Silent film pioneer recognized

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Hooray for Edendale? The Edendale Bowl? Edendale & Vine?

The famous song, outdoor venue, and street corner of the stars might have been labeled “Edendale” instead of “Hollywood” had history taken a different course.

Edendale (now Echo Park) is where the movie industry’s Los Angeles roots were planted in the 1910s, during the silent film era, before relocating to Hollywood. Studios were concentrated on a few blocks of Allesandro Street, now Glendale Boulevard, between Berkeley and Duane.

Anyone driving along this stretch of Glendale today would have no clue of the area’s storied history. Yet nestled within a self-storage facility remains one of the last vestiges – a century-old building that was once part of Keystone Studios, founded in 1912 by comedic film pioneer Mack Sennett.

Stan Taffell, filmmaking historian and restoration expert, honors silent era film legacy

Stan Taffel and ‘the ghost’ of Mack Sennett at site of Keystone Studios. Image courtesy of Hollywood Heritage.

PRO-TEK’s Stan Taffel is very familiar with this chapter of filmmaking history and with Sennett’s impact on the industry. He was asked to speak at a recent ceremony to preserve this legacy.

PRO-TEK Film Expertise Goes Beyond Restoration and Archiving

According to Stan, Mack Sennett was a west coast motion picture industry pioneer, relocating to California from New York and founding Keystone Studios in the early 1900s.

“Sennett was known as the ‘King of Comedy’ because he was credited with developing slapstick comedy. One of his most enduring comedic creations was the Keystone Cops, a bumbling group known for their ill-fitting uniforms and wild car chases.”

Sennett worked with Hollywood’s legendary film stars, including Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields and Bing Crosby. He won an Academy Award in 1932 for his film Wrestling Swordfish and in 1938 was given an honorary Academy Award for his contributions to comedic film. Sennett gave up the Keystone trademark in 1917 and moved on to other ventures. Keystone did not survive the Depression and fell into bankruptcy in 1933.

In 1954, Sennett was recognized on the NBC television show This Is Your Life and presented with a commemorative plaque from the new owner of the property where Keystone Studios stood to mark it as “the birthplace of motion picture comedy”. Unfortunately, the plaque was placed erroneously at another studio across the street. Sennett died in 1960 at the age of eighty. The plaque remained at the wrong location.

Correcting Filmmaking History and Preserving Mack Sennett’s Legacy

Stan Taffel, PRO-TEK restoration expert and film historian speaks at ceremony honoring Mack Sennett

Stan Taffel addresses audience at Keystone Studio dedication ceremony. L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell stands at far right. Image courtesy of Hollywood Heritage.

Thanks to the persistence of some film preservation experts and the fundraising efforts of nonprofit group Hollywood Heritage, this historical oversight has been corrected. After more than sixty years, the plaque honoring Sennett was restored, embellished with an added inscription, moved to the rightful birthplace of motion picture comedy and rededicated in a ceremony on February 27, 2015. PRO-TEK digital restoration expert and film historian Stan Taffel was asked to give a speech (content below) at the event.

“It was an honor to talk about Sennett and the early history of film making and to see the historic plaque properly placed at the actual site of Keystone Studios.”

Along with the plaque at 1712 Glendale Boulevard, you can find Mack Sennett’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard.

You can purchase the Mack Sennett DVD Collection in support of the Silent Era website. The Collection includes films from Stan Taffel’s private archive as well as his commentary.

Stan Taffel Speech Honoring Mack Sennett

“One hundred years ago, long before Hollywood would eventually become famous as the entertainment capital of the world, this neighborhood was the most recognized and well known town in the world. It was here that Mack Sennett began production on a career that produced some 1,200 films. Edendale, as it was known then, was his playground. The Keystone Kops, the Sennett Bathing Beauties, among others, were his playmates.  It was here on this very spot that he produced the laughs heard around the world.

“Without Sennett’s keen eye for unique talent, we might never have had Charlie Chaplin. How different the industry would have been without him. It is just and proper that Sennett was adorned with the title, “The King Of Comedy.” Through the portals of the royal Sennett kingdom passed some the finest of the King’s jesters. Today, many players in his court, their names hardly recognizable to the masses as they once were, yet to the early movie goers they were superstars, Sennett stars. Today the names of Clooney, Hanks and Streep are known throughout the world. In Sennett’s time, the names of Chaplin, Arbuckle and Normand were as ‘A’ list as you could get.

“If we could magically take individuals from every corner of the globe, each one of them speaking a different language – and seat them in a motion picture theater and run a Sennett comedy – unable to speak to anyone else because of the language barrier – watching the action unfold on the silent screen they would all feel the same emotion – in unison, they would be moved to laughs, surprise, sorrow, perhaps a tear, any emotion being conveyed. In his day, Mack Sennett’s films, which were being released sometimes as many as two per week, brought all people together.

Stan Taffel, PRO-TEK, speaks at ceremony honoring Mack Sennett and Keystone Studios.

Stan Taffel compares film and digital formats. Image courtesy of Hollywood Heritage.

“Today in our fast-paced, ‘there’s an app for that’ society, our tastes have grown, technology has advanced to plateaus unknown to Sennett. Yet the course he mapped out paved the way for everyone that followed in his very large shadow.

When he made motion pictures, they were recorded on this – a reel of 35mm film (held up). This is called film. This one reel runs around 12 to 15 minutes, depending on how fast or slow it is projected. This is how we currently see films – on DVD. (A DVD case is held up.) This digital pressing contains fifty of Sennett’s films. What Sennett would think of this! It would be as strange as, sadly, what this film reel must look like to the youth of today. And somehow Sennett and his body of work, no matter what form it takes, must be seen.

“We still have much to learn from those masters who came before. Their gifts for crafting motion in pictures. Our dreams were their dreams, first. Sennett was the dreamweaver. He and the other great pioneers made it possible for those in the industry today to do what they do. Each generation learns from the next. Unfortunately, some generations don’t look back far enough. If they did, they would find a treasure chest full of joy and wonder.

“Mack Sennett, his career, his work, much of which was produced where we stand today, is still relevant, still important, still vital. He practically taught the world to laugh. For several decades of the 20th century he honored us with his many gifts. It’s fitting, that in the 21st century, we honor him.”

 Additional Resources

LA Times coverage of the dedication ceremony.

Hollywood Heritage website.

Silent Era website.

We invite you to contact us in regards to your specific needs or questions.

Tim Knapp

Tim Knapp

Tim Knapp is EVP of Media & Archive services at LAC Group. He brings more than 30 years of experience in motion and still imaging – first in film, and most recently in digital. Tim has an extensive and wide-ranging understanding of the capabilities and challenges of film and video, including the issues and opportunities it presents for archivists as they face aging media libraries and an increasingly digital future.

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