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Charles Chaplin and His Studio

Keystone Film Company

Charles Chaplin’s first exposure to the motion picture industry was when he accepted the  Keystone Film Company’s offer by the large salary: $150 weekly for three months raised to $175 weekly for the rest of the year; which was more than double his Karno salary of $75 a week. In September 1913 he signed his first film contract for a period of one year with the Keystone Film Company, beginning December 13, 1913. After completing over thirty-five films for Keystone of various lengths—split reels, one-reelers, and two-reelers, plus the feature film Tillie’s Punctured Romance—Chaplin emerged triumphant from his first experience in motion pictures. After the expiration of his one-year contract with the Keystone Film Company,

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Essanay Film Company

Chaplin was lured to Essanay for the unprecedented salary of $1,250 per week, with a bonus of $10,000 for merely signing with the company. The fourteen films he made for Essanay were distinctly marked and designated upon release as the “Essanay-Chaplin Brand.”In October 1917, Charlie Chaplin announced plans to build his own motion picture studio at the southeast corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard  By 1916, just two years after appearing in his first motion picture, Charles Chaplin had become the most famous entertainer in the world. Buoyed by his enormously successful comedies for Keystone and Essanay, he was offered the largest salary ever extended to a motion picture star—$670,000 for a single year’s work—to make twelve two-reel comedies for the Mutual Film Corporation. For Mutual, Chaplin produced what many film historians believe to be his best films.

Chaplin’s Own Studio

Chaplin purchased the property which consisted of a large grove of old orange trees.The lot had 300 feet of frontage on Sunset and 600 feet  on La Brea, extending south to De Longpre Ave. Chaplin announced he would make his home on the northern part of the property, and build his own motion picture studio on the south part of the property, cornering at La Brea and De Longpre. Chaplin's plans were prepared by the Milwaukee Building Company , and the total investment was estimated to be approximately $100,000.

Construction of Chaplin studios was completed in approximately 1919.  Chaplin preserved a large residence on the northern (Sunset Boulevard) end of the property, and planned to live there, but never did. Various studio personnel lived there over the years, including his brother Sydney Chaplin The "English cottages" along La Brea served as the facade for offices, a screening room, and a film laboratory. The grounds included stables, a swimming pool and tennis courts.  The central part of the property, which was originally an orchard, became the backlot, where large outdoor sets were constructed. The two large open-air stages at Chaplin Studios used for filming were constructed on the southern end of the property, and the rest of the facility consisted of dressing rooms, a garage, a  carpenter's shed, and a film vault. Many of Chaplin's classic films were shot at the studios, including The Gold Rush, City Lights, Limelight and many others.

In1942, Chaplin sold the northern portion of the property to Safeway Stores who demolished the house and build a small shopping center.  During the next few years, the studio was used by outside production companies and it was claimed that Greta Garbo’s last screen test was done there.

In 1953, who left the United States permanently, sold the studio toa a New York real estate investor for $650,000. For the next few years, the studio went through a succession of owners, but in 1959, Red Skelton became the new owner. 

Skelton and A & M Records

After three years of ownership, Skelton sold the studio to CBS, in 1962. In 1966, Herb and Jerry Moss bought the studio and it became the home of A & M Records.  Many of the day’s recording stars recorded their hits at this famous landmark. In 2000, the children of Jim Henson purchased the studio o preserve the memory of their father. 

Photos of Keystone Studios, Essanay Studios, and Chaplin studios are available for purchase at hollywoodphotographs.com.

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