Sunday, October 20, 2013

20 October 2013: In the Footsteps of Charlie Chaplin

I emerged from my Batcave today long enough to experience something truly memorable. I visited the old Essanay Studios at 1333 W. Argyle St. in Uptown as part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's  Open House Chicago. 
From 1907 - 1917, Essanay was home to such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Wallace Beery, Ben Turpin, Broncho Billy Anderson, Francis X. Bushman, and Gloria Swanson (who made her film debut there); as the promotional video for a crowdfunding project to restore this treasure of early cinema puts it: "Before there was Hollywood, there was Chicago." 
CLICK HERE for more information or to contribute to the campaign to restore Essanay, "one of the world's first and last silent film studios."

The entrance to the complex, which is now home to St. Augustine College,
still bears the Essanay name and trademark Indian-head logos. I've seen them
before but noticed for the first time today that they subtly replicate
the traditional masks of comedy and tragedy:
the figure on the left is smiling ever so slightly,
while the one on the right's mouth turns down at the corner.
The terracotta is in great need of repair, one of the primary
goals of the fund-raising campaign.

A special treat for Open House Chicago was the showing
of His New Job (1915), in the very same studio where it
was shot. The comedy starred Charlie Chaplin,
along with Ben Turpin and a very young
Gloria Swanson.

Mural over the studio door shows Chaplin as the Little Tramp,
along with child star, and Jackie Coogan,
in their beloved roles from The Kid (1921).

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