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Jim Henson Studios – Where “We Are The World” Was Recorded

Jun 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Michael Jackson Locations

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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. 

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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.

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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! 

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And while the studio is closed to the public, quite a bit of it is visible through the front gate, including the schoolhouse;

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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”;

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a photograph of Charlie dressed as “The Tramp”;

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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.  :)

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The coolest aspect of the lot, though, can be found just south of its main gate.

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Just to the right of the lot’s Historic-Cultural Monument sign is a door which is painted with Chaplin’s image.

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  And just below that door is a set of cement stairs where, on January 21, 1918, Chaplin not only signed his name,

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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.

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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.

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9 comments

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  1. EmmJayUK says:

    Hi! I’m on cloud 9 right now.I’ve just booked an amazing holiday to LA which includes a trip inside the Jim Henson studios, but I had no idea We Are the World was recorded there. Massive Bonus!! Also hoping to go out to Neverland, Thriller House and Forest Lawns. Being from UK and bringing my family too was hoping to find a reputable cab hire firm to drive us around for a couple of days if anyone can recommend? L.O.V.E

  2. Davidete says:

    How long I was waiting for this post!

    Of course, the history of the lot is incredibly interesting. I loved to visit it on my trip to LA, in fact, the lot was practically sticked to my hotel! By the way, you are not going to believe me, but I just realized that Kermit is dressed like Chaplin due to your post! lol!

    Regarding ‘We Are The World’, well, it has always been said that the song was written almost exclusively by Michael himself, Lionel’s participation has never been entirely clear. In fact, a couple years ago has been made public the very original demo of the song that Michael recorded himself at home the day before recording, and anybody can say that is virtually identical to the final result. If anybody wants to listen, you have it here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hFe51UjgK0

    Today it’s a very, very sad day for all Michael Jackson fans, and for the world in general. His loss is simply irreparable. It will take many, many years before we can see another “Michael” that will revolutionize the music industry as he did. But it will take even more before we know a personality with a heart bigger than his… Very few artists have been involved in philanthropic causes in the way that Michael did, turning it, in essence, a way of life.

    We miss you, Michael. The world misses you, Michael.

    Thanks for the post, Lindsay ;)

  3. LuckaS says:

    I like the statue :)
    We Are The World is a great song. And Michael was an extraordinary singer and admirable man. For me it’s as though far more than a year has passed…

  4. Susie says:

    There is a recording of Michael singing this acapella; I believe it was a demo. It is BEAUTIFUL. Every time I listen it takes my breath away and makes me cry, no sob, for our loss. He suffered so much in this world while trying to do so much good. I have to know he is in heaven teaching the angels! Take time to cry today, and each June 25, to realize we will never be okay.

  5. Bethany Foster says:

    I can’t believe it’s been a year aready!! Thanks for the post! :)

  6. Lavonna says:

    Just watched video again…so many talented singers! It’s a great video! Thanks for posting I haven’t watched it in years:)

  7. Lavonna says:

    Great Post! Love MJ and We Are The World…but you hit on another fav…Charlie Chaplin. I’ve read numerous books on him and watched plenty of his films. He was a great actor! We’ve drove past this studio many times but never stopped. Next visit we must stop and see the footprints etc. Thanks for the post I can’t believe it’s been a YEAR!


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  1. [...] of connection to the place. But because the property is located a scant two and a half blocks from the former Charlie Chaplin Studios/now Jim Henson Company Lot and bears a striking resemblance to it, it is not very hard to see why there has been some [...]

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