Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


TODAY, THE INTERSECTION of Wilshire and Fairfax is a Los Angeles cultural focus: The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the Architecture and Design Museum>Los Angeles are there; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is just around the corner.

The Los Angeles intersection of Wilshire and Crescent (now Fairfax), as it appeared c. 1920. On either side of Wilshire were two air fields. This and the following images are from Los Angeles Aeronautics 1920–1929.

A century ago, when North Fairfax was known as Crescent Avenue, this intersection was busy with aeroplanes. Cecil B. DeMille operated DeMille Field #2 north of Wilshire at Crescent; and a guy named Chaplin operated the other one across the street.

Charlie Chaplin? No, his half-brother Syd.

Here, today and tomorrow in Parts 1 and 2, are tidbits on Syd’s aviation career, gleaned from Los Angeles Aeronautics 1920 – 1929, by D. D. Hatfield, Northrup University, 1973, together with some Internet sleuthing.

Sydney John Chaplin (born Sydney John Hill), 1885–1965, English actor, entrepreneur, and business manager.

Syd and his younger half-brother Charlie ended up at the Cuckoo Schools in Hanwell, West London, after their mother’s mental breakdown. Cuckoo Schools, founded in 1857, was for children of destitute families. It was built on land of Cuckoo Farm, Cuckoo Hill, Hanwell.

In 1905, the siblings worked briefly on the London stage in a William Gillette Sherlock Holmes play. Charlie portrayed Billy the pageboy; Syd played one of the villains.

California Beckons. By 1914, Charlie had achieved worldwide success as The Little Tramp. Syd and his wife Minnie joined Charlie in California that year.

In a 1915 Keystone comedy, Syd portrayed a submariner in A Submarine Pirate, Image from the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

Syd tried comedy in A Submarine Pirate, but found his metier as Charlie’s business manager. For example, in 1917 he got Charlie a First National Pictures contract worth $1.25 million.

That’s more than $27 million in today’s dollar.

In May 1919, Syd partnered with pilot Emery Rogers to form Syd Chaplin Aircraft Corporation, with an office at West Seventh and Lake Street in Los Angeles.

Chaplin headquarters were across the street from what is now MacArthur Park.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Syd looks 26 miles across the sea and comes up with another business idea. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019

One comment on “CHAPLIN-AIR-LINE PART 1

  1. sabresoftware
    July 20, 2019

    This story reminds me of another famous sibling / aviation tale. In Alberta, on the dinosaur trail coming out of Drumheller, (where the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology is located), there is a small ferry that crosses the Red Deer River. Originally called the Munson ferry, it was since renamed for the gentleman who originally operated it, Andre Bleriot ( The famous sibling of course, Louis Bleriot, famed for the first flight across the English Channel.

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