HOLLYWOOD: THEN & NOW
Charlie Chaplin Studios
Charlie Chaplin standing in front of his studios at
1416 N. La Brea Avenue in Hollywood, circa 1920
The same spot as it looks today
The 100th anniversary of Universal Studios was celebrated this year (April 30) thus making it the first of the major Hollywood studios to achieve that impressive longevity. The story of Universal, especially the years of Carl Laemmle’s control, is typical of the industry and carries a recognizable theme that reverberates through all American business successes.
When Carl Laemmle arrived in New York at 17 years-old, he had $50 and a telescope valise packed with only a few personal items from his home in Laupheim, Germany. From there he headed west like many other immigrants and found odd jobs in stores, factories, working as a farm hand in South Dakota, as a bookkeeper in Chicago and as the general manager of a department store in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Twenty-two years later, Laemmle had saved a capital of $2,500 and started on his next venture.
Laemmle had returned to Chicago where he waited in line for the new sensation, the motion picture shows, which was shown in a store converted to resemble the interior of a railroad coach; the motion picture representing scenery was viewed from the rear of a train. Laemmle was astonished at the long line of people willing to pay a dime for this privilege and envisioned the possibility for a new money-making opportunity.
With the assistance of R. H. Cochrane, a young Chicago advertising man, they acquired a store on Milwaukee Avenue where he opened the White Front Theater on February 24, 1906 (it had been the White Front store and the sign served as a name for the theater). It was on a Saturday night and he gave patrons fifteen minutes of movies and a song with beautifully colored slides. On Sunday he ran twenty shows. At five cents a head his gross for the two days was $192.05. That was the beginning of a long association with Cochrane who later became a vice-president of Universal.
A second theater was soon opened and from that point Laemmle entered all branches of the rapidly expanding motion picture industry. This new success brought him into conflict with the larger interests in the industry. After breaking with the Patents Company, which owned most of the patents on cameras, projectors, etc. he announced he would produce his own films. The Independent Moving Picture (IMP) Company was formed. Its first film, Hiawatha, was released in October 1909. IMP has been given the credit for introducing the star system to Hollywood, when it signed the Biograph Girl, Florence Lawrence, and billed her name above the title of her pictures in 1910. Over the next three years Laemmle battled Edison’s motion picture trust which was followed by a federal investigation, leading to the termination of the General Film Company.
The Universal Film Manufacturing Company was founded on April 30, 1912, and was composed of six of the leading independent producers. The name Universal was given, according to Hollywood legend, when Laemmle was presiding over a pretentious gathering of independent film producers in his office overlooking Union Square to decide upon a name. After glancing out the window at the Broadway traffic, with the usual flourishes, gave the designation—Universal. He had seen the name, it is said, on a delivery wagon marked “Universal Pipe Fittings.”
Following other film producers, by the end of 1912, Universal was making most of its films in Hollywood on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower. During the first year of the studio’s operation, 250 films were produced, mostly two-reelers.
As Laemmle and Universal prospered, he purchased a former chicken farm, the 230-acre Taylor ranch on the banks of the Los Angeles River five miles north of Hollywood. The land was part of the ancient Rancho Cahuenga de Ramirez and on the property where General John C. Fremont and Pio Pico signed the Treaty of Cahuenga.
Formal dedication of the studio on March 14, 1915, was an affair heralded by posters in railway stations throughout the country. Exhibitors were brought here by special trains to witness the ceremony. Laura Oakley, Universal City’s female police chief, presented Laemmle with a golden key and he officially unlocked the huge front gate of the studio as bands played. Flags were unfurled and a cheering crowd of 20,000 jammed Lankershim Blvd.
Carl Laemmle and friends at the opening of Universal City in March 1915
Universal City came into existence and the studio was created as a small city with a population of nearly 300, with its own post office, fire department and police department. Children have been born on the lot and men and women have died there. Virginia Richdale Kerrigan, the daughter of William W. Kerrigan, one-time manager of Universal and the twin brother of actor J. Warren Kerrigan, had the distinction of being the first baby born on the Universal lot in 1915. Tragically only nine years later, Virginia’s dress caught fire at a Christmas gathering and she died from her burns.
Many of the 300 Universal employees lived in houses on the lot when the studio was opened in 1915. Some merely converted sets into practical living quarters and others just camped. Most of the actors had horses, for Universal was the home of the Western, which provided the studios bread-and-butter in the first two decades. The players with horses carried saddle bags in which were stuffed two uniforms. Sometimes they would appear in the mornings as Indians and after lunch, once the Indians were defeated by the cowboys, they would switch costumes and chase the images of themselves.
The above and following two photos were taken on a visit to Universal Studios in 1916 (Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)
(Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)
(Courtesy of Allan Landman / © Hollywoodland 2012)
One day in 1916, Harry Carey, one of Universal’s early western star attractions, was leading a bunch of cowhands down Broadway when the whole group tired of the script. Just for fun, and the undying mortification of the city’s budding social set, Carey and his dusty mounted troupe, rode up the steps and into the lobby of the stylish Alexandria Hotel.
Many stories of early Universal were based on nepotism, for there it thrived. Several Laemmles changed their names so that strangers wouldn’t get the impression they were there only because they were related. Some made good, others did not. But Uncle Carl, as he was known in the industry, never fired one of them. Ogden Nash, the poet, said the following about Laemmle’s habit of giving top executive jobs to family members: “Uncle Carl Laemmle has a very large faemmle.”
Laemmle’s greatest pride was for his son, Carl Laemmle, Jr., who was originally named Julius after his grandfather in Germany. But when the senior Laemmle made him general manager of Universal on his twenty-first birthday, Julius became Junior.
Something else that Laemmle loved was gambling. High-stakes poker games with such cronies as Joseph Schenck and Sid Grauman would last all night and when the local action slowed a bit, Laemmle thought nothing of taking quick trips to Agua Caliente, the Mexican forerunner of Las Vegas. One night he lost $10,000 there. In one weekend, he lost three times that.
Universal Studios was the site of a number of industry firsts—Laemmle established the first European exchange for independent American films; he built the first electrically lighted stages so he would not have to depend on sunlight, and produced the first $1,000,000 feature, Foolish Wives (1922), directed by Erich von Stroheim, who the studio billed as “the man you love to hate.”
Many famous names in Hollywood history served at one time or another on the Universal lot. On it Charlie Chaplin courted Mildred Harris and Wallace Reid won Dorothy Davenport. John Ford and William Wyler (a Laemmle family member) received their early training at the studio—on Harry Carey westerns and farces with Laura La Plante. Such films as Phantom of the Opera (1925) and Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), both with Lon Chaney; Showboat (1929 and 1936) and the Academy Award winner, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) were made there. The studio launched the comedies of the 1930s with My Man Godfrey (1936) and introduced Deanna Durbin as a 14-year-old singer in her first great success, Three Smart Girls (1936). The studio also produced such classic soap operas as Magnificent Obsession (1936), Back Street (1932) and Imitation of Life (1934), the same titles that turned out to be box-office hits in the 1950s in remakes refurbished with color. And of course, there are the famed monster films which include Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Invisible Man (1933).
All studios were famous for their publicity stunts, but one at Universal had repercussions for many years to come. For the film, The Black Cat (1934), an adaptation of an Edgar Allan Poe story, the studio advertised a county-wide contest for a cat to play the title role. Every child in town showed up. By the time the pre-selected winner was announced, cats were loose everywhere. Few chose to return home, and for decades (and possibly to this day) the studio lot teemed with their descendants.
Cast of Show Boat–Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger and Helen Westley
The Laemmle era came to an end in 1936 when the studio produced a lavish remake of Show Boat, featuring several stars from the Broadway stage version. Carl Jr.’s disturbing spending habits, the studios attempts at high-quality productions and the costs of modernizing and upgrading during the depression brought about their decline and being placed into receivership. Stockholders demanded that the Laemmle’s take out a loan from Standard Capital Corporation to make Show Boat, using the family’s controlling interest as collateral. When production problems created a huge overrun, the loan was called in and Universal could not pay. Standard foreclosed and seized control of Universal. Ironically when Show Boat was released it was a financial success but it was not enough to save the Laemmles who were forced to leave the studio on April 2, 1936. Carl Laemmle died three years later at the age of 72.
Despite low periods in its history, Universal Studios has survived. Over the past seventy-plus years Universal has had several owners and name variations. It is the debris from the Laemmle years, 1912 to 1936, that saw hundreds of films made on the 230 (and eventually 410) acres and that form most of Universal today. It doesn’t look much like a chicken farm any more.
Above is the former residence of Sydney Chaplin, who was the brother of Charlie Chaplin. The house stood just north of, and on the same block as the Chaplin Studios, which still exist but are now the Jim Henson Studios. (LAPL)
The site of the Sydney Chaplin residence as it looks today at the southeast corner of Sunset and La Brea. An improvement?? (Hollywoodland)
Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks worked there. So did Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Marlon Brando and practically everyone else. Soon, though, wrecking crews will be at work at the storied West Hollywood movie lot at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Formosa Avenue.
Once known as the Warner Hollywood Studio, it’s now called “The Lot.” Its new owner, CIM Group, intends to raze its aging wooden office buildings and sound-dubbing stages and replace them with glass-and-steel structures.
According to West Hollywood planning officials, the first phase of work involves the demolition of the studio’s Pickford Building — built in 1927 and remodeled in 1936 — and Goldwyn Building, which was built in 1932 and is used for sound editing. Later phases will involve the removal of the studio’s Writers Building, Fairbanks Building and Editorial Building and a block-long row of production offices that line Santa Monica Boulevard. Replacement buildings will rise to six stories.
The redevelopment plans have riled many in the entertainment industry, particularly those who know the studio from past film shoots and television programs. “A lot of people have a lot of affection for the place,” said Doug Haines, a film editor who has worked on movies there for two decades. “You really had a sense of history when you worked there. Another glass building — that certainly says ‘Old Hollywood,’ doesn’t it?” CIM Group executives declined to discuss details of their development plans.
Film and TV production companies that rent space at the studio say owners have let leases expire in buildings slated for demolition.
The studio was built in 1919 by silent-movie maker Jesse Hampton. A short time later, he sold the lot to screen stars Pickford and Fairbanks, who renamed the 18-acre place Pickford-Fairbanks Studio. It later became known as the United Artists Studio when the pair teamed up with Chaplin and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists. Over the years, the now-11-acre lot was also called the Samuel Goldwyn Studio and the Warner Hollywood Studio.
The studio’s old buildings are packed with tradition. Legend holds that a tunnel once connected the soundstages to a bar across the street — the Formosa Cafe — so that stars like Errol Flynn could slip off for drinks between scenes without being pestered by fans. Fairbanks had a steam bath and gym and is said to have had a private outdoor area where he could exercise in the nude. Eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, who kept an office at the studio during his movie-making days, had a secret garage he could wheel into from Santa Monica Boulevard and park without anybody noticing.
One studio building was said to be equipped with an ornate wooden door hand-built by Harrison Ford, who was working as a studio carpenter when he was “discovered” by filmmaker George Lucas. Director Sam Peckinpah not only worked at the lot but lived there as well in the 1970s. “Sam had a suite on the ground floor of the Writers Building right down the corridor from Mike Medavoy’s office,” recalled producer Katy Haber, who worked with Peckinpah on eight feature films at the studio. “He used one of the rooms as a bedroom.” Haber said Peckinpah loved the place. “Working at a studio like that, you always felt you were part of it. It was a creative environment. I’m sad to see anything with an historical heritage torn down. The walls there speak multitudes. It’s sad indeed: Developers aren’t into aesthetics or history.”
Although West Hollywood has described the studio as a landmark, officials have never taken action to formally designate it as one. A street sign on Santa Monica Boulevard in front of the studio calls it a “historic building.” But smaller print on the sign labels it “Potential Cultural Resource No. 60.”
West Hollywood senior planner David DeGrazia said that CIM Group intends to begin demolition in a few weeks and that construction will be done in six phases. The project will more than double the studio’s space to 671,087 square feet, he said. Three new soundstages will join the seven that are now mostly used for production of the HBO vampire series “True Blood,” according to plans filed with West Hollywood. DeGrazia said the development agreement expires in March 2013, although he said CIM Group’s position is that the agreement remains in place once construction of the first phase begins. Complicating things is that the West Hollywood-Los Angeles city boundary slices through several sound-dubbing buildings on the south edge of the studio lot.
A nearby bungalow that Frank Sinatra used when he worked on the lot is on the Los Angeles side of the boundary. It is out of West Hollywood’s jurisdiction, although the six-room structure is listed by DeGrazia as scheduled for demolition.
As part of the development agreement, CIM Group will preserve a wall-like facade that extends along Santa Monica Boulevard around Hughes’ secret garage entrance. Preservationists at the Los Angeles Conservancy said they have been asked to help get historic landmark status conferred on the whole studio to block the demolition. “We’ve gotten calls from people who are concerned. The problem is it’s an approved development. The West Hollywood City Council essentially has already approved the project,” said Adrian Scott Fine, the conservancy’s director of advocacy. “Saving a facade is not preservation.”
Early filmmaking in Hollywood (LAPL)
Hollywood wasn’t always an open air asylum. It was founding in 1887 by retired bluenoses as a prohibition town. No drinks, no excitement. A horse could not turn a corner at a speed greater than six miles per hour. It was a nice place if you were an orange.
Movies were unheard of in Hollywood, even in 1900. The flickering shadows were devised in a place called Fort Lee, N.J. It had forests, rocks, cliffs for cliff-hanging, and the Hudson River.
The movie industry had two problems. The weather was unpredictable, and Thomas Edison sued producers who used his invention. A romantic two-reeler could be made in three days for $1,000 if the rain stopped and if the process servers got lost on the Dyckman St. ferry.
The Selig Polyscope Co. heard from a director, Francis Boggs, that a tiny town called Hollywood, Calif., had everything. There was perpetual sunshine, palm trees, the Santa Monica Mountains for westerns, a beach for provocative mermaids, and an ocean for sea stories.
William Selig, the owner, went to see Edison. They organized the Motion Picture Patent Co. Selig was ready to go west. All he had to move were a couple of hand-cranked cameras, a director, a leading man and a leading lady, and a dozen unemployed actors.
In March 1909, Selig arrived in Los Angeles. He didn’t have to bring scenery. It was all in place. His two-reelers created envy in the East. In the autumn, Biograph and D.W. Griffith moved to Los Angeles. By spring, Pathé, Vitagraph, Lubin and Kalem had gone west.
Strangely, they not select the small town of Hollywood. The studios were in Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Barbara, San Diego and Santa Monica. It was not until 1911 that David Horsley moved his Nestor Co. west. The prohibition town, Hollywood, had an abandoned saloon at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.
The prohibitionists learned too late that, while it was desirable to have no booze, Hollywood also had no water. The little town was forced to incorporate itself with Los Angeles. Local ordinances became invalid.
At the same time, the suburban towns yanked the welcome mat from the movie people. William Fox moved to Hollywood. Carl Laemmle bought the Nestor studio. Essanay and Vitagraph made it unanimous.
Mack Sennett shot his comedies at the beach or in the middle of the street. His actors pushed their way into public parades and skidded automobiles over dusty roads to create excitement.
Millions of people were paying a nickel a head to see these epics. Charlie Chaplin arrived. So did Harold Lloyd. A teen-ager named Mary Pickford was seen in a nightie, yawning and holding an automobile tire with a credo: Time to Retire.
The brought her out. And Mabel Normand, Tom Mix and William Farnum could actually ride a horse. So could William S. Hart. Movie plots became longer, more intricate. High-ceilinged studios were built. The prohibitionists left Hollywood in dismay. To them, it became a place of sin.
Cecil B. DeMille heard that Griffith had spent $100,000 on The Birth of a Nation, featuring the Gish sisters. He decided to spend more on sophisticated movies like Why Change Your Wife? and Forbidden Fruit.
The movie-goers admired certain actors. This led to the star system. In 1909, a star was paid $5 a day. Five years later, Mary Pickford was earning $1,000 a week. An English comic, Charlie Chaplin was paid $150 a week in 1913 by Mack Sennett. Two years later, he was getting $10,000 a week.
What had started as nickel theater became a gigantic industry. Some studios built their own theaters across the nation. Movies seduced the emotions of America two hours at a time—laughter and tears.
Where there is big money there are fights, consolidations and codes. The independent producer was squeezed out or bought out. Movie magazines, which pretend to purvey the private lives of the stars, flourished.
Pretty girls in Iowa and Maine were told “you ought to be in pictures.” They went out west and, with few exceptions, became hash slingers or worse. Hollywood became the magic Mecca of make-believe.
It was, in those days, a sparkling city of fame and light. Today (1979) it is smog and freeways, freaks and drugs, cults and sexual religions, front money and mortgages, stupendous hits and duds, economic knifings and gossip columnists, movie agents and press agents.
Baby, you’ve come a long, long way.
The first awards for individual meritorious achievements in motion pictures were announced yesterday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The fifteen awards are for outstanding achievements for 1928 and were made after an exhaustive survey.
As a reward for and in recognition of their efforts in raising the standards of motion pictures the winners are to be presented with statuettes in bronze and gold, designed by George Stanley, sculptor, under the supervision and selection of Cedric Gibbons, art director at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio.
The statuette is twelve inches high with a Belgian marble base and consists of an idealized male figure standing on a representation of a reel of motion-picture film. It was announced the trophies will be presented at a later meeting of the academy at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.
The winners of the merit awards follow:
Emil Jannings, first award for his outstanding performances in The Way of All Flesh and The Last Command. Honorable mention to Richard Barthelmess for his performance in The Noose and The Patent Leather Kid.
Janet Gaynor, first award for best performances among actresses in Seventh Heaven, Sunrise and The Street Angel. Honorable mention to Gloria Swanson for performance in Sadie Thompson and to Louise Dresser in A Ship Come In.
For direction of dramatic pictures, Frank Brozage received first award for Seventh Heaven. Honorable mention to Herbert Brenon for his directorial work in Sorrell and Son and to King Vidor for The Crowd. Lewis Milestone received first award for directing a comedy picture, Two Arabian Knights. Honorable mention to Ted Wilde for Harold Lloyd’s Speedy.
The first award for writing an original story was given to Ben Hecht for Underworld with honorable mention to Lajos Biros for The Last Command, while Benjamin Glazer received first award for adaptation of Seventh Heaven with honorable mention to Alfred Cohn for adapting The Jazz Singer and to Anthony Coldewey adapting Glorious Betsy.
For title-sriting the first award went to Joseph Farnham with honorable mention to George Marion, Jr., and Gerald Duffy.
The cinematography award is shared by Charles Rosher and Karl Struss for Sunrise.
George Barnes gets honorable mention for his work in Sadie Thompson, The Devil Dancer and Magic Flame.
The art direction award was given to William C. Menzies for The Tempest and The Dove, with honorable mention to Rochus Gliese for Sunrise and Harry Oliver for Seventh Heaven.
The engineering effects award goes to Roy Pomeroy for Wings, with honorable mention to Nugent Slaughter and to Ralph Hammeras.
The Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation received the first award for the production of the outstanding picture of the year, Wings. Honorable mention went to the Fox company for Seventh Heaven and to the Caddo company for Two Arabian Knights. This is the only award which was decided on box-office returns.
The Fox company won first award for the production of the most unusual and artistic picture, Sunrise, while honorable mention was received by Paramount for Chang and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for The Crowd.
Special first award was given to Warner Brothers for producing the pioneer outstanding talking picture, The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolson, while another first special award was given to Charles Chaplin for acting, writing and producing The Circus.
It was announced by the central board of judges which made the award that the board felt that Warner Brothers and Chaplin should be considered separately from the other award classifications owing to the unique character of their accomplishments.
In deciding to make the first awards for individual achievements, the academy members made twelve classifications in addition to the two special awards. The nominations were turned in by the members last August. One thousand nominations were received and these were then referred to class committees consisting of five judges. These judges made three nominations which were then turned over to a central board of judges. This, it was explained, is responsible for the length of time taken in making the awards.
The central board of judges was composed of Alec Francis, Sid Grauman, Frank Lloyd, and A. George Volck. The awards were made for pictures first publicly released during the year ending August 1, 1928, and is the first time the academy has made the awards.
The preceding article is the announcement of the first Academy Awards from the Los Angeles Times in 1929. In the beginning the awards were announced before the ceremony instead of being a surprise that night.
Above is the County Courthouse that was located at Temple and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles where the Wall of Fame resided in the press room. Notice the low granite wall at the bottom of the photo. Remarkably, portions of this wall still remain. (lapl)
The Civic Center in downtown Los Angeles is where several courthouses mete out their justice, sometimes to Hollywood celebrities. Before many of the building that now stands there were erected, there stood an old brownstone Courthouse located at Temple Street and Broadway. It stood for forty-five years until it was razed after being damaged in the Long Beach earthquake of March 1933.
When it was finally demolished in 1934, it took with it the old press room and its unique Wall of Fame and the signatures of stars, who for this or that reason had been in court, or the marriage license bureau. Scrawled in either pencil or crayon, one could find the names of Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, George Bancroft, Harry Langdon, Eugene O’Brien, Doris Kenyon, Ethel Clayton, Constance and Natalie Talmadge, Pauline Starke, Jean Harlow and Bebe Daniels. There were a lot more and each one had its own story.
Of course, not all the screen stars who appeared in court, inscribed their names on the Wall of Fame. Some, the reporters failed to corral; others could not be lured to the press room. There were some who flatly refused. Among the latter was William Powell, who had come with Carole Lombard, for a marriage license. Powell, when confronted by the wall, glared reproachfully at the reporters and demanded: “Gentlemen, isn’t anything sacred?” The reporters thought he was kidding until he turned and stalked out of the press room fairly oozing indignation.
Jack Hoxie was first to sign the wall and his signature was the largest. Oddly enough, Tom Mix’s name was one of the smallest and Charlie Chaplin’s was the hardest to read.
And what did they appear for? Harry Langdon, asserting he had but $40 with which to pay $60,000 his divorced wife sought as property settlement. The case was dismissed and Harry was smiling when he signed the wall. Divorce also steered the Talmadge sisters into the press room. Natalie Talmadge was fighting Buster Keaton over custody of their children. Constance was a witness. The prolonged contests between Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey Chaplin, also concerning the care of their children is well known. When the reporters tried to lure Lita to the press room she balked, saying she always wanted to know what she was expected to do before she went places with strangers.
Besides the signature of James Quirk of Photoplay magazine, was pasted the headline announcing his death. His wife, May Allison, also signed. Reporters tried to get Paul Bern to sign the wall when he and Jean Harlow applied for their marriage license, but both refused to visit the press room because they were “radiantly happy and in a terrible hurry.” A few months later, dressed in widow’s attire, Jean returned to probate Paul Bern’s will. This time she signed the wall.
Doris Kenyon, widow of Milton Sills, was considered by a majority of the court reporters, as the grandest girl to affix her signature to the Wall of Fame. They designated Polly Moran as “the hard egg with the soft heart.” Polly crashed the press room the day she appeared to legally adopt a 16-year-old boy she had taken from an orphanage when he was only a few months old.
One of the funniest incidents connected with signing the wall centered on Richard Barthelmess who was suing to recover securities alleged to have been misappropriated. His wife was with him and they consented to have a picture taken together. She sat in a chair and Barthelmess stood beside her. The photographer snapped his picture and after the couple had gone, remarked to the reporters: “I think I got a good picture of that dame but I had an awful job keeping that rube out of it, he was standing so close.” The reporters, on informing him that the “rube” was Richard Barthelmess, used language which allegedly made even the signatures on the wall blush.
Richard Barthelmess, his wife and family
The names of Ben Lyon and Bebe Daniels graced the wall as the result of the trial of Bebe’s lunatic lover.” Edna Murphy signed when she got her divorce from director Mervyn LeRoy. Gertrude Olmstead was a witness at the trial and also signed. The reporters recalled, however, that Gertrude was rather embarrassed by the ordeal of clambering on the table in order to write her name.
George Bancroft divided honors with Jack Hoxie as the most massive man to have perpetuated his signature. He appeared in court to contest an agent’s claim for $30,000 of commissions. Hoxie had been up on alimony charges.
Several of the signatures recalled the tragic death of Alma Rubens. They were obtained during the libel suit brought against Photoplay and James Quirk by Ruben’s mother, and included Eileen Percy’s and Claire Windsor’s. ZaSu Pitts was another witness, but would not sign. The reporters declared her to be the most “publicity shy” screen star they encountered. She also eluded the news-hounds when she divorced her husband, Tom Gallery. The Courthouse scribes were not certain which cases brought Tom Mix, Edwin Carewe and Mae Murray to the Wall of Fame, as their court appearances was so numerous. Legal battles over the Mix children and property disputes made Mix a familiar figure and both Mae Murray and Carewe were central figures in countless suits over property, contracts and other things. Pauline Starke’s court appearance was mainly due to the protracted battle with her former husband, Jack White.
The reporters captured director Robert Vignola and Eugene O’Brien when they appeared in court as character witnesses for a young man who had gotten into trouble and Stanley Fields immortalized himself by apprehending a burglar in his apartment.
Above a rare image of the Wall of Fame located in the County Courthouse press room
Most of the females who signed the wall were space conservers. That is except Constance Cummings and Vivian Duncan, whose names stand out like sore thumbs. Cummings had just won a contract suit, while the half of the famous Duncan sisters won a divorce from Nils Asther on the ground of too much mother-in-law. Another signer brought to the wall by the divorce route was Lola Lane when she parted company with Lew Ayres.
Duncan Renaldo was the only signer of the Wall of Fame who had gone to jail, though this happened later than when he actually signed the wall. His name was obtained when he was the central figure in the alienation case against Edwina Booth, which came as the aftermath to a “location” trip to Africa.
Snub Pollard also appeared on the wall as did that of Lowell Sherman, whose matrimonial adventures with Pauline Garon and later with Helene Costello brought him into the press room.
When the fate of the old courthouse was sealed, the reporters lost interest in their famous wall, knowing it soon would be destroyed. The visitors of the last few months were not asked to sign. During the last two or three months there were many noteworthy eligible’s including Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Estelle Taylor, Colleen Moore and Marian Nixon. Crawford was one of the last asked to sign, the occasion being her divorce from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. She refused. The reporters asserted she was so nervous and shaky it was doubtful if she could have written her name of the floor, much less on the wall.
Signing the Wall of Fame grew to be quite a ceremonial and somewhat of an athletic function. It was necessary to step onto a chair and then mount onto a table in order to reach the designated spot and in addition to the gentlemen of the press, court attachés and sometimes the judges themselves would assemble to witness the event. In fact, gazing up at a movie star was really something to talk about afterward.
It’s too bad that the Wall of Fame could not have been saved or moved to another location. When the new courthouse was built, there was another press room, but it was never the same.
This year marks the 5oth anniversary of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The idea for the Walk of Fame, which is world famous, goes back to 1953 when E. M. Stuart, who served as the volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce proposed the idea. Stuart described the Walk as a means to “maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world.” A committee was appointed to begin fleshing out the idea. In 1960, 1,550 honorees were selected by committees representing the four branches of the entertainment industry at that time, and were laid out on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard and two blocks of Vine Street – everyone that is, except for comedian Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin’s name was in the original list nominated for inclusion in the walk back in 1956, but Hollywood property owners objected to Chaplin, charging his moral and leftwing leanings tended to discredit him and the entertainment industry. His star was not included.
In 1952 Chaplin had left Hollywood on a visit to England and while aboard ship in the Atlantic, was notified that his reentry permit had been revoked. Atty. Gen. James P. McGranery said the action had been prompted by “public charges” associating Chaplin with communism and “grave moral charges.” The comedian would have to appear at a hearing to prove his “moral worth” before he could return. Chaplin, who was still a British subject, declined to go through such a hearing. “Since the end of the last world war,” Chaplin said, “I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America’s yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.” Chaplin and his family moved to a mansion overlooking Lake Geneva near the Swiss village of Vevey.
That government ruling was widely and correctly interpreted as a shabby cover to bar Chaplin from the country for political reasons. While he never belonged to a political party, he was sympathetic to liberal and some radical causes. Worse, he was outspoken. And some of his films, which ridiculed aspects of American society, were denounced as “left-wing propaganda.”
In August 1960, a superior court judge refused to issue an order compelling the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Improvement Association to show cause why they should not be directed to include Chaplin’s name on the Walk of Fame. The court acted on a petition filed by Charles Chaplin, Jr., who contended that omission of his father’s name from the Hollywood Boulevard sidewalk project was malicious. Chaplin Jr. himself demanded $400,000 damages on the complaint that the decision of the two Hollywood organizations libeled him and injured his career. His suit was eventually dismissed.
After the reentry prohibition against Chaplin was dropped years later, the actor remained in Switzerland. As the years passed, both Chaplin and the times changed and, in an interview in London in 1962, he said: “What happened to me, I can’t condemn or criticize the country for that. There are many admirable things about American and its system, too. I have no ill feelings. I carry no hate. My only enemy is time.”
By the early days of 1972, the officials, including an attorney general of the United States, who were outraged at Chaplin’s radically-tinged politics, were now gone. It was rumored that Chaplin would return to the United States for the first time in twenty years to receive a special Academy Award voted to him. If Chaplin decided to return, he would have to apply to the U.S. Consulate in Geneva for an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa. The U.S. State Department would then rule on the application.
Possibly because of Chaplin’s promising return, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Executive Committee voted on whether to approve a star for the actor and voted 5 to 4 against it. After that vote, Chamber president, A. Ronald Button ordered an advisory poll of chamber membership that responded 3 to 1 in favor of installing a Chaplin star. Based on that, the Chambers directors went against their Executive Committees recommendation and voted 30 to 3 in favor of adding Chaplin’s name to the sidewalk honor. The decision still had to be approved by the Los Angeles City Council, but Button said it had always approved the directors’ recommendations in the past. “I can’t imagine them opposing the star,” he said. Eventually the city council approved Chaplin’s star, 11 to 3. The three dissenting councilmen never spoke publicly in opposition, but privately complained that since the comedian earned his money here he should not have left the country to live in Switzerland.
At the time there were eighty names previously approved that had not yet been inserted because the funds were not available. This was before the days when a star had to be paid for by fans. Instead each star’s installation was funded by the Chamber which, at the time, cost between $900 and $1,000. However, one unnamed board member offered to pay for the installation of Chaplin’s star. At that time it was not known where or when the installation would take place.
Soon it was announced that after an exile of two decades, Chaplin would return to the United States and be honored with a special award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Before leaving Switzerland for New York, Chaplin received anonymous death threats, most by telephone saying they were going to kill him. “He expected to be shot over here,” said William Jordan, whose private detective firm was hired by the Academy to guard Chaplin during his four-day visit to Los Angeles. “That was his line. He said, ‘They killed Mr. Kennedy.’ I can’t give you the exact number but there were at least a dozen. They were coming into the Music Center – site of the Oscar presentation – and they called his hotel.” Sometimes they specified they were going to blow him up or shoot him. Sometimes they didn’t specify how it would be done.
On April 7, 1972, the 82 year-old Chaplin and his wife Oona arrived at Los Angeles International Airport. Photographers, cameramen and reporters lined a walkway that extended from the plane to a waiting car. Finally, after a quick flurry of activity, Chaplin appeared at the top of the terminal stairs. He was short, almost portly. His white hair was wispy in the breeze. As he reached the base of the stairs he looked up and smiled at the row of waiting reporters. There were no cheers, no applause. He waved, and his words were barely audible. “How does it feel to be back, Mr. Chaplin?” a reporter asked. “Very strange,” was his reply.
Oona and Charles Chaplin on their arrival in Los Angeles in 1972
Only two representatives from Hollywood awaited him at the end of the walkway – Daniel Taradash, president of the Academy and Howard W. Koch, a member of the board of governors and the Academy’s treasurer. “This is the happiest moment in the history of Hollywood,” Taradash told Chaplin. The comedian, perhaps unable to hear amidst the commotion, shook his hand but reportedly said nothing. Chaplin was taken to the Beverly Hills Hotel, passing Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Culver City and 20th Century-Fox en route. His car did not stop or slow down. Chaplin made no public appearances, interviews or tours while he was in Los Angeles and turned down many of the private invitations he received.
During Chaplin’s arrival that morning, a statue of him was unveiled at the Hollywood Visitors and Information Center at Hollywood and Vine to commemorate his return. Almost immediately bomb threats and complaints poured in forcing the removal of the statue the following day to the Artisan’s Patio at 6727 Hollywood Boulevard, where it went on public display. Letters from across the country were received expressing bitterness towards Chaplin and Hollywood’s welcome after twenty years. “I am tired, tired to death of these insane Revolutionary Zionists of which Charlie Chaplin is one of the very worst,” wrote one critic. There were several defenders – by far the minority – among the letter writers, and one expressed a common sentiment: “His political beliefs of whatever persuasion should not be allowed to obscure his comic genius.”
Threats were also leveled at the dedication of Chaplin’s Walk of Fame bronze star ceremony which was scheduled for the following Monday morning – the same day Chaplin would receive his special Oscar. Anonymous telephone threats that the star would be ripped up or defaced were received. One letter writer said: “The only star I would give Charlie Chaplin is a red star… I am against putting Chaplin’s name on any of our streets. He never donated a dime or time to anything in America. I say don’t let him enter these United States again. Russians can have him with my compliments.”
The following Monday morning, fans and several armed guards, gathered at the northwest corner of Hollywood Boulevard and McCadden Place as the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce officials uttered words of benediction over Chaplin’s star. Chaplin’s 12 year-old granddaughter, Susan Maree Chaplin, unveiled the star in her famous grandfather’s absence. The dedication ceremony was attended by many Hollywood oddities including “Alice of Hollyweird,” with her singing dogs; Albert Ciremele, a Chaplin impersonator, and “Aunt Pollu,” sweeping up the street with a gold-speckled mop. Also attending were several Keystone Cops, only one of whom, Eddie LeVeque, was an original. In the crowd were several old, white-haired women passing out a sheet of paper purporting to show “Charlie Chaplin’s Red Record.” To anyone who would listen, they would rail on about Chaplin’s political philosophy.
The Chamber of Commerce hired private detectives to guard Chaplin’s star until the actor returned to Switzerland. One guard commented that some person’s walking by had made derogatory remarks but “most of the people are pro-Chaplin.”
Charlie Chaplin’s Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (above and below) as it looks today at 6755 Hollywood Boulevard
That evening, Chaplin and Oona were accompanied by private bodyguards and driven to the Music Center where he received his special Oscar for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.” Stepping onto the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Chaplin received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full five minutes. Filled with emotion, Chaplin told the captivated audience: “Oh, thank you so much. This is an emotional moment for me, and words seem so futile, so feeble. I can only say that… thank you for the honor of inviting me here, and, oh, you’re wonderful, sweet people. Thank you.”
Chaplin after accepting his honorary Oscar
Before he returned home to Switzerland, Chaplin met with Tim Durant, an old friend, confidant, roommate and sportsman. According to Durant, Chaplin was bewildered by the Los Angeles he came back to as an old, uncertain, rheumy-eyed man. Chaplin would look out, but didn’t seem to recognize the beaches at Santa Monica, where in the old days Marion Davies would hire a bus and run down to the beach at night and light a fire and hunt grunion with Charlie and Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino till dawn. One day he turned to Durant to shake his hand, and tears came to his eyes. “Tim, we were pals, weren’t we?” Chaplin asked. “And we did have fun, didn’t we? And it’s all gone now, isn’t it?”
Still image from Charlie Chaplin’s cameo appearance in a Keystone comedy called A Thief Catcher in January 1914.
The diminutive figure emerges from the underbrush wearing a Keystone Cop uniform about four sizes too large. He screws up his courage by giving a very familiar wiggle of his butt, followed by a very familiar wriggle of his shoulders.
He’s wearing a little moustache that would soon become world famous, carrying only a nightstick and the possibility of greatness.
It’s Charlie Chaplin, making a cameo appearance in a Keystone comedy called A Thief Catcher in January 1914, just about a month after he started working at the Edendale, California, studio. It’s the 36th film he made in a frantic year’s activity before he left for more green, not to mention greener, pastures.
Until a few months ago, nobody knew it existed.
Click below to watch Paulette Goddard, along with Charlie Chaplin in the ending of Modern Times (1936)