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Site Seeing

by larrydachslager on October 12th, 2013

When I was around eleven or twelve, my mother, my sister, and I went to visit my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Baltimore.  From there, we took a road trip to Lancaster, PA where I first learned of the Amish community.   It was in Lancaster that I visited what would become my all-time favorite tourist attraction, The Choo Choo Barn.  I’m not going to expand on The Choo Choo Barn in this entry because it’s not movie-related, but I suggest you check it out on Google and Youtube.

For me, the most exciting part of the trip was riding the train.  I’ve always been a fan of any ride that involves a track, so I was excited to board the locomotive.  Hanging on one of the walls near the boarding area was a sign and several photos informing that the surrounding area had been used in the filming of the movie Hello Dolly and that one of the cars on the train, the one labeled “Hello Dolly,”  was the very one that Barbra Streisand, Michael Crawford, and the cast rode on during the “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” number.  My opinion of that movie is completely irrelevant to this story, so I’ll refrain from going into detail on that.

Dolly 2

The point is, I was star struck… or rather, “car struck.”  I had seen the movie in the theater in Houston a few years earlier and remembered that scene clearly.  And to find myself standing in the same car where the actors stood… not to mention its director, Gene Kelly… made me feel absolutely privileged.  Silly as it sounds now, at the time I felt that I was part of history.  Every time that movie comes on TV, I always try to watch that scene, just so I can brag to myself, “I’ve stood there.”

Dolly 3

Many years later, I visited Baltimore alone and my aunt and uncle took me to Lancaster again.  The Hello Dolly car was still there (I took the photo below) and is still there today if you want to ride on it.  And stop by the Choo Choo Barn, while you’re there.

Dolly

My second walk through film history occurred ten years ago when I went on the first of what would become several long, solo summer road trips.   I drove to Los Angeles to visit friends (and Disneyland!).  As always, the real “vacation” aspect of the trip is the drive itself, providing many hours of alone time on sparsely populated roads to ruminate, daydream, and just listen to music of my choosing.   One day, I had some free time in LA, so I decided to try to locate the outdoor staircase up which Laurel and Hardy lugged a piano in their legendary 1932 Oscar-winning short subject, The Music Box. 

laurel hardy music box

I have always been a huge fan of Laurel and Hardy.  (Especially Hardy, but more about that in a future entry.)    I’ve never been much of a “joiner,” but if Houston had had a chapter of the Sons of The Desert, the international Laurel and Hardy enthusiasts organization, I would have been a card- carrying member, for sure.  In fact, as soon as I finish this entry, I’m going to research the Chicago chapter.  I’ve only been to Las Vegas once in my life and, in one of the few photos from that trip, I’m standing next to a portrait of Laurel and Hardy made up entirely of jelly beans.

L and H jelly

But I digress.  I’m pretty sure I owned every book ever written about the team.  One of those books focused on the Hollywood locations where the movies were shot – the most famous of which was the iconic Music Box staircase.   Nowadays, it’s easy to find any location using the internet, but in 2003, though I owned a computer, I still was fairly unfamiliar with how the internet worked.  My only resource was my book, which contained an address, freeway instructions, and a small map.  I never had a great sense of direction, so setting out, I expected the excursion to be a long ordeal.  It wasn’t.  The instructions were “Larry-friendly” enough to where I found the general area fairly easily.  Once I realized I was in the right residential neighborhood, I parked my car and decided to continue the search for the steps on foot.  As I got out of the car, I actually felt that anxious sort of excitement when one is about to meet a long-admired celebrity.  Though I’d seen all their films repeatedly and read volumes about them, Laurel and Hardy still maintained a sort of mythical, almost fictional quality in my mind.  The remoteness of the films due to their age made the duo seem more like the stuff of legends than reality.

It’s well known to L & H fans that, in his later years, Stan Laurel was easily accessible to his fans.  His home address and phone number were listed in the phone directory, just like a “real person,” and he famously answered every piece of mail and every call he received.  By being born only three years before Laurel died, I had sadly ignored the key element of comedy:  timing.

Anyway, as I wandered through the area looking for the stairs, the only thing in my mind was 1932 – another world.

Music Box

I started taking notice of the neighborhood as it is now.  It appeared middle to lower-middle class.  Though there were many houses and apartments around, I saw no other people.  In the middle of the street, there was a grassy “island” separating one side of the street from the other.  Sitting on that island, was a discarded couch.  To get my bearings, I looked for a street sign.  The first one I saw said, “Music Box Steps” and I realized I was standing right in front of them!

Stairs 4

In the movie, there are only buildings on one side of the steps, but now they are hugged tightly on both sides by apartments, almost obscuring them from view when on the sidewalk.  Their sudden appearance made me gasp – and then cry.   I was standing in the exact spot where they stood.  I looked at the house across the street.  It still stands and looks much the same as it does in the film.  The “island” that currently housed the old couch can be seen in the film, as well.   On one of the bottom-most steps, there is a plaque commemorating the location.  It is covered with graffiti.

Stairs 2

I had a disposable camera and looked around for someone to take a photo of me on the stairs, but still saw no one.  I sat on the steps.  I touched them.  And yes… I walked up all 131 of them.

Stairs1

In the movie, there’s a house at the top of the stairs where the second half of the film takes place.  In reality, even at the time, there was no house there.  The house scenes were filmed back at the Hal Roach Studios.  The magic of movies placed the house at the top of the stairs in the viewer’s mind.

I explored the stairs for about an hour, trying to imagine being present on the sunny day 70 years earlier when the scene was being filmed.  The day of my visit was overcast.  I felt such envy of the people who lived in the apartments on either side.  Did they have any appreciation of where they lived?  If I were to go into their homes, would there be photos of Laurel and Hardy standing in the spot immediately outside their front door?  Have they even seen or heard of the film?  Though vacant that day, I’ve often read that the site is frequently visited by Laurel and Hardy fans from all around the world who make pilgrimage just to take photos and gape in wonder in the stairs’ history.  When this happens, are the residents amused or annoyed?  And where the hell is everybody?  I just need one person to take a damn picture!   Sorry… but it was a little disappointing to have such a joyous, personal experience and have no record of my having been there.  Just know that it was I who took the photos you’re looking at.  Next time I’m in LA and visit the stairs, I’m taking someone with me.  Any volunteers?   I know I don’t have to worry about the stairs going anywhere.  In fact, the couch may very well still be there, too.

Stairs3

Next week – my trip to Mount Rushmore where I walked (and flew) in the footsteps of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments
  1. Jay permalink

    A great post!! Thanks.
    Every once in a while I have the yearning to escape the “comedy” of today and go back in time. This evening I had that yearning so put on The Music Box and watched with my 8 year old daughter and 21 year old son. Laughs like that are absolutely priceless!!!

  2. larrydachslager permalink

    Many thanks, Jay. I apologize for my delayed response. I’m still learning about how all of this works and only just now discovered your kind, much appreciated comment. I’m glad to hear you’re passing the legacy on to your children and that they get it!

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