Last week, I mentioned that Chicago played host to many large, well-known studios from the silent film era, including Essanay Studios which claimed Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson and Ben Turpin as their own for a period of time. In the brief time that Chaplin lived in Chicago, he starred in a short film that featured Turpin *and* Swanson. That film was “His New Job.”
When Chaplin joined Essanay in 1915 it was huge news in the world of film. Chaplin had grown tired of Mack Sennett’s knockabout, slapstick Keystone comedies and longed for more subtle and clever gags than Sennett wanted. By joining Essanay, he was beginning to gain the freedom he would need to create his later masterpieces, and Essanay was reaping the benefits of having an internationally known comedian as part of their stock. And Essanay didn’t hold back when it came to announcing their acquisition.
But while he was in Chicago, Chaplin remained somewhat restricted. He wasn’t yet the director of his films, and he was still expected to churn out product on a regular basis to satisfy the public’s demand for him. To make matters worse for Chaplin, Ben Turpin was pushed to be his second banana, even though the pair shared very different ideas of what was comedy and didn’t get along very well. The partnership didn’t last long, though. Upon completion, Chaplin headed for the California branch of Essanay and remained there until his contract ended and he joined Mutual the following year.
“His New Job” is the only film that Chaplin filmed while in Chicago. The film doesn’t make use of its Midwest metropolitan setting, but it’s still entertaining to view as Chaplin takes a funny backstage look at the movie business, a subject that would continue to appear in comedies of the period. At the time of its release, critics were calling it the funniest comedy ever filmed. By this time, Chaplin had firmly cemented his Little Tramp character as his primary persona and was beginning to hone his characteristics and mannerisms.
You can watch the full short, featuring Chaplin, Turpin and Gloria Swanson, in an uncredited role, below.
Are you enjoying this look back at silent film and silent film-era Chicago? Let us know your thoughts! And be sure to catch up on any silent film posts you may have missed.
Want to dive deeper into the world of silent film? Keep up with my posts over on Curtains or on Chicago Nitrate.