Dubbed “the great detective of silent film locations,” author John Bengtson traces old Hollywood through the films of Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd in his books Silent Echoes, Silent Traces, and Silent Visions. In the excerpt from his Silent Locations blog below, Bengtson tracks down the real-life locations seen in EASY STREET, one of CHAPLIN’S MUTUAL COMEDIES.
As I explain in my book Silent Traces, Charlie Chaplin’s landmark short film Easy Street (1917) contains scenes filmed on extant Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles (see below), where he would return a few years later to film his re-union with Jackie Coogan in The Kid (1921) (see The Kid post HERE). The Easy Street “T” intersection exterior set (left), was built in Hollywood within the NE corner of Cahuenga and Romaine at the tiny Lone Star Studio backlot, the same spot where Buster Keaton, after taking over the studio in 1920 for his own productions, would build a similar “T”-shaped tenement set for his short film Neighbors (1920).
Despite reportedly spending $10,000 building his Easy Street set, Chaplin used a real police station (above) to film the scene where Charlie deliberates whether to join the force. His movements are a tour de force, showing the audience, through his physicality, his inner turmoil as he summons the courage to enter the building in order to enlist, then balks at the threshold, halting mid-step, then regains his nerve, marches towards the door, only to hesitate yet again. The scene was likely filmed in December 1916.
Chaplin fashioned his tenement set for Easy Street after Methley Street, in his boyhood London neighborhood Lambeth. To add greater realism, he also filmed at the Plaza de Los Angeles (above), and nearby Olvera Street, a slum alley that is today a popular Mexican market and tourist attraction.
Chaplin used the same slum alley for both films.
Above, four views of Olvera Street, a dingy slum alleyway at the time Chaplin filmed The Kid and Easy Street, reminiscent of his boyhood home (see more on The Kid at this post HERE). Today Olvera Street is one of LA’s most popular tourist spots.