Showing posts with label Laurel and Hardy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Laurel and Hardy. Show all posts

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Tour de Stairs (Silver Lake, Los Angeles)

I used to love old slapstick comedy when I was a kid. It was always good for a hearty laugh.

It still is.

While preparing for my recent trip to Los Angeles, I was reading about Silver Lake - a cool neighborhood northwest of downtown - and I was pleased to discover that legendary scenes with two of my favorite comedy teams were filmed in the area. And they both involve... stairs.

 At one point, the city had the world's largest inter-urban public transportation system, employing trains, trolleys, and streetcars to get people where they needed to go. Beginning in 1901, the Los Angeles transportation system eventually grew to the point it included 20 streetcar lines and more than 1200 trolleys.

Access to that extensive system often involved people walking to a station or pick-up point in a nearby neighborhood. If you didn't know, the outer fringes of Los Angeles are hilly. So, occasionally, the easiest way to connect one neighborhood to another above or below it on a steep hill was to build concrete stairs. This saved the pedestrian from having to follow the road the entire way around - which, in some cases, was a considerable distance. With the stairs, you could just cut through from one neighborhood to the next, catch a train or trolley and be on your way.

During the 1920s the city built a number of steep connecting stairways. And at least two sets of slapstick stars made them the subject of their antics.

Laurel and Hardy made a film called "The Music Box." The plot involves a woman who has purchased a player piano as a surprise birthday gift for her husband. Laurel and Hardy have been hired to deliver it. But the woman lives near the top of a set of steps.

Very long steps, as it turns out.

And, of course, slapstick hilarity ensues...

"The Music Box" won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film (Comedy) in 1932.

The film location was a set of steps running from Descanso Drive at the top to N. Vendome Street at the bottom.

By the '50s and '60s, Los Angeles had fully embraced the automobile (which resulted in dire atmospheric consequences in the '70s) and given up on its rail system.  But a number of the stairways survived - many in use currently as an alternative to a strenuous gym workout.

The Music Box Steps are among the survivors. So I paid a visit...

As you can see in this shot below taken from the original movie when compared with a screenshot from my video - below that - the house on the right existed at the time of the filming, although it's had a number of alterations since then, including the addition of an entry stairway next to the original steps.

The additional structure to the left - and the railings - were added some time later, and the growth of surrounding vegetation has closed in the steps a bit, but, they're still there... in all their glory.

Nine years later - in 1941 - the Three Stooges used a similar opening plot in their comedy short called "An Ache in Every Stake."

The boys are delivering ice - the electric icebox was only just beginning to come into fashion - and a woman in need of ice calls down to them... from the top of a very long set of steps - 147 steps, to be exact.

I love the Stooges...

This film location was a set of steps running from Edendale Place down to Fair Oak View Terrace.

Although a little more off the beaten path, these steps also still exist. I drove over to take a look...

And it was awesome!

In the still shots below (from the colorized version of the film released in 2004) you can clearly see the roof of the garage on the right and the arched doorway of the dwelling behind it.

Here's a better shot, as "Mr. Lawrence" (Vernon Dent) pursues the boys after having the second of his birthday cakes destroyed...

The Stooges' ice wagon is just about where my car was idling when I visited.

The picture below is a screenshot from my video - with the garage roof (now with a wrought iron railing) and the doorway visible beyond that.

I climbed a couple of landings to soak in the view - and the moment.  I love places like this. When you're standing in the exact location where classic comedy was created, it's not quite like going back in time, but almost.

It's a little disturbing, too, when you realize it's been almost ninety years since Laurel and Hardy struggled up the first set of steps. Ninety years.

If Oliver Hardy had lived to witness the changes in the world since 1932 and to contemplate the current state of affairs, there's no doubt in my mind what he'd say.

"Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into."