Keaton and Hitchcock’s Vertigo Day Dreams

Filmed on location in San Francisco, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo (1958) provides tantalizing mid-century glimpses of the City in sparkling VistaVision color. Remarkably, when Scottie (James Stewart) traces Madeleine (Kim Novak) by car back to his own apartment, they cross paths twice with Buster Keaton. It turns out Keaton filmed many scenes from Day Dreams (1922) (inset left) and a key scene from The Navigator (1924) in San Francisco. (You can download a Keaton – San Francisco PDF tour HERE). Why Keaton chose to film here remains a tantalizing mystery. Perhaps it was simply a fun way to combine work with pleasure, justifying trips from Hollywood.

Madeleine and Scottie in Vertigo, and Buster in Day Dreams, all traveled east along Washington, with Madeleine and Scottie turning left (north) onto Powell, while Buster, traveling by cable car, turned right (south). The same building on the NE corner (red box below) appears in both shots, and remains unchanged today.

VertigoDay Dreams, the same NE corner of Washington and Powell. Keaton (oval) sits in the cable car.

Washington and Powell today – nothing is missing, an Art Deco parking structure fills the vacant lot.

More remarkably, Scottie’s apartment on 900 Lombard overlooked a nightmarish chase scene from Day Dreams, as Buster flees an army of cops east down Lombard from Jones. To begin, as Scottie, dumbfounded, realizes he has followed Madeleine towards his own apartment, his point-of view through the car windshield (below) shows the block of Lombard where Buster fled the police.

From Scottie’s car we see Madeleine’s green Jaguar parked beside his corner apartment with red chimney at left, and a clear view down the block Buster fled (arrow) in Day Dreams.

Below, you can even see the corner site of Scottie’s yet to be constructed apartment at Lombard and Jones (yellow) during Buster’s chase, while a Hyde Street cable car (red) passes by along the crest of the hill.

Click to enlarge – view west from Taylor and Lombard – Scottie’s apartment will be built on the yellow corner of Jones. Notice the second floor witnesses to the far left, and the gleeful kids running along to the right. Were the famous twists and turns already constructed, or is the road above the red line (Leavenworth) simply torn up?

The shot above also reveals further at back the block of Lombard now world-famous for all the twists and turns. To my eye the roadway for the block west of Leavenworth (red line) looks torn up, but before the prominent curved cement retaining walls were installed. I’ve tried to pin down when exactly the twists and turns were built, and when Buster was here filming, but the answers are elusive.

At the time the Lombard street improvement was hardly newsworthy, affecting only the handful of residents living on the block. An August 1, 1922 letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle reports construction plans were presented to the homeowners for approval, and that by mid-June the cobblestones lining the street were dug up. However, complains the letter-writer, the serpentine project was halted because one of the owners was in Europe and wasn’t ready to give his consent, forcing his neighbors to live with the dust, inconvenience, and delay. “Fourteen American property owners and the city’s engineer’s office halted upon orders from Europe – wealth and political influence! Some of us have had our first lesson in what makes a Bolshevik” seethes the letter-writer, signing off anonymously as “FAIR PLAY.”

View east of torn up road – SF Public Library

The initial plans for the project are dated June 6, 1922, and a further plan, apparently the “as-built” plan is dated December 11, 1922, showing a November 5, 1923 revision regarding the stairways along the street. So the project was likely completed well after August 1, but before the December rainy season. My best guess is Buster filmed here some time during the summer, after the road was torn up in mid-June, but before the major construction commenced. PS – apparently this section of Lombard was two-way until 1939! Can you imagine driving up this street?

Lombard looking west – this setting was the very first Keaton location I would identify.

Bonus – during the thrilling car chase in Bullitt, Steve McQueen drives south down Jones towards Scottie’s corner apartment on Lombard (box).

UPDATE – intrepid reader ‘Skip,’ who solved the Safety Last! mystery building (the Dresden Apartments, 1919 W 7th Street, the still standing 4 story building human spider Bill Strother climbs early in the movie – read HERE), followed a hunch that the Steve McQueen car chase in Bullitt (1968) must somehow cross paths with Keaton and Hitchcock, and he was right! During the chase, SMQ drives south down Jones towards the corner of Lombard, with Scottie’s apartment (red box above) on the right.

Hitchcock filmed Vertigo in San Francisco in part because its dizzying streets and hills create a mood of imbalance and uncertainty. 36 years before him, Buster recorded his fever-pitched Day Dreams of persecution and pursuit on those very same streets. To see all of the Vertigo filming locations, check out Reel SF. I highly recommend this entertaining and meticulous classic-era San Francisco movie location blog.

Vertigo (C) 1958 Paramount Pictures. Day Dreams from Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917 – 1923 (C) 2016 Kino-Lorber, Lobster Films.

Looking east down Lombard towards Scottie’s apartment, in 2011, before it was remodeled.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Daydreams, San Francisco | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Keaton’s Cops and Go West – Peeking Over the School Fence

Fireman Sherlock

Two appearances – the school in The Fireman and Sherlock Jr.

Rebuilt over the years, but pre-dating 1912, the Vine Street (Colgrove) Elementary School still stands between Romaine and Willoughby, kitty-corner from the site of the former Keaton Studio block in Hollywood. The back of the school, with its distinctive series of chimneys, appears during scenes filmed looking south down Lillian Way both in Charlie Chaplin’s The Fireman (1916) and in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924). The school also appears (far left, below) during Buster’s race to the rescue in College (1926), as he turns north from Lillian Way onto west along Romaine, fleeing past the abandoned Metro Studio offices standing across the street from his studio.


The current school campus was built in 1922, 1926, and re-built in 1936.  Reportedly Mrs. Eleanor Keaton attended kindergarten here at the time Buster was filming Sherlock Jr.

USC Digital Library

Looking south from Romaine down Vine along the school, notice the sets at right – 1928. USC Digital Library

Remarkably, the far right background of this 1928 photo of the school (above) provides a sneak peek over the Metro Studio fence (due south of the Keaton Studio), to reveal a conspicuous 5-arch backlot set appearing in Cops (1922), Three Ages (1923), and Go West (1925). Although the Hollywood Metro Studio closed in 1924 to join M-G-M in Culver City, Keaton continued to make use of the abandoned studio’s backlot, particularly when filming the many cattle stampede scenes from Go West.

The five arch Metro backlot set as it appears in Cops.

The five arch Metro backlot set as it appears in Cops.

The Rector Cafe nightclub from Three Ages.

The Rector Cafe nightclub from Three Ages.

A full view of the 5-arch set and neighboring central arch set appearing with Buster's cattle in Go West.

A full view of the 5-arch set and neighboring central arch set (*) appearing with Buster’s cattle in Go West.


This 1922 photo shows ongoing school construction at top, the Keaton Studio in the foreground, and the Metro Studio at right. The arrow marks the point of view of the 1928 photo above towards the Metro backlot.

I’ve always been fascinated imagining what it would have been like to wander around Buster Keaton’s studio. I’ve written several posts analyzing vintage aerial photos of the studio, taken in 1921 and 1922, available from But as shown here, you’ll never know where other images of the studio might pop up, even over an old school fence.

The Romaine Street view of the school.

Posted in Buster Keaton, Cops, Keaton Studio | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chaplin – Inside “The Kid” Maternity Hospital

the-kid-blu-ray-31In a prior post, How Charlie Chaplin Filmed The Kid, I explain that the former Occidental College Hall of Letters building, once visited by Presidents Taft and Teddy Roosevelt, portrays the Dickensian maternity hospital where single mother the-kid-blu-ray-35Edna Purviance is cast into the cold, cruel world. Astonishingly this building, trimmed of its upper floor and roof, is still standing, now a modest apartment block in Highland Park. (The original campus building was abandoned when the new, larger Occidental campus opened in nearby Eagle Rock in 1914).

Chaplin scholar Brad Alexander (who is researching the connections between Chaplin and Albert Einstein) visited the site recently, and sent me some remarkable photos from both outside and inside the building. (Having discovered this spot using the Internet, and living in the Bay Area, I have yet to visit the site in person).

The east entrance appearing in the film. Brad Alexander.

Click to enlarge- the east entrance appearing in the film. Brad Alexander.

brad-alexander-east-door-grillNow that The Kid is released on Blu-ray, I continue to be amazed at the striking details apparent in the film. If you click the above then and now image, you can clearly see the interior steps leading down from the main hallway that Edna strode as she departed the building. The stairs are still there, and now you can see them in the movie too. At the left you can see that the upper grill details that once stood above the gate still remain.

Click to enlarge - the grill work above the gate entrance is still in place. Brad reports that the 'pleasant' nurse was portrayed by Chaplin's personal secretary Nellie Bly Baker.

Click to enlarge – three sets of interior doors along the hallway can be seen. Brad reports that the nurse was portrayed by Chaplin’s personal secretary Nellie Bly Baker.

Thanks to Brad’s visit, and the Blu-ray detail, I also now understand the interior layout of the hall. There were three sets of doors. First, an interior pair of glass entrance doors stood just up the stairs from the gate, the reflecting left glass door is closed (see vertical line above). Next, a pair of doors further into the building closed off a section of the hallway (see horizontal line above). All the way down the hall, just above the CHARITY sign, you can see part of the glass entrance doors on the other side of the building. Note that the elegant marble balustrade (see box above) is no longer present.

brad-alexander-east-door-interiorThis view (left) matches Edna’s view as she walked down the stairs to the entrance gate. The glass doors at the top of these stairs are no longer in place. Notice that the carved marble balustrade that once stood to the left has been replaced with metal railings. brad-alexander-east-hall

From the same spot, where the glass entrance doors once stood, this view (below, right) looks in the other direction, west from the top of the stairs, towards the brad-alexander-west-halldeep interior doorway that can close off a section of the hallway. This doorway is highlighted with the blue horizontal line in the detailed view of Edna above.

This view (below left), looks east, from inside the other entrance of the building, down the length of the hallway towards Edna’s exit at the far end of the hall.

Matching views of the east side of the building.

Matching views of the east side of the building.

The south side of the building, where Presidents Taft and Roosevelt once spoke.

The south side of the building, where Presidents Taft and Roosevelt once spoke (see below).

I wonder if the people living here have any idea that two Presidents of the United States, and Charlie Chaplin, all once came here to visit. You can read all about how Charlie filmed The Kid in my Chaplin book Silent Traces. I want to thank once again Brad Alexander for sharing these photos. I would also like to thank my friend Jeffrey Castel De Oro for taking all of the photos of this building originally appearing in my book.

Criterion The Kid - Lustgarten - Bengtson_Page_02

Criterion The Kid - Lustgarten - Bengtson_Page_03

Criterion The Kid - Lustgarten - Bengtson_Page_04

brad-alexander-west-doorAt left, and below, the west entrance to the building (the side not appearing in the movie), partially blocked from view, is reached by walking between the row of bungalows at 121 N. Avenue 50, in Highland Park.

Posted in Charlie Chaplin, The Kid | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Where Roscoe Arbuckle Filmed His Brooklyn Vitaphone Shorts

(C) 2017 Google.

Looking south, the recently demolished Vitaphone Studios (yellow outline) in relation to many of Roscoe’s filming sites. The landmark Vitagraph smokestack, for the moment still standing, appears at bottom due right of the “North” marker. (C) 2017 Google.

Starting at page 2 below, this multi-page post reveals more than two dozen Brooklyn movie locations filmed over 85 years ago. Click each image for a larger view.

The Silent Clowns - MoMA

Arbuckle filming Hey Pop at 3rd Ave and 80th in Bay Ridge – see page 7 below.

The recently demolished Vitagraph (Vitaphone) Studio, once standing at E 14th between Chestnut and Locust in the Midwood community of Brooklyn, holds a giant place in cinema history. One of the earliest and most prolific studios, it was acquired by Warner Bros. in 1925, where it became instrumental in the widespread production of talking pictures.


The Chestnut Ave side of the studio – Brooklyn Public Library

The Vitaphone process, the first commercially viable sound film technology, involved recording audio tracks on 16 inch shellac discs that played synchronously with moving images. The smash Vitaphone presentation of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer in 1927 spelled the eventual doom for silent pictures. Capitalizing on local talent, the Brooklyn Vitaphone studio produced hundreds of short ‘sound’ films capturing unusual vaudeville acts, and Broadway singing stars and comedians.

Ron Hutchinson

Now demolished – Ron Hutchinson

Vitaphone’s brief triumph ended quickly once optical soundtrack technology became standard. Suddenly obsolete, the surviving Vitaphone audio discs were often misplaced or separated from their films. In 1991 a group of record collectors and film archivists led by Ron Hutchinson founded The Vitaphone Project, dedicated to reuniting orphan Vitaphone discs with their mute films, and restoring them on new 35mm sound-on-film prints for modern projection. Nearly 150 short films and many features have since been restored; two recent triumphs include flapper star Colleen Moore’s Synthetic Sin (1929) and Why Be Good? (1929), both once thought to be lost.

hey-pop-01These charming, quirky, and sometimes downright strange Vitaphone entertainment shorts have become crowd favorites at classic film festivals. When Ron hosted a full evening of Vitaphone shorts recently on TCM, it reminded me to pull out my Vitaphone Comedy Collection: Volume One DVD, which captivated me with the dozens of street scenes depicted on film. Though the studio building itself is now demolished, the films it once produced continue to preserve priceless moments of everyday Brooklyn life from more than 85 years ago. The two films analyzed in this post, Hey Pop (1932) and Buzzin’ Around (1932), were both starring vehicles for pioneering film comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

hey-pop-01Arbuckle began his long career in 1913, with Mabel Normand and Charlie Chaplin among his early co-stars. By 1917 Arbuckle led a series of comedy shorts co-starring  Al St. John (his nephew) and Roscoe’s protégé Buster Keaton. When Arbuckle began making a series of feature comedies for Paramount in 1920, earning him millions, Buster took over his small production company, launching Keaton’s solo career.

buzzin-around-01Arbuckle is remembered mostly today for his involvement with the death of actress Virginia Rappe following a booze-filled Labor Day weekend party he hosted at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco in 1921. Charged with manslaughter, after two mistrials Arbuckle was fully acquitted, receiving a rare public apology from the jury for his ordeal. Despite this, the scandal became a lightning rod for pious America’s backlash against “loose” Hollywood morals, ending his onscreen career. With the help of Buster and others, Roscoe spent the next decade writing and directing, often under the pseudonym “William Goodrich,” while also touring in live shows.

buzzin-around-49Roscoe never lost his public appeal. By 1932 Warner Bros. correctly decided audiences would welcome his return to the screen, signing Arbuckle to shoot six two-reel comedies at the Vitaphone Studio in Brooklyn, two of which are studied here. In a tragic confluence of events, on June 29, 1933, his first-year wedding anniversary with actress Addie McPhail, and the day after completing the sixth short, Roscoe signed a long-term contract with Warners sealing his comeback, only to die that evening of a heart attack in his sleep. He was 46.

(C) 2017 Google.

Roscoe used nearly every available corner and apartment. I can’t think of any Hollywood production so densely situated. (C) 2017 Google.

Page 2 covers (1), (2), (3), (4), and (12) above. Page 3 covers (5), (6), (7), and (8), Page 4 covers (9), (10), (11), and (15). Page 5 covers (13), (14), (16), (17), (18), and (19). Page 6 covers Ave M between E 18th and E 19th. Page 7 covers Bay Ridge and Shemp Howard filming at (8) and (9).

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Marc Wanamaker and Bruce Torrence – Hollywood’s Photo History Heroes

Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives, and Bruce Torrence of, both accomplished authors, photo archivists, and historians, are two behind the scenes giants of Hollywood history. Wanamaker, a foremost authority on all things Hollywood, especially its movie studios, has supplied material for hundreds of books, and has appeared onscreen in numerous documentaries. Marc has written more than a dozen books on topics including Paramount Studios, the Culver City Studios, Beverly Hills, Warner Bros., and Hollywood itself (see more Amazon links HERE).

Marc Wanamaker (left) - Bruce Torrence (right)

Marc Wanamaker (left) – Bruce Torrence (right)

Torrence has Hollywood in his DNA. His grandfather, noted developer C.E. Toberman, built dozens of Hollywood subdivisions and commercial buildings, including the Egyptian and Chinese Theaters, while his other grandfather, towering actor Ernest Torrence, was an early screen star, playing roles such as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (1924) and Buster Keaton’s father in Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928). Bruce’s 1979 groundbreaking account “Hollywood: the First 100 Years” was an instant classic, and his recent “The Hollywood Canteen” documents Hollywood’s morale boosting efforts during WWII. Bruce also writes The Hollywood Photographs blog, with dozens of articles about Hollywood landmarks and history.

Aside from their informative books, Marc and Bruce both manage incredible photo archives that allow us priceless views of Hollywood’s past, and have generously assisted countless other authors and historians. I am personally indebted to Marc and Bruce who have been remarkably kind and supportive to me over the years. This post revisits a few fun location discoveries that would have been impossible to solve without access to their extraordinary photos.

You can easily see the My Wife's Relations stunt set in this aerial view of Buster's studio. Buster used the set later that year for a scene with some police in Day Dreams. These sets appear in other filmed described in my Mr. Keaton's Neighborhood post.

The newly discovered stunt scene from Keaton’s My Wife’s Relations was filmed on this set at Buster’s studio. Buster later used the set for a scene with some police in Day Dreams (inset). Read the full post HERE.

Click to enlarge. Marc Wanamaker - Bison Archives.

Using several of Marc’s photos I was able to prove that a few trees appearing in the battle scenes from The Birth of a Nation (1915) are still standing at Forest Lawn. They appeared with the Three Stooges too. Read the full post HERE. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

Click to enlarge. From left to right: the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio (red oval), the Chaplin Studio (yellow oval), the Bernheimer Estate and future Magic Castle (teal oval), the Hollywood Hotel (red box), the Harold Lloyd (Hollywood Metropolitan) Studios (yellow box), the Keaton Studio (teal box), the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard where Keaton and Lloyd frequently filmed (orange box), and the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (purple oval).

Click to enlarge. In this post I examine the major Hollywood landmarks appearing in a single 1926 photo. From left to right: the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio (red oval), the Chaplin Studio (yellow oval), the Bernheimer Estate and future Magic Castle (teal oval), the Hollywood Hotel (red box), the Harold Lloyd (Hollywood Metropolitan) Studios (yellow box), the Keaton Studio (teal box), the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard where Keaton and Lloyd frequently filmed (orange box), and the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (purple oval).


This ‘rural’ barn scene closing the new version of Buster Keaton’s The Blacksmith stood near Melrose and La Brea, in this view looking SW from Harold Lloyd’s Hollywood Studio on Santa Monica Boulevard. You can read several posts about the ‘new’ The Blacksmith HERE. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.

My favorite discovery, made possible only by examining many photos each from both Marc’s and Bruce’s archives, is that Charlie Chaplin filmed The Kid, Buster Keaton filmed Cops, and Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last! at the same small Hollywood alley you can still visit today.


Click to enlarge – looking NE at the alley running from Cahuenga (left) to Cosmo (right). You can read the full post HERE and HERE.

I would like to thank Marc and Bruce for all they have done to preserve, document, and share Hollywood’s rich history.

Bison Archives  –   –  Hollywood Photographs Blog

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Buster Keaton, Seven Chances, and Warren Beatty?

mv5bmty2ntm5njiyov5bml5banbnxkftztgwmzuwnzc3nje-_v1_sy1000_cr006731000_al_Warren Beatty’s audacious and scarily prescient political satire Bulworth (1998) depicts Beatty as a California Senator seeking reelection who’s become so disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of politics that he hires a hit man to finish him off. Suddenly liberated to speak his mind, Bulworth’s unfiltered remarks spark a media storm and groundswell of popular support (sound familiar?)

Early on Bulworth chastises a black congregation to wake up, confessing that neither party serves their community because politicians only respond to well-funded lobbyists and huge donations. Bulworth’s terrified campaign manager ends the debacle by pulling the fire alarm and hustling Bulworth out of the church.

The Greater Page Temple - 2610 La Salle Avenue

Senator Bulworth arrives at the Greater Page Temple – 2610 S. La Salle Avenue


The church presented in the film is the same church Buster Keaton used seven decades earlier for his pre-marital comedy Seven Chances (1925). In that film Keaton must marry by 7:00 p.m. in order to inherit a fortune, and after bungling a proposal to his long-time girlfriend, resorts to placing a front page notice in the newspaper, prompting hundreds of would-be brides to appear at the church. Built in 1906, the former West Adams Methodist Church, now the Greater Page Temple, stands proudly as ever at 2610 La Salle Avenue.

USC Digital Library - CHS-41294

USC Digital Library – CHS-41294

20161209_193209While Bulworth staged a lengthy sequence inside the beautiful church, Buster filmed his church interiors on a roofless set draped overhead with muslin cloth to diffuse the bright sunlight.

Buster in a set - it had no roof.

Buster in a specially built church interior set – it had no roof.

The late Mrs. Eleanor Keaton on the steps of the Seven Chances church. She joked that whereas hundreds of women before her had failed, she was the one woman to capture Buster.

The late Mrs. Eleanor Keaton on the steps of the Seven Chances church. She joked that whereas hundreds before her had failed, she was the one woman to actually marry Buster.

I write extensively about the locations appearing in Seven Chances in my book Silent Echoes, and prepared a visual essay about it as a bonus feature to the Kino-Lorber Blu-ray release of the film. This post shows other locations, and this post shows how Buster filmed a scene close to his studio.

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Buster Keaton, The General, and Animal House?

General_Slideshow-1_Page_06As shown in this previous post describing how Buster Keaton filmed The General in Cottage Grove, Oregon, Buster and crew stayed at the Bartell Hotel during the production, staged the summer of 1926. The hotel stands just a block or two west from where most the filming took place.

But the hotel, later re-named the Cottage Grove Hotel, has another claim to classic comedy fame. The hotel appears during the homecoming parade finale to the 1978 comedy Animal House. When “Stork” (played by the film’s co-screenwriter Douglas Kenney) diverts the marching band into a dead-end alley before the Delta House wrecks havoc on the parade, you can clearly see the Cottage Grove Hotel awning in the background.

Looking east down Main Street towards the Cottage Grove Hotel.

Click to enlarge – looking east down Main Street towards the Cottage Grove Hotel.

Click to enlarge - Stork begins to divert the band.

Click to enlarge – Stork begins to divert the band.

Both The General and Animal House have been inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as works of enduring importance to American culture; Buster in 1989, and The National Lampoon comedy in 2001.

This brief video hosted by A.M.P.A.S. from a talk I gave in 2011 further explains how Buster filmed The General in Cottage Grove.  You can read all about filming The General in my Keaton film locations book Silent Echoes.

Posted in Buster Keaton, The General | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments