW corner of 35th Street, with the studio standing on the opposite NE corner.

Afraid to cross the street, Fields pauses beside some school kids at the NE corner of 36th Ave and 34th St.

A cop holds back traffic, the view looks SE down 36th Ave from 34th St towards the intersection of 35th St at back.

Fields and the children cross 34th St under the policeman’s watchful gaze.

Safely reaching the NW corner of 36th Ave and 34th St, Fields continues on his way to work.

Later in the film, Fields flees for his life from an infuriated shopkeeper, turning the NE corner of the Astoria Studio at 35th Ave and 35th Street.

Fields seeks refuge in a handy doorway, leading to the backstage of a theatrical hypnotist act already in progress. The doorway at 34-31 (or so) 35th St, flanked by windows on both sides, is now the side entrance to the Kaufman Astoria Studios.

Fields responds so aggressively to the hypnotic suggestion that he is a lion that he knocks out the hypnotist and flees the stage before the spell can be undone.

King of the World – Fields zooms east along 35th Ave with the 31st St elevated tracks and matching buildings east from 32nd St behind him.

This POV shot looks east down 35th Ave approaching the intersection of 34th St.

Traveling a bit further east, the NW corner building at 35th Ave and 33rd St appears at back.

Modern views of the studio front entrance, at left, and the twin apartments, at right.

As Fields races along 35th Ave towards the studio, the two story studio laboratory building appears to the far left, with the studio formal front entrance columns further at back. The arrow in this 1921 photo (Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives) shows Fields’ walking path above avoiding the sidewalk cracks – the apartment in that scene would be built on the foreground vacant lot.

The POV shot at left includes the twin apartments between 34th and 35th Streets, where Fields walks to work avoiding the sidewalk cracks.

Switching perspective, Fields drives west towards the SE corner of 35th Ave and 35th St, then along the same sidewalk, and towards the same ladder, that Fields encountered on foot earlier in the film. The corner drug store was fittingly named the “Studio Pharmacy.”

This shot was staged a bit further afield, the NW corner of 31st Ave and 34th St.

A view of Fields’ house, to the left at 32-62 35th St, one block north of the studio, moments before he slams his car into the tree out front. Though the three homes have all been modernized, their proportions and configuration remain the same, especially the stone porch of the middle house. I found this spot by dumb luck. On a whim I decided to check for homes near the studio, and found this almost immediately.

Although snapped from his hypnotic trance, Fields retains his swagger, and the film ends as he chases his terrified step-son up the street.

A careful analysis of the 1927 view above, and the matching Google Street View 90 years later below, reveals numerous unique details appearing in both images. I live in California, and may never visit this spot in person, yet thanks to the internet it’s possible to confirm vintage and remote locations by simply working from a computer.

At left, here’s one location from Fields’ race home that I have not been able to identify. Presumably it too is close to the studio, if still standing. Likewise, these scenes of Fields at the right may have been filmed against one of the studio buildings. Notice the corridor bridge crossing above a downgrade drive. Although the doorway at right reads “14th Precinct,” the true 14th had a 229 W 123rd address, conflicting with the “452” address appearing in another shot. Since the “Harvey & Co.” sign is a prop for a fictitious company, the precinct sign is likely a prop too.

Bonus: the back end of the 36th St side of the studio (1929 photo (Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives) appears during a New York scene from Fields’ earlier silent comedy It’s The Old Army Game). I already have 4 posts about It’s The Old Army Game, filmed with Louise Brooks in Ocala and Palm Beach Florida, and will soon issue a final post about the filming in Ocala, and a bonus post about the scenes filmed in New York, where W.C. Fields crossed paths with Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd (who knew?)

Check out Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Fields’ Running Wild.

Below, the Kaufman Astoria Studios today.

 

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It’s The Old Army Game – W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks in Ocala Florida – Part Two – Louise Strolls Around Town

This next post about the wonderful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of It’s The Old Army Game is authored mostly by noted Louise Brooks author and expert Thomas Gladysz, with (my comments) limited to the Ocala Florida historic settings appearing in the film. Take it away Thomas! +    +     +

Released by Famous Players-Lasky in May of 1926, It’s the Old Army Game is a comedy about a befuddled, small town druggist, played by W.C. Fields, who gets involved with a real estate scam. Louise Brooks, on the verge of stardom, plays the druggist’s assistant.

Clarence Badger was originally assigned to direct, but the film was soon turned over to Edward Sutherland, a onetime actor and Keystone Cop who began his directing career just a few years before with the help of Charlie Chaplin. The film was announced, at first, as starring Fields and future “It girl” Clara Bow, but as she was needed on the West Coast to shoot Mantrap (1926), the female lead fell to Brooks. Just nineteen-years old, the film was Brooks’ fourth; it reunited her with the 47 year old Fields, who was starring in his first Paramount film under a new contract. By all accounts, Fields and Brooks were fond of one another, having worked together the year before in the Ziegfeld Follies. In Lulu in Hollywood, Brooks mentions that the two would sometimes hang out together in Fields’ dressing room, and sometimes shared a drink.

It’s the Old Army Game was in production in February and March of 1926. Aside from interiors shot at Paramount’s Astoria Studios on Long Island and a few scenes at the end of the film shot in Manhattan, a fair amount of It’s the Old Army Game was shot in and around Ocala and Palm Beach, Florida. Though Paramount had made other movies in Ocala – including scenes for the earlier Brooks’ film, The American Venus – the small Florida town was more than just an amenable southern location. It fact, it was pivotal to the story told in It’s the Old Army Game. At the time, there was a Florida real estate boom, and many a northerner was duped into buying Florida lots. It’s the Old Army Game reverses the scam, and has gullible Floridians duped into buying New York lots.

Ocala Florida, looking north, with Fields’ drug store (star) still standing at the SW corner of Main (now 1st) and Broadway. The point of view (POV) directional arrows match the many shooting angles, color highlights below. The scenes where Louise and William Gaxton follow each other include the former train station, library, fire station, and city hall, filmed east-west along Broadway and north-south along Main (now 1st).

Though not especially well known today, It’s the Old Army Game is a pivotal film in career of W.C. Fields. It was the first in which he enjoyed top billing, and the first in which he had substantial input. Based on a story by J. P. McEvoy and scripted by Thomas J. Geraghty and J. Clarkson Miller, the film incorporated material from Fields’ 1924 stage show, The Comic Supplement, as well as portions of Fields’ act from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1925.  Fields’ silent films, which include So’s Your Old Man (1926), Two Flaming Youths (1927), and the recent Kino Lorber release Running Wild (1927), can be seen as a kind of warm-up for Fields’ iconic body of work from the 1930s. Notably, material from the Follies as well as It’s the Old Army Game were reworked in what is widely considered Fields’ best sound feature, It’s a Gift (1934).

It’s the Old Army Game is also an important film in Brooks’ career. Though it was only the third for which she received a screen credit, critics were already taking notice of the up-and-comer with a short bob. Exhibitor’s Herald stated, “Louise Brooks is the other important person in the picture and, as insinuated rather bluntly on the occasion of her first appearance — in The American Venus — she’s important. Miss Brooks isn’t like anybody else. Nor has she a distinguishing characteristic which may be singled out for purposes of identification. She’s just a very definite personality. She doesn’t do much, perhaps because there isn’t much to do but probably because she hits hardest when doing nothing, but nobody looks away when she’s on screen. If Miss Glyn should say that Miss Brooks has ‘it,’ more people would know what Miss Glyn is raving about. But in that case she would not be raving.”

(Picking up from Part One, it’s love at first sight when William Gaxton arrives in town, spying Louise inside the Atlantic Coast Line Railway passenger station, that stood a block east of the city square. Behind him appears the west end of the Ocala library across the street – the end facing to the right in this post card.)

(Louise glances back flirtatiously at William before fleeing the station, then strides east along Broadway from Main (now 1st), hoping he’ll follow her. The sidewalk scale behind her appears both in an earlier scene from the first post, and here further behind Fields as he flees a mob later on in the film. The window right of the scale reflects the former court house.)

(Louise travels east along Broadway, a confused Gaxton seeks out her trail.) William Gaxton plays William Parker, Brooks’ love interest and the President of the High-and-Dry Realty Company. Born in San Francisco as Arturo Antonio Gaxiola, Gaxton worked mostly on stage, finding his greatest success in George Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing (1933) and other Broadway musicals during the 1930s and 1940s.

(The distinctive porch entrance of the Hotel Hoffman appears in the background, placing this scene looking east down Broadway at Osceola, the train station off camera to the left. The train tracks running left-right behind Louise continue to run along Osceola today. At back to the right of Louise is a side view of city hall, discussed in the prior post.)

(Louise stands looking east from the corner of the Merchants Block built in 1892. The vintage views look west towards her spot – the yellow box matches the stone and brick details in her movie frame.)

In Lulu in Hollywood, Brooks recounts what an entertaining person Gaxton was off camera, and how funny he was when he read aloud from Gentleman Prefer Blondes when the company wasn’t working or drinking; Brooks also speculates that Gaxton was bitter about what he regarded as his failure as an actor in It’s the Old Army Game — his first film, and role he thought would launch his film career. (Gaxton searches for Louise in front of the former Ocala House hotel, looking north to the corner of Silver Springs Blvd.)

(Four of the five buildings north of Silver Springs Blvd. appear in the film – the center vintage building (box) has been remodeled and expanded.)

(Gaxton searches for Louise in front of the distinctive brick porch of the former Ocala House hotel.)

(Louise searches for William, turning right from Silver Springs north onto Main (now 1st). Despite the modern shades the corner building appears to be relatively unchanged.)

(Louis pauses by a magazine stand on Main south of Broadway, that appears later when Fields believes he’s being chased by a mob. Notice the matching “EAT” sign behind Louise and above Fields’ hat in the shots looking south. The numerous vintage magazines are identified in this prior post.

It’s the Old Army Game is notable for another reason. Brooks married its director, Eddie Sutherland, in July of 1926, as the film was opening across the United States. Their marriage, and the fact that he was the director and she a star of It’s the Old Army Game made news just about everywhere. (The union was short-lived; news of their divorce announced here in Variety April 24, 1928.) Also notable is the fact that among the supporting players was Sutherland’s Aunt, the stage actress Blanche Ring. In this, one of her rare film appearances, Ring plays Tessie Gilch, who Brooks’ character refers to as her “Aunt.” Tessie is smitten with Fields, and early on asks him to remove something in her eye. [Ring’s sister was Frances Ring, who was married to Thomas Meighan, a rugged leading man and Paramount film star who appeared with Brooks in The City Gone Wild (1927).]

(A female clerk stops William to make a sales pitch and Louise assumes the worst. The magazine rack to the far left appears in the prior scene (red box), with other vintage magazines, including the April 1926 McCall’s, hanging center from the doorway.)

(Louise fumes at William and the female clerk  – we’re looking south down Main (now 1st) from Silver Springs Blvd. towards Fields’ corner drug store – will love prevail?)

Paramount was taking a bit of a chance on Fields, a Vaudeville actor, who despite his stage renown on the East Coast, was still a little known talent in the movies. After screening the film, one theater manager in Ohio wrote “… the name Fields, so far, means nothing in the small town,” while a Kansas manager stated “Back to the stage for this guy. He is terrible.” One North Carolina manager opined, “I don’t see where Paramount found Fields, or why they continue to boost a star that will absolutely kill an exhibitor’s business.” Advertisements for the film tried to explain its unusual title (“meaning never give a sucker an even break”) and to suggest Fields and this film were a “new kind” of comedy.

Nevertheless, It’s the Old Army Game received good notices, but didn’t prove the box-office hit Paramount was looking for. In what was a typical review of the time, the Newark Star-Eagle stated, “This picture not only affords a good deal of typical Fields comedy in a suitable story frame, but also reveals the possibilities of Louise Brooks, Follies girl who is making decidedly good in the cinema. . . . All told, Fields need not regret his first Paramount production.”

(Did Louise and William patch things up? Of course.) In the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ward W. Marsh wrote, “Louise Brooks and William Gaxton carry what is generally known as the necessary love interest. Gaxton amounts to nothing, but Miss Brooks parades the personal magnetism to the limit, and late in the story is found wandering around in a bathing suit—for no sound reason except to display a form which assuredly needs not a bathing suit to set it off. There is no complaint, however, on the appearance in the bathing suit.”

(I’ll soon wrap up the visual history of W.C. Fields in Ocala, Florida in a third post, but as a break my next post will cover the many Astoria locations, see sample above, appearing in Fields’ Kino Lorber release Running Wild.)

(Check out my prior posts showing the disastrous family picnic sequence filmed in Palm Beach at El Mirasol, the estate of Edward T. Stotesbury, above, and Part One that introduces Bill and Louise in Ocala, Florida.)

Thank you so much Thomas!

Thomas Gladysz is the author of the forthcoming Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star, as well as three earlier books on Brooks’ films. He is currently at work on The Films of Louise Brooks, a comprehensive study of the actress’ movie career. Here is a link to the Louise Brooks Society webpage on It’s the Old Army Game.

Read all about Louise at Thomas Gladysz’ Louise Brooks Society Blogspot.

Also a shout-out to Ben Model for performing the musical score – Ben’s Undercrank Productions has released numerous rare silent film titles on DVD, and to author James L. Neibaur for the audio commentary.

Photo sources: The State Library and Archives of Florida, Marion County Historical Photographs.

Looking north at the corner where Louise turns up the street.

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It’s The Old Army Game – W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks in Ocala Florida – Part One

If you love W.C Fields, Louise Brooks, silent comedy, or time-traveling via a beautiful vintage movie, you’ve got to get the wonderful new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of It’s The Old Army Game (1926). In only his sixth onscreen role, Fields plays a long-suffering pharmacist, similar to his embattled grocer character portrayed in It’s A Gift (1934), whom both endure nagging relatives and scores of thoughtless customers. Although there is no Carl La Fong, both films feature scenes of Fields attempting to sleep on a back porch, and disastrous family picnics errantly staged on the grounds of a private estate (here in Florida at El Mirasol in Palm Beach). Director Eddie Sutherland, who would marry Louise (briefly) shortly after the film’s premiere, points a loving camera her way, capturing dozens of shimmering close-ups in what proved to be her earliest surviving starring role.

Much of the film takes place beside the 1926 all-American town square centered in Ocala, Florida, where several buildings remain standing today. It was fun “decoding” a silent-era locale in another state, and having identified so many scenes, I’ll be presenting Ocala in three posts. The Point of View (POV) map below orients the camera angles for the opening scenes. [Bonus: Noted Louise Brooks author and expert Thomas Gladysz contributed to this post, and will take the lead role commenting in the next post about this special film.]

Ocala Florida, looking north, with Fields’ drug store (star) still standing at the SW corner of Main (now 1st) and Broadway. The point of view (POV) directional arrows match the many shooting angles, some colored as highlighted below. Early scenes include the former train station, library, fire station, and city hall. The action begins when late night customer Elise Cavanna speeds north around the corner of Magnolia onto Broadway (left arrow)

The movie begins with eccentric actress Elise Cavanna speeding into town in front of a locomotive, her first screen appearance. Gladysz writes that Cavanna started as a dancer and stage comedian before entering films in 1926, appearing in another Brooks’ film, Love Em and Leave Em (1926), as well as four other films with Fields, most notably The Dentist (1932), where her scenes as a writhing patient in a dentist chair were deemed so risqué they were edited out of later television broadcasts.

Looking SW, Elise turns right (east) from Magnolia onto Broadway. On the corner at back stands the First National Bank of Ocala building, built in 1886.

Eager to make a purchase, Elise races right to left along Broadway from Magnolia towards Fields’ corner drug store on Main (now 1st) – the corner store appears at the left edge of both vintage photos looking SW. The corner Holder’s Block building was built in 1885.

Elise arrives at the corner of Main (now 1st) and Broadway, once home to W.C. Field’s drug store, and now the popular Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille. Frantically she rings the night bell, waking Fields from his sleep.

These views all look to the NW – as Elise strides to the corner drug store, the former Marion County Court House in the central town square appears at back. What is she so desperate to purchase so late at night? A two cent stamp – that she doesn’t even pay for.

Three more views of the court house looking to the NW – here, later in the film, love interest William Gaxton is excited to spot Louise through the corner drug store window. The band stand visible in the post card was relocated between 1924 and 1930 (it appears on the 1924 Sanborn fire insurance map, but not on the 1930 map). Given the camera angles it may not have been present during the 1926 filming either. The restored bandstand now sits in the center of city square (left).

Elise seeks to post her letter, but misses the outbound mail train. This was filmed at the Atlantic Coast Line Railway passenger station that stood north-south a block east of the city square, on Osceola Avenue, still fitted with a rail line today. Notice the long awning, high on the side facing the trains and sloping low at back.

Two more scenes looking north up Osceola Avenue past the train station, when William Gaxton arrives in town, left, and when Fields returns from New York, right. The home at the right appears on the Sanborn maps.

Looking southeast at left, and due east at right, towards matching windows on the former city hall.

Elise fails to post her letter on the outbound train, her distraught reaction likely filmed looking SE from the station. Compare the window and tree details of Elise with this shot of Louise looking east towards city hall, and the red and yellow POV arrows on the map. Assuming the views match, then each provides a rare glimpse of the former Ocala city hall, for which I have found no historic photos.

Infuriated that Fields somehow delayed her letter, Elise seeks revenge by pulling the fire alarm in front of Fields’ shop. You can see the same men’s hat display (center) in the wide view of the shop (yellow box).

As shown on the map above, the clanging fire bell stood just a block east of Fields’ store.

This view looks north up Osceola towards the fire station standing a block due east of Fields’ store. You can see train tracks in the movie frame running up the street.

The fire engines arrive at the corner of Main (now 1st) and Broadway. The 1910s post card looks south down Main, and reveals the corner store once had a shed roof canopy similar to its neighbors.

Of course there is no fire, so to get rid of the pesky firemen seeking free ice cream sodas in the middle of the night, Fields sneaks out and pulls the fire alarm in front of the store due east of his store (blue POV arrow on map). Behind Fields, looking east to the far left, is a sidewalk scale that Louise Brooks saunters by later in the film, looking west back towards where Fields is standing.

With the firemen gone, Fields attempts to resume sleeping, this time on the back porch. The back porch from It’s A Gift was apparently a set built on the studio lot, while I sense this home could have been “real.”

The next morning, back at the train station a block east of the square, love interest William Gaxton arrives in town. He first glances Louise inside the station, and is immediately smitten. Behind him, as shown better below, is the original Ocala library.

This shot within the Ocala station shows the west end of the Ocala library across the street – the west end facing to the right in this post card.

Flirtatious, Louise glances back at William before fleeing the station, with William scrambling after her. In the next post we’ll see how Louise and William follow each other around town, all shot on just a few blocks adjacent to the town square. A third post will track Fields’ efforts to outrun a welcoming mob he thinks intends to do him harm following his return home from New York.

So stay tuned for future posts about filming in Ocala, and check out my prior posts showing the disastrous family picnic sequence filmed in Palm Beach at El Mirasol, the estate of Edward T. Stotesbury, above

and the numerous vintage magazines appearing onscreen with Louise Brooks during the production.

Thomas Gladysz is the author of the forthcoming Louise Brooks, the Persistent Star, as well as three earlier books on Brooks’ films. He is currently at work on The Films of Louise Brooks, a comprehensive study of the actress’ movie career. Here is a link to the Louise Brooks Society webpage on It’s the Old Army Game.

Read all about Louise at Thomas Gladysz’ Louise Brooks Society Blogspot.

Also a shout-out to Ben Model for performing the musical score – Ben’s Undercrank Productions has released numerous rare silent film titles on DVD, and to author James L. Neibaur for the audio commentary.

Photo sources: The State Library and Archives of Florida, Marion County Historical Photographs.

Below, W.C. Field’s drug store, now home to Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille.

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It’s The Old Army Game – W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks Bring Magazines to Life

The new Kino Lorber Blu-ray release of It’s The Old Army Game (1926) starring W.C. Fields and Louise Brooks is wonderful; an entertaining comedy, a beautiful print, lovingly staged close-ups of Louise, and dozens of time travel moments filmed on location in Ocala, Florida, to be covered in a later post.

One captivating detail appears twice during the film – a book store’s sidewalk magazine display, loaded with March and April 1926 issues of popular magazines. Above, Louise pretends to glance through a Redbook while keeping an eye on her love interest played by William Gaxton. Later Fields runs past the same stand, momentarily providing a direct view of its contents.

Zooming in, the top row of the magazine stand (above) displays the March 13, 1926 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, the March issues of The Ladies Home Journal and Good Housekeeping, and April issues of Redbook and Cosmopolitan. Also, represented by a June 1926 issue, is either the March or April 1926 issue of Field & Stream.

The next row features the March 1926 issues of Harper’s Bazar and Radio Review, and the April 1926 issue of Popular Science. The March or April issue of the Florida travel magazine Suniland is represented by the October 1926 issue. That’s another Good Housekeeping peeking left of the Popular Science.

The bottom row of the stand displays the April 1926 issue of Popular Mechanics and March 1926 issue of American.

There are so many scenes filmed in Ocala that I will cover them in a later post, but if you can’t wait to see some other early Florida locations, check out my prior post showing how the disastrous family picnic sequence was filmed in Palm Beach at El Mirasol, the estate of Edward T. Stotesbury.

It’s The Old Army Game shows us, once again, the rich visual history hidden in the background of silent films. Stay tuned for a detailed account of Fields and Brooks filming on location in Ocala, Florida.

Read all about Louise at Thomas Gladysz’ Louise Brooks Society Blogspot.

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New Buster Keaton Self-Guided Tours

The Buster Keaton June 15-17 Celebration Weekend was a huge success, and the site of Buster’s former studio (where Chaplin also filmed his Mutual shorts) is now graced with a beautiful commemorative plaque. As part of the long weekend, I led

several updated walking tours along Cahuenga and Cosmo, where Keaton filmed eight different movies, and a new tour around the Keaton Studio site.

You can download the updated Hollywood tour PDF here. Hollywood’s Silent Echoes Cahuenga Tour 2018.

Here is the new PDF tour of Keaton’s studio site. BK Weekend Studio Tour Guide 2018 – Bengtson.

Below is a nicely edited video of one of the Keaton studio tours, posted by Ken Mitchroney, covering many sites on the PDF tour – thank you so much Ken.

 

Many people worked very long and hard to make this weekend such a success, including Alek Lev, Bob Borgen, Patty Tobias, Beth Pedersen, and Vicki Smith, all officers of the International Buster Keaton Society. I also want to thank the volunteers who assisted with my tours, Binnie Brennan, Connie Sanocki, and Charlie Pecoraro. Thanks also to Quixote Studios, the site of the former Keaton Studio, that graciously supplied the chairs, tables, shade tents, and related equipment for the dedication ceremony.

If any readers participated on either tour, and took some photos they can share, I would very much appreciate hearing from you.

Last, I was honored to be one of the speakers at the dedication ceremony. Here is the text of my brief speech:

“Buster Keaton knew the streets of LA like the back of his hand. He’d travel everywhere to find just the right setting for a joke, and he often matched scenes that were filmed miles apart. Though he was particular as a filmmaker, he was also pragmatic. As some of you have already seen today, he conveniently filmed dozens of scenes right here in his home studio neighborhood.

There are echoes of Buster everywhere you look. Right at this corner, Buster walked into a street sign, knocking himself down, in Convict 13. He crossed the street here following Ward Crane in Sherlock Jr. And while doing a stunt for another actor, in Sherlock Jr. he also fell off the back of a motorcycle right in this intersection behind you.

And let’s not forget that over 100 years ago Charlie Chaplin spent perhaps the happiest years of his career filming 12 comedy shorts for the Mutual Company, right here at the same studio. So in this same intersection behind you, Charlie and a group of firemen once chased each other making The Fireman in 1916.

Hollywood was still an agricultural community when the studio was built here in 1914. The former Cahuenga Valley Lemon Growers warehouse stood right across the street. You can actually see stacks of lemon crates appearing in a couple of Buster’s early films. Can you imagine, Buster inhaled the fragrance of lemons while working here!

Keaton liked to film close to home. He filmed three movies a block over from here at Santa Monica and Vine. And just a bit further north, Keaton filmed scenes for EIGHT different movies on just one block of Cahuenga. As some of you saw this morning, there remains there an alley where Chaplin filmed The Kid, Keaton filmed Cops, and Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last! So at this one alley, the Three Kings of Silent Comedy each filmed an iconic masterpiece, each movie has been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress – and you can still visit this alley today. So perhaps someday, with your support, this alley will be recognized as a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument.

Time does not stand still, especially in Hollywood. It wasn’t practical to convert Buster’s small studio to make talking pictures, and so it was demolished in 1931. The block was completely rebuilt with some satellite buildings for the Technicolor lab, and the early KMTR radio/KCOP television studios, but they too have since been demolished. Nearly every landmark Buster would have recognized here has been built over as well. And yet, there’s still a magnetic attraction that comes from knowing you’re standing in the very same spot. Charlie Chaplin, and especially Buster Keaton, spent some of the best years of their lives walking these sidewalks, filming on these streets. It was once all real, and their silent echoes still reverberate gently. So here’s to Charlie and Buster, as we honor them today. Thank you very much.”

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Ghosts of the Past – the Regent Apartments – costar with Chaplin, Weber, Sennett and Roach

The classic Regent Apartment (1913-1983) facing Westlake (MacArthur) Park once co-starred with Charlie Chaplin, and appeared in other silent productions with Lois Weber, Mack Sennett, and Hal Roach. As shown here, the Regent’s front entrance portrayed the restaurant where Charlie worked as a waiter in The Rink (1916). Time is fleeting. This haunting image, Charlie’s ghost superimposed over the ghost of a long lost vintage apartment, really moved me. For the first time, more than 100 years later, we can appreciate Charlie’s movie environment when filming The Rink, but only decades after it was all destroyed.

Left – east on Hollywood towards Cahuenga, Wife and Auto Trouble (1916) – right, west at the same spot, Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914).

For some reason my brain is keenly attuned to pattern recognition. Maybe I would have survived well in the jungle eons ago. But the pieces all came together when TCM recently broadcast the early Sennett comedy Wife and Auto Trouble (1916). The film caught my eye because many scenes were filmed on Hollywood Boulevard at Cahuenga, at nearly the same spot as where Chaplin and Marie Dressler filmed Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914), only looking east instead of west.

Fast Company – note small gap at left

One setting from WAAT (left above) seemed familiar, but in the movie it was falsely presented as if set on Hollywood Boulevard when it was not. After checking my library of movie frame grabs, I realized it matched a building portraying a hotel in the silent Our Gang comedy Fast Company (1924)(right above), also broadcast on TCM. Aside from a similar oblique view, which more broadly showed the building corner, Fast Company also provides a front on view of the entrance. Interestingly, I noticed that the decorative pillars flanking the entrance were not flush with the wall – instead, there was an open air gap on the far sides of the pillars as well. So there were three ways, not one, to walk through the pillar entrances to the front door.

That triggered another association. I’d recently studied Lois Weber’s Shoes (1916), which famously filmed scenes in Pershing Square downtown. Interestingly, the insert shots (above) depicting the north side of street facing the park were not filmed downtown, but at

The Regent – at right – looking over Westlake Park. LAPL.

6th Street, the north street facing Westlake (now MacArthur) Park instead. In one shot (above left) you can clearly read that the building supposedly facing Pershing Square is named the Regent Apartments, which stood at 2401 W. 6th Street at the corner of S. Park View Street.

While I was fascinated that Shoes depicted the actual name of the apartment, I also noticed that the entranceway had projected pillars. In other words, there were three ways, and not one, to walk among the pillars towards the front door. So I quickly checked, and confirmed that the Regent appearing in Shoes was the same building as in Fast Company, and thus also appearing in WAAT.

But I wasn’t done. Somehow the decorative trim on the entrance pillars seemed familiar. I scanned through folders of unsolved images, when I realized it likely matched the restaurant exterior in The Rink. The details all matched up – another confirmation.

While I had a few aerial photos showing the Regent from afar (see above), I searched in vain for a vintage street level image. Unsuccessful, I contacted some colleagues for help, and was thrilled when Historic Los Angeles blogger Duncan Maginnis provided me with a link to these USC Digital Library images (above). They weren’t indexed under the name “Regent,” but somehow Duncan was already aware of these photos, and passed them along.

During Shoes the Regent appears in full view, just part of the background across the street. So you can see there was more than one way to pass through the entrance. Interestingly, the three movies to film there closer up hid this detail. Either they filmed the entrance obliquely, looking up the street (above right), so you wouldn’t easily notice the other entranceways, or it they filmed in tight close up (above left), cropping the other entranceways from view.

As I report in my book Silent Traces, Chaplin filmed the scenes of Edna Purviance’s apartment in A Woman of Paris (1922) nearby (above), at the Ansonia Apartments at 2205 W 6th Street, just two short blocks east of the Regent. So Chaplin was on familiar turf when he returned her with Edna.

The Regent was demolished in 1983, and an 80’s style “modern” office building stands there today in its place, home to the Consulate General of Mexico.

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.

Below, the site of the former Regent Apartments.

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Keaton’s Battling Butler – A Knockout Finish to the SF Silent Film Festival

The 2018 San Francisco Silent Film Festival closes Sunday, June 3 with a screening of Buster Keaton’s self-directed comedy Battling Butler (1926), hosted by Leonard Maltin, and honoring recently deceased festival Board member, beloved television writer and director Frank Buxton, who among his many accomplishments once worked on stage with Keaton himself.

Above, early in the film Keaton used the front entrance of the Talmadge Apartments, owned by his sister-in-law actress Norma Talmadge, and married to Buster’s boss Joe Schenck, to portray Keaton’s family mansion.

Buster plays an effete millionaire who seeks to impress a girl (played by Sally O’Neil) by allowing her to mistakenly believe he is a champion boxer sharing the same name.  As might be guessed, the movie ends when amateur Buster, spurred by love and honor, defeats the pro boxer in a fight and wins the girl’s heart. As explained in my book Silent Echoes, Sally’s hometown scenes were filmed in old Kernville, a small town in the Kern County foothills later submerged by the Lake Isabella Dam completed in 1954.

Above, Keaton’s welcoming crew march toward the Mountain House Inn (where Keaton and crew stayed during filming), now submerged under Lake Isabella – California State Library.

Click to enlarge. The extant Olympic Auditorium appearing in Keaton’s Battling Butler and in the Three Stooges’ Punch Drunks (1934).

Key scenes took place in the newly opened Olympic Auditorium, still standing at 18th and Grand in downtown Los Angeles.  Construction began on January 10, 1925, with world champion fighter Jack Dempsey on hand for the ceremonies, breaking ground with a steam shovel.  Dempsey returned when the completed arena opened August 5, 1925, and was presented with a solid gold lifetime ticket, the size of a calling card, good for all future events at the venue.  The so-called “Punch Palace” was built in preparation for the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, and was the largest arena of its kind west of New York City, reportedly seating up to 15,300.  The boxing and wrestling hall could be converted to host other programs, and the California Grand Opera Company performed there during October 1925.

Buster and his valet, played by Snitz Edwards, sit stunned in Olympic Auditorium, after the formerly obscure boxer who shares Keaton’s name has unexpectedly become champion.

Buster and his valet, played by Snitz Edwards, sit stunned after witnessing a formerly obscure boxer who shares Keaton’s name unexpectedly win a championship bout.

The marquee in Punch Drunks

The marquee as it appears in Punch Drunks

Because Buster started working on Battling Butler only months after the arena first opened, its role in the movie could be its debut appearance on film.  Aside from appearing with the Three Stooges in Punch Drunks, the arena has been used as a location for classic films such as Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).  You can find my five other posts about Buster and the Stooges HERE.

Remarkably, the William Holden film noir drama The Turning Point (1952) has strong connections to all three leading silent comedy stars.  The movie not only makes great use of the arena where Buster filmed (see below), it also shares noir locations on Bunker Hill with Harold Lloyd’s 1924 feature Hot Water, and in the gas tank district with Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 comedy Modern Times.

Four views of the Olympic Auditorium from The Turning Point

Four views of the Olympic Auditorium from The Turning Point

Battling Butler concludes with Buster, decked out in boxing shorts and a silk top hat, strolling down a city boulevard at night with Sally on his arm, oblivious to the curious onlookers surrounding them.

ca

Click to enlarge.  The Biltmore Hotel, designed by Schultze & Weaver in 1922, is located on Olive Street facing Pershing Square.  Keaton strolled from the corner of 5th and Olive, with the San Carlos Hotel across 5th Street, which bears a “STEAMSHIP TICKETS” sign (oval) in each image.  UCLA Libraries – Digital Collection.

Unlike Buster’s contemporary Harold Lloyd, Keaton seldom filmed in the downtown Los Angeles Historic Core, and locating this concluding shot eluded me for years.  But once I determined that Harold had used the Olive Street entrance of the classic Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel for scenes from For Heaven’s Sake, I realized Keaton had filmed here too.  The Biltmore has appeared in dozens of films.

bb 18Although perhaps less celebrated than other Keaton works, I’ve always found Battling Butler to be quite charming.  The film contains many thoughtfully composed scenes, such as Buster’s fiancé framed bb 75through the rear window of his limousine, receding into the distance as Buster drives away (left), and a tracking shot of Buster and Snitz, lost in thought, sitting on the steps of a moving passenger train (right).

Some other interesting visual framing devices from Battling Butler

Some other interesting visual framing devices from Battling Butler

bb 31 cA final remark, Battling Butler also contains a clear image of Buster’s injured right index finger during a scene where he registers at a hotel.  Buster trapped his finger in a clothes mangler as a young child, and had to have the tip amputated. bb 09 This shot to the right, of “Buster” holding an engagement ring, was filmed using a hand double.  It is a strange coincidence that both Buster and Harold Lloyd had injured right hands and employed hand doubles in their films.

The screening of Battling Butler will feature a new restoration by Cineteca di Bologna in collaboration with Cohen Collection, with the event sponsored by McRoskey Mattress Company, and copresented by the California Film Institute, the Exploratorium, and the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.

Battling Butler (C) 1926 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation. (C) renewed 1954 Loew’s, Inc. Punch Drunks copyright Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.  The Turning Point (C) Paramount Pictures Corporation.

Today the Olympic Auditorium is home to a church.

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