Do you know the way to San Jose? It turns out Charlie Chaplin did. Thanks to the Blu-ray clarity of Charlie’s restored Essanay comedies, and the tenacious research by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum historian David Kiehn, we now know Chaplin and crew filmed saloon scenes from A Night Out (1915) in San Jose beside the Alcantara Building (1903), still standing on the NW corner of Post and Market Streets.
Charlie began fulfilling his one-year Essanay contract at the studio’s primary Chicago facility early in 1915. But after making only one movie there, His New Job, Chaplin fled the frigid Windy City and started his first northern California production, A Night Out, soon after arriving at the Essanay Studio in Niles on January 18. While researching his definitive history book “Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company,” David found a local newspaper account from Thursday, January 28, 1915, describing five players from Essanay filming saloon scenes that day on Post Street for a comedy called A Night Out. (Interestingly the story missed the lead – that soon to be world-famous Chaplin was leading the crew.)
While capturing some movie frame images to assist the Museum prepare decorations for its upcoming Charlie Chaplin Days festival July 21-23, I noticed what appeared to be the word “CHICKS” (enhanced above and below) barely visible on the sidewalk during the A Night Out saloon scenes, and mentioned this to David. He responded that a notorious liquor racketeer Clarence “Chick” Leddy once ran a saloon at 107 Post Street. More astounding, as revealed
on Google Street View, the vintage saloon building is still standing, with high tech company Electric Cloud as a tenant. Once an eyesore threatened with demolition, the now upscale building was renovated with numerous picture windows along the ground floor on Post Street.
To be thorough, I checked the 1912 San Jose City Directory and the 1915 Sanborn fire insurance maps. Both sources revealed eight candidate saloons that could have been used for filming. But unless one of these seven other saloon owners also went by the name “Chick” the likely candidate has to be 107 Post Street.
Per David’s newspaper accounts the San Jose Liquor License Committee recommended granting Mr. Leddy a saloon license for 107 Post Street on March 30, 1909. Yet by 1918 the Civic Council revoked Chick Leddy’s soft drink business license because he had sold $150 of whiskey from the premises. By 1928 Chick Leddy was convicted of murder, with help from his bartender, for beating a salesman to death, apparently for winning too much slot machine money at Chick’s Prohibition-era roadhouse. Despite receiving a life sentence, David reports Chick later bribed his way out of San Quentin, and died in San Jose in 1950.
While researching his book, David discovered Charlie also filmed scenes for A Night Out in Oakland beside the Peralta Apartments at 184 13th Street, and the Sierra Apartments at 1502 Alice Street, both still standing near Lake Merritt.
The Alcantara Building stands just a block north of the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph (completed in 1885), and the neighboring historic post office building (completed in 1895), now anchor for the San Jose Museum of Art. You can read more about Chaplin filming A Night Out, and locations from all of his other movies, in my book Silent Traces.
Chaplin made five movies at Niles before returning to Hollywood in May 1915, filming a few exterior scenes in San Francisco and Oakland. But we now know Chaplin once made his way to San Jose too.
I want to especially recommend Dan Kamin’s unique Funny Bones performance at the festival on July 22 at 7:30. A gifted comic, author, and renowned Chaplin authority, Dan coached Robert Downey, Jr. in his Oscar-nominated turn in the movie “Chaplin”(which Dan will introduce at the festival July 21) and coached Johnny Depp for the movie “Benny and Joon.” Using film clips and live demonstrations, Dan deconstructs Chaplin’s unique physical comedy and body language, showing how and why Charlie moved the way he moved. Dan’s show is absolutely fascinating, and you’ll leave feeling you’ve seen Charlie in a whole new light. Dan is also performing Funny Bones at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on July 20.