Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” Sanitarium Solved

Charlie Chaplin used the former Occidental College Hall of Letters (still standing) to portray the charity hospital where Edna Purviance delivers her baby in The Kid (1921). But “cured of a nervous breakdown but without a job” during Modern Times (1936), Charlie used the Mary Norton Clapp Library at the new Occidental College campus in Eagle Rock to portray the hospital where he leaves to start his life anew.

The library opened in 1923 with two entrances, the east entrance flanked by a pair of columns, and the more modest north entrance used by Chaplin. The south side has no entrance, and vintage photos confirm the west side of the library, now covered by a 1971 expansion of the building, also had no entrance. I had long been intrigued by this simple scene, which in fact, was the final unsolved exterior from the entire movie.

Click to enlarge – north end of Mary Norton Clapp Library – Occidental College

I want to thank reader Mark Smith who reached out with an intriguing inquiry that directly prompted this post. During his audio commentary to the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of Modern Times, Chaplin biographer David Robinson explains “The building used for the exterior is Occidental College.”

Mark wondered if this would have been the old Highland Park Occidental campus where Charlie filmed The Kid (above left). But the stairway seemed more contemporary. The Highland Park campus was built in 1897, while the Eagle Rock campus began construction in 1912.

Click to enlarge – built in 1924, east entrance with columns left, Charlie’s north entrance right Occidental College

I logged onto Calisphere, the search platform that includes nearly every online California photo archive, to study the “new” Occidental campus, and soon zeroed in on the library as the likely candidate. Notice above the original rectangular dimensions, the east side twice as long as the north.

Preparing this post reminded me Charlie had filmed an alternate ending to Modern Times, where the Gamine, the Little Tramp’s companion portrayed by Paulette Goddard, becomes a nun, and Charlie heads out once more all alone on the open road. Their discarded farewell scene was also staged beside the Clapp Library stairs. See all 13 Chaplin Archive photos of the discarded farewell scene.

It’s fascinating to realize Charlie filmed this brief, mundane scene, requiring a simple “institutional” doorway entrance, all the way out in Eagle Rock, about 14 miles from his studio located at 1416 N. La Brea. He couldn’t find a closer set of stairs? Filming the extended alternate ending may have been a factor when choosing the site, but it still seems like a long way to go.

Numerous articles on this blog cover Charlie and Mary Pickford filming at the old Hall of Letters building at the former Highland Park campus, and the downtown factory exteriors where Charlie goes berserk in Modern Times. To learn more, please search this site, and also check out my Chaplin book Silent Traces, and the wonderful Criterion Collection Blu-ray of Modern Times, which includes my visual essay.

This link archives historic photos of the Mary Norton Clapp Library, including this view above of the north side. Charlie’s north doorway was originally flanked by twin pairs of windows. The library was expanded in 1955, making the library dimensions now more “square” than rectangular. Chaplin’s doorway may have been moved or rebuilt. The large the modern extension to the right was built in 1971.

Matching views south – Charlie’s doorway marked at left in 1938, 1955 expansion middle, 1971 expansion right. Is it still the same doorway Charlie used? UCSB FrameFinder

For more visual detective work, check out “Case Closed – How Buster Keaton made Sherlock Jr.” accompanied by renowned pianist and composer Michael D. Mortilla.

Check out the library on Google Maps below

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