Last Friday, I spent the morning at the Jim Henson Company and studios in Hollywood, where I took some time to poke around, then had yet another fascinating conversation with An Amazing Person. Following that, I returned to my hotel, e-mailed the digital files of my conversations off to be transcribed, then collapsed with probably the worst case of jet lag I have ever had in my life. And that’s only a three hour time change. Whatta wimp.
The Jim Henson Company works out of a really neat, and important, piece of Hollywood history. Back in 1999, the Henson family purchased the old Charlie Chaplin studios, which Chaplin built in 1917 and opened in 1918. Here’s the plaque mounted to the wall just outside the front entrance:
This is the studio where Chaplin filmed classics like The Gold Rush, Modern Times and The Great Dictator, which makes it officially the stuff of Hollywood legend. What makes the studio really interesting, though, is that Chaplin, like Jim Henson, couldn’t do anything in an ordinary way. His studio, then, pulled off a bit of theatrical sleight of hand: from the street, it looked like a very proper English Tudor village, straight out of the 18th century — or, at least, a stage set built to look like one. Once you were through the gates, however, everything was purely state of the art — a tradition that continues to this day.
The Hensons extensively renovated and refurbished the old studios (after leaving Chaplin’s hands, it belonged to CBS then A&M records) and in 2000, made it the new headquarters for The Jim Henson Company. As Brian Henson said back in 2000:
“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.”
Mission accomplished, I’d say; it’s a wonderful place. Here’s the view of the exterior of the building, as you approach it from the south on La Brea Avenue:
As you can see, as a tribute to Chaplin, there’s a statue of Kermit in Chaplin’s trademark derby and baggy pants just beside the entrance. Here’s a somewhat better picture, taken from just outside the front gate:
Just for a bit of historical perspective, here’s a view of the studio during Chaplin’s day . . .
There’s one more tribute to Chaplin as you stroll past. Just below Kermit is an arch-topped wooden door — you can see it in the photo above — which has now been affectionately painted to allow Chaplin to make a cameo appearance at his old studio:
Neat, huh? Finally, just for fun, here’s a brief clip from The Chaplin Revue — narrated by Chaplin himself — with a bit of information about the studio, including a time-lapse film of it being built.