Happy Rollie Day!

Rollie marks a scene on the set of The Floorwalker, Chaplin’s first Mutual.

Today marks the centennial anniversary of the day Roland H. Totheroh came to work for Charlie Chaplin as his cameraman. But March 6th would come to have significance in his later years as well. I’ll let Rollie himself explain.

The following is from an interview with Totheroh from December 1964 conducted by his brother, Dan, and his grandson, Steve. Many thanks to Rollie’s other grandson, David Totheroh, for sharing this story with me.

“Lloyd Ingraham wanted me, pretty near hijacked me to get on the train with him, to come down when he went with D.W. Griffith. But I didn’t want to leave [Niles and Essanay] – Los Angeles, that seemed out of the world to me, Los Angeles – and I felt nearer home where I was, so I didn’t go, I didn’t accept it. So then when the company [Essanay] closed down and that, I decided I’ll go to Los Angeles. They all bid goodbye to me in Niles, and I left my wife and little Jackie my son, and down I went, like going to the other end of the world… I got to Los Angeles, and I didn’t know how to get to any studios, so I got on a bus. It was takin’ tourists around Universal City. I think it was a dollar to go sightseeing, waited until they got the bus filled up and finally out to Studio City they went, Universal City. Soon as they pulled through the gates I jumped off. I jumped off and ran around to find out where Roy Clements was. So they told me where his office was and I saw him and he said, “Well Rollie, so glad to see you. If you had been here a week earlier I’d’a had you as my cameraman, but I’m all set on my cameraman.” I said, “That’s OK. I’m going to see Chaplin anyhow.” [Roy said] “He’s gone.” And he was. He was in New York at the time on business. That’s when he was signing up to make the Mutual Comedies.

 “He had a fellow by the name of Leo White, and Charlie at that time had a little music shop, he was writing music and everything, he had a little music store, not a store, but a little office. And this Leo White was taking care of it. And I knew where, I found out where it was. And I went down to see him. And I was kinda disappointed. At first he said, “Oh sure Rollie, Charlie always asks about you.” And I said, “Well I came down, I hear he’s gonna get started… He said, “Yeah, he’s signin’ his contract, and he’s due back and he’s gonna get started about uh, two weeks after he gets back.” So next time I went down to see him, Charlie hadn’t arrived back yet and he [Leo] said, “I don’t know. I heard they’re gonna have a cameraman from Universal City.” And I said, “Oh Jeezus!” And he said, “I don’t know but I think they’re gonna use two cameras.” So I didn’t know then what, whether I’d follow through with pictures or go back home, or what…. Finally Charlie arrived in town and I went to see him. And Charlie said, “Oh, great Roll. We’ll get started next week.” And I said, “Well, will I be with you?” “Sure, sure.”

Moving Picture World, August 1918.
Note Charlie’s bowler & hat hanging on the chair.

 “So, a couple’a days passed and that, and the fellow that did, they had for a manager was a man that used to be a manager or one of the heads at Universal City. He was a manager and it seemed that he had all set up, a cameraman by the name of Bill Foster, Bill Foster, head cameraman, Universal. So this Bill Foster had always been shooting dramas and things like that. Well, anyhow we started together, Bill and I, camera one and two. So Bill finished up the first and that, and when it came to selecting scenes and that, pretty near all of my scenes were selected…. Well, at that time Dustin Farnum was gonna make a picture for Fox, and Bill heard about it, and right away he said, “I don’t want to make comedy. I’m gonna go over to Fox and get this job, which, he wants me. I’ll go over to Farnum, over at Fox.” And he left. And I was on my own.

 “I photographed all the Mutuals, all the First Nationals, and all of his features, which was in the space of time of thirty-eight years. And a funny thing, when I left San Anselmo to join the Essanay Company, it was March 6th, 1912 [actually Aug. 8,1912] and I joined Mr. Chaplin March 6, 1916. And I got a call after he retired from Hollywood and went to Europe, to Switzerland, I got a cable from him [about getting the films together and setting up a film archive in England]. On the way over, of course I flew over, and I took over Charlie’s derby, his cane, his trousers, in fact his, all his little get up, bought a special bag for it, and when I got to Bill Smith, head of United Artists over there, he met me at the airport. They didn’t know who I was at first, and as soon as this bag I had, they started to go through, naturally they checked, you know, your belongings when you go through Customs. So I said, “Be careful of that bag!” And they thought, they were suspicious. And well, they opened it first and there was Charlie’s clothes. Jesus, it got around. Charlie Chaplin’s outfit – Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin!

“Well, I finished out, like I say, after going to London and everything, I came back here. And I finished up here March 6th, 1954, closed up with Mr. Chaplin.

“Then I had my accident, fell off my roof and everything… And then I went over to the Motion Picture Hospital in Woodland Hills, and on March 6th lo and behold, I heard from somebody that Broncho Billy was there. And I said, “Well that’s the man that started me in pictures, the old Essanay Company, Broncho Billy.” So, by golly I went to see him, March 6th, see. And he said, “Rollie! My great third baseman.”

Rollie with Charlie’s Tramp outfit, 1954


  1. Lovely post! I have a special place in my heart for Rollie Totheroh. He has always struck me as a refreshingly sane, clear-eyed person in the midst of many much more outlandish characters. David is so generous about sharing stories and keeping his grandfather's legacy alive. I enjoyed this!

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