Tag Archives: modern times

Post-“Modern Times”

As you may have noticed, “Deadwrite’s Dailies” has been something of a misnomer of late.

I’ve not taken a dirt nap or anything, it’s just that the summer got crazy busy. During the last couple of months, I got deluged finishing up my second book (with co-writer Marc Wanamaker), co-hosting a new local television show, as well as leading tours and teaching classes on film history in the Santa Clarita Valley. On top of it all, Kimi and I started back on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank doing “real jobs.”

That being said, I found myself with a day off today and wanted to use the time to say “hello” and to congratulate everyone for being alive to celebrate the palindromic date of 11/02/2011.

Today, I would like to update everyone on our efforts to memorialize the spot of the final scene from Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” This article was originally posted on August 30, 2010.

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Seventy-five years ago today, the Silent Era ended.

The ending came with little fanfare on Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce, California. The only people on-site to witness the finale were the stars and crew of the film Modern Times, who were there to film the iconic final scene.

Silent films had been on life-support for nearly a decade by the time that Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest of the Silent Era clowns, chose to make Modern Times – a film about the dehumanizing effects of big business on workers. Sound first appeared in a Hollywood feature in 1926’s Don Juan, which had a backing orchestra and sound effects synced to the film. Talkies debuted a year later with The Jazz Singer, and the days of the silent film were officially numbered.

The change was a traumatic one for Hollywood, and hundreds of careers ended abruptly. Chaplin had built a tremendously successful career with a pantomime character called The Little Tramp and was in no hurry to have him talk. By 1935, he was the last person in Hollywood with the resources to ignore the transition to sound, but he realized the time had at last come to have the character speak.

Modern Times is a transitional film in that almost all of the dialogue is silent, yet there are occasional spoken voices and sound effects. The Little Tramp remains silent for most of the film, but when it comes time for him to talk, Chaplin actually has him sing.

On August 30, 1935, when the cast and crew shot the final scene where Chaplin and his co-star Paulette Goddard walk off into the sunset, (figuratively at least, the scene was set at dawn) they must have sensed they were at the end of an era; it was unlikely that even the great Charlie Chaplin could pull off another silent film. What remained to be seen was whether or not the Little Tramp character would continue.

The answer was no. Chaplin felt the magic of the character disappeared once his voice was heard and chose to retire him.

(A similar character did appear in Chaplin’s next film, The Great Dictator, but the Tramp was transformed into a European Jewish barber for this film. After that, the character never again appeared on screen.)

Modern Times was Chaplin’s biggest gamble and turned out to be one of his greatest successes. Recently, the American Film Institute voted it onto its top 100 American Films list at #81.

I am currently working with Los Angeles County and Santa Clarita city officials to erect a commemorative plaque at the site of the final scene next February to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the film’s release.

Stay tuned for updates on our progress!

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THIS JUST IN: In February 2011 Kimi and I helped create and host the first annual ChaplinFest in Newhall, California. During that festival, Tippi Hedren and Leonard Maltin helped us unveil a beautiful black marble monument commemorating the final scene of “Modern Times.” The monument was created by the wonderful couple of Charles and Maria Sotelo of High Desert Monuments in Hesperia, California. These kind and patient people believed so strongly in our project that they created the monument for us without asking for a dime up front. I am very happy to report that after several months of fundraising, the Sotelos are now paid in full! We thank everyone who contributed to this worthy cause. (We will still need to raise funds for the base and other associated costs.)

The next phase of the project calls for us to get the monument placed at the site of the final scene (which looks much the same today as it did in 1935). We are hoping to place it during the week of August 30, 2012, the 77th anniversary of the filming of the scene. We’ll keep you in the loop on how our plans progress.


Accomplishment #8,536

Charles and Maria Sotelo of High Desert Monuments in Hesperia, the creators of the "Modern Times" memorial plaque, with film historian Leonard Maltin, at the 2011 SCV ChaplinFest in Newhall, California, on Saturday, February 5, 2011.

When I was 18 years old, I attended a lecture given by John Goddard, the “world’s greatest goal achiever.” I remember being enthralled that day by a film he made about navigating the entire length of the Congo River in Africa. Afterwards, he exhorted all of us in attendance to go home and write down the ten things we most wanted to accomplish in our lives.

I took him up on it, and soon found that ten things weren’t enough. Ten items became twenty, which became fifty, which eventually grew to encompass thousands of things.

Since that day over thirty years ago, I have maintained the list, adding and checking things off almost daily. Thanks to power of writing my goals down, as of today, I have listed 8,536 items on my accomplishment list.

The entry for accomplishment number 8,536 is only three words: Help create ChaplinFest.

That’s it. But I think of these three words as the title of a book, with the thousands of sights, sounds, and memories of the event representing the words inside.

Michael McNevin, Tippi Hedren, Kimi, E.J., and Patrick McClellan at ChaplinFest on Saturday, February 5.

As a way of thanking all of the people who attended our inaugural 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest last Friday and Saturday, I would like to list some of these moments as they appear in my head:

Leonard Maltin and Tippi Hedren mimicking Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in the final scene from Modern Times by walking arm-in-arm down the center of Sierra Highway near Agua Dulce … Seeing Chaplin’s overalls from Modern Times as well as his prop wrenches and oil can … Kimi and I hearing our names on Jack FM during our friend Tami Heidi’s “Jack-tivities,” in which she announced ChaplinFest … the beautiful monument created by the equally wonderful Maria and Charles Sotelo of High Desert Monuments of Hesperia … riding to the actual Modern Times site with Leonard and Alice Maltin … finally meeting author John Bengtson, who I have admired for years … spending time with David Totheroh, who is the grandson of Chaplin’s longtime cameraman, Rollie Totheroh … hanging out with our buddies Chris and Charlie Epting … all the great vendors … the hundreds of hours of hard work put in by volunteers like Ed, Ralph, Brenda, Paul and all the others too numerous to name … the graciousness of Tippi Hedren, and the love she has for her staff at the Shambala Preserve … the bus that serves as a mobile film studio Hugh Munro Neely brought from the Mary Pickford Institute … seeing the very first copies of Steve Bingen’s new book about the MGM backlots … watching Tippi clown for the cameras with our cardboard Charlie Chaplin cutout … the humor of Alice Maltin and the generosity of her husband Leonard … the beautiful proclamations presented to us by the state, county, and city … the amazing Q&A session between Leonard and Tippi on what it was like for her to work with Charlie Chaplin on A Countess From Hong Kong … the dynamic duo of Jim and Pam Elyea talking with David Totheroh about what it was like to work on Chaplin … Tippi’s story about how an elephant at Shambala once ate Sophia Loren’s address book … the donations we received to help pay for the monument … the performances of the great Michael McNevin and Tracy Newman … the laughter coming from members of all generations during our screenings of Modern Times and The Pilgrim … the crowd cracking up when Tippi asked Leonard during the Q&A if he would like to know what it was like for her to work with Chaplin, and Leonard jokingly responding, “No!” … and especially, the camaraderie shared between all of our organizers: Ayesha Saletore, Beth Werling, Rachel Barnes, and my beautiful wife Kimi …

I could go on and on.

If you were unable to attend this weekend, don’t sweat it. Because of the HUGE success of our first event, there WILL be a 2012 ChaplinFest that you can attend!

Put it on your list of things you want to accomplish.

The "Modern Times" monument which we plan to place at the site of the final scene.

To see more ChaplinFest images, click HERE

To make a contribution to help pay for the monument, click HERE


Quite A Lady

Tippi Hedren.

I couldn’t let the month end without sending belated birthday wishes out to a very special neighbor of ours.

This woman, like many good neighbors, works a lot around the house, does a ton of volunteer work, as is famous for loving her cats.

But in her case, the house she putters around is called the Shambala Preserve, and much of her volunteer work goes towards housing and feeding her cats – some which weigh hundreds of pounds!

You see, this special neighbor happens to be movie legend Tippi Hedren, who rescues lions, leopards, ligers, tigers, and bobcats at her preserve near Acton, California.

Tippi’s Shambala Preserve, which is maintained by the Roar Foundation, grew out of a film that she starred in and produced in the early 80s called Roar, which was filmed at Shambala’s current home on Soledad Canyon Road.

She began rescuing exotic cats a short time later, and today Shambala houses over 70 exotic wild animals, including Michael Jackson’s Bengal tigers which she acquired when Neverland Ranch closed.

Working around wild animals is a cakewalk compared to the stress Tippi must have felt making her film debut in 1963 for legendary director Alfred Hitchcock in The Birds.

Before this, Tippi worked as a model. Hitchcock was first captivated by her striking Nordic beauty after seeing her in a television commercial. She was directed by Hitchcock again the following year in Marnie.

While her days with Hitchcock are well documented, most people forget that she also appeared in Charlie Chaplin’s final film in 1967, called A Countess From Hong Kong. In all likelihood, Tippi is the only person to have ever worked for both of the two knighted English film masters.

Countess was filmed in London after Chaplin was exiled from the United States. Tippi co-starred in the film with Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, and Chaplin’s own son Sydney.

Tippi, who celebrated a birthday on January 19, works tirelessly to support Shambala, to get laws passed that prevent the breeding of exotic cats as pets, and somehow still finds time to appear in the occasional film and television role.

Tippi will be at ChaplinFest this weekend to help us honor the 75th anniversary of the release of Chaplin’s landmark silent comedy Modern Times, which had its final scene filmed just a few miles from the Shambala Preserve. ChaplinFest kicks off the evening of Friday, February 4, and continues all day Saturday, February 5 at the William S. Hart Park.

We will be placing a monument honoring the final scene inside the park on Saturday at 3 PM, and later that evening, Tippi will be interviewed by Leonard Maltin before a dinner and a special screening of Modern Times inside Hart Hall.

Tickets are still available! For information, please check here.

And speaking of ChaplinFest, did you happen to catch our article on the cover of AOLNEWS.COM yesterday? You can read it here. Here is a picture from the home page yesterday.


Charlie Chaplin’s Days

Last night in Santa Clarita’s city council chambers, a motion was approved proclaiming Saturday, February 5, 2011 “Charlie Chaplin Day” in the city.

This was done to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the release of Charlie’s final silent film Modern Times, which was partially shot near Santa Clarita.

The early part of February often proved significant during Chaplin’s long and storied career.

Charlie was a young English music hall performer on tour with the Fred Karno Troupe when he was discovered by producer Mack Sennett and given a contract to work in the flickers. He had not yet turned twenty-five when he first stepped through the gates at Sennett’s Keystone Studios near Glendale in January, 1914.

He was immediately thrust in front of the cameras, and on February 2, 1914 made his film debut in a 15-minute comedy called Making A Living where he plays a swindler who gets apprehended by the Keystone Cops.

Less than a week later, on February 7, Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character debuted in a one-reeler called Kid Auto Races at Venice. Sennett loved to use whatever was happening in Southern California as a backdrop for his hastily constructed plots, and Kid Auto Races was no exception. A soapbox derby race was taking place down by the beach and Sennett hustled his cast and crew to Venice to capture the action. A plot was derived on the site requiring Chaplin to play a camera-crazy spectator at the races who sees the filming and does whatever he can to insert himself in the action.  

Chaplin hurriedly assembled a contrasting mélange of oversized and undersized clothing, dabbed on some greasepaint to create a moustache, doffed a derby, grabbed a cane, and just like that, one of the most enduring characters in cinematic history was born fully-grown.

Chaplin appeared in two more films over the next few days, including one that until recently was thought to have never existed.

On February 19, Charlie played a Keystone Cop in a film called A Thief Catcher. It was soon forgotten and all copies were thought to be lost. Chaplin, possibly because he was unsatisfied with the finished product, later claimed that the film had never been made.

A couple of years ago, a film historian was browsing in an antique shop in Michigan when he discovered the long-lost film. (We will be presenting A Thief Catcher, along with Modern Times on February 5 in Newhall as part of ChaplinFest. Leonard Maltin will be hosting a Q&A session with Tippi Hedren before the film. Ms. Hedren, who is most famous for starring in The Birds for Alfred Hitchcock, also starred in Chaplin’s final film, A Countess From Hong Kong in 1967.)

February 5 also proved significant to Chaplin in 1919. That was the day that he, along with film pals Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith, created United Artists.

It’s interesting that the February 5th “Charlie Chaplin Day” proclamation will be presented in a special ceremony down the hill from the William S. Hart mansion in Santa Clarita since Bill Hart would have been the 5th member of the United Artists team had he not pulled out of the deal at the last moment.


From Niles to Newhallywood

The ending of "The Tramp" in 1915.

At the conclusion of the Charlie Chaplin film, The Tramp (1915), Chaplin’s “little tramp” character, heartbroken after losing the girl, shuffles off alone down a winding dirt road.

The situation was much different twenty-one years later in the final scene from Modern Times when Chaplin retired the iconic character.

Charlie Chaplin was an English music hall performer in his early twenties when discovered by Mack Sennett and brought to Hollywood to star in the “flickers.” During his first year in the business in 1914, Chaplin made 35 films at Sennett’s Keystone Studios near Glendale, and rose from complete obscurity to become the most recognized man in the world.

Chaplin was only earning $175 per week at Keystone and got lured away to Essanay Studios the following year with the offer of a 700% raise (to $1250 per week) plus a $10,000 signing bonus.

Essanay Studios was named after the initials “S & A” of its two main partners, George Spoor and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson. It was based in Chicago but Broncho Billy, who was one of early cinema’s first cowboy stars, later came west to set up a second facility in the town of Niles, California to shoot Westerns.

After signing with Essanay, Chaplin first filmed in Chicago before coming to Niles. He wasn’t impressed with the town when he got there. The East Bay village was far too rural for the young man who had only ever lived in the big cities of London and Los Angeles.

Chaplin would only stay in Niles long enough to make a handful of films, but one of them, The Tramp, is today considered to be his first masterpiece.

In the film, Charlie stars in the role of his “little tramp” character, which he had created for Keystone. Sennett’s frenetic filming schedule had prevented him from developing the character fully, relying mostly on slapstick to get a laugh. At Essanay, Chaplin was able to add pathos to the character, making him more sympathetic.

At the end of The Tramp, Chaplin has been rejected by his lady (played by Edna Purviance) and walks off through the Niles Canyon alone. Dejected at first, he then shrugs his shoulders, picks up his pace, and hustles off in search of his next adventure.

When Chaplin decided to retire the character at the end of Modern Times in 1936, he came to the Santa Clarita Valley, which was known to early filmmakers as Newhallywood. In Modern Times, Chaplin paid homage to the final scene of The Tramp with a twist. He again walks off, but this time the road is straight and paved, and most importantly … he’s got his girl at his side. The Little Tramp’s days of facing the world alone have ended.

Chaplin and his works will be honored at the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest on February 4 and 5 in Newhall, California, with films, lectures, book signings, and the dedication of a monument honoring the 75th anniversary of the release of Modern Times.

Some citizens of Niles will be on-hand to represent their town that day, including musician Michael McNevin.

The Little Tramp and his girl at the conclusion of "Modern Times" (1936).

To learn more about ChaplinFest, click here.

To learn more about Niles, click here.


Smile

Those who heard it will never forget Jermaine Jackson’s version of Smile, which he sang as a touching tribute to his brother Michael at his memorial service at Staples Center in July 2009.

The song he sang that day is a haunting melody that’s familiar to all, but few know where it originated.

In 1936, multi-talented Charlie Chaplin composed the music for Smile as the theme for his epic silent masterpiece Modern Times. The song is heard during the film’s final scene in which the Little Tramp encourages his crestfallen companion Paulette Goddard to “smile.” The revitalized couple then amble off together down the highway in search of a new day.

John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics to the melody in 1954 for Nat King Cole. Since then, it has been covered by dozens of artists, including Michael Jackson on his HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I album in 1995. Jackson later said that Smile was his favorite song.

The final scene of Modern Times was in actuality the end of the entire silent era. Chaplin had resisted talkies for a full decade, fearing that once his Little Tramp’s voice was heard, the magic of the character – which had enchanted the world for over two decades – would be gone.

The bittersweet strains of Smile set the proper tone for Chaplin to bid farewell to his Little Tramp character, just as it did for Jermaine Jackson to say goodbye to his little brother.

In February, Kimi and I will be helping host the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest in Newhall, California to honor the 75th anniversary of the release of Modern Times. The highlight of the festival will take place on Saturday, February 5, when we will place a plaque at the site of the final scene of Modern Times, which was filmed nearby.

The "Modern Times" plaque.

To learn more about the festival, click here: 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest

To see the final scene of Modern Times, click here: Modern Times finale


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.