Chaplin Film Clip Sparks Time Travel Controversy (2010)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A short clip from the footage recorded of the 1928 premiere of Charlie Chaplin’s motion picture “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. Pepito and Joanne were inside the building, getting ready to perform in the Ballyhoo live show that preceded each showing of the film.

Pepito met Joanne in 1928 when they both were hired separately to perform in the live pre-show “Ballyhoo” before each showing of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. 

Pepito Meets Joanne:  Their Matchmaker Was Charlie Chaplin (1928)

VIDEO: “The Ballyhoo” of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” (1928)

Pepito the Spanish Clown and His First Lion Act (1927)

Los Angeles Times: Looks to Be Difficult Feat (1928)

Los Angeles Daily News: Pretty Dancer to Wed Clown (1928)

Several years ago I purchased a 2004 reissue DVD of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Circus” specifically to see Pepito the Spanish Clown who appears in the the bonus footage of “The Hollywood Premiere 1928,” a short film showing people coming to Grauman’s Chinese Theater on opening night.  

I recently have been trying to track down the source of the footage to see if there might be more performance footage available for my documentary film on Pepito & Joanne.  Due to the fact that Pepito, his ZaZa the Dancing Horse, and Pepito’s costumed lion appear briefly in the Ballyhoo portion of the Chaplin premiere footage, I am hoping maybe the out-takes from that day might include Joanne doing her mechanical doll contortion act.  

Imagine my surprise when, last night, I stumbled across some big news about this very same Chaplin premiere footage.  A “time traveler” has been discovered in this same footage  by a man named George Clarke in Belfast, Ireland!  An older woman in black hat and dark shoes, walking into the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in 1928 to buy a ticket to see Chaplin’s new film, is purportedly talking on a cellphone!  

News of this “discovery” is spreading rapidly on the internet, and the story has even been taken up by some TV news channels, and even Jay Leno!  Searching the phrase “chaplin time traveler,” here’s a handful of the hundreds of links this morning:

TIME Magazine   The Chaplin Time Traveler: What Does Science Say?

CNN   Cell phone ‘time traveler’ seen in silent film

ABC News   ‘Time Traveler’ in 1928 Charlie Chaplin Film?

Washington Post   Was a time traveler captured in footage of a Charlie Chaplin movie premiere?

The Telegraph   Charlie Chaplin time traveller spotted in old film

Huffington Post  ‘Time Traveler’ Caught In 1928 Charlie Chaplin Film? (VIDEO)

KSCW-TV Kansas City   Mysterious ‘Time Traveler’ Spotted in Charlie Chaplin Film

The footage is un-doctored; I have checked and it is identical on the 2003 “The Circus” bonus DVD disk.  The woman definitely is holding her hand to her cheek, but in my opinion there is no cellphone in her hand. 

I’ll bet these events will throw a kink in my plan to license the Chaplin Ballyhoo footage for my Pepito & Joanne documentary film … now that it’s the subject of an urban myth, the licensing fee will be astronomical, thanks to a woman who was probably shielding her eyes from the sun, or scratching an itch.

By the way, in 2006, Orange County local science fiction author Tim Powers published a best-selling novel titled “Three Days To Never” in which the plot revolves around Charlie Chaplin’s missing concrete footprints from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a time machine, a lost Chaplin film found in a garden shed at an old house, and other clues.  Pepito and Joanne’s story involves Charlie Chaplin as their matchmaker who paired them up to work together in the Grauman’s Ballyhoo; and the sole canister of 16mm film containing the “Lost Pilot” for “I Love Lucy” tucked away for 39 years in their Santa Ana Victorian home.  Tim Powers’ book is fantasy/science fiction, while Pepito and Joanne were real people! Were they the inspiration?

–Melani Carty

P.S.  Two of the funniest comments I have read online about the Chaplin time traveler are, “Hey, it’s Marty McFly! (a reference to “Back to the Future” films), and “Can you hear me then?” (a clever spin on the cellphone commercials that ask “Can you hear me now?”).  And as my husband correctly points out, if that lady could get cellphone reception in 1928, she’s doing a whole lot better than most of us in 2010.  

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