One of my all time favorite Keaton location discoveries was finding these statues appearing in Buster Keaton’s short film Hard Luck (1921). During the scene, Buster eludes the police by posing among the statues of a park monument. The scene was filmed in Westlake (now MacArthur) Park, near the corner of Wilshire and Park View Street, and remains one of the most prominent locations in Keaton’s oeuvre.
Sculpted in 1920 by Paul Troubetskoy, the central figure is Civil War veteran General Harrison Gray Otis, the original owner-editor-publisher of the Los Angeles Times. This explains the figure to the left of a newsboy hawking a paper. The soldier figure appearing to the right has since disappeared, apparently hit by a car. The figures stand in what was originally named Westlake Park (created in 1885), and renamed after General MacArthur in 1942.
A few years before teaming with partner Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel visited this site in 1923 to film the exact same gag for his short film White Wings, available as part of Kino’s The Stan Laurel Collection Volume 2. We’ll never know if Stan was copying Buster’s gag, paying tribute to it, or simply unaware of the similarities. (In Stan’s partial defense, Librarian Dace Taube of the USC Regional History Center, Department of Special Collections, who helped me to discover the setting, explained L.A.’s early parks had few other statues from which to choose).
[[Update: Anthony Balducci explains that comedian (and noted Chaplin impersonator) Billy West performed the identical joke, at the identical setting, in the 1922 comedy short Don’t Be Foolish, beating Stan, as it were, to the punch in copying Buster. To my eye Keaton framed the image best, as his silhouette stands clearly against the sky, while Stan and Billy are lost a bit in the jumble of figures and shapes.]]
At the time Buster and Stan filmed here, Wilshire Boulevard terminated at the west side of Westlake Park, and did not extend to downtown until a causeway across the lake was completed in late 1934.
This aerial view above of the park, looking west, was likely taken in 1924 after the completion of the Elks Club Building standing prominently in the center. Photo from Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection – Los Angeles Public Library.
Zooming in, we can see the cluster of statues at the west end of the park, near the sidewalk, facing the terminus of Wilshire Boulevard.
This view looks east at the newly opened causeway constructed across the park lake, extending Wilshire Boulevard into Orange Street on the other side. For continuity, the Orange street name was subsumed into the Wilshire name.
A view of the statues today, with the soldier figure missing. If you’re ever in the neighborhood you can now stand in the footprints of three great men, Otis, Keaton, and Laurel.