The Little Tramp

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Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan in The Kid

Would you believe that it was 100 years ago last Friday that Charlie Chaplin very first film in which the little tramp character first appeared.   Mabel’s Strange Predicament made its debut in Los Angeles today although the second film that he made – Kid Auto Races at Venice –had appeared two days earlier. You can see most of the film by clicking here.  The baggy trousers aren’t yet baggy enough and it doesn’t seem to me to be that funny but then tastes change in a hundred years. Remember this was before the WWI and things like the spittoon next to his rocking armchair in the lobby would never be seen today.

Los Angeles has plenty of links with Chaplin so not surprisingly in this centenary year it has suggested a number of places in the city that you might want to see if you are a Chaplin buff.  The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) claims to have the only complete Little tramp costume in existence which was donated by Chaplin himself. It is now on display as part of the NHM’s Becoming Los Angeles exhibit which opened last summer. The museum’s massive movie collection also includes Chaplin’s overalls from Modern Times, Fred Astaire’s tap shoes, Lon Chaney’s makeup kit, Mary Pickford’s golden locks, and much more.

Opened in 1919, Musso & Frank Grill is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. Movie stars from the Golden Age to today’s generations have dined on its classic steaks. Some of the 20th century’s greatest writers were Musso’s regulars, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler. Charlie Chaplin was an early regular and always had lunch in the restaurant’s Old Room (with the woodfire grill and counter) at the corner table by the window. Apparently the roast lamb kidneys with bacon were “Charlie Chaplin’s favourite,” as it says on the menu to this day which is about a British a meal as you could expect. According to Hollywood lore, Chaplin would challenge Douglas Fairbanks to a horse race down Hollywood Boulevard – the loser picked up the tab at Musso’s. If this happened surely there wold be newspaper images of it somewhere. Even nearly a hundred years ago this must have been an unusual sight given Henry Ford’s Model T was sounding the death knell of horse-drawn vehicles.

Located just steps from the world-famous boardwalk in Venice Beach, the Cadillac Hotel was once Charlie Chaplin’s summer residence. The landmark 46-room hotel was built in 1914, the same year that the Little Tramp character made his film debut so it is celebrating its centenary as well.

Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length movie was The Kid, a 1921 silent film that he wrote, directed, produced and starred in and which featured Jackie Coogan as his adopted son and sidekick. The film’s highlight is a rooftop chase, when the Little Tramp pursues agents from an orphanage who have taken the boy. Their tearful reunion is one of the most emotional and enduring scenes in film history. Several street scenes were filmed on historic Olvera Street – the called Wine Street – which was a very different place from the colourful Mexican-themed marketplace in Downtown LA that you see today. Barely ten years after The Kid was filmed Wine Street was no more and the film scenes look more like a historical record fo a distant past.

Chaplin’s 1931 film, City Lights is to be one of the greatest films of all time. The story follows Chaplin’s Little Tramp as he falls in love with a blind flower girl, who mistakes him for a millionaire. The closing scene is often described as one of the greatest in the history of cinema. Chaplin was the star, writer, director, composer, editor and producer. Although “talkies” were on the rise, Chaplin was adamant that the Tramp remain a silent film character.  City Lights premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre on Jan. 30, 1931. The 2,000-seat movie palace, located in the historic Broadway District of Downtown LA, features an opulent French Baroque interior reportedly modelled after the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. Chaplin helped finance the theatre’s construction so that it could open in time for the City Lights premiere. Chaplin’s special guests at the premiere were Albert Einstein and his wife, Elsa. In 1979, the Los Angeles Theatre was added to the National Register of Historic Places and designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

The costume Chaplin donated © NHM

The costume Chaplin donated © NHM

Charlie Chaplin founded his namesake studio, located at the southeast corner of North La Brea Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, in 1917. The complex was designed to resemble a village of English cottages which must be have been not only eye-catching amongst the other buildings but unusual as well. Many of Chaplin’s greatest films were shot at the studio, including The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator. After Chaplin sold the property in 1953, the studio underwent several ownership changes. Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss purchased the complex in 1966 and made it the headquarters for their A&M Records label. In 2000, the studio became the home of The Jim Henson Company, which renamed the 80,000 square-foot complex “The Jim Henson Lot.” As a nod to Chaplin, a statue of Kermit the Frog, dressed as the Little Tramp, stands above the main gate.

In the same area you’ll find the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the George C Page Museum.

About 30 miles away (but still considered part of Los Angeles) is the road on which he lived and which was near to where Fred Astaire and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Senior lived.  At 1085 Summit Drive, he lived for many years and the house is still there though updated and altered since he sold it in the 1940’s.

But all through this area there are houses and places that claim to have Chaplin links. It seems unlikely he was involved with all of them but it does mean that tour guides can spend much of a day guiding you around the legacy of the Little Tramp.


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