Tag Archives: Charlie Chaplin

The Case Of The Misplaced Plaque

 

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THIS IS THE BIRTHPLACE
OF
MOTION PICTURE COMEDY
HERE THE GENIUS OF MACK SENNETT
TOOK ROOT AND GREW TO LAUGHTER
HEARD AROUND THE WORLD. HERE
MOVIE HISTORY WAS MADE – HERE
STARS WERE BORN – HERE
REIGNED AND STILL REIGNS
“THE KING OF COMEDY”
MACK SENNETT
PRESENTED BY
R. L. McKEE, PRES.
NATIONAL VAN LINES, INC.
ON
“THIS IS YOUR LIFE”
MARCH 10, 1954

So, reads the copy on the misplaced plaque.  In 1954 National Van Lines erected the Mack Sennett Studio plaque on an imposing obelisk at 1845 Glendale Boulevard–which was indeed originally a studio location–but NOT the location of the Mack Sennett Studio.  1845 was the site of the Selig Polyscope studio, the first permanent studio established in Los Angeles in 1909.  Mack Sennett Keystone Film Company studio had actually been located a block away and across the street at 1712 Glendale Boulevard!  (Ralph Edwards and “This Is Your Life” made quite a habit of misplacing their tribute markers.  Three years later they promised to mark the site of the former Buster Keaton Studio–but they also placed that one on the wrong street corner!) Old timers like Coy Watson, who had worked at Sennett’s as a boy, were appropriately outraged and even wrote letters to the editors of various newspapers, but the parade had gone by, and the plaque remained at 1845 Glendale Boulevard for 53 years until a developer acquired the property in 2007, with the intention of putting up condos on the grounds where Francis Boggs, Hobart Bosworth, Tom Santschi, Bessie Eyton and Kathlyn Williams once made movies for Selig.

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The Plaque and Obelisk had been safely behind a chain link fence on the grounds of Bert-Co Graphics (the immediate past tenants), but when the wrecking crew moved in to demolish the buildings, the fence came down, and they monument became subject to vandalism.  I contacted the new owner of the property, and arranged to save it, with the intention of placing it where it should always have been–at 1712 Glendale boulevard, where the last surviving building of the Sennett Studio–a circa 1913 concrete dark stage–that is now part of a Public Storage facility.  But how to move what appeared to be a solid concrete seven-foot-tall obelisk that had to weigh at least 600 pounds without causing damage?  It turned out, however,  that not only was the obelisk in the wrong spot, but it was also a clever piece of Hollywood set craft–made not of concrete, but constructed from 2 x 2s, chicken wire, and a brown coat of plaster!  In fact the plaques, which hat mounting bolts on the back, had never even been secured to the obelisk–it was simply shoved into the wet plaster, and over the years anyone might have popped it off with a screwdriver!  So, I took possession of the plaque on behalf of Hollywood Heritage, Inc. and now, in 2014, the centennial of Charlie Chaplin’s first work on the lot for Mack Sennett, a campaign is underway to rededicate the plaque where it always belonged–the site of the Mack Sennett Studio.  For those who’d like to contribute to making this rededication possible, Hollywood Heritage has initiated an Indiegogo campaign to raise the $3,500.00 needed to complete the task.  Here is a link https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mack-sennett-studio-historical-marker

Here is the Sennett lot and dark stage as it looked in 1915:

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And here is what it looks like today:

 

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‘Little Cat Under an Umbrella’–who’d a thunk it?

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            Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd were stars known the world over, “news” that should come as no bombshell. What is surprising, however, is how popular some of the lesser-known American silent comedians were in places remote in distance and culture from the United States. The films of Monty Banks received little coverage in country-of-origin trade magazines like The Moving Picture World, Motion Picture News and Exhibitors Herald, let alone recognition as cultural documents worthy of scholarly investigation. But such was not the case in the Soviet Union, where Vladimir Nedobrovo wrote the first (and likely only) monograph on Monty Banks written during his lifetime, published in 1927 by Kinopchat. Robert James Kiss found a copy of this pamphlet in a Lithuanian bookstore a decade ago, and generously shared this scan of the cover. But this was not the only serious Soviet recognition of the Monty Banks oeuvre. In pages 320-321of his book Les petits maîtres du burlesque américain 1909-1929 (CNRS editions, 2000), author Jean-Jacques Couderc discusses painter and theorist Casimir Malevitch’s seeming obsession with Monty Banks as a cultural figure back in the U.S.S.R., although the founder of “Suprematism” found Banks to be insufficiently revolutionary compared to Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (translation from the French by Robert James Kiss):

            “[In] Racing Luck (Grand-Asher, 1924) . . . It goes without saying that Monty will triumph, but before that can happen he has to demonstrate all the courage and ingenuity of a true American pioneer; in this instance, this involves having to come first in an epic auto race. All of Banks‚ features produced in the United States are built on this same foundation, with Monty coming from nothing (or next to nothing), then showing off qualities that are highly prized in American society (a sense of competitiveness and enterprise, audacity, tenacity and dynamism) which, mixed in with a little good fortune, enable him to achieve wealth and happiness, while also succeeding in love . . . In this way, he realizes the dream of every newly arrived immigrant in the New World: a rapid and definitive social ascent.

            One can imagine the attractiveness of such a persona not merely for American audiences, but also international ones. The most unexpected example of this must surely be the success encountered by Monty Banks’ entire oeuvre in the U.S.S.R. Could his on-screen American-style ascent have caused audiences there, nostalgic for the ability to make a buck, to dream also? As a perceived representative of the petit bourgeois, or of empowered capitalists, Banks certainly became a counterfigure for certain Soviet intellectuals. In an article in the review Kino i Kultura (no.7/8, 1929) dedicated to Dziga Vertov (director of The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) and father of Kino-Glaz‚ or Cine-Eye), futurist painter Casimir Malevitch counterposes this avant-garde form of cinema with that of Monty Banks, to whom he refers not less than eight times in the space of a few pages: ‘If Dziga Vertov points the way ahead, then the Monty Bankses of cinema will not forgive him for it;’ or: ‘This is why I believe that to comprehend the dynamism of our current era of reconstruction, young workers should study [cubo-futurist arists such as Giacomo] Balla, [Umberto] Boccioni, [Luigi] Russolo, [composer Gaetano] Braga, etc., rather than Monty Banks or Pat and Patachon [character names of Danish screen comics Carl Schenstrøm and Harald Madsen];’ and even: ‘There is a greater sense of the present captured in any work by Russolo than in the entirety of Monty Banks Gets Married [Russian title of Wedding Bells (Grand-Asher, 1923)]. The greatest achievements of Monty Banks for the cinema are about equal to the greatest insights into painting that might be gleaned from a picture titled ‘Little Cat under an Umbrella.’ For [Casimir] Malevitch, clearly, Banks’‚ films represent the archetype of a traditional, inflexible cinema.”

            Of course, as Dinah Washington sang, “What A Difference A Day Makes,” and in this day and age silent comedy is often regarded as anarchic, liberated, surreal and scarcely inflexible by modern critics, even as the films of Vertov have come to be regarded as leading to a dead end rather than pointing to “the way ahead.”