Charlie Chaplin Stood Here: An Exercise Adventure in Acton, California

Every once in a while, my loves of history and exercise collide. It happened the other night, when I went for a run in a location where Charlie Chaplin filmed one of his most acclaimed movies. And I have proof!

David-Chaplin-Modern-TImes-Sierra-Highway-Mountains

The top photo is from the very last shot of “Modern Times,” Chaplin’s 1936 comedy classic. At this point in the film, he and his love interest, an orphan played by Paulette Goddard (who married Chaplin in real life soon after the movie came out), have lost everything but are confident that they can start fresh. With hope in their hearts, they head down a new road and the film fades to black. (The entire film is available on YouTube.)

The bottom photo is me, taken July 15, 2014.

I had the chance to watch “Modern Times” on the big screen last month, with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra playing the score live, and it was an incredible, hilarious, exhilarating evening. I wrote about it for the orchestra’s blog (where I’ve been a regular contributor for years), and in that piece, I wrote:

I enjoy exercise, but sometimes I need external motivation to get me on my feet. One of the things I love to do is go and work out in places featured in classic films. I’ve run two 10k races through the backlots at Universal Studios, and ran the public stairways featured in classic Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy comedies. Next on the to-do list? I’m going to run… along the same stretch of road that Charlie Chaplin walked almost 80 years ago. I enjoy feeling connected to my surroundings, and if I have a good workout in a location immortalized in a classic film, well… that will be a great day.

After some digging on the internet, I was able to find the exact filming location where that scene was shot. It’s outside a small town called Acton, in the mountains about 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles. I’m actually familiar with that neck of the woods, because I used to visit my friend Judie and her llamas when she lived nearby. I roped my friend Jeff into coming with me, and the other night, we hit the road.

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Finding the location for that last shot was pretty easy, thanks to the research (it’s at the corner of Sierra Highway and Penman road in Acton, if you’re curious), but the shots of Charlie and Paulette talking on the side of the road, before they start walking, were a little trickier. The research was unspecific – just that it was about a mile down the road. Sure enough, we found it, on Sierra Highway between Sierra Vista Dr. and the LA County Fire Dept. Station 81. This area had undergone more changes since the ’30s. Here’s where they shot Charlie and Paulette walking into the street…

David-Chaplin-Modern-Times-Sierra-Highway

…after talking while sitting on the side of the road:

David-Chaplin-Modern-TImes-Side-By-Side-Sitting

Since Paulette was sitting closer to the rock pile, I did my best Paulette impression.  Jeff did his best Paulette impression too:

Jeff-Modern-Times

I can’t describe how joyful it was visiting these locations and figuring out how to recreate these shots. To be standing in the same spot that a cinematic masterpiece was created 78 years ago felt exciting, humbling and empowering all at the same time. Especially when you consider the significance of “Modern Times.” It’s considered one of Chaplin’s best and most important films (the American Film Institute named it one of the top 100 films of all time). It was Chaplin’s last silent film and his last film featuring the Little Tramp. Chaplin made it a full decade after talkies were introduced, and “Modern Times” proved to be the last major silent film produced by Hollywood. When the film fades to black as Charlie and Paulette walked towards the horizon, it marked more than the end of the film. It marked the end of an era.

And now, I’ve been there. I’ve stood on the same ground as Chaplin did with his over-sized shoes. And I used that spot to continue on in my own new era. An era built around health, fitness, taking care of myself, and pushing myself to accomplish new things. And that brings us to the run.

Jeff and I didn’t just go to Acton for a photo shoot. We came to work out. So, after snapping some pics, we took off, up Penman road. Our starting point was mere feet from the site of the final shot of “Modern Times,” and we headed up into the mountains. When Penman Road ended (after about a half mile), we found a trail and kept going. The incline got steeper, and the trail got narrower, but we kept going, higher and higher.

Eventually it got too steep to run, so we hiked it. We made it to a summit just as the last lingering rays of light for the day were fading away, where Jeff took this awesome photo:

David-Silhouette-Sunset

And, of course, we took a selfie:

David-Jeff-Selfie

By the time we started down, it was too dark to run. So, armed with the flashlights on our phones, we negotiated down the trail and hiked back to the car.

We spent an hour running and hiking (minus 10 minutes to enjoy the view at the top), and covered 2.6 miles. The elevation gain for our route was 650 feet – about the same as a 55-story building!

I wrote earlier that “if I have a good workout in a location immortalized in a classic film, well… that will be a great day.”  Mission: Accomplished!

Keep it up, David!

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10 Responses to Charlie Chaplin Stood Here: An Exercise Adventure in Acton, California

  1. So cute. I love this. I tend to geek out like this over things that I’ve read. As a kid, my justification for anything I did was, “I read about it in a book.”

  2. Kristin says:

    I love this. I did a 5k on the Universal Studios backlot and was totally fascinated by all the sets. To me, they are little pieces of history. I love knowing that I can stand where a memorable moment was made.

    • David says:

      Agreed! And there’s TONS of history at Universal Studios… and Jaws, too!

      • Kristin says:

        I love local history. And to me the movies are local history. In fact, it is because of local history that I found your blog. I’m going to Echo Mountain soon and was researching it, and that’s how I found your blog. Very inspirational.

      • David says:

        Thank you! This makes my day! I love finding interesting ways to incorporate history into my life and connect myself to my surroundings, and it feels good to hear that others appreciate that as well. Have you seen my Cardio to Vegas posts? They’re loaded with fascinating SoCal history… some of my favorite posts to research and write!

  3. Kristin says:

    I will definitely look them up! When I saw what you posted about Echo Mountain and saw your pictures I decided I definitely have to go there! I have a feeling your blog is going to have me exploring all over California! And you’ve inspired me to get healthier and fit too!

    • David says:

      Have fun at Echo Mountain. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

      • Kristin says:

        I just read all of your Cardio to Vegas posts. Wow! So many things I didn’t know about places I drive thru or near at least once a year! Love the Whiskey Pete story! I’ve seen the Bonnie and Clyde car. Kind of cool. And I had read a bit about Zzyx Road, but you told me even more. Very cool. Thank you!

      • David says:

        No, thank you! So glad you enjoyed.

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