My silent-film education began as a youth at a theater in the small Alabama town where I was raised. On Saturday evenings, my parents and grandparents, with me in tow, walked to our local theater to see such silent stars as cowboy William S. Hart and comedian Charlie Chaplin.
When my dad and I saw an action-packed Hart western, we were both on the edge of our well-worn theater seats. We watched intently, bags of popcorn in hand, as Hart confronted bad guys and rode his famous horse, Fritz, into the sunset.
Years after I graduated from university and left home for work, my dad and I talked by phone about the good old days seeing silent movies together. Those were special times for me with my family. The films and the stars were special, as well.
While on assignment in California, I enjoyed silent films at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum in Fremont. Films were screened on Saturday nights. Essanay was an early film studio, where Broncho Billy Anderson, Chaplin, and others produced their films. I highly recommend Niles for travelers to California.
My Saturday evenings at Niles were much like the Saturday evenings I spent with my family as a youth. I became a supporter and a life member of the Essanay Silent Film Museum.
While on a business trip to London, I visited the statue of Charlie Chaplin in Leicester Square. Several times I walked past the statue without seeing it, as it is rather small. I stood before Chaplin and recalled the laughter of my parents and grandparents as they slapped their knees at his screen antics.
As I walked away from the statue, I had second thoughts. I took a seat on a bench and watched as scores of people stopped to admire Chaplin and recall his films and, perhaps, family memories.
My morning with Chaplin's statue was a lesson in the genius of the man who was loved by audiences the world over. I realized also that his magic was the love he spread to others through his work.
A woman who said she was Canadian placed her granddaughter's teddy bear in the crook of Charlie's arm. She said she would give the photo of Charlie and the bear to her granddaughter as a gift. What love Charlie Chaplin gave the world.
On a recent business trip to New York, I visited the resting place of William S. Hart, at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I went to recall my dad, who died in 2003, and the many gifts and lessons he gave me. I had a quiet visit, with memories of my dad and the old cowboy we both loved.
My family journey includes stops at sites of silent film stars. These stars and their films are not silent — I hear the voices and laughter of my parents and grandparents still.