The upcoming San Francisco Silent Film Festival’s Day of Silents winter program this December 3 at the Castro Theater offers something for everyone, from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1926 Jazz Age gem So This is Paris, to the Oscar’s first ever Best Actor performance, Emil Janning’s portrayal of an exiled Russian general turned Hollywood extra in The Last Command (1928). The morning program leads off with three beautifully restored shorts Charlie Chaplin filmed for the Essanay Film Company in 1915, and co-presented by the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. The films will be introduced by preservationist David Shepard, whose Blackhawk Films Collection was the source for many of the restorations. In addition to His New Job, filmed at the Essanay Studio in Chicago, and A Night in the Show, where Chaplin plays dual roles, we’ll be seeing The Champion, a boxing comedy filmed entirely on location in Niles, the second of five films Chaplin made for Essanay during his brief stay in the Bay Area before returning to Los Angeles to finish out his one-year contract with the studio.
As reported here, The Champion provides charming views of early Niles, including the former Essanay Studio facility that once stood at the corner of Niles Boulevard and G Street. During the film, Charlie’s hungry tramp character signs up to be a boxing sparring partner, only to end up winning the championship and Edna Purviance’s affections. Chaplin was an avid boxing fan, and by the time of filming had started on off-screen romance with Purviance, whom he had only recently hired to be his first leading lady.
Chaplin’s boss and Essanay co-founder Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, cinema’s first cowboy star, had been making films at Niles for a couple of years before Charlie arrived there in late January 1915. This recent post explains how Chaplin filmed the iconic shot of his Little Tramp traipsing down a country road, the concluding scene from The Tramp, at the same spot where Anderson had previously filmed action scenes for his cowboy films. The Tramp was Chaplin’s final production during his 10-week stint in Niles before heading to Los Angeles. Anderson and Chaplin became friends working together in Niles. At the right, Anderson plays a cameo in The Champion, seen here staring into the camera, as an extra watching Charlie’s boxing match. You can purchase a newly released two DVD set containing 16 Anderson Broncho Billy films, shot mostly at Niles, HERE.
All vintage images courtesy of David Kiehn, historian for the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, and author of the wonderful history of the studio, Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company. You can read more about Chaplin filming The Champion in my book Silent Traces.
Preservationist Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, and Cineteca di Bologna, have restored all 15 of Chaplin’s 1915 Essanay short comedies, available as a 5 disc Blu-ray/DVD box set from Flicker Alley. The restoration of The Champion was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment. Used with permission.