Monday, March 20, 2017

I need your help

I would love some ideas from you about what you'd like to see on Discovering Chaplin going forward. Is there an event, person, film, time period, or any other aspect of Chaplin's life you are interested in knowing more about? Please let me know. Either leave your suggestions in the comments below or email me here. I hope to hear from you!


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Checking In

Hi everyone,

I wanted to pop in and let you know that I am still planning to return to the blog at some point in very near future. Right now, I am recovering from surgery. Nothing too serious, just something I have put off for a while. But once I am up and running normally again, I'd like to get back to Charlie & the blog. I have missed it, perhaps more than I thought I would. Watch this page or my Twitter page for updates.

In the meantime, enjoy this rarely-seen shot of Charlie and Bebe Daniels playing ping pong at her beach house in 1928 (screenwriter Charles Furthman is refereeing). Their unseen opponents were Adela Rogers St. Johns and her husband Dick Hyland.

Hope to see you soon!

đź’— Jess

Monday, January 2, 2017

Dear Friends,

After 7 years of blogging about Chaplin (first on Tumblr and now here), I've decided to take an extended break. I'm not abandoning the blog completely but I will be on hiatus at least until the Spring.

Feel free to read older posts, comment, ask questions, email me, etc. I'll still be around. You can also keep in touch with me via Twitter.

Thanks, as always, for your support. I am forever grateful. I hope to see you again real soon.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Watching tennis with Josef von Sternberg, 1932

Sternberg is notable for having directed the only Chaplin-produced film that was ever lost: The Sea Gull. 

Chaplin discovered Georgia Hale, his leading lady in The Gold Rush, in Sternberg's 1925 film The Salvation Hunters, which was considered by Chaplin to be one of the best films ever made.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Miscellanea

A few Chaplin-related Christmas bits:

Motion Picture News, Jan, 11, 1919

Washington Post, Dec. 25, 1926

Boston Globe, Jan. 2nd, 1930

Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Dec. 30th, 1937

Boston Globe, Dec. 23rd, 1928

Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20th, 1936
Motion Picture Magazine, December 1923

Los Angeles Times, Jan. 7th, 1925

Christmas greeting from Chaplin, Photo-Play Journal, December 1917

For more about Chaplin and Christmas visit my Christmas Post Archive.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Sydney Chaplin on "Password," April 29th, 1965

Many thanks to my friend, Tom, for bringing this to my attention. I'd never seen it before.

Sydney mentions that he was still performing with the musical Funny Girl as Nick Arnstein, opposite Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. He had been nominated for a Tony for the role the previous year (he won the Tony in 1957 for Bells Are Ringing).

An interesting sidelight: This program aired nearly two weeks after the death of Sydney's namesake, his uncle Syd Chaplin, who passed away on April 16th (Charlie's birthday).

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Chaplin As Christ

In 1924, Chaplin invited four owners of his former distributor, First National, which had recently become a producing company, to his studio for lunch. Colleen Moore, one of the company's rising stars, came along:
When we arrived, Charlie ushered us into his studio living room. On one wall was a large bay window, the bright California sunshine streaming through. It was a beautiful day.
We were all sitting there chatting, waiting for lunch to be served, when Charlie stood up and, turning to Robert Leiber, the president of First National, said, 'I hear you've bought Papini's Life Of Christ.'
Mr. Leiber nodded.
Charlie nodded, too. 'I want to play the role of Jesus.'
If Charlie had bopped Mr. Leiber over the head with a baseball bat, he couldn't have received a more stunned reaction. Not just from Mr. Leiber. From all four of them. They sat there like figures in waxworks. Even their faces had turned sort of waxy yellow.
'I'm a logical choice,' Charlie went on. 'I look the part. I'm a Jew. And I'm a comedian.'
The bosses looked more stunned, if possible, than before.
Colleen Moore & Chaplin in 1922 (Both photos by James Abbe)
Charlie explained to them that good comedy was only a hairline away from good tragedy, which we all knew to be true. 'And I'm an atheist,' he added, 'so I'd be able to look at the character objectively. Who else could do that?' 1
They had no answer for him.
He stretched his arms high over his head, his fists clenched, and in a blood-curdling tone of voice screamed, "There is no God! If there is one, I dare Him to strike me dead!' 2
The five of us sat there chilled and tense, holding our breath, but nothing happened, not even one small clap of thunder. The California sun shone outside, the chirp of birds came through the window, and I suppose God was in his Heaven, and all was right with the world--all but for five very shaken people in the Chaplin studio.
There was silence in the car going back until Richard Rowland said, 'He's the greatest actor alive, and he'd give an historical performance, but who of you would have the nerve to put in lights on a theater marquee: Charlie Chaplin in The Life Of Christ?'
Mr. Leiber said wistfully, 'It would be the greatest religious picture ever made, but I'd be run out of Indianapolis.'
Mary Pickford later told me that one time she and Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie were sitting around the swimming pool at Pickfair when Charlie, who couldn't swim, got up and jumped into the pool with all his clothes on, screaming, 'I am an atheist! If there is a God, let him save me!'
He was gurgling and going down for the third time when Douglas, also fully dressed, jumped in and pulled him out. Mary, meanwhile, was running around the pool shouting, 'Let the heathen drown!' 3  (Colleen Moore, Silent Star, 1968)

1Chaplin told Harry Carr in 1925 that "no adequate performance--no representation either in literature or on the stage has ever been given to Christ. Chaplin said that his conception of Christ is different from the usual pious, solemn, sad-eyed figure on the stage." Chaplin told him: "Christ was evidently a man of the utmost charm, with humor. You read of him in the Bible as a dinner guest at the houses of the rich and poor--and an honored guest. He was what we call a mixer--yet He was always alone. He tried to give His message to the world, and nobody understood Him. That is the supreme tragedy." (Carr, "Chaplin Explains Chaplin," Motion Picture, Nov. 1925)

2In London in 1921, Chaplin put on a similar stunt at a party with Edward Knoblock and others during a thunderstorm. He stood at an open window and dared God to strike him dead. At the next flash of lightning he fell to the floor and appeared lifeless, and was carried into the next room. Some minutes later, he came out draped in a sheet with pillowcases on each arm for wings, to end his little stunt. (Theodore Huff, Charlie Chaplin, 1952)

3This must have been a practical joke since Chaplin was a good swimmer his entire life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Photo by Strauss-Peyton, 1921

A rarely seen pose from this sitting.

I can't read Charlie's inscription very well. To Benny?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lita Grey, along with Chaplin & his enterouge, at her contract signing to be leading lady in The Gold Rush, March 1924

From left: Chaplin’s publicist Eddie Manson, Lillian Spicer (Lita’s mother), Asst Dir. Chuck Reisner, CC, publicist Jim Tully, Lita, Henry Bergman, Asst. Dir. Eddie Sutherland, and studio manager Alf Reeves.

In his 1927 biography of Chaplin, Jim Tully recalled how Lita got the part:
Chaplin's selection of Lita Grey to play the role of the leading lady in "The Gold Rush" was quite romantic. Many young women of great beauty had applied for the position. Charlie, never quite certain as to which type he wanted, found his selection almost hopeless until the young schoolgirl appeared at the studio. She had played with Charlie in "The Kid," and hence was given a "screen-test" to see whether she photographed well or otherwise. 
A day after Miss Grey appeared at the studio her picture was flashed in the projection room. Chaplin was in a particularly happy mood that morning. 
After the rushes and screen-tests had been viewed Charlie walked with me to my office. Lita Grey followed us. She stood in the middle of the room saying, "What's it to be, Charlie--Mister Man?"
Charlie looked at her for a moment and said boyishly, "You're engaged."
The young girl, not yet sixteen, jumped up and down with joy. Had she been able to read the future she might have jumped over the moon, for within a short time Lita became not only leading woman for the most famous man in the world but also his wife. (Jim Tully, "Charlie Chaplin: His Real Life Story" Pictorial Review, February 1927)

Monday, November 28, 2016

United Artists stars & producers gather to protest the Fox West Coast Theater monopoly, November 1930

"We'll show our pictures in tents!" they said.

L-R: Al Jolson, Mary Pickford, Ronald Colman, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Joseph Schenck, Charlie, Samuel Goldwyn & Eddie Cantor.

Modern Screen, Feb. 1931. Click to enlarge.

What did Chaplin have to say?

Santa Cruz Evening News, Nov. 29, 1930

(City Lights premiered January 30th, 1931 at the newly constructed Los Angeles Theater.) 

Fox West Coast and United Artists eventually reached a compromise in August 1931. Read more about it here.

L-R: Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Chaplin

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Chaplin delivers a Thanksgiving speech at Plymouth, England

On November 15th, 1931, Chaplin took part in an open-air Thanksgiving service held at the place where the pilgrims embarked on their voyage to America. He attended as the guest of Lady Nancy Astor, who represented Plymouth as a member of Parliament.
So dense was the crowd which listened to Mr. Charles Chaplin when he spoke at an open-air Thanksgiving service held for fisher-folk at Plymouth to-day, that women and children were forced to the edge of the fish quay, the scene of the service, and one ten-year-old boy was pushed over, falling 20 feet into the sea.
A young man at once dived in after him but got into difficulties. Another man, also fully dressed, then jumped in and brought the boy safely ashore.1
Charlie is mobbed in Plymouth

Ten thousand people crowded on the quay and surrounded a truck bed that was used as a platform. On the truck stood Chaplin, Lady Astor, and the Bishop of Plymouth.

Chaplin was asked by Astor to address her constituents. Holding a megaphone, he told the crowd that he sympathized with fisherman in their arduous work. "Still, we all have our tribulations," he said. "Even millionaires have their tribulations, and we must just put up with them."1 He went on to tell his fellow countrymen that "the more I see of England, the more I love her.  But the only thing I can do for her is to make her laugh."2

With Lady Astor

1Leeds Mercury, November 16, 1931
2Milwaukee Sentinel, November 16, 1931

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Geraldine at the Chaplin's World Museum

Below is an article about her recent visit which includes a video & an interview--both are in French (use Google Translate for the text). But even if you can't understand it there are some nice shots of the museum--and Geraldine.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

"I always knew I was a poet"

When Garson Kanin was a young production assistant at Samuel Goldwyn's studio in 1937 he would spend his off hours screening films from the Goldwyn library. After several months he felt he had become "an expert on the oeuvre of Samuel Goldwyn" and decided to move on to films from other studios, many of which he hadn't seen. "In time I felt I was ready to begin my study of Charles Chaplin." But when he tried to acquire the films for viewing, he quickly discovered that Chaplin's films were not loaned out, nor could he go to the studio to screen them.

Extremely frustrated and determined to have his way, "I picked up the phone and said to my secretary, 'Get me Charles Chaplin!'"
"Who?" she enquired. 
"Mr. Chaplin," I said. 
"Do we have his number?"
"Get it from somewhere. Goldwyn's office. Somebody must have it."
"Chaplin, did you say?"
"Chollychaplum!" I heard myself say [recalling the way he said Chaplin's name as a child.]
"Oh," she said. "Charlie Chaplin, of course."
In less than a minute, the buzzer sounded. I picked up the phone. 
"Hello, Mr. Chaplin?"
"Who is this?" asked a high, fractious voice. 
I identified myself as one of Mr. Goldwyn's assistants, which seemed to melt but not break the ice. I described my long efforts to get to see his films, explained why I wanted to do so, and did not forget to include about a minute and a half of shamelessly fulsome flattery.
When I finished there was a long pause, then he asked. "Do you play tennis?"
"No, sir, I'm afraid I don't."
Well, come over here anyway some day and we'll talk about it." 
Could I believe my ears? Was I being invited over by Charlie Chaplin?
"When?" I asked. 
"Any time," he said. "Any afternoon."
"How about right now," I asked. 
He laughed and said, "All right. I'll tell you where I am."
"No, no. Don't bother. I'll find you!"

L-R: Chaplin, Laura Harding, Garson Kanin, & Tim Durant at the Fairway Yacht Club in New York, 1940
Another view here.

Kanin then had to ask his boss if he could skip the afternoon staff meeting to go to Charlie Chaplin's house. Goldwyn was suspicious about why Chaplin would invite one of his young assistants to his house. "What's it about? What does he want you for?" he wanted to know. Kanin explained the situation and Goldwyn finally agreed. "Go on. Go to Chaplin," he said. "[But] come back after and tell me what he said about me."

On his way out, Kanin stopped in Goldwyn's outer office and got Chaplin's address & instructions on how to get there.
As I approached the high wall surrounding Chaplin's house on Summit Drive, I could scarcely believe what was happening to me. I drove through the gate, parked my car, and was about the ring the front doorbell when I heard a tennis game in progress. 
I made my way around to the tennis court. A tall, handsome man, who I would later know as Tim Durant, was playing against Bill Tilden. Actually, he was taking a lesson from Bill Tilden. Bill Tilden! The greatest tennis player in the world and Charlie Chaplin in the same day. It was too much. Chaplin rose and came to greet me at once. 
"Why, you're just a kid," he said. 
"Call me Jackie Coogan," I said. 
Chaplin smiled and led me to a table. He was even smaller than I had imagined but vital and bursting with energy. 
"Iced tea?" he asked. 
"Fine," I said. 
He picked up a pitcher full of iced tea with one hand, and a glass with the other, and did something extraordinary. He put the spout of the pitcher onto the rim of the glass, then spread his arms, one high and one low, creating a long stream of tea from pitcher to glass. He brought his hands together again, put the pitcher down, and handed me the glass. 
It is not possible, I reflected, for this great, great clown to do anything in the ordinary way. I wondered if he took his comic sense along when he went to bed with a girl. He told me later, much later, that he often did. In fact, he considered it larkish to fix his sights on the least likely, least attractive female he could find and play Don Juan to the end. Often, he told me, with astonishing results. 
It turned out to be the most pleasant of afternoons. Following a short discussion of my situation, he agreed to let me screen any of his films I wanted to see. He preferred that I run them at his studio and made it clear he would expect Goldwyn to assume the expense. Before I left, he invited me to dinner the following week. He became a warm and generous friend. 
I spent the next three months running Chaplin pictures. The scripts were hard to come by, but now and then I was able to find a treatment or a sketch. Discussing the work with some of the players, I learned that there was a great deal of improvisation during each shooting day. Whenever possible, I met with Chaplin himself to ask questions about his pictures. 
"What did you think--what went through your mind when people like George Jean Nathan and Gilbert Seldes and T.S. Eliot began to discuss your work in terms of great art? After all, you were a music-hall comic, the son of a music-hall comic, doing the job you'd done for years on end, and all of a sudden, sort of--just because you were now doing it in front of the camera, you were being hailed as a great figure in the arts."
"What's your question?" asked Chaplin. 
"Well, I mean--what did you think of all this? How did it affect you? You must have been pleased, but were you surprised?"
"Not at all," said Chaplin. "I always knew I was a poet." 
--Garson Kanin, Hollywood, 1967

Thursday, November 17, 2016

With May Reeves at the Hotel Miramar in Biarritz, August/September 1931

Charlie and May spent two months in Biarritz during his 1931-32 world tour. He'd met May that April in Nice when she was working as a dancer in a casino owned by Frank J. Gould. She ended up accompanying him on his travels for the next eleven months. Despite their smiles, May recalled that their stay in Biarritz that summer was "not pleasant."

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On a film set, 1916

I believe this was taken during the filming of The Count. The dining room set can be seen in the background through the arched doorway. However, the set that Chaplin is standing in does not appear in the film, perhaps it was an early version of the ballroom set. The sofa on the left was also used in Behind The Screen.

Illustrated, October 4th, 1952

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Listen to Chaplin, Nigel Bruce, and others in a political roundtable discussion on KFWB, December 1942

I've posted this before, but it seemed appropriate to post again since the election. Chaplin enjoyed a good political argument and was very passionate about his beliefs, which comes through in the following discussion. I have a feeling he would be just as worried about our country now as he was then.

"On Wednesday, December 16, 1942, Charlie Chaplin  made one of the most unusual radio broadcasts of his career. His friend Robert Arden asked him to appear on America Looks Abroad, a 45-minute political roundtable talk show not unlike the ones heard on countless cable news networks today. The program aired on KFWB in Los Angeles, owned and operated by Warner Brothers Pictures. Then, as now, KFWB was a major station with a wide broadcast range, but it was unlikely that the  program was heard beyond Southern California."1

Besides Chaplin, the other panelists included Nigel Bruce (who was later cast as Mr. Postant in Limelight), Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Dr. Emil Ludwig, the biographer of Napoleon whom Chaplin met in France in 1931, and Mutiny On The Bounty directer Frank Lloyd.

The somewhat shady & opportunistic Arden met Chaplin in 1941 and became part of his small inner circle of friends. He is mentioned often in Chaplin's FBI file since the two shared what it called "leftist proclivities." Arden was also involved in the Joan Barry scandal. In fact, he may have been the one who suggested introducing Barry to Chaplin in the first place. Two years later in 1943, he was indicted for his participation in Chaplin's alleged violation of the Mann Act (aka conspiring to deny Joan Barry of her civil rights).  Ironically, the infamous incident in which Joan Barry broke into Chaplin's home with a gun occurred one week after this broadcast on December 23rd, 1942.

Arden and Chaplin

More about this broadcast and Arden's relationship with Chaplin can be found in Rob Farr's essay "Chaplin On The Radio--Part II" in Limelight and The Music Hall Tradition.

Now a little about this recording. It is missing the opening introductions & begins with Arden announcing the topic of the day: "The Question of Unity: How much unity do we have to have to bring this war to a successful conclusion?" Chaplin does not talk about his personal life nor his films. He only discusses politics--something he loved to talk about. And at times he gets very passionate about it. He will discuss the "bugaboo about Communism" & during one particularly heated response declares: "I am going to be Communistic." His remarks are often met with applause from the audience. This is a Chaplin most of us have only read about but not heard.

For those who only want to hear the Chaplin parts, the longest ones can be found at :50 & 6:53 (responding to comments by Nigel Bruce), 17:50, 19:20, 27:35, & his final remarks are heard at 41:20. However sprinkled in between these segments are some back and forth exchanges between Chaplin & the other panelists that are certainly worth hearing, if you have time.

1Rob Farr, "Chaplin On The Radio--Part II"

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"At this moment I believe my troubles began"

On the evening of May 17th, 1942, Chaplin received a phone call from the head of the American Committee for Russian War Relief in San Francisco asking if he would replace former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Joseph E. Davies, who was scheduled to speak at a rally the next evening but became ill with laryngitis. Although he was only given 24 hours' notice, he accepted. He caught the evening train to San Francisco which arrived at eight the next morning.

The Civic Auditorium was packed with 8,000 people. Chaplin had been given little time to come up with a speech. He made notes on the back of his placecard at dinner and downed two glasses of champagne to calm his nerves.

Chaplin delivering his speech at the Civic Auditorium in S.F., May 18th, 1942

Backstage he paced back and forth waiting to go on. Then he heard his introduction.
I was wearing a black tie and dinner jacket. There was applause, which gave me little time to collect myself. When it subsided I said one word: "Comrades!" and the house went up in a roar of laughter, then applause. When it subsided, I said emphatically, "And I mean comrades." There was renewed laughter and then applause. I continued: 'I assume there are many Russians here tonight, and the way your countrymen are fighting and dying at this very moment, it is an honor and a privilege to call you comrades.' Through the applause many stood up."1
He continued:
What Communism is, I know not. But if it makes such men as are on the Russian front then we should respect it. Now is the time to clarify the air, for they are giving their life's blood that we might live. We should not only give of our cash but of our spirit of comradeship to help them.
When people ask: "What about after the war; will Communism sweep the world?" My answer is "So what?" Our design for an industrial system makes it impossible for us to predict. We are not to say. Undoubtedly we are in an era of collectivism.
But we won't go back to the old days of a few men making a hundred million dollars in a business about which they know nothing while little men stand in line.2

He ended his forty-minute speech by saying: "The Russians are our allies, they are not only fighting for their way of life, but for our way of life and if I know Americans they like to do their own fighting. Stalin wants it, Roosevelt has called for it--so let's all call for it--let's open a second front now!"

Chaplin recalled that there was a wild uproar that lasted for seven minutes. "And as they stamped and yelled and threw their hats in the air, I began to wonder if I had said too much and had gone too far."

Chaplin & others at the home of S.F. businessman Louis Lurie, May 18th, 1942: L-R: Chaplin, Betty Gordon (secretary of the Society of Russian Aid), Jacob Lomakin (Soviet Consul-General), Joseph Thompson (chairman of SF Russian War Relief Committee), Mrs. Thompson, & John Garfield. (source)

Afterward Chaplin had dinner with fellow speakers John Garfield, who presented a dramatic reading of "A Letter From A Red Army Soldier To An American Soldier" and Dudley Field Malone who read the speech prepared for the occasion by Joseph Davies. 3 Garfield told Chaplin, "You have a lot of courage," referring to his speech. "His remark was disturbing," recalled Chaplin, "for I did not wish to be valorous or caught up in a political cause célèbre. I had only spoken what I sincerely felt and thought was right. Nevertheless after John's remark I began to feel a depressing pall over the rest of the evening. But whatever menacing clouds I expected as a result of that speech evaporated, and back in Beverly Hills life went on as usual."4

Betty Gordon, Louis Lurie, and Chaplin

However the experience seems to have whet Chaplin's appetite for public speaking, which is surprising since it was something that he never seemed to enjoy. A few weeks later, he was asked to speak by radio-telephone at a mass meeting in Madison Square. He made several more speeches on behalf of the Second Front over the next few months, beginning each speech with "Hello, Comrades!" He delivered his final Second Front address in New York on December 3rd, 1942.

Chaplin's advocacy of the Second Front began what would be a very turbulent time in his career. The Joan Barry scandal would come a year later, then the controversy over his 1947 film, Monsieur Verdoux, culminating in his exit from America in 1952. But as Chaplin recalled twenty years later in My Autobiography, it all started with the speech in San Francisco. "At this moment I believe my troubles began," he wrote.


1Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
2Bakersfield Californian, May 19th, 1942.
3Also on the bill was violinist Yehudi Menuhin.