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The Charlie Chaplin / Jim Henson Studios
January 28, 2013
If you’ve ever driven down La Brea between Sunset and Fountain, you’ve likely been charmed by an obscure sight at the gate of a small film studio lot: Kermit the Frog wearing the coat and holding the bowler hat of Charlie Chaplin’s legendary Little Tramp character.
Jim Henson’s creation here pays Chaplin homage, because this studio lot was originally built by Chaplin himself nearly a century ago. A true auteur, Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in each of his films. After his Mutual Film contract expired in 1917, he set out to build his own movie factory. “A dream comes true,” announces a subtitle in Chaplin’s 1918 film How to Make Movies, “His own studio.”
With planning and building conducted by Meyer & Holler (architects of Chaplin’s Hollywood Athletic Club and Hollywood Boulevard’s Chinese & Egyptian Theaters), he set about converting an orange grove at the corner of La Brea and DeLongpre Avenues into “Ye Olde English Village,” as he refers to it in the film. Completed in 1919, the lot still resembles a row of English homes on the east side of busy La Brea Avenue.
Within Chaplin Studios were all the necessities of film production, development, and post-production, along with office space and a swimming pool. Chaplin made many classic films here, including the romantic City Lights, the workplace farce Modern Times, and the boldly satiric The Great Dictator, before leaving the United States in 1952. The remainder of the century featured many tenants—everything from “Soul Train” to the “We Are The World” video was shot here. In 1966, A&M Records bought the studio from CBS with a cashier’s check for $1 million, and over the next three decades it played host to Bob Dylan, Styx, Van Morrison, and Soundgarden.
The Jim Henson Company bought the lot in 2000, infatuated with the quirky design of the studio buildings—said Brian Henson at the time of sale, “When we heard that the Chaplin lot was for sale, we had to have it. It’s the perfect home for the Muppets and our particular brand of classy, but eccentric entertainment. When people walk onto our lot, they fall in love with Hollywood again.” Through all the years and different tenants, Chaplin’s legacy has remained an indelible part of his former home. Murals pay tribute to the man, and a stretch of sidewalk preserves his trademark Tramp’s walk.