The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Chaplin at Essanay Podcast!

Last fall I blogged about the fascinating but little known story of the film Charlie Chaplin made in Chicago. Yesterday I returned to the former Essanay studio complex (now St. Augustine College) in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood to record a podcast on this same subject with Chicago historian and author Adam Selzer and his trusty sidekick Hector Reyes.

We started off outside the luxurious high-rise building that housed the apartment of G.M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson (where Chaplin bunked for three weeks from late December of 1914 through mid-January of 1915), then retraced Chaplin’s footsteps to the site of Essanay where he went to work every day several blocks away. Incredibly, upon arriving at St. Augustine College, we were not only granted access to the buildings’ interiors but also given a tour of the former studio stages where filming took place and the fireproof vaults in the basement where the original negatives of Essanay’s films were kept. The interiors of both locations have barely been renovated and look almost identical to how they would have appeared when Chaplin worked there.

You can look at pictures from our tour and read Adam’s thoughts at his excellent Chicago Unbelievable blog (formerly the Weird Chicago blog) here:

You can download the full 28 minute podcast here: Chaplin Podcast

You can listen to a two-minute audio file of me discussing the significance of Chaplin’s His New Job here: MGS on His New Job

Inside the Essanay vault:
Photograph by Adam Selzer


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

6 responses to “The Secret History of Chicago Movies: Chaplin at Essanay Podcast!

  • Corrine

    Fascinating experience! I enjoyed your commentary!

  • michaelgloversmith

    Glad you enjoyed it! We had fun doing it and I was amazed at how “action-packed” our adventure ended up becoming. We thought we’d just stand outside the building and talk, never dreaming we’d end up in the dank basement and given a tour of old film processing equipment by an elderly Mexican man named Don Pablo. I felt like Geraldo Rivera!

    There was another big film studio, Selig Polyscope, located on the north side of Chicago during the same era as Essanay. I think we’ll also do a podcast at the former site of that studio one of these days.

  • Corrine

    Will look forward to it!

  • suzidoll

    I love early Chicago film history. I am jealous that you got to go inside the old Essanay bldg.

    I wish the people of Chicago would pay as much attention to their film history as they do their gangster history.

  • michaelgloversmith

    Agreed, Suzi. Did you know that one building of the original Selig Polyscope Studio is still standing at 3900 N. Claremont? I’m going to try and get in to that one too.

  • Selig Polyscope Podcast! « White City Cinema

    […] building at 3900 N. Claremont Ave. on Chicago’s northwest side. Following our recent Essanay Expedition, I headed to the former site of the Selig Polyscope Co. with my fellow Traveling Mystery Solvers […]

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