Making Noise for the Silent Era: A 75th Anniversary of Chaplin's Little Tramp

Making Noise for the Silent Era: A 75th Anniversary of Chaplin's Little Tramp

On a dusty patch of road just north of Los Angeles, one man's dream of honoring an era of cinema is about to become a reality.

Charlie Chaplin's bumbling, lovable "Little Tramp" character is arguably the most famous icon of the silent film era. Today, the Tramp remains popular all over the world. Chaplin first brought the character to life in 1914, helping launch the silent era. Interestingly, when Chaplin retired the character in 1936, the silent film era ended.

But where exactly did it happen?

"I remember I saw it in a book, right around the time I had moved out here. I couldn't believe it was so close to where I lived. When we drove out and found it, right at that moment, I knew that we'd want to honor it some day. And now that it's the 75th anniversary, well, what better time?"

Author, historian and Charlie Chaplin buff E.J. Stephens explained to AOL News recently what inspired him to organize what undoubtedly will be one of the most memorable Chaplin celebrations in history.

And it all comes down to that bit of roadside along the old Sierra Highway in Santa Clarita, Calif.

"It's the exact site where, essentially, the curtain came down on the silent film era," Stephens said. "Where that last scene in the 1936 Chaplin classic "Modern Times" was filmed -- where Chaplin and Paulette Goddard walked off together into the sunset. It was the very last appearance of the Little Tramp, the character that helped create Hollywood. For over 20 years Chaplin played the part, and when he retired the Little Tramp, the silent era went with it."

Feb. 5 marks 75 years to the day that the legendary film was released, and so Stephens, along with his wife, Kim, have spearheaded the creation of the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley Chaplin Fest to take place on the anniversary.

"We worked with a team of like-minded people to put together a whole series of special events," Stephens explained.

Festivities that day will include:
A screening of "Modern Times" accompanied by actual artifacts from the movie, including Chaplin's "Little Tramp" costume.
A screening of the popular 1992 feature film "Chaplin" starring Robert Downey Jr., followed by a "making of" discussion with Jim Elyea from movie prop house History for Hire.
A book signing with John Bengtson, author of "Silent Traces -- Discovering Hollywood Through the Films of Charlie Chaplin."
A screening of Chaplin's "The Pilgrim" at the Heritage Junction Train Station, the location of scenes in the film.
A rare screening of the recently discovered Keystone comedy "A Thief Catcher," with Chaplin as a Keystone Cop.
A display of Chaplin's costume and props from "Modern Times" and Keystone Kops artifacts at Hart Hall in William S. Hart Park.
A continuous exhibition of Chaplin's Keystone comedies, plus silent film vendors, Chaplin impersonators, a Chaplin costume contest and more.
Plus, the event will feature the unveiling of a special marker that will soon be placed at the site where the film's finale was shot. Actress Tippi Hedren (who appeared in "A Countess From Hong Kong," the last film Chaplin directed) and film historian Leonard Maltin are scheduled to attend the plaque ceremony at 3 p.m. that day.

(The marker is being produced by Maria and Charles Sotelo form High Desert Monuments, who also produced the Jack Norworth "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" marker in July, in a story covered by AOL News.)

Stephens, author of "Early Warner Bros. Studios" from Arcadia Publishing, is thrilled at the thought of the monument being placed at the exact filming site.

"The place still looks the same as it did when Chaplin shot there," he said. "There are not many places in Southern California that look the same 75 years later."

Stephens' wife, Kim, has created a website for the event where fans can contribute to the efforts of paying for the marker.

"We're very passionate about this and will do whatever we can to get it all done," she told AOL News. "The county has been helpful, but this project is not funded, so we appreciate other film fans helping out if they can. This is a true labor of love for all of us who love classic silent films and especially Charlie Chaplin."

E.J. Stephens echoed his wife's pledge.

"Preservation and marking entertainment history, in my opinion, is not done enough in L.A. We think that the beautiful marker the Sotelos are creating will give locals a greater sense of pride and also lure some folks out this way to stand there and revel in the greatness that took place out there on the Sierra Highway."

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