Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Chaplin Comedy Begins a Second Hundred Years

Here's a Posed Still From The Films Of Charlie Chaplin Book. My Query Then ...
How Many Actual Stills Were Taken For This Short, and How Many Survive? 

Charlie's First Film Released A Century Ago

I once had Civil War pajamas issued for the centennial of that 1860's hostility, and now comes 100th year since Chaplin began nickel route to mythic place in movies. Is there nightwear to commemorate that? Thing is, it's now nearly half that century since I got hold of 1965-published The Films Of Charlie Chaplin, then scrounged $6.28 so I could have Making A Living on Blackhawk 8mm a few years after. This was Chaplin's debut short where he played "the nervy and very nifty sharper," to quote a February 1914 review that appeared in Moving Picture World. For time I spent hovered over that book, I'm sure this was my first exposure to the words "nervy" and "sharper." Does anyone use either anymore? It was worth cutting grass to have CC's very first, images in McDonald, Conway, and Ricci's book having branded my consciousness. I'd like knowing how many 8 and 16mm prints of Making A Living Blackhawk sold in the 60's, as it might indicate the number of hardcore Chaplin fans not around for Living's 2/2/1914 release, but eager to relive it on home movie screens.

I sat watching at age fifteen and thought, This man is still alive! It had been over fifty years since Making A Living was made, and that, of course, seemed impossibly long to me. And consider how movies had changed between 1914 and the late sixties. A Keystone to my adolescent eyes might as well have been shot in ancient Egypt. I was curious how Chaplin would register before (as in mere days) he introduced the Tramp character. Would he be as funny? That answer came in the affirmative both then and just yesterday when I watched Making A Living again. I'm with the Moving Picture World critic for dubbing Charlie "a comedian of the first water, who acts like one of nature's own naturals." He does an opening pantomime of borrowing money from Henry Lehrman, who was also Making A Living's director (and offscreen nemesis to Chaplin). It's a minute and a half continuous take, CC greeting, cajoling, finally begging Lehrman for coin without resort to titles. The business was filmed in front of a residence just behind the Sennett studio on or about 1/5/1914, a site that is now a Jack In The Box restaurant, according to John Bengtson's amazing reconstruction of the century-old event.

Note The Curious Pair Looking On From a Window
 Behind Charlie and Cast of Making A Living
There's a scene later on that Bengtson places in front of the Los Angeles Times building. Charlie encounters a bum on the street and pushes a doorway kid in the face before going in to seek a job. Thanks to splendid DVD clean-up of Making A Living by Flicker Alley and restoring partners, I was able for a first time to spot two guys in a background window observing the comics with great interest. This has become a favorite sport of Keystones for me, what with so many put visually right and disc-available. It's at last possible to see curious faces distracted from routine by clowns suddenly intruding into daily life. These workers at the window, presumably L.A. Times employees stealing moments from work to observe a mad movie crew, may have been the very first civilians to witness a Chaplin performance before cameras. Would either realize in years to come what history was playing out before them?

UPDATE: 2/6/14 --- 5:00 PM: Noted historian Michael Hayde, author of the outstanding recent book, Chaplin's Vintage Year, sent along the above 1914 ad for Making A Living as it played in Buffalo, NY. As the photo demonstrates, the one-time Frontier Theatre, later the Senate, still stands, though many years have passed since it served as a picture-house. Thanks to Michael for this fascinating bit of history.


Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

The "bum on the street" is Chester Conklin and it's the inauguration of an on-screen dynamic (Chaplin, dominant; Conklin, put-upon foil) that would continue, in spurts, all the way to THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940). Conklin was, allegedly, the first Keystone-ite who saw Chaplin's potential from the get-go.

It rankles that MAKING A LIVING is still perceived as being a flop, thanks to Mack Sennett's untrustworthy 1954 memoir. As I noted in CHAPLIN'S VINTAGE YEAR, the film was as successfully received as any other Keystone release, which is to say it got laughs and made money. Moreover, Chaplin returned to the get-up for his ninth film, CRUEL, CRUEL LOVE, so the not-yet-named "Little Tramp" get-up wasn't a lock as far as Keystone was concerned.

11:44 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects on Charlie Chaplin and times as they were when "Making A Living" first appeared:

The stills from "Making A Living" are fascinating for their glimpse of a time now far removed from our own. Chaplin in his original guise was an Edwardian dandy, with his top hat and long, pinch-waisted coat. And indeed, that was a time scarcely removed from the reign of Edward's mother, Victoria, who died in 1901. Hierarchies and class distinctions were readily picked out then by the cut of one's cloth. A hat might suggest an accent or a dialect, values shared or not, or something immediately understood as being similar or different, sinister or amusing. How very different from our age, with its own perspective and taboos, but where a billionaire wears the same style jeans as the boy walking his dog, and even a President would prefer to be seen without a tie. The marvelous thing about Chaplin, however, is that he touches something so deep within the human soul that it transcends those often superficial distinctions, or what may or may not be permitted. If we still laugh with him, it's because the truth remains true, whatever our conceits.


7:18 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson looks back at Chaplin the Indestructible:

Working through the Chaplin at Keystone box, the thing that jumped out at me was the sheer stamina Charlie and all the Keystoners seemed to have. Simple physical violence isn't that funny in itself, but Chaplin jumping at an adversary as if shot from a gun, or impossibly bouncing back from tumbles on very real cement, was funny and startling.

A little later Buster Keaton would make bone-crushing falls mysteriously abstract and poetic, but early Chaplin sometimes suggested a hyperspeed Warner Brothers cartoon. Soon enough Chaplin toned it way down; to make his tramp sympathetic and his stories sentimental he gave up the toonish invincibility.

5:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon offers a terrific glimpse of LA, then (as in Chaplin era) and now (Part One):

Hi John,

Great post about Chaplin. I often marvel at what kind of spunk (hey, there's another term which has become a museum piece) it must have taken to make one's way to the "wild, wild west" that was greater L.A. in the early 20th century, when you were born in a slum in faraway London...and then to conquer the medium of motion pictures in only a few years. I think there is a view of the Hollywood hills (to the north) that's preserved in B&W movies showing the construction of Chaplin's famous studio off of La Brea (am I right, or off-base on this?) and Sunset, and that you can see the kind of Asian palace up there that's still there today as Yamashiro's Restaurant, one of the local points of fascination even in today's Hollywood. In fact, I remember when you could drive up Highland Blvd. and see Yamashiro's up in the hills in the '80s. Not today, however, since they've constructed multi-story shopping and hotel frontages along the boulevard which obscure those attractive views. Progress. I recently saw a rather wonderful link at Criterion's page to a short video put together by "It's a Mad...World" enthusiasts contrasting very well-known cuts from that frenetic film with quite contemporary views (on video) of the same locations, and while some today look more forlorn and rustic than in the movie---surprisingly!--- others are predictably and sometimes nevertheless astonishingly more domesticated, including all three scenes that were made here in Agoura Hills (called simply 'Agoura' in those years before being incorporated as a city.) With such outlying communities having joined the march toward 'progress' and development, one is never surprised to see huge changes closer in to downtown L.A.

I was on a film shooting in downtown late last week and I can testify that the core city is experiencing an ongoing revival which has seen hundreds of young people move there to live in old converted lofts (a concept imported from NYC by enterprising and far-sighted developers and financiers as far back as the '90s) and new apartments. I'm talking about some stylish, knockout women and dashing consorts...spotted in force on the streets all day and well into the night. Some of these lofts and penthouses go for as much as $1M! I can't even conceive of having, much less spending that much on a dwelling in the middle of old L.A., but it points to the re-vivification of the city as much as anything. And there are increasingly more and more places to go to partake of culture, food, you-name-it in downtown L.A. I remember going to L.A. with film and TV companies over the past 35 years and a time when you really wanted NOT to be there after dark, and man, has that changed. Guys are out walking with their gals well after dark, and people are on the streets, and it's bustling on Friday night. Same thing's been the case for at least a decade in downtown Hollywood.

11:11 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Part Two of Craig Reardon and reflections on Hollywood Then and Now:

We were in an old theater which has survived the many years since it must have been built. I recognized it as we shot there on a TV show I worked on from 2003-'06. The same sign painted on the big, cast concrete back of the theater is there today, and it's very easy to make out the names Virginia Mayo and Hoagy Carmichael, though it's not clear whether this was some kind of public appearance or an ad for a movie. This fragment is superimposed with another boldly lettered sign identifying the theater as a Newsreel Theater, something I remember having seen when I worked there almost ten years ago, and I think wrote you about when you did your interesting piece on the one-time practice of some lesser theaters converting to this format during a day prior to the advent of televised news. Yet the interior of this one-time newsreel theater was relatively posh and grand in concept.

I saw a movie recently (and can't remember for the life of me what it was!) which had a kind of cameo with Geraldine Chaplin, and though she's admirably free of the kind of numbing nip 'n' tuck stuff so many older women in film undergo, it was somewhat shocking to see how aged she looks today, as I remember going to see "Dr. Zhivago" with my (original!) family almost as if it was yesterday, when she was a dewy young thing. Yet the thought that Geraldine, the actual daughter of Charlie Chaplin, is still alive and kicking so many years since her dad first came into prominence is amazing in and of itself.

Oh, and this may interest you. I've been going through my late Mom's belongings including a picture album her mother kept. My grandmother, to me! She had a job working in a secretarial pool at Universal in 1923. There's one mysterious picture in and among very typical and rather commonplace snaps of my grandfather (who I never met, as he died of a heart ailment in the late '30s), my mother and her sister as children, etc. These have value to me, naturally, but apart from an interesting flavor of an era gone by, very little for anyone else. But that one 'mystery' picture shows what appears to be a sound stage, and people scurrying about, and at least one of them is clearly in a costume for a movie---a military outfit---that makes him stand apart from the rest, who might as well be wearing costumes themselves by contemporary standards, but in context with the age of all these old snapshots in the album are obviously merely in everyday apparel---ca. 1923! And I think this picture must have been taken with an old 'Brownie'-type Kodak camera on the Universal lot. They might have officially frowned upon employees smuggling in cameras and taking pictures then as they did when I worked there 54 years later in 1977, but maybe not! I wish not only my grandmother, but I myself, had taken more surreptitious snapshots on the lot when we respectively worked there, but especially her! Think of it---she was there the year Lon Chaney made "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"! And, I know she met Lon Chaney, because she rather casually mentioned it to her daughter (my Mom) and talked about him and what a nice man he was.


11:13 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023
  • April 2023
  • May 2023
  • June 2023
  • July 2023
  • August 2023
  • September 2023
  • October 2023
  • November 2023
  • December 2023
  • January 2024
  • February 2024
  • March 2024
  • April 2024
  • May 2024
  • June 2024
  • July 2024