Stan Laurel in Chaplin’s Footprints

Stan Laurel may have crossed paths with Buster Keaton (see former post), but for a time early in his career the English comedian was Charlie Chaplin’s understudy and room-mate, when they were both music hall entertainers touring the United States together in 1910 and 1912 as part of the Fred Karno Company.

Click to enlarge.  The view of Chaplin looks to the east, as he stands beside 311 Apablasa Street.  His position is marked in yellow on all three images.  The center and right views look west towards the same address, Stan Laurel is at the far right.  Los Angeles Public Library SPNB Collection.

When Laurel filmed Mandarin Mixup (1924), he used the same authentic Los Angeles Chinatown settings that Chaplin used in Caught in a Cabaret (1914) and in The Kid (1921).

This view looks east down Apablasa Street (box), where Stan and Charlie both filmed, part of the original Chinatown built in the 1880s across the street from the extant Plaza de Los Angeles (oval).  The Union Train Station (1939) stands on the former Chinatown site.  Photo Los Angeles Public Library SPNB Collection

Crammed in among noisy and smoke-choked railroad tracks, towering gaswork plants, and the often overflowing Los Angeles River, Chinatown was the city’s least desirable address.  Working mostly in laundries and as vegetable truck farmers, the Chinese endured discriminatory laws and taxes, and were denied property ownership.  The privately owned streets of Chinatown were never paved, and as lessees the Chinese suffered neglect at the hands of their landlords. Once the original leases expired, most of Chinatown was sold in 1914 to make way for the future Union Train Station. After years of litigation, the Chinese were evicted in 1934 for construction of the terminal which opened to great acclaim on May 7, 1939.

Click to enlarge.  The front porch of 311 Apablasa seen behind Stan (red oval, left), also appears in Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret (right).  Notice the Chinatown residents watching the filming.

Click to enlarge.  The main photo also looks west towards the front porch of 311 Apablasa (red oval).  The awning on the corner of Cayetano Alley (yellow oval), appears when Stan arrives with his laundry wagon, lower right, and behind Charlie when he is taken into custody by the police near the end of The Kid.  Photo Florence Ung Francis Collection: Chinese American Museum/El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument 

In Charlie’s film, Mabel Normand and her society swells go “slumming.”  This view of Mabel exiting the car looks east towards the corner of Juan Street.  The view from Stan’s movie (right), is one block further west, so looking east we can see once again the awning on the corner of Cayetano Alley (yellow oval).  The red box marks the position of Mabel’s car in both images.

This northeasterly view of Apablasa Street shows where Charlie stood beside 311 Apablasa (left oval), the corner awning at Cayetano Alley (middle oval), and the position of Mabel’s parked car (red box).

I discuss the numerous Chinatown spots where Chaplin filmed Caught in a Cabaret, Police (1916), Easy Street (1917), The Kid, and Modern Times (1936) in much further detail in my book Silent Traces.

The Stan Laurel Slapstick Symposium Collection Volume 2, Eric Lange and Serge Bromberg, Lobster Films; Chaplin at Keystone Collection, Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project, 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.

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