Tag Archives: fillmore


I remember seeing the film Chaplin for the first time in 1992. I, like most Charlie Chaplin fans worldwide, had been eagerly awaiting opening night since learning about the Robert Downey, Jr. production several months earlier.

I took a friend to the film who knew nothing about Charlie Chaplin more than his iconic image. At the beginning of the movie, Robert Downey, Jr. as Chaplin, enters his dressing room in the Little Tramp’s costume and greasepaint. I remember hearing my friend’s audible gasp when Downey looked into the mirror, pulled off his fake moustache, and wiped the stage makeup from his face, revealing a 25-year-old underneath. Until that moment, my friend had no idea that Chaplin’s aged look was created for the screen. From that moment, a fan was born.

As I pointed out recently, this week marks the 97th anniversary of the “birth” of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, known internationally as “Charlot,” which he hastily created for the one-reeler Kid Auto Races at Venice.

I say “hastily created,” but in reality, while the actual costuming of the character was assembled in a rush, the characterization of the homeless little man trying to make his way through life, while keeping his dignity intact, had been percolating in Chaplin’s mind since his days as a street waif in Victorian London.

The Little Tramp would live on until 1936, when Chaplin retired the iconic character at the conclusion of Modern Times.

To kick off the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest in Newhall this Friday evening, we will be screening Chaplin, which was partly filmed in nearby Fillmore, California.

On hand for the screening will be props used in the film, as well as a visit from David Totheroh, who appeared as his grandfather Rollie’s assistant in the film. (Rollie Totheroh was Chaplin’s cameraman for forty years.)

Incidentally, David’s father Jack, who still lives in the Santa Paula area, recently set a world record for having the longest film career ever, having appeared in a Broncho Billy Anderson film when he was six-months old in 1914, and again a couple of years ago in a movie made in Niles, California.

The screening of Chaplin is intended as a primer for those people who, like my friend back in 1992, have little knowledge of Charlie Chaplin, the man. With any luck, we will be creating some new Chaplin fans that night.

We will recognize them by their gasps when the greasepaint comes off.

“Hollywoodland” in the Heritage Valley

Though never actually seen in the series, Santa Paula leaders lobbied for their city to be known as the home of presidential candidate Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda) in "The West Wing," and the train station was said to be his campaign headquarters.

Through the years, Hollywood has modeled for hundreds of locales around the world. But ironically, when the producers of 1992’s Chaplin needed a shot of the Hollywood sign from the 1920s (which then read “Hollywoodland”), they had to travel 50 miles north of L.A. to the town of Fillmore to re-create the iconic structure. It seems that the one place that Hollywood no longer resembles is itself.

The Heritage Valley, which lies along a 40-mile stretch California 126 between Santa Clarita and Ventura, has been used for filmmaking since the earliest days of Hollywood. The valley is still covered with citrus and avocado groves that surround the towns of Piru, Fillmore, and Santa Paula. A ride down the 126 is a visual time capsule, and still a draw for producers needing a view of California with orchards rather than strip malls.

All of the communities in the valley have been seen repeatedly on film and television. Fillmore has appeared in recent episodes of Jericho, Big Love, and CSI; Ventura has shown up in Swordfish, Little Miss Sunshine, Erin Brockovich, and Chinatown; and parts of Carrie, Joe Dirt, and 1997’s Leave It To Beaver have been shot in Santa Paula.

The Valley’s earliest documented movie was the 1910 silent film Ramona, which starred Mary Pickford and was directed by D.W. Griffith. The film was made at Rancho Camulos, near the small town of Piru, and has the distinction of being the first film in history to list its filming location in the credits. During June of this year Piru was again a stop for film crews who built the “Benzini Bros. Circus” there for the upcoming film Water For Elephants, which stars Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz. Piru has also been seen in Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Dukes of Hazzard.

Ebell Park, Santa Paula. The site of Gaston Melies' Star Film Company from 1911 - 1913.

A year after Ramona was made, the Star Film Company set up studios in Santa Paula. The company was owned by pioneering French filmmaker Georges Melies, who sent his brother Gaston to California to make films in America. The company only lasted for a few months, but soon other producers moved into town.

When Warner Bros. decided to get into film production, they chose Santa Paula to be the site of their first movie, which was called Passions Inherited (1916). They sank much of their meager fortune into the film, but the only updates they got from director Gilbert P. Hamilton were requests for more money. Finally, Jack Warner arrived on the scene to find Hamilton “directing” two young starlets in his bedroom, and learned that Hamilton had spent much of the film’s budget treating himself to on a new car. Warner promptly fired the director and finished the film himself. It was the company’s first film … and their first flop. (For the rest of his life, Jack Warner was said to use the name “Gilbert P. Hamilton” as his most profane curse phrase.)

For more on the early history of Warner Bros., check out my new book Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I co-wrote with noted Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker.