In his 1926 self-directed feature comedy Battling Butler, Buster plays an effete millionaire who seeks to impress a girl 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.
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.
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.
As I reported a while back in my column for The Keaton Chronicle, the film concludes with Buster, decked out in boxing shorts and a silk top hat, strolling down a city boulevard at night with his girl on his arm, oblivious to the curious onlookers surrounding them.
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.
Although usually ranked among Keaton’s lesser works, I’ve always found Battling Butler to be quite charming. The film contains many thoughtfully composed scenes, such as Buster’s fiancé framed through the rear window of his limousine, receding into the distance as Buster drives away, and a tracking shot of Buster and Snitz, lost in thought, sitting on the steps of a moving passenger train.
In closing, 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. 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.
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.