On February 7, 1914, Charlie Chaplin introduced film audiences to his famous character the Little Tramp in Kid Auto Races at Venice, a 6-minute romp along the boardwalk at Venice Beach with the backdrop of a crowd gathered for a soapbox-derby event featuring juveniles racing motor-less cars. Produced by Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios and directed by Harry Lehrman, the film shoot took place in a single day only three weeks before, at the Junior Vanderbilt Cup races which had come to Los Angeles that year.
Chaplin’s talent for slapstick was manifest, with his goofball antics as the Little Tramp becoming his personal calling card and an icon for the silent film era. Commenting on the performance, one reviewer said, “Chaplin is a born screen comedian; he does things we have never seen done on the screen before.” Chaplin’s comedy highlighted the life of the common man, with empathy for the struggles presented by modern American society.
In 1974, 60 years later to the day, Warner Bros. held the world premiere of Mel Brooks’s Blazing Saddles at the Pickwick Drive-In Theater in Burbank. The 250 invited guests watched the film from horseback. Brooks’ send-up of the classic American Western went on to a rollicking success at the box office, grossing $119M in the US and Canada on a production budget of $2.6M. Brooks cast performers from his regular stable of comedians, including Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Madeline Khan and Cleavon Little, with appearances by Slim Pickens, the bandleader Count Basie and three cameos by Brooks himself.
Check out AFI’s 100 Years…100 Laughs, including four films that feature Chaplin as The Little Tramp character: The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1930), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940). The list also includes three classics by Mel Brooks: The Producers (1967), Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974).