One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley got to visit Charlie Chaplin’s brand new studio. It was a “little bit of a quint old English street amidst the pampas plumes and tiny orchards of Hollywood.” She went on:
The camouflage is very deceptive. Inside the building which looks like a church, for instance, there is a mean old commercial time clock, like a conscience, where the workmen ring in, and where dwell—shades of St. John the Scribe—the Chaplin Boswells, the publicity department. Also, just as you fancy there will step from one of the half-timbered Elizabethan doors a clanking knight of old, instead there emerges an overalled Pete Props. ‘”Say,” he says, “whada you thing the boss wants now? A crowd o’ tarantulas! I ain’t no tarantula hound, and I don’t know no tarantulas. Can you beat it?”
Chaplin himself showed her and LA Times cartoonist Edmund “Ted” Gale around, “making amusing little comments:”
“I think I could like this place if I didn’t work here…See, here’s a lemon orchard back of the stage…No, I’m not going to live in the studio—Brother Sid and Mrs. Sid [Minnie Gilbert Chaplin] are going to try it, but none of the put-out-the-dog-and-let-in-the-cat-and-lock-the-cellar-door stuff for me at my workshop. But you see I’ve got a beautiful apartment”—it’s a large corner room, where there are bay windows and odd little dormer windows—“this is to be a combination office and reception-room, and there’s a door I can dodge out of and climb a tree in the lemon orchard if I want to get away from anybody…Yes, there’s a nice big swimming pool and there’s a tennis court, both to be used for business and pleasure.”
There was also a film lab, a screening room, dressing rooms, a garage, a film vault and stables. She observed that “so far as the studio is concerned, Charlie is like a kid with a new toy.”
The lemon orchard soon became the back lot, where they built open-air sets. Chaplin kept the studio until the end of his film career. He made his most famous films there, including The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). After he shot Limelight (1952) there and moved to Switzerland in 1953, he sold it to a real estate development firm who leased it to a television production company. Over the years it was owned by Red Skelton, CBS, A&M Records and most recently, the Jim Henson Company. It’s still a studio.
If you’d like to see what Kingsley saw, here’s Chaplin’s documentary about his studio called How to Make Movies (1918):
Kingsley reported that advance sales for Cleopatra at Clune’s Auditorium were brisk, and she repeated a story from Theda Bara’s secretary:
A lady interviewer called at the studio to see Miss Bara, who was dressing, and who sent out word. ‘I cannot possibly see you now. I have nothing on at all.’
The lady interviewer wrote on a card, and sent it in, ‘My dear Miss Bara, Shouldn’t recognize you if you did.’
The journalist was sent right in. Theda Bara had a fine sense of humor.
Because a new film critic had started last week, Kingsley was devoting more of her column space to vaudeville. She mentioned that despite wartime transportation problems, the Orpheum was still sending big acts, like Gertrude Hoffman and her fifty-person dance troupe and Joseph E. Howard and his song and dance company of forty. I had no idea that touring vaudeville acts could be so large.