In 1935, Charlie Chaplin – the most famous of the silent clowns – came to the Santa Clarita Valley to shoot the final two scenes of the silent era.
Chaplin was over twenty years into his enormously successful film career at the time, having first arrived in Hollywood from his native England in 1914 to make films for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios. By the end of that year he had completed 35 films and his character, the Little Tramp, was the world’s most recognizable star.
He left Keystone the following year and continued to make dozens of Little Tramp shorts for other producers for the next few years. These films were so successful that by the end of the decade he was able to build his own studio on La Brea in Hollywood, and to partner in the creation of United Artists with his friends Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith.
Chaplin was in essence a pantomime artist and feared that if people heard the voice of the Little Tramp that the character’s magic would be lost forever. As the star, director, producer, writer, editor, and composer of his films, as well as the studio owner, he was the only man in Hollywood with the power and resources to buck the talkie trend. But he knew that the time had come to evolve. By 1935, he finally admitted to himself that talking pictures, which debuted in 1927, were here to stay, and were not the novelty that he had hoped would eventually wear off with the world’s audiences.
He decided to end his silent career with a film called Modern Times. It would be his biggest gamble to date, coming eight years into the talkie era. It would prove to be one of his greatest triumphs, but no one knew that on August 20, 1935, when he came to the SCV to film.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the filming date for the penultimate scene, which was shot on Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce. Ten days later Chaplin returned to the same lonely road to film what would be the final scene of not only Modern Times, but of the entire silent era. I will write about that on August 30.
To be continued …