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Plymouth Myths

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Ben Joravsky and his coauthor [Nadia Oehlsen] resorted to fakelore in making the case for preservation of Uptown's Plymouth Hotel ("Heartbreak Hotel," January 24).

They wrongly claim the Plymouth "served as home to Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and other entertainers when they came to shoot movies at Chaplin's nearby Essanay Studio."

George Spoor (the S of Essanay) and his partner Max Aronson (the A), also known as Broncho Billy Anderson, would be greatly surprised to know that their studio, founded in 1905, was ever Chaplin's property. Perhaps to Spoor it seemed so because Broncho Billy, without consultation, gave Chaplin a salary of $1,250 a week and a $10,000 bonus to join Essanay in 1915. Gloria Swanson told me in a 1970s interview about her Chicago days that Essanay permitted Chaplin to use the back lot for his "experiments," as she scornfully termed his slapstick routines.

Neither Chaplin nor Swanson ever lived at the Plymouth. Chaplin spent only 45 days in Chicago in 1915 making one movie, His New Job, in which Gloria Swanson appears in a bit part as a "female typewriter." After that he and Anderson left for Essanay's California studio in Niles near San Francisco, where Chaplin made 13 more Essanay comedies. During his brief stay in Chicago, Chaplin was a houseguest in the Aronsons' apartment on the 700 block of Gordon Terrace, across the street from the mansion of incumbent Illinois governor Edward F. Dunne. Mrs. Aronson left a letter in which she termed Charlie a demanding guest who wanted to eat and sleep on his own schedule.

Gloria Swanson, about 17 years old in 1915, lived with her parents at 820 W. Grace Street in Lakeview until she went with her mother to California, where she later married Wallace Beery, another onetime Essanay performer.

Richard C. Bjorklund

W. Wilson

Nadia Oehlsen replies:

The case for preserving the hotel belonged to the preservationists we profiled, but you're right that Chaplin didn't own Essanay Studio, and I'm sorry for the error. As to whether Chaplin, Swanson, and Beery stayed at the Plymouth, I got that information from preservationists who'd researched the building in their efforts to create city and federal landmark districts. I also read it in a June 9, 1931, article in the Uptown News, which says, "When Uptown hotel first began operating in 1913 as Plymouth hotel, Gloria Swanson, George Roberts, Wallace Beery, Charlie Chaplin and many other famous film stars of today were guests." I should have checked further.

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