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Charlie Chaplin made a movie here 100 years ago this month then quickly left

Written by
Adam Selzer

In the early 1910s, for one brief moment, Chicago was the film-making capitol of the United States. By 1914, the city was starting to lose its luster as a film hub when Essanay Studios made the move that might have cemented Chicago's role as a filmmaking city: They signed 25-year-old Charlie Chaplin, one of the biggest rising stars in the business, and brought him to Chicago. It was January, 1915, that he made his one Chicago film, His New Job—a century ago this month. 

His stay here lasted only a few weeks, though, before he packed up and went to work at Essanay's California studio. 

Part of the problem was weather. He moved from California to Chicago right before Christmas during a particularly cold December, when the mercury dipped below zero overnight. 

Another problem, though, was that Essanay didn't seem to realize quite what they had. While he'd been lured to the city with the promise of a huge signing bonus, Chaplin found himself spending his first days on the studio lurking about, trying to corner George Spoor, the owner, to get him to pay up. He didn't like that they expected him to use their scenarios instead of making up his own, as he'd become accustomed to doing. And, perhaps most notoriously, he hated that when watching footage from a day's filming, they'd screen the film negatives to spare the expense of making a positive print.

His feelings were hurt again when the actress he picked from the Essanay regulars as his leading lady told him she didn't see what was funny about the comedy routines he had her practicing. A few years later, that young lady, Gloria Swanson, would be just about as famous as Chaplin himself and joked about their meeting at a dinner party. 

On January 10, 1915, the Tribune published an interview with Chaplin, whom they found hiding out in a screening room, trying to be optimistic. "I think I'm going to like it here—nice people, nice studio, etc. With favorable conditions a man can do so much better work, you know." He impressed the interviewer sufficiently that she ended the article by stating "He's nice as well as funny....25 and unmarried, girls."

Chaplin had probably already made up his mind to leave. He was gone only days later.

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