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.

This entry was posted in Cops, Harry Houdini, The Grim Game and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Houdini – The Grim Game – More Hollywood Connections

  1. Thanks for the overhead shot of the studio. I’ve never understood where the backlot was until this. So was the backlot separated by what today is Argyle Ave.?

  2. mac estelle says:

    Wow this is a really good one Michael (Mac)

    Date: Sat, 19 Dec 2015 10:32:54 +0000 To: macestelle@hotmail.com

  3. Leo Hevia says:

    Wonderful Stuff! Thank you John!

  4. Javier says:

    There is another great aerial photo of both blocks in the book “David O’Selznick’s Hollywood” by Ronald Haver. The angle that we see it from is from the south looking down and north. With Sunset Blvd. at the bottom of the photo. It’s great, just another angle from the same era, perhaps a few years after 1922 (if memory serves me right).

  5. Pingback: The Chaplin – Keaton – Lloyd Hollywood Alley | Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd film locations (and more)

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