• Patrick

Charlie Chaplin's Glarner Movie Producer

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

Did you know that it was a Glarner descendant who made Charlie Chaplin the world's highest paid entertainer at his time?


Charlie Chaplin with John R. Freuler 1917

Movies have been one of America’s gifts to the world providing a source entertainment, education and escape for over 100 years. Among the pioneers in the early days of cinema was John R. Freuler (1872-1958) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. John R. Freuler’s pathway into motion pictures came by way of his ownership of Milwaukee’s nickelodeon theatres, the Comique and the Palace. Freuler formed a partnership with fellow Milwaukeean Harry Aitkin. They decided not only would they show films but they would distribute the films as well. So in 1906 they formed the Western Film Exchange.


In 1910 Freuler and Aitken went a step further and formed a studio where movies could be produced. Their Flying A Studio was located in Chicago as were other film studios such as the Essanay Studio on Chicago’s north side. When it was realized that a more temperate clime would allow year-round filming, the fledgling movie industry packed its bags and moved to California and Hollywood was born.


Freuler and his partners formed the Mutual Film Corporation in1912. Mutual became one of the leading manufacturers and distributors of films. Mutual’s trademark was a winged clock accompanied by the slogan “Mutual movies make time fly.” Perhaps Freuler’s most famous accomplishment as a movie producer was in 1916 when he signed a contract with Charlie Chaplin (Freuler and Chaplin pictured above), paying Chaplin $670,000 for one year ($10,000 per week plus a $150,000 bonus). With that contract Chaplin became the world’s highest paid entertainer.


Freuler remained in the movie business. But as other studios grew, his did not. By the 1930s, Freuler’s Monarch Productions were making low-budget B-movies. One such film, “The Forty-Niners” (1932), featured wagon trains, buffalo stampedes, and Indian raids. One of Freuler’s non-Western films, “Murder at Dawn” (1932) can be viewed on the Internet.


Freuler’s film, “Canyon Hawks” (1930) was filmed by his Big 4 Studio and starred Yakima Canutt. Canutt was America’s most accomplished stunt man. And Freuler’s “Canyon Hawks” was the only time Yakima Canutt had a lead role.

Johann Rudolf (John R.) Freuler was born 1872 in Green County, Wisconsin to Johann Rudolf (1838-1890) and Rosina Freuler née Müller (1840-1911), immigrants from Glarus. The Freuler family settled later in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area where John R. Freuler began his theatre and movie enterprises.


Source: Robert A. Elmer, Glarners in America, Näfels 2015

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