Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chaplin's Choice

Ever wonder what Chaplin thought of other actors or directors? Which films did he enjoy? Here is a non-comprehensive list of people and films he admired, with comments by Chaplin where I could find them. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments, preferably with sources.

Many thanks my friends Dominique Dugros, Lucy Jaffe, and Doreen Feeney for their help in putting this compilation together.


Fred Astaire: "This Top Hat man exudes personality." (New York Times, Feb. 16, 1936)

Lucille Ball: "He enjoyed Lucille Ball...thought her very funny & extremely talented." (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie)

Lucille Ball poses as Chaplin in 1962

Fanny Brice: "Fanny Brice is a wonder as a comedian." (New York Herald, Sept. 11, 1921)

Mae Busch: "The best actress on the screen." (Motion Picture, Nov. 1924)

Mae Busch
Marion Davies "One evening at the Fairbankses' they ran a Marion Davies film, When Knighthood Was In Flower. To my surprise she was quite a comedienne, with charm and appeal, and would have been a star in her own right without the cyclonic Hearst publicity." (Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography)

Benny Hill: After receiving the Charlie Chaplin International Award for Comedy in 1991, Hill was invited, along with his longtime producer/director Dennis Kirkland, to Chaplin's home in Vevey where he was given a tour of the Manoir by Charlie's son, Eugene. Kirkland recalls the story in his biography of Hill:
After lunch he took us into the house to his father's sitting room and
his father's study, where Benny, thrilled to bits, was invited to sit in
Charlie Chaplin's chair. He was in heaven.
Then Eugene took us to a little room with a TV set and a video recorder and
showed us a row of videotapes on a shelf. They were all of Benny Hill
'My father used to sit here and watch you all the time. He thought you were
the greatest,' Eugene told Benny.

I had never seen Benny quiet so overwhelmed. He could not believe what he
was seeing and hearing. There were tears in his eyes.

Benny Hill as his character Fred Scuttle

Bob Hope: Chaplin to Hope after they were introduced by Hope's Cat & The Canary co-star, Paulette Goddard, at Santa Anita Race Track: "Young man, I've been watching the rushes of The Cat & The Canary every night. I want you to know that you're one of the best timers of comedy I have ever seen." (Joe Morella, Paulette: The Adventurous Life Of Paulette Goddard)

Al Jolson: "[Chaplin] thought that seeing Jolson live was the highest theatrical experience of his life. 'It was electrifying how he moved the audience,' Charlie said. 'When he came down the ramp and bent on his knees and sang 'My Mammy' it sent shivers down your back." (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie)

Peter Lorre: "There is much of the born poet in Peter Lorre. His is a fresh and original talent. He is endowed with such intuitive, emotional and imaginative powers that he impresses me as one of the greatest character actors. I look forward to seeing him make a genuine contribution to the art of acting on the screen." (Motion Picture, June 1936)

Mary Pickford: "I once asked Charlie who was his favorite screen actress. 'I think Mary Pickford," he answered unhesitatingly." (Sam Goldwyn, St. Louis Star, Feb. 14, 1924)


Ingmar Bergman: "After meeting Ingmar Bergman in Sweden [in 1964], Charlie gave an interview to the Herald Tribune, and said he never missed an Ingmar Bergman film." (Epstein)

With Ingmar Bergman

Luis Bunuel: "Bunuel remembered other visits to Chaplin's home. Several times he screened Un Chien Andalou: the first time Kono, who was running the projector, fainted away when he saw the opening scene of a razor blade slicing an eye. Years later Bunuel delighted to learn from Carlos Saura* that according to Geraldine Chaplin her father used to frighten the children by describing scenes from Bunuel's films." (David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art) *Saura is the father of Geraldine's son, Shane Saura Chaplin.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (Dir. George Stevens, 1951): The story goes that Chaplin attended an advanced screening of the film and afterward told director George Stevens that it was "the greatest movie ever made about America." I couldn't find an actual source for this quote. However in Remembering Charlie, Jerry Epstein recalled seeing the film with Chaplin and that he enjoyed it.

Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun

BARRY LYNDON (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1976): One of the last two films Chaplin ever saw (the other was Rocky). As he watched the film, he commented, "Beautiful...beautiful." (Epstein)

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, 1925): Eisenstein recalled that Chaplin's first words of greeting when they met by Chaplin's tennis court in 1930: "Just saw Potemkin again. You know, in five years it hasn't aged a bit; still the same." (Chaplin & American Culture, Charles Maland)

THE BELLBOY (Dir. Jerry Lewis, 1960): During a visit to Chaplin's home, Lewis requested a copy of Modern Times to show his children on Sundays, Chaplin complied but with one provision: That Lewis send him a copy of The Bellboy, which was his favorite of Lewis' films. (Peter Bogdanovich, Who The Hell's In It)

DR. STRANGELOVE (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964): In an interview with Francis Wyndham in 1964, Chaplin said he hated most American films but was enthusiastic about Dr. Strangelove and did "an hilarious impression of George C. Scott squirming in the war room." The film's other star, Peter Sellers, was also briefly considered for the role of Hudson in Chaplin's last film, A Countess From Hong Kong.

George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove

D.W. Griffith: "The teacher of us all." (Francis Bordat, Chaplin Cineaste)

IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, 1944) "The Acme of all historical pictures. Eisenstein dealt with history poetically--an excellent way of dealing with it." (My Autobiography)

M (Dir. Fritz Lang, 1931): Chaplin confessed to star Peter Lorre at the Brown Derby that he had seen the film three times. (Stephen Youngkin, The Lost One: The Life Of Peter Lorre)

Peter Lorre in M

MORTAL CLAY (Dir. Victor Sjöström, 1922) "A most beautifully prepared and executed work of art, an inspiration to all lovers of beauty and a vehicle that should elevate the whole standard of motion pictures." (Moving Picture World, Nov. 17, 1923)

ROCKY (Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 1976): "As he watched, he kept murmuring, 'Excellent...excellent.'" (Epstein)

Carl Weathers & Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

SALVATION HUNTERS: (Dir. Josef Von Sternberg, 1925): Chaplin considered the film to be one of the greatest ever made. (Photoplay, August 1925)

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Dir. William Wyler, 1946): "The most significant picture to come out of Hollywood in years--significant not only for what the film itself accomplishes but also for the encouragement the film's success will give to other producers [to make daring and out-of-the-ordinary films]." (New York Times, April 13, 1947)

MORNING GLORY (Dir. Lowell Sherman, 1933): "Splendid." (New York Times, Feb. 16, 1936)

L-R: Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, & Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory

REMEMBRANCE (Dir. Rupert Hughes, 1922): "The most human picture ever put on the screen." (Motion Picture News, Sept. 20th, 1922)

Carlos Saura: "You are a poet." Chaplin to Saura in a telegram after having seen Ana Y Los Lobos with daughter, Geraldine (who was the star of the film). (Claudine Monteil, Les Amants Des Temps Modernes, based on an interview by the author with Geraldine).

STELLA DALLAS (Dir. Henry King, 1925): "I must congratulate [Samuel Goldwyn] on STELLA DALLAS. A friend of mine, seeing it the third time, enjoyed it as much as I did, seeing it the first time. It's a great triumph for you and the members of the cast. The direction is splendid, and undoubtedly the finest thing Henry King has ever done. May it bring you the success you deserve." (Moving Picture World, Jan. 23, 1926)).

Belle Bennett as Stella Dallas

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yes, I Can See Now

I've always wondered when Charlie started wearing glasses. I figured it was at least the early 1920s since Lita Grey recalled Chaplin wearing glasses the first time she was alone with him in Truckee during the filming of The Gold Rush. However the following clipping puts the date much earlier, during his vacation in Honolulu in 1917. I don't know if Charlie was getting his first-ever pair of glasses or just a new pair. I also didn't know that Edna wore glasses.

Hawaiian Gazette, October 19, 1917

Journalist Egon Erwin Kisch noted during a visit to the Chaplin Studios in 1929 that Chaplin was so farsighted that he couldn't see to sign his own name. But Chaplin must have struggled with seeing at a distance as well judging from photos of him wearing glasses at spectator events such as a wrestling match and a kabuki performance (below).

Charlie with Sydney & Kono at the Kabuki-za Theater in Tokyo, 1932.
(Photo: Charlie Chaplin In Japan by Ono Hiroyuki)

One of my favorite "glasses" stories regarding Chaplin is when he testified during the Leo Loeb trial in 1927 & struggled to read a document that one of the lawyers handed him. (Loeb sued Chaplin claiming that he stole the idea for Shoulder Arms from his book, "The Rookie."):
Hays handed Chaplin a synopsis of "The Rookie" and asked him to look at the first scene. "Chaplin scrutinized the paper with expressions of exaggerated concentration which brought general laughter. He shrugged with a pathetic gesture of frustration and the spectators rocked in their seats."
"I'm afraid I can't read it," he apologized to Hays, "I forgot to bring my glasses."
Nathan Burkan offered up his glasses and Chaplin "tried them on his nose and then stared blankly at the paper. His expression and pantomime of his inability to see brought more laughter in which Judge Bondy joined."
Judge Bondy leaned over the bench and proffered Chaplin the judicial spectacles. The actor took them with a bow, tried them frontwards, backwards, as a monocle with the extra glass riding over one ear, and then as a magnifying glass.
"I can read!" he cried with a happy smile and the crowd cheered. (New York Times, May 11, 1927)
See more pics of bespectacled Charlie here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Birthday, Charlie!

On his 70th birthday, Chaplin had a message that I think is still timely today:

Manchester Guardian, April 16, 1959

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chaplin & the Battle of Petroushka

"Long years of practice at dodging custard pies and various other missiles stood Charlie Chaplin in good stead Sunday night at the Petroushka Cafe, in Hollywood, when two men attempted to 'beat up' the famous film comedian." 1
Late Sunday night, January 20th, 1924, Chaplin, actress Mary Miles Minter, screenwriter Carey Wilson and his wife, Nancy Everett, entered the exclusive Café Petroushka on Hollywood Blvd for a quiet dinner.

Mary Miles Minter

A little after midnight,  C.C. Julian, president of the Julian Petroleum Corporation, arrived with a large party consisting of his brother, his secretary, and two women: actress Peggy Browne and her friend, none other than Chaplin's ex-wife, Mildred Harris. Browne and Harris had joined the party earlier in the evening at the Montmartre, which was just down the street, and followed the group to Petroushka. Browne said later that she and Mildred were "unescorted." 2

Chaplin saw the group walk in but did not see his ex-wife. "I didn't know Miss Harris was in the cafe...I noticed the party when it entered, however. One of the men was acting very rudely; he kicked over a floor lamp and cursed loudly."3

Mildred Harris

Russian actor Nicholas Dunaew, who was seated at an adjoining table, recalled what happened next: "Mr. Julian brushed roughly against Mr. Chaplin. Mr. Chaplin said: 'Please be careful there are ladies present.' Mr. Julian replied: 'Who are you telling to be careful?' and then struck Mr. Chaplin across the face. Mr. Chaplin got up and struck back knocking Julian down. When Mr. Julian stood up and squared off I hit him on the jaw and knocked him down again as other members of his party were getting into the fight." 4

"Mr. Chaplin  behaved in a thoroughly gentlemanly manner, "said Nat Arlock, manager of Café Petroushka. "His party was quiet and inoffensive. I could ask for no guests more cultured. I saw the entire proceedings and I am embarrassed that it should have occurred in my place which is a genteel establishment. I do not allow liquor in the rooms or rowdies.

"Mr. Chaplin was listening to the music," Arlock explained. "He is very fond of Russian music. Zamulenko, the Moscow violinist was playing...Mr. Julian was the instigator of the trouble.  Prior to striking Mr. Chaplin he had knocked over a projecting light. During the fight, a cello was broken." Arlock said that Mr Julian had given him a check to pay for dinner and all the damages, even though Julian would later claim that he wasn't present at the cafe at the time of the fight. However employees and other witnesses, including members of Julian's own party, identified him as the man who attacked Chaplin.5

Several newspapers reported that Chaplin received a black eye or a bloodied face in the brawl, but witnesses say he "escaped without a scratch." 

Pittsburgh Press, Mar. 2, 1924
Mildred Harris, who fled with her friend, Peggy Browne, during the uproar, later expressed regret over the incident. "Poor Charlie, I do hope that my presence there will not be misunderstood. I did not know Charlie was there and I am sure he didn't see me.

"Charlie and I are perfectly good friends. Reports that the trouble started through a quarrel over me are preposterous. As a matter of fact I personally was not with Julian. I merely happened to be with my girlfriend who was a member of the party. Charlie is very sensitive. I sympathize with him deeply in this affair because I know how dreadful it all must be to him." 7

According to Browne, Julian had been stewing about Chaplin from the moment he arrived at Petroushka. "All during the party, Julian made scathing remarks about Mr. Chaplin. Miss Harris urged him to discontinue his uncomplimentary utterances and when he refused a moment before the trouble started, she left the table. As soon as I saw something was going to happen I became so frightened I ran down the stairs to get away. I didn't see any blows struck." 8

Chaplin had initially wanted to press charges against Julian but later changed his mind. "I have nothing  more to say about the unpleasant affair. I shall forget it." 9

"I'm not a fighter," Chaplin said, "not a braggart of fistic prowess as has been reported. I have always endeavored to conduct myself  as a gentleman, and appeal to the press and public that my part in the affair was forced on me, and I did only what any red-blooded man would have done had he been in my place." 10

Photoplay, April 1924

I thought some of the headlines about this incident were a hoot. Here are a few:

Trenton Times, Jan. 27, 1924

Kansas City Star, Jan. 23, 1924
The last part is hard to read. Its says:
 "C.C. Julian Denies He Struck Blow That Messed Up Charlie's Countenance--
Actor Fears For Films' Future."
Tennessean, Feb. 8th, 1924
Trenton Times, Jan. 23, 1924
San Bernardino Sun, Jan. 22, 1924
Pittsburgh Press, March 2, 1924

1San Bernardino Sun, Jan. 22, 1924
2Pittsburgh Press, March 2, 1924
3Los Angeles Times, Jan. 22, 1924
4Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 1924. Note: There were several reports that Jascha Heifetz was also seated at the adjoining table with Dunaew but Heifetz later claimed that he was not at the restaurant that night, and was shocked to hear that Chaplin had been in a fight. "He is not that sort of fellow, unless he was attacked. Of course a man will defend himself when attacked and Chaplin no doubt did that. I have no doubt that he gave a good account of himself, for I know him very well. But I did not see the fracas and I never heard of a scrap in that club before." (Portland Oregonian, Jan. 28, 1924)
5Los Angeles Times, Jan. 23, 1924
6San Bernardino Sun, Jan. 22, 1924
7Pittsburgh Press, March 2, 1924
9Los Angeles Times, Jan. 24, 1924
10Los Angeles Times, Jan. 23, 1924

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

W.R. Hearst, Marion Davies, and Chaplin at the Motion Picture Electrical Parade and Sports Pageant, Sept. 1932

The woman on Chaplin's left is Blanche Hearst, the former wife of Hearst's son, George.

The parade, held at the Olympic Stadium in Los Angeles, and arranged by Jack Warner, was a charity event for the Motion Picture Relief Fund and the Marion Davies Foundation (for childhood diseases). It was also a non-official campaign event for then-Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was the guest of honor.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

With Sid Grauman

I've never seen this one before. Given how young both of them look, it may have been taken around the time of the opening of Grauman's Million Dollar Theater in 1918.

The caption on the back reads:

"Chaplin in one of his moods of play. He's probably singing one of his topical songs of the music-hall days, which Sid Grauman, the Los Angeles exhibitor, finds intriguing."

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!

💗 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.