Tag Archives: jack totheroh

Cinema’s Oldest “Baby” – Jack Totheroh 1914 – 2011

(Today I thank the 50,152 bold time travelers who have stopped by for a peek at Deadwrite’s Dailies over the past eleven months – 38,000 since January. Thank you all for helping us surpass this milestone. – Deadwrite.

We debut a new background today which we hope is easier on the eyes. It also gives a better view of the header, which in case you were wondering, was taken from a collage crafted a couple of years back using reprints of old film posters.)

You meet the greatest people through your passions.

Like Jack Totheroh, who we met because we love Charlie Chaplin, who was the employer of Jack’s father for 40 years.

I am sad to report that Jack passed away recently. He was a teacher, a husband, a father, a tremendous citizen, an athlete, an incredibly sweet man – and the holder of the world record for the longest film career in history.

Jack Totheroh began that career way back in 1915, at the ripe old age of nine-months, when he co-starred in The Bachelor’s Baby with “Broncho Billy” Anderson.

Broncho Billy was the world’s first cinema cowboy star, and had a cameraman named Rollie Totheroh who just happened to be Jack’s dad. Rollie was a baseball star who Anderson recruited to be a ringer on the baseball team at his Essanay Studios in the East Bay community of Niles, California. Within a short time, Rollie put down his mitt and picked up a camera and began cranking film at 16 frames per second for the flickers.

Soon after his film debut, Jack’s family moved to Hollywood so that Rollie could start rolling film for Charlie Chaplin – a partnership that would continue for the next 40 years.

As a young boy, Jack appeared in a few shorts for Fox, and then shelved his film career for the next 70 years until 1992 when he appeared in a cameo role in the bio-pic Chaplin, a film about his father’s old boss.

In 2007, Jack was back in Niles appearing in an independent film called Weekend King, which was shot within steps of where The Bachelor’s Baby was shot nine decades earlier. Jack’s 92-year film career earned him a spot in the Guinness Book of Records for having the world’s longest film career.

This tale, while certainly colorful, is only a sidebar to the true story of Jack Totheroh.

After graduating from Hollywood High School, Jack earned his bachelor’s degree in 1940 at Chapman College, where he met his wife Marian, who would be at his side for nearly 70 years. He began teaching in 1941, and moved to Santa Paula four years later, where he would teach generations of students until his retirement in 1984.

Jack and Marian would raise three sons in Santa Paula. It was his son David who informed me yesterday that his father had passed away on May 20th, at the age of 96.

I would never have met this wonderful man had I not fallen in love with Charlie Chaplin’s films as a child. A couple of years ago Kimi and I helped host an evening commemorating the 85th anniversary of the release of Chaplin’s film The Pilgrim, where I met Jack and the rest of the Totheroh family.

It was a tremendous honor for me to meet a man whose father was a member of Chaplin’s troupe.

It was even more of an honor to meet Jack Totheroh himself.


(BTW, Kimi and I happened to be at the Autry Center a few weeks ago and saw a clip from a Broncho Billy film that showed a scene where Anderson holds a young baby. We’re trying to find out from the Autry which film this scene was taken from, because The Bachelor’s Baby is thought to be a lost film, but certain scenes may have survived. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the baby turns out to be Jack Totheroh at nine-months. We’ll let you know what we find out.)



Catching It All

“I went from playing ball, to catching it all … I was the man behind the lens.”  I Shot Broncho Billy, Michael McNevin

Charlie Chaplin with Rollie Totheroh (center) on location in Truckee, California, during filming of "The Gold Rush" (1925).

The entire world is familiar with the films of Charlie Chaplin, but only hardcore Chaplin fans know of the man behind the lens, Rollie Totheroh, one of the men most responsible for the Little Tramp’s success. Totheroh, who was born 120 years ago today on November 29, 1890, was a true pioneer in the field of cinematography, and was Chaplin’s principal cameraman for the better part of four decades!

Charlie Chaplin first rose to stardom in 1914 at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles. During the year he was at Keystone, Chaplin appeared in 35 films, and went from obscurity to worldwide fame in the process. At the start of 1915, Chaplin went to work for Essanay Studios, which was owned by two men, George K. Spoor and “Broncho” Billy Anderson, one of the first Western stars of silent film. (Their initials, “S and A,” gave their studio its name.) Essanay was based in Chicago, but had a studio in the East Bay area of Northern California, in the town of Niles. Essanay was able to hire Chaplin away from Sennett by giving him a boost in salary to $1250 per week from the $150 per week he was making at Keystone. It was in Niles that Chaplin made such films as The Champion and The Tramp.

Totheroh was a former semi-pro baseball player who had first joined Essanay in 1911 as a “ringer” for the company baseball team. He was quickly put to work acting in some of the four hundred Westerns produced at the studio before moving behind the camera. In those days the work of the cameraman was a grueling one, requiring the steady cranking of the camera with one hand, while focusing the lens with the other. When Chaplin joined Essanay, Totheroh was assigned to be his personal cameraman, and the relationship stuck. They ended up working together until 1952, when Chaplin was exiled from America.

Chaplin was unimpressed with the facilities in Niles and left for greener pastures the following year, taking Totheroh with him. Before leaving Niles, Totheroh got married and had a son named Jack, who in 1915 appeared as a nine-month old female infant in the Broncho Billy film, The Bachelor’s Baby. 92 years later, Jack appeared in the feature, Weekend King. His nine-decade-plus film career is the longest in history, earning Mr. Totheroh a spot in the Guinness Book of Records. Jack is still with us at age 95, living in the Santa Paula area. He and his son David appeared in cameo roles in the 1992 film Chaplin, starring Robert Downey, Jr.

In Newhall, California, on the weekend of February 5, 2011, Kimi and I will be helping to host the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest to honor the 75th anniversary of the release of his epic silent feature, Modern Times. Chaplin came to the Santa Clarita Valley to capture the last scene of the film nearby. It was the final scene of the entire silent era.

Rollie Totheroh, of course, was behind the lens that day.

Rollie Totheroh's grave in North Hollywood's Vallhalla Cemetery.

For more information about ChaplinFest, check out www.scvchaplinfest.org. You can also friend us on Facebook at “Modern Times” Plaque – Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest.”

BTW, if you would like to hear the phenomenal Michael McNevin perform live, we hope to have him at ChaplinFest. Click here to see a clip of Michael playing Two Feet Ahead of the Train for us in Niles.