Jim Henson Studios – Where “We Are The World” Was RecordedJun 25th, 2010 | By Lindsay | Category: Michael Jackson Locations
One year ago today the world said good-bye to a man who was arguably the greatest music legend who ever lived – the irreplaceable King of Pop, Michael Jackson. In some ways, it feels as if more than a decade has passed since June 25th of last year when Michael passed way, yet in other ways it seems as if it all happened just yesterday. When I reminded my fiancé of today’s significance, he said, “Are you going to be O.K.?” And that right there is why I am marrying him – instead of making fun of me or treating my sadness as silly, he just simply gets it. Anyway, in honor of today’s sad anniversary, I thought I would write about a location where Michael Jackson spent some happier times – the former Charlie Chaplin Studios in Hollywood, where the pop star, along with 46 of his famous friends, recorded the ground-breaking “We Are The World” single over two and a half decades ago. At the time, the lot was the headquarters for A&M Records, but its history actually began a few decades before that.
Charlie Chaplin began construction on his independent movie studio in 1917 after purchasing a five-acre parcel of land at the corner of Sunset and La Brea Boulevards from a man named R.S. McClellan, who lived on the property at the time. And while there are varying reports as to when the Charlie Chaplin Studios officially opened for business, according to the Jim Henson Company Lot website that date was January 21, 1918. At the time of its inception, the former Charlie Chaplin Studios featured production offices, a screening room, a film laboratory, a large ten-room house where his brother sometimes lived, a backlot, a swimming pool, tennis courts, stables, and two soundstages. The perimeter of the lot was, and still is to this day, dotted with numerous Tudor-style cottages and the property looks more like a small English village than it does a Hollywood movie studio. It is quaint, whimsical, and charming and definitely gives off a Disneyland-ish kind of vibe. Ironically enough, the studio is also very reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s former residence at Neverland Ranch. During his tenure there, Chaplin filmed numerous hit movies including Gold Rush, City Lights, Limelight, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator. In 1953, he sold the property to a real estate investor from New York and it became known as Kling Studios. In the years following, the lot changed hands numerous times and several famous television shows, including The Adventures of Superman, Red Skelton, Soul Train, and Perry Mason, were filmed on the premises. Actor Raymond Burr even reportedly lived on the lot for a brief period of time. In 1966, the property was purchased by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss of A&M Records, who immediately set about transforming the lot’s two soundstages into recording studios. And it was in one of those studios that Michael Jackson and friends recorded “We Are The World” on January 28, 1985.
Forty-six fellow music icons of varying genres joined Michael for the recording, including Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, Willie Nelson, Tina Turner, and Ray Charles. According to several sources, Quincy Jones, who produced the song, reportedly posted a sign on the recording studio’s front door which stated, “Please check your egos at the door.” Love it! The session began at 10:30 p.m., immediately following that year’s American Music Awards ceremony, and lasted until 8 o’clock the following morning. Since its release on March 7, 1985, the song, which has the distinction of being the biggest-selling single in US history!!!, has raised over $63 million in aid for the U.S.A. for Africa foundation. And while Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie share an author credit for the song, it’s fairly common knowledge that MJ was responsible for penning the vast majority of it – and he supposedly did it all over the course of one night. And while “We Are The World” was largely a collaborative effort between the music greats of the day who all came together to benefit those less fortunate in a way that had never been done before and has yet to be done since, the truth is that none of it would have taken place if not for MJ. You can watch the official “We Are The World” video by clicking above. The re-recording of “We Are The World”, which took place on February 1, 2010 and benefitted the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, was also recorded at the former Charlie Chaplin Studios.
In November of 1999, Jim Henson’s five children purchased the studio as a new home for the Jim Henson Company and began an extensive remodel project before finally moving in on May 1, 2000. In honor of the lot’s historic first owner, the family made plans to erect a statue of Kermit the Frog, dressed up as Charlie Chaplin’s famed Tramp character, atop the studio’s front gates. And while I absolutely love the statue, it apparently drew quite a bit of criticism from historical conservationists who didn’t want the studio facade changed in any way. I swear, some people will complain about anything! I’ve mentioned in the past how much I abhor change, but, in my never-to-be-humble opinion, I find the statue to be a nostalgic nod to Charlie Chaplin and a charming reminder of the studio’s historic past, not an affront to it. Thankfully, city planners agreed with me and even though the lot was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1969 (such a designation prohibits any sort of change to the property), the Henson family was allowed to erect their Kermit-dressed-as-Chaplin statue. Love it!
And while the studio is closed to the public, quite a bit of it is visible through the front gate, including the schoolhouse;
the above-pictured barn-looking structure, which served as a carpenter’s shop in Charlie’s day and is now the Henson Studio’s “Creature Shop”;
a photograph of Charlie dressed as “The Tramp”;
and the “Jim Henson Company” sign. The security guard on duty could NOT have been nicer and not only answered all of my silly questions about the history of the lot, but also let us take all of the pictures of the place that we wanted.
The coolest aspect of the lot, though, can be found just south of its main gate.
Just to the right of the lot’s Historic-Cultural Monument sign is a door which is painted with Chaplin’s image.
And just below that door is a set of cement stairs where, on January 21, 1918, Chaplin not only signed his name,
but imprinted several sets of his footprints in wet cement. So darn cool! And while it is a shame that the studio does not currently offer tours of the premises, I honestly can’t recommend stalking the place enough. Just being able to look through the gates at the historic buildings which played host to such legendary events in music and cinematic history was an incredible experience for me.
Michael, you are missed.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Jim Henson Studios, the former A & M Records headquarters where Michael Jackson recorded “We Are The World”, is located at 1416 North La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. You can visit the Jim Henson Company Lot website here. To read the PopWatch website’s guide to the many Michael Jackson tributes that will be airing today and throughout the weekend, click here.