Making a Living
Making a Living (also known as Doing His Best, A Busted Johnny, Troubles, and Take My Picture) is the first film starring Charlie Chaplin. A one-reel comedy short, it was completed in three days at Keystone Studios in Los Angeles, California and was released for distribution on February 2, 1914. In it Chaplin portrays a charming swindler who runs afoul of a news reporter and a Keystone Cop. In addition to co-writing the "scenario" and directing the production, Henry Lehrman performs as the principal supporting character.
|Making a Living|
|Directed by||Henry Lehrman|
|Produced by||Mack Sennett|
|Written by||Reed Heustis|
|Cinematography||Enrique Juan Vallejo |
Frank D. Williams
|Distributed by||Mutual Film Corporation|
English (Original intertitles)
In the film’s opening scene, Chaplin's character, the "Swindler", attempts to convince a passerby (Henry Lehrman) to give him money. Chaplin is next shown flirting with a young woman and proposing marriage to her, which she accepts. Lehrman, who portrays a news reporter, now approaches the woman and presents to her a bouquet of flowers and a ring, which she refuses to accept, noting that she is now engaged. Lerhman sees Chaplin and a slapstick fight between the two immediately ensues. Later, while prowling for a news story, Lehrman's character witnesses and photographs an automobile accident, capturing on film a dramatic image of a car tumbling down a high, steep hill. As he and a crowd of onlookers are trying to help the unfortunate motorist, who is pinned beneath his wrecked car, Chaplin passes by and steals the camera that contains the sensational photograph. He then runs to the local newspaper office with the image and to report the auto accident, claiming them as his own. A short pursuit with the Keystone Kops follows, and then an infuriated Lehrman catches up with Chaplin, and they resume their fistfight on a downtown street. An oncoming streetcar scoops them up on its front cowcatcher and continues down the street and out of frame.
Chaplin wears a large moustache and a top hat in the film; he also carries a walking cane. His famous "Little Tramp" screen persona did not appear until his next film, Kid Auto Races at Venice, which was released by Keystone only five days after the studio began distributing Making a Living. In recalling his work with Lehrman in Making a Living, Chaplin maintained that the director had "deliberately" removed the best parts of his performance from the short's final cut. Lehrman, according to Chaplin, was "a vain man", who years later actually "confessed" to misediting the footage because he felt the young Englishman was arrogant and "knew too much".
In his extensive 1985 biography of the legendary comedian, Chaplin: His Life and Art, English film critic and historian David Robinson provides further insight into the short's production, including its filming locations, the evolution of the Chaplin's costume selections for his screen debut, and his acting style in some scenes:
Chaplin’s first film, Making a Living, was one of Keystone’s more elaborate productions. It had a comparatively well-developed story line, and was shot partly on the stage, partly in the gardens of a nearby house, and partly in the street, on Glendale Avenue. Chaplin's costume, make-up and character resembled Archibald Binks in The Wow-Wows and A Night in a London Club, with nothing as yet of the Charlie figure to come. He wore a grey top hat, check waistcoat, stiff collar, spotted cravat and monocle. Most surprising was the long, drooping moustache of a rather dejected stage villain. At the start of the film he established the fraudulence of his elegant pretensions by touching a passing friend (played by Lehrman) for a loan. The first characteristically Chaplin gag is where he disdainfully rejects the proffered coin as too mean, but then hastily grabs it before the friend can change his mind.
Although Lehrman and Reed Heustis are often credited with co-writing the film's scenario, Chaplin in his autobiography offers his view on the screenplay's status when production began. "We had no story", he writes, adding "It was to be a documentary about the printing press done with a few comedy touches." He then states that Lehrman appeared to be "groping for ideas", so as a "newcomer at Keystone" he began to make suggestions. "This", Chaplin continues, "was where I created antagonism with Lehrman."
The footage of street scenes depicts various areas of downtown Los Angeles in 1914. In the scene with the swindler and newspaper reporter fighting in the road, the sign of the Fremont Hotel is shown briefly in the background. That hotel closed in the 1940s, and the entire structure was demolished in 1955.
The clever player who takes the role of nervy and very nifty sharper in this picture is a comedian of the first water, who acts like one of Nature’s own naturals. It is so full of action that it is indescribable, but so much of it is fresh and unexpected fun that a laugh will be going all the time almost. It is foolish-funny stuff that will make even the sober minded laugh, but people out for an evening's good time will howl.
In the months following the film's release, as it circulated across the United States, many city and small-town newspapers, like The Sentinel-Record in Hot Springs, Arkansas, judged the short to be a "laugh", as yet another one of Keystone's "always good and boisterous comedies"; and they encouraged their readers to see it. The local paper in Chickasha, Oklahoma characterized Making a Living as "truly a scream from start to finish", while in Bemidji, Minnesota, the Majestic Theatre promoted it as a "peach", adding "If you never laughed before you will certainly do so if you see this comedy." In those and other remarks about the film in 1914 and in newspaper advertisements promoting the comedy, Charlie Chaplin and his fellow performers are rarely mentioned by name, which at that time was not an uncommon practice outside the realm of film-industry publications, especially with regard to new performers in one-reelers. In June 1914, however, the Dittmann Theatre in Brownsville, Texas did mention in the town's newspaper that its screening of Making a Living included a "new comedian in the Keystone comedy", an entertainer the theatre identified as "Charles Chappel." Little did that theatre’s management or moviegoers in general know that by the end of the following year, Mr. Chappel would be an established national and international film celebrity and a growing cultural phenomenon.
One scene in particular in Making a Living excited audiences and even prompted film-industry observers in 1914 to comment about Lehrman's and Keystone's willingness to spend considerable amounts of money on their motion-picture projects, even on simple one-reel shorts. The scene is the car accident. The Motion Picture News, another popular New York-based trade publication, reported the financial cost of staging that accident during production:
Henry Lehrman, a Keystone director, tipped a $1,500 ($38,300 today) automobile over a cliff in his last picture, "Making a Living." A nearly new Studebaker was used for this effect and when recovered at the bottom resembled a pile of kindling wood. This expensive episode cost the Keystone Company a good-sized sum, but a thrill was to be gotten out of the story and Keystone took this method of getting it.
References and notesEdit
- "Other titles of 'Making a Living'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 5 March 2014.
- Chaplin, Charles. My Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 143-144.
- Neibaur, James (2012). Early Charlie Chaplin: The Artist As Apprentice at Keystone Studios. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810882423.
- This is one of only a few films in which Chaplin and the Keystone Cops appear together.
- Plot summary derived from viewing the digital copy of the film available on this page.
- Chaplin's first three films, including the first two to feature his signature character The Tramp, were released over the span of just one week.
- Maland, Charles (1991). Charlie Chaplin and American Culture - The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691028605.
- Okuda, Ted (2005). Charlie Chaplin at Keystone And Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc. ISBN 0595365981.
- Weissman, Stephen. Chaplin: A Life. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008, p. 211. Internet Archive. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
- Both The Wow-Wows and A Night in a London Club were two popular stage productions or comic "playettes" in which Chaplin performed while a member of The Fred Karno Company.
- Robinson, David. Chaplin: His Life and Art. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985, pp. 152-153. ISBN 0-07-053181-1. Full copy of biography available on Internet Archive. Retrieved February 21, 2021.
- McCann, Linda; Taube, Dace; Zachary, Claude; Roseman, Curtis C. (8 October 2008). Historic Hotels of Los Angeles and Hollywood, (CA). Arcadia Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-7385-5906-3. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
- "Comments on the Films...'Making a Living' (Keystone), February 2.", The Moving Picture World, February 7, 1914, p. 678. Internet Archive, San Francisco, California. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
- "Lyceum Theater", The Sentinel-Record (Hot Springs, Arkansas), February 24, 1914, p. 5. Chronicling America, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
- "At the Play Houses", Chickasha Daily Express (Chickasha, Oklahoma), February 16, 1914, p. 8. Chronicling America. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
- "Majestic Theatre Pictures Deluxe", The Bemidji Pioneer (Bemidji, Minnesota), March 23, 1914, p. 3. Chronicling America. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
- "Dittmann Theatre / Programme Tonight", The Brownsville Herald (Brownsville, Texas), June 4, 1914, p. 4. Chronicling America. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
- Robinson, pp. 152-153.
- "Dissolving Out", The Motion Picture News, 28 February 1914, pp. 54, 56. Internet Archive. Retrieved February 17, 2021.