Charlie Chaplin & Walt Disney Hanging Out At The Santa Anita Race Track (Arcadia, California, 1939)

March 3, 2021

Two Entertainment Legends Enjoying Some Time On The Track

In this colorized photo, Walt Disney and Charlie Chaplin are holding what appears to be racing schedules and we have no idea what they are talking about, although we do know about one specific incident at the racetack. In an article in the Toronto Star Weekly from November 14, 1964, Disney told a story about a time that he had spent with Chaplin at the Santa Anita Racetrack. In the story, Disney explained that Chaplin was acting out his Little Tramp character. According to Disney, Charlie was so focused on acting out his character that he was unaware of the affect he was having on the crowds around them. Disney said they “got so wrapped up in the pathos of his characterization that they forgot all about the race.” 

Source: (Reddit).

The original photo was taken at the Santa Anita Racetrack in 1939, the year before Seabiscuit won in a comeback handicap race at the track. The original Santa Anita Racetrack in Arcadia, California was opened in 1907. In 1934, it moved to a new location close by at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains. Despite the fact that this reopening happened in the midst of the Great Depression, the horse racing track found financial success in the struggling economy. 

Chaplin Inspired Disney Long Before They Met

Chaplin and "the kid". Source: (Wikipedia).

 Over the course of their friendship, they supported each other; Disney even introduced Chaplin to the Waterville Arms Hotel, the County Kerry, Ireland hotel which would become one of Chaplin’s favorites. By the time this picture was taken, Chaplin had already had a very successful career. After a challenging childhood, Chaplin got his acting start in burlesque and pantomime in England. Eventually, he came to America and started his film career. Chaplin first appeared as the Little Tramp character in 1914, when he was 24 but he looked younger, so he sported the mustache to hide his age. The character he created, the Little Tramp, was so popular that 9 out of 10 men attending costume balls that year dressed as the Little Tramp. Vaudeville houses, which were also showing films at that time, hosted lookalike contests to bring in audiences. However, because Chaplin’s costume and appearance were not overly difficult to impersonate, these were not simple lookalike contests; participants were also expected to mimic Chaplin’s walk, cane swing, and upper lip wiggle. Disney was only about 13 at the time that the Little Tramp appeared on film and the lookalike contests began. Disney began entering these contests. In fact, he occasionally made more in prize winnings than he did in his delivery jobs. At one point, Disney wanted to be another Chaplin.