Chaplin on South Central – Making It Work

Charlie Chaplin in Work (1915).

Charlie Chaplin on South Central Avenue in Work (1915).

This image of Charlie Chaplin struggling with a cart load of tools and supplies in a Dickensian warehouse district is one of the most visually arresting of his entire career. Surrounded by horse-drawn wagons and early automobiles, the Little Tramp seems stuck in some chronological limbo, straddling the Victorian era and the impending Jazz Age. Taken over 100 years ago for the movie Work, the gritty street image always fascinated me, but it seemed beyond reach, never to be understood. But thanks to the clarity of the wonderful restored Blu-ray release of Chaplin’s Essanay comedies from Flicker Alley, this elusive setting quickly revealed itself.

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Charlie’s path in 1915 past the United Wholesale Grocery Co. as shown on this 1908 “bird’s eye” view map of downtown Los Angeles. The tall building to the left behind Chaplin was built after 1908 and thus does not appear on this map.

As Charlie moves down the street, we can briefly glimpse a painted wall sign at back that says “UNITED W– GROC–” By checking the Los Angeles City Directories available online at the Los Angeles Public Library, out popped the likely candidate, the United Wholesale Grocery Co. that once stood at 216 S Central Avenue. While not the most photographed part of town, comparing the site with vintage maps and a long-range aerial view confirms Charlie filmed walking south down Central from 2nd towards 3rd.

A matching aerial view of the block. The gap between the buildings in a rail spur crossing the avenue. LAPL.

Click to enlarge. A matching aerial view of the block – Central running left-right between 3rd St at left and 2nd St at right. The gap between the buildings is due to a rail spur crossing the avenue. LAPL.

The orange oval above marks 219-227 S Central, once home to the Ducommun Corporation, the yellow oval marks the United Wholesale Grocery Co. The gap between the buildings accommodates a rail spur line that once crossed Central in the middle of the block.  The brick warehouses were all demolished in the late 1970s.

The Bradbury Mansion studio on Court Hill, upper left, and the filming site, lower right.

The Bradbury Mansion studio on Court Hill, upper left, and the filming site, lower right.  This 1908 map shows only one bore for the Hill Street Tunnel under Court Hill – the second bore, for automobiles, was completed in 1913.

On the steps of the Bradbury Mansion

On the steps of the Bradbury Mansion

As discussed in my book Silent Traces, and in other posts, Chaplin filmed Work at the Bradbury Mansion studio atop Court Hill, the same studio where Harold Lloyd and producer Hal Roach started their careers at about the same time. The Bradbury Mansion front steps, and the Hopperstead house

At back the Hopperstead home.

At back the Hopperstead home.

standing on the opposing corner from the mansion, both appear during Chaplin’s film. The warehouse street setting stood less than a mile away, quickly reached by taking 1st Street from Court Hill a few blocks east to Central, and turning south for two blocks.

The Bradbury Mansion. USC Digital Library.

The Bradbury Mansion. USC Digital Library.

Thanks to preservationists David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates, Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, and Cineteca di Bologna, all 15 of Chaplin’s Essanay short comedies from 1915 are now beautifully restored, available as a 5 disc Blu-ray/DVD box set from Flicker Alley.

Special Contents of Chaplin’s Essanay Comedies (C) 2015 by Lobster Films for the Chaplin Project. Work Blu-ray Publication and Design (C) 2015 Flicker Alley, LLC.

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.

A matching view looking north up S Central today – nothing remains.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, Court Hill, Los Angeles Historic Core | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

How Charlie Chaplin filmed The Kid

On Olvera Street

Coogan and Chaplin on Olvera Street

Filmed mostly in 1920, The Kid utilizes more historic settings and extant locations than any other Chaplin film. 95 years later you can still visit Edna Purviance’s Dickensian maternity ward, the mansion (later owned by Muhammad Ali) where she abandons her baby, and the Hollywood alley where Charlie first encounters the abandoned child. To celebrate the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray release of  The Kid, this post provides a broad overview of the film. (More great news – the Janus Films restoration of The Kid will premiere at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival.)

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00The Kid remains my favorite film – it best harmonizes Chaplin’s themes with real-life settings – at the downtown plaza, where Hispanic descendants from California’s former ruling class found themselves ostracized in their own home, and in nearby Chinatown, where restrictive laws and immigration policies kept descendants of Chinese railroad laborers from owning property or sending home for family members. Alienation and adversity echo from the very bricks and stones where Chaplin chose to shoot. That many of these places still exist after 95 years is a small miracle.  You can read much more about these and many other settings from the film in my Chaplin book Silent Traces. There are also many related posts on my blog.

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.

The filming site on Olvera Street.

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How Roscoe Arbuckle Filmed His Safety Last! Moment (Before Harold Lloyd Did)

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Looking up Spring Street, Roscoe Arbuckle hangs from the Bartlett Building rooftop in The Life of the Party.  At back, the Merchants National Bank Building at the NE corner of 5th.  You-Are-Here.Com

Life of the Party 02Early in Roscoe Arbuckle’s charming feature comedy The Life of the Party (1920), his character, instantly smitten by a female visitor to his high-rise law offices, stumbles Life of the Party 08backward through an open window, and hangs precipitously several stories in the air. Though not integral to the plot, Roscoe’s brief scene presages Harold Lloyd’s later stunt climbing work in downtown Los Angeles, and has a direct connection with Lloyd’s masterpiece Safety Last! (1923).

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Click to enlarge – Roscoe in TLOTP  and Harold in Safety Last! one block further up the street atop the Merchants National Bank Building, prominent in Roscoe’s frame (Lloyd’s approximate location is marked by the gray box). Both views show the side building signs for the Alexandria Hotel (yellow box) and the Security Trust and Savings Bank (red box).

Roscoe filmed his stunt atop the stepped-back terraced roof of the extant Bartlett Building, built in 1911 at 215 W. 7th Street, in the heart of the Los Angeles historic core, converted now to condos and lofts. Behind Roscoe, visible up the street, stands the extant Merchants National Bank Building (now also condos and lofts) at 548 S. Spring Street. Harold Lloyd built a set atop the Merchants Bank to stage the final (and highest) segment of his climb up a skyscraper in Safety Last!

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Click to enlarge – looking west at Spring Street between 7th and 6th. The yellow arrows point up Spring from 6th, the red arrow points up Spring from 5th.

Lloyd filmed a total of five stunt climbing comedies: Look Out Below (1919), High and Dizzy (1919), Never Weaken (1921), Safety Last!, and Feet First (1930). The first three were filmed using sets overlooking the Hill Street Tunnel (see post HERE), while Never Weaken went further, staging scenes filmed atop the extant Ville de Paris Department Store building at the SE corner of 7th and Olive. Thus, when Roscoe filmed TLOTP during April 15 – May 22 of 1920, he filmed in downtown, on a real building, more than a year before Harold did.  You can read a list of the 15 real buildings (13 are still standing) that appear in Harold’s stunt films at this PDF link.

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Click to enlarge – this view from the finale to Safety Last! looks south down Spring from 6th towards the Bartlett Building (Union Oil) terrace where Roscoe filmed (inset – his frame is reversed to aid comparison).  The tall Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building began construction in 1921, after TLOTP had finished shooting – hence, it does not appear in Roscoe’s shot.

The Life of the Party_Page_09The establishing shot of Roscoe was filmed at the 7th Street entrance to the Bartlett Building, also known at the time as the Union Oil Building, its primary tenant. You can barely read “Union Oil Building” over the door, as well as the bottom edges of the numerals “215” (see below).

Click to enlarge - details of the Bartlett Building (Union Oil) entrance at 215 W. 7th Street. USC Digital Library here and here.

Click to enlarge – matching details of the Bartlett Building (Union Oil) entrance at 215 W. 7th Street compared to 1933 photos of what was then the entrance to the Security-First National Bank. USC Digital Library.

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The lower floors of the Bartlett Building were given an Art Deco upgrade in 1937.  This Bing Maps view shows the entrance today – the Art Deco facade now has a further “upgrade.”

Looking south down Spring from 6th towards the Bartlett Building (Union Oil). USC Digital Library.

Looking south down Spring from 6th towards the Bartlett Building (Union Oil) rooftop filming site. This view more closely matches the street at the time of filming, taken before the tall Los Angeles Stock Exchange Building was completed in 1921 to the right of the Bartlett. USC Digital Library.

A modern view of the Bartlett Building and the Stock Exchange Building next door to the right. Jeffrey Castel De Oro.

A modern view south down Spring towards the Bartlett Building filming site and the Stock Exchange Building next door to the right. Jeffrey Castel De Oro.

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This simple setup is all it takes to convincingly portray a person in peril at great height, without using CGI.

Roscoe’s stunt scene could be easily recreated today from the same rooftop. I often wonder why this simple and highly effective shooting technique, more convincing than CGI, is not used in modern films.

We are all indebted to Paul Gierucki, Brittany Valente, and CineMuseum, LLC for restoring The Life of the Party

View from the Bartlett deck (reversed for comparison)

View from the Bartlett deck (reversed for comparison)

so beautifully, and to TCM for broadcasting it for eager viewers to enjoy.

I have many other posts about Safety Last! you can view here.  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.

The Bartlett Building today, at the NW corner of 7th and Spring.

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Houdini – The Grim Game – More Hollywood Connections

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Click to enlarge. The site of The Grim Game plane crash was the staged at the Famous Players – Lasky Studio backlot. Shown here moments before the crash, the house to the left in the movie frame (left) has a chimney on each end, while the central house has three dormer windows, matching the backlot sets (box). Bison Archives.

Houdini triumphantly survives the crash

Houdini triumphantly survives the crash

The climax to Harry Houdini’s debut feature film The Grim Game (1919) involved the real-life mid-air collision of two airplanes captured on film (discussed in my prior post HERE).  The extraordinary footage was worked into the story by filming the supposed crash landing of each plane, created by dropping prop planes, suspended nose down out of camera range, onto the ground. I had no idea where this sequence was filmed, until I happened to glance at a large aerial photo of the Famous Players – Lasky Studio, that once stood on Selma and Vine. I noticed that two homes on the studio Grim Game 01backlot photograph looked familiar, then suddenly remembered that Lasky had produced Houdini’s film. A quick check with the movie confirmed the unsurprising fact that the crash was staged at the backlot of the same studio that produced the film.

This revelation solved another mystery.  In my first post about The Grim Game I reported that Houdini filmed a brief scene at a Hollywood alley that Buster Keaton would use a few years later in Cops (see below).  Why was Houdini’s simple scene filmed at this spot?  The answer lies with the Famous Players – Lasky Studio.

Houdini also filmed a brief scene at the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Blvd. where Buster filmed this famous stunt from Cops. The tall Palmer Building, undergoing construction behind Buster, still stands on Cosmo Street.

Houdini filmed a brief scene at the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Blvd. where Buster filmed this famous stunt from Cops. The tall Palmer Building, undergoing construction behind Buster, still stands on Cosmo Street. This alley was used so frequently because it was both convenient and rare.

As shown below, the plane crash site at the studio backlot was barely two blocks east of the alley on Cahuenga!  In 1919 this alley was both close by, but also rather unique, as there were few other commercial buildings in town at the time.  Following Houdini’s lead, Buster Keaton (Neighbors, Cops), Charlie Chaplin (The Kid), and Harold Lloyd (Never Weaken, Safety Last!), would all later film at this convenient alley.

The backlot plane crash site stood barely two blocks from the alley on Cahuenga (arrow). This photo was taken in 1922. In 1919 only the buildings within the red box were standing. Bison Archives.

The backlot plane crash site stood barely two blocks from the alley on Cahuenga where Houdini filmed (arrow). This photo was taken in 1922. At the time Houdini filmed in 1919 many buildings outside of the red box were not built yet, and the alley configuration was fairly unique. Bison Archives.

This earlier 1919 view (below) looks west from the backlot plane crash site towards the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Boulevard. Most of Cahuenga (running left-right at the top of the photo) is still undeveloped.

Looking west.  Most of Cahuenga (red box) is still empty lots. HollywoodPhotographs.com

A reverse view looking west, Selma running up the middle. Only the north end of Cahuenga (red box) is developed – the rest of the street, from Sunset Blvd (left of Selma) towards Hollywood Blvd (right) is lined with empty lots.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

This closer view of the studio (below) shows the backlot homes (box), and “The Barn” standing on the corner of Selma and Vine.

The backlot at top, and "The Barn" standing at Vine and Selma, now home to the Hollywood Heritage Museum.

The backlot at top, and “The Barn” standing at Vine and Selma, now home to the Hollywood Heritage MuseumBison Archives.

The Barn Today - Hollywood Heritage.

The Barn Today – Hollywood Heritage.

Built in 1901, the Lasky – De Mille Barn that stood at Vine and Selma became home to the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Co. in 1913, where the company’s first feature film The Squaw Man was co-directed by Cecile B. De Mille in 1914. Lasky merged with Adolph Zukor’s Famous Players Film Co., creating the Famous Players – Lasky Studio, that would later become Paramount Pictures Corporation.  When Paramount relocated to its present site on Melrose Avenue, “The Barn” was relocated there too, where it served for many years as a gymnasium and location set.  The Barn was donated to the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and now sits at 2100 N. Highland Avenue in the parking lot across from the Hollywood Bowl.  In 2014 the Lasky-DeMille Barn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Houdini – The Grim Game’s historic LA landmarks

THE GRIM GAME, Harry Houdini on lobbycard, 1919.

Over the edge – with death below and imprisonment above! Harry Houdini in The Grim Game (1919), taken on the roof of the former Habour Apartments, discussed below.

Grim Game 56After shooting a 15-part serial The Master Mystery, world famous magician and escape artist Harry Houdini made his feature film debut in 1919 with The Grim Game, screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s special A Day of Silents held at the Castro Theater this December 5.

Billed as a stirring story of love, mystery, and dare-devil adventure, The Grim Game was scripted to maximize opportunities for Houdini to escape from various traps and shackles on screen.

Cops A 03As discussed in my previous post, Buster Keaton dedicated his most famous short film Cops (1922) to Houdini, while crediting Houdini in his autobiography for giving Keaton his first name. Remarkably (could it be just a coincidence?) Keaton staged three scenes from Cops at places where Houdini had filmed previously.  See Houdini – Keaton – The Grim GameCops.

Grim Game 61While The Grim Game is noteworthy in part for a real-life plane crash caught on film (no one was hurt, see my prior post), Houdini’s roof-top escape from a straight-jacket (above) may be the most thrilling moment in the picture. The stunt was GG stuntpreceded by his escape from what appears to be the interior of the Los Angeles County Jail.  (I’ve never seen images inside the jail, Grim Game 62but since they filmed exterior scenes beside the jail (below), and Houdini commonly performed escapes at real jails, it’s reasonable to assume they filmed inside the jail too – a fine example of how cinema often preserves history in real life.  The jail interior (upper right) also looks too elaborate to be merely a set). At left, this view (John Cox) shows Houdini hanging from a studio jail set for a different stunt.

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The LA County Jail as it appears in The Grim Game.  Once part of the Civic Center, the jail appears during D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and in many other early films (see link here), and stood on Temple across from the former LA County Court House where Houdini posed for publicity photos covered in my prior post.  Photo from Harold Lloyd estate.

Grim Game 66Following his jail escape, the villains next imprison Harry in a mental institution.  There, breaking free and

Harbour Apartments - A Visit to Old Los Angeles.

Harbour Apartments – A Visit to Old Los Angeles.

chased onto the roof, Houdini is re-captured and trussed in a straight-jacket, his ankles tied with rope. Breaking free again, Houdini falls over the edge of the roof, suspended upside down, but escapes the jacket and his captors before the rope breaks.

00017448This sequence was filmed on the roof of the now lost Harbour Apartments at 612 St. Paul Street. While the image quality could be better, during the scene I immediately spotted two landmarks nearly aligned with each other, the squat 00076330‘chocolate drop’ dome tower of the extant Hotel Trinity and Auditorium at 851 S. Grand (left, LAPL), and the distinctive twin steeples, now lost, of St. Joseph’s Church at 1200 S. Los Angeles Street (LAPL). By reversing my orientation, and tracing a path The Grim Game and Cops_Page_11NW from the church through the The Grim Game and Cops_Page_14auditorium, I ended up with a narrow range of candidate apartment houses, and quickly spotted the Harbour Apartments in a panoramic photo – USC Digital Library, while also identifying other landmarks (A-D) appearing in the film.Cityscape_Los_Angeles_CA_ca1929

The Harbour Apartments south neighbor was built in 1924, after Houdini filmed. USC Digital Library.

Houdini clings to life over the edge of the Harbour Apartments at 612 St. Paul Street – its southern neighbor, the Hotel Victor at 616 St. Paul, was built in 1924 long after Houdini filmed there. USC Digital Library.

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Looking SE this detailed view shows the Trinity Hotel and Auditorium (B) and the lost First Congregational Church (C) once standing at 841 S. Hope Street. LAPL. (D) marks the lost Rex Arms Apartments.

The Rex Arms - now lost. USC Digital Library. Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle filmed The Rounders (1914) in front of this building. See post HERE.

Both images show the west side of the Rex Arms (D) at 945 Orange (later Wilshire) – now lost. USC Digital Library. Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe Arbuckle filmed The Rounders there in 1914 as reported HERE.

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This view shows (A) the YMCA Building, built in 1908, now lost, at 719 S. Hope, along with the Trinity (B) and First Congregational Church (C). USC Digital Library see page 11.

This final SE view reveals at left the north side of the extant Hotel Stillwell. USC Digital Library.

This final SE view reveals, to the left, the north side of the extant Hotel Stillwell that still stands on Grand Ave. across from the extant Trinity, center. The right line leads to the lost First Congregational Church. USC Digital Library.

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This view looking NW from the extant Graphic Arts Building at 417 E. Pico clearly reveals the Harbour Apartments at back behind the noted landmarks (C), (B), and (D). Huntington Digital Library. The full view of this panoramic photo shows the back of the St. Joseph Church steeples to the left as well.

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The face of the Harbour Apartments on St. Paul Street.  Both it and the Hotel Victor next door were demolished in the 1980s.  USC Digital Library.

Girl ShyWhile the filming of Houdini’s straight-jacket escape was not likely publicized to avoid crowds of onlookers during the shoot, Houdini staged a similar stunt (where else to maximize publicity?) at the front offices of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper at Broadway and 11th as shown below. At left, Harold Lloyd raced past these offices during his frantic dash to the altar in Girl Shy (1924).  John Cox reports in his amazing Houdini site that Harry performed his downtown straight-jacket escape below on April 5, 1923.  You can read more about it at John’s story HERE.

The film’s restorer Rick Schmidlin will introduce The Grim Game at The San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s A Day of Silents this coming December 5 at 3:00 p.m. at the Castro Theater, to be accompanied on the piano by Donald Sosin.

The Trinity Hotel appears during Charlie Chaplin’s The Bank (1915) and in Harold Lloyd’s 1919 shorts Bumping Into Broadway and High and Dizzy.  You can read about them filming at the Trinity HERE.

Chaplin beside the Trinity in The Bank.

Chaplin beside the Trinity in The Bank.

For a more complete account about The Grim Game, check out Mary Mallory’s post on the Daily Mirror blogsite.

Looking north up Grand at two surviving buildings visible during The Grime Game, the Trinity Hotel at left, and the Hotel Stillwell.

 

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Houdini – Keaton – The Grim Game – Cops

During Cops (1922) Buster spies Big Joe Roberts' dropped wallet in front of the towering Bergstrom estate, once standing at 590 N. Vermont, featured in Harry Houdini's The Grim Game (1919).

During Cops (1922) Buster spies Big Joe Roberts’ dropped wallet in front of the towering Bergstrom estate, once standing at 590 N. Vermont, featured in Harry Houdini’s The Grim Game (1919). You can view a TCM clip of the gate HERE and HERE.

12188894_1060939907263762_1995987923795623768_nBuster Keaton writes in his autobiography that famed magician and escape artist Harry Houdini gave him his nickname after witnessing 6-month old Keaton tumble unhurt down a flight of stairs. While likely more myth than fact,* Harry and Bess Houdini did travel with Buster’s parents during their early medicine show days, and Harry’s daring stunts and escapes certainly echo in Buster’s films. Moreover, Keaton pays homage to Houdini in the opening credits of Buster’s most famous short film, Cops, the only movie in Keaton’s oeuvre to begin with an Cops A 03attributed quote. By remarkable coincidence (or by design?) Keaton’s Cops crossed cinematic paths with Houdini’s debut (non-serialized) feature film, The Grim Game, screening at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s special A Day of Silents held at the Castro Theater this December 5.  You can see movie clips featuring the Houdini/Keaton gate at the TCM Website, HERE and HERE.

Houdini and Keaton at the same Bergstrom estate gate at the SE corner of Vermont and Clinton.

Houdini and Keaton at the same Bergstrom estate gate at the SE corner of Vermont and Clinton.

Fresh Paint 19Billed as a stirring story of love, mystery, and dare-devil adventure, The Grim Game was scripted to maximize opportunities for Houdini to escape from various traps and shackles on screen. Many scenes were filmed at the home of noted architect Edwin Bergstrom, later home to theater magnate Alexander Cops pan 02Pantages, before it was razed in 1951 to build a Jewish community center, now home to West Coast University.  Above, Houdini filmed many scenes by the estate’s motorized sliding gate (a comic foil that also trapped Snub Pollard during the early Hal Roach Studio comedy Fresh Paint (1920) upper right).  Buster staged the opening scenes from Cops, where he appropriates Big Joe Roberts’ wallet, by inter-cutting shots filmed beside the estate gate AND at the corner of Sunset and Detroit, over 4 miles away (click to enlarge blended frames at left).  I describe the Sunset filming spot from Cops HERE.

Grim Game 21After searching years for photos of the estate prior to its destruction, The Grim Game supplies priceless views of this lost landmark, placing it in context, while even allowing us (at right) to see inside the gate where Buster filmed.

Houdini also filmed a brief scene at the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Blvd. where Buster filmed this famous stunt from Cops. The tall Palmer Building, undergoing construction behind Buster, still stands on Cosmo Street.

Houdini also filmed a brief scene at the Cahuenga alley just south of Hollywood Blvd. where Buster filmed this famous stunt from Cops. The tall Palmer Building, undergoing construction behind Buster, still stands on Cosmo Street.

After documenting how Charlie Chaplin filmed The Kid (1921), Buster Keaton filmed Cops, and Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last! (1923) all at the same East-Cahuenga alley that you can still visit in Hollywood today, I was floored to see that Harry filmed a brief scene there too.  As shown above, Houdini filmed there first!

The Grim Game shows the rickety stairway that once stood at the west alley entrance on Cahuenga, also seen in these Christie comedies All Jazzed Up (1920) at left, and Hubby's Night Out (1917) Cinematek.

The Grim Game shows the rickety stairway that once stood at the west alley entrance on Cahuenga, also seen in these Christie comedies All Jazzed Up (1920) at left, and Hubby’s Night Out (1917) Cinematek.

Looking west towards Cahuenga, these views from Gale Henry's Gaumont Co. short The Detectress (1919) and Keaton's Neighbors (1920) show the back of the rickety stairway, removed before Buster returned to film Cops.

Looking west towards Cahuenga, these views from Gale Henry’s Gaumont Co. short The Detectress (1919) and Keaton’s Neighbors (1920) show the back of the rickety stairway, removed before Buster returned to film Cops.

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Click to enlarge. Buster filming Cops on New High Street beside the retaining wall of the former LA County Court House, where Houdini posed for stunt photos. LAPL. John Cox.

32266666_1_x[Update] Thanks to John Cox, and his wonderfully detailed and entertaining Wild About Houdini blogpost, we now know there was a THIRD filming connection between Keaton’s Cops and Houdini.  Although these scenes do not appear in the surviving cut of The Grim Game, John provided me with publicity photos of Houdini staged along the New High Street retaining wall of the former Los Angeles County Courthouse – the same street where a gang of cops sneak up behind Buster in Cops.  (As I explain in my next post, Houdini filmed at the LA County Jail, on Temple Street across from the court.) The red oval above marks the street level tunnel entrance to the court house, Doug on wallframed by vegetation, while Houdini posed with co-star Ann Forest along the wall beside one of the decorative lamps (yellow oval above).  At right, Doug Fairbanks filmed a scene from The Matrimaniac (1916) atop this same distinctive retaining wall.

Houdini’s production received tremendous advance publicity when two airplanes crashed mid-flight while a stunt man was filmed transferring between the planes. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the accident, captured on camera, was a publicist’s dream, and Houdini himself was later touted as being the stuntman who survived the crash.

The much publicized mid-air transfer from The Grim Game. LAPL.

The much publicized mid-air transfer from The Grim Game. LAPL.

Scarecrow 009Much of Los Angeles between Hollywood and the coast was undeveloped in 1919 during the time of filming. The above shot of the mid-air transfer reveals early Beverly Hills in the background, the oval marks the corner of Wilshire and Rodeo Drive.  Buster filmed this scene (left) from The Scarecrow (1920) at 618 Beverly Drive towards the middle of the aerial photo above.

The Grim Game was nearly lost forever, but thanks to the restoration efforts of Rick Schmidlin, in association the New York University Libraries, as sponsored by the Turner Classic Movie Channel, we can witness once again the magic of Houdini on film this coming December 5 at 3:00 p.m. at the Castro Theater. Mr. Schmidlin will introduce the screening, to be accompanied by Donald Sosin.

My following post shows the Los Angeles Historic Core buildings appearing in The Grim Game, including Houdini’s thrilling straight-jacket escape from the roof of the former Harbour Apartments.

*Keaton biographer Marion Meade writes contemporary newspaper accounts show actor and family friend George Pardey was credited in 1904 with giving Buster the name, and that references to Houdini as the source did not appear until years later. The Houdinis and Buster’s parents Myra and Joe were friends – Meade writes Joe treated Harry as a younger brother, affectionately calling him “Boots.”

For a more complete account about The Grim Game, check out Mary Mallory’s post on the Daily Mirror blogsite.

The TCM website has two clips showing the former Houdini/Keaton gate at 590 N. Vermont.   You can access them HERE and HERE.

590 N. Vermont, former site of the Bergstrom estate.

 

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Keaton – Langdon – Lloyd on Larchmont – Ebell Club Author Talk

Larry Fine in Hoi Poloi (1935), Harold Lloyd and family in Hot Water (1924), and Harry Langdon in His Marriage Wow (1926), a panorama at 1st and Larchmont. The home at back still stands, see further appearance below.

Larry Fine in Pop Goes the Easel (1935), Harold Lloyd and family in Hot Water (1924), and Harry Langdon in His Marriage Wow (1925), a panorama at 1st and Larchmont. The home at back still stands, see directly below.

Poodles Hanneford in Better Behave (1928) at 1st and Gower.

Poodles Hanneford in Better Behave (1928) at 1st and Gower.

Developed along a street car line (always ripe for slapstick antics), Larchmont Boulevard has been a popular movie location for nearly 100 years.  Harold Lloyd filmed there as early as 1917.  During my luncheon talk at the Ebell Club on Monday, November 16, I will provide a multi-media tour of how the great silent comedians filmed their classic movies on the streets of Hollywood, focusing both on Larchmont where Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, and even the Three Stooges once filmed, and Fremont Place, where Charlie Chaplin and others filmed just steps from the Ebell Club itself.

Harry Langdon in Saturday Afternoon (1926) at 221 S. Larchmont.

Harry Langdon in Saturday Afternoon (1926) at 221 S. Larchmont. (C) Google.

The “yellow car” Los Angeles Railway Line No. 3 ran from Melrose at Larchmont to downtown.  Since Larchmont was quite wide, the trolley power line poles were perilously installed down the middle of the street, a tempting target for comedians.  Above, Harry Langdon survives crashing sideways into one of these poles.

Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard in Lonesome Luke Messenger (1917).

Click to enlarge – Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard in Lonesome Luke Messenger (1917).

The Larchmont commercial block between Beverly and 1st was an attractive setting for early movies.  Yet, as shown above, Harold Lloyd filmed long before commercial development began in 1921. This scene from February or March of 1917 shows the homes at the NE corner of Clinton and Larchmont (see street sign), a block south of Melrose.  The corner today is unrecognizable.

From The Red Kimona, this view from the porch of 28 Fremont Place, still standing, shows the former home at 31 Fremont Place, once adjacent to the Ebell.

From The Red Kimona (1925), looking east from the porch of 53 Fremont Place, still standing, towards the Aronson mansion at 31 Fremont Place, now lost, once adjacent to the Ebell.  The upper image looks west along 8th Street from the Ebell towards the former Aronson home. Fremont Place blogspot.

Above, one of several early movies filmed at Fremont Place, adjacent to the Ebell Club on Wilshire.  Several grand mansions, now lost, are preserved in early cinema.  Below, Harold returned to Larchmont nine years later to film For Heaven’s Sake on the main commercial block.  Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon filmed here as well.

For Heaven's Sake (1926).

Harold herds a group of drunks onto a double-decker bus in For Heaven’s Sake (1926) at 113 N. Larchmont.

Buster at 148 N. Larchmont

Buster at 148 N. Larchmont

If you live in the Los Angeles area, I hope you’ll consider attending my talk and book-signing at the Ebell of Los Angeles this coming Monday November 16.

Ebell of Los Angeles: 743 South Lucerne Boulevard, Los Angeles 90005 323-931-1277.

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.

A prior post about Harry Langdon on Larchmont

Bobby Cress’s Dear Old Hollywood Blogspot showing how Larchmont appeared in Bob Hope’s 1967 movie Eight on the Lam.

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