Saturday, December 20, 2014

Obituary for Eric Campbell who died on December 20th, 1917

Moving Picture World, January 5th, 1918

His daughter's name was actually Una. Perhaps "Laura Austin" was a stage name.

Chaplin, a filmmaker with courage

With all the hubbub surrounding the recent decision by Sony Pictures to pull the premier of The Interview, a film satirizing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, due to threats by anonymous hackers, let's recall a time when Hollywood still had (I'm sorry to say it) balls.

During the filming of The Great Dictator, Chaplin's 1940 satire of Adolph Hitler, he received death threats and crank letters: "Some threatened to throw stink bombs in the theatre and shoot up the screen where ever it would be shown. Others threatened to create riots."1 But Chaplin never once considered canceling the film. He believed his film had a message and that his voice should be heard. As a comedian, Chaplin believed his only weapon against evil was humor. "I'm the clown," Chaplin told the New York Times in 1940, "and what can I do that is more effective than to laugh at these fellows who are putting humanity to the goose-step; who, as I say in one of my first captions, are kicking humanity around?....If there is one thing I know it is that power can always be made ridiculous. The bigger that fellow gets the harder my laughter will hit him." 2

Author & theater owner George R.R. Martin summed up the canceling of The Interview nicely in a recent blog post

"The level of corporate cowardice here astonishes me. It's a good thing these guys weren't around when Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator. If Kim Jong-Un scares them, Adolf Hitler would have had them shitting in their smallclothes."


1Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
2Robert Van Gelder, "Chaplin Draws A Keen Weapon," New York Times, September 8, 1940

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas card, c.1930s

Chaplin aboard the Van Lansberge, Batavia, Java, March 1932

Read more about his visit here.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014


Carmen was originally intended to be released as a two-reel film on December 18th, 1915 but was held by Essanay until Chaplin left the company. In April 1916, an expanded four-reel version of the film was released, created with Chaplin's discarded footage and padded out with new scenes, shot and assembled by Leo White & featuring Ben Turpin. Chaplin claimed in his autobiography that this altered version of the film disgusted him so much that it sent him to bed for two days. He attempted to sue Essanay for damages but lost the case. He later wrote that Essanay’s dishonest act “rendered a service, for thereafter I had it stipulated in every contract that there should be no mutilating, extending or interfering with my finished work.”

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Paulette "a very smart girl," says John Barrymore

The Great Profile (or "pro-feel" as Barrymore called it) describes a night of charades at Chaplin's house where Paulette outsmarted both him and Charlie.

"13 Fascinating Women," by John Barrymore, Look, Nov. 5, 1940
Read the rest of the article here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas with Charlie (and Jackie)

Another installment in my annual "Christmas With Charlie" series.

From the Los Angeles Times, November 16, 1920:
Charlie Chaplin emerged from seclusion yesterday to announce that he will be in Los Angeles to celebrate the Christmas holidays. The announcement came in a telegram sent by him from New York to Jackie Coogan, child screen actor who has played in many of the film comedian's pictures.1 The boy recently suffered a basal fracture of the skull in an automobile accident.2
Chaplin, for several weeks, while his wife's divorce suit was pending, had been in hiding from the general public and none of his plans were divulged until his telegram was received yesterday. The message stated:
"Dear Jackie: I know you are recovering nicely because you are such a strong little man who can take a punch. Hope yourself and daddy will be out when I return so that we can spend Christmas together, or at least you will be well enough to play with toys, so don't disappoint Santa Claus, as there are no chimneys in hospitals for him to come down through. You wait and see what I'll bring from New York. If you want anything ask my manager, Mr. Reeves, and he will get it for you. [Signed] Charlie Chaplin."

Coogan and Chaplin on the set of The Kid 

1Besides The Kid (1921), Jackie also appeared in A Day's Pleasure (1919) & Nice And Friendly (1921), a film Chaplin made as a wedding present for Lord & Lady Mountbatten.
2Jackie's father, who was driving, was also injured. 15 years later, father and son would be involved in another car accident. This time, Jackie's father would be killed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Color photo, October 1940

Photo by the Daily News Color Studio, New York

Because I know you're looking for his blue eyes:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Charlie & Oona at a Hollywood preview of THE MEN starring Marlon Brando & Teresa Wright, 1950

According to the caption, the Chaplins entered the theater through a side street door in order to avoid the fanfare at the main entrance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Chaplin & Paulette Goddard, c.1939

Given the date, the sad look on Charlie's face, and Paulette's black veil and dress, this photo may have been taken at Douglas Fairbanks' funeral in December 1939. Chaplin's hair is dyed for the filming The Great Dictator which he began shooting in September.

Charlie and Douglas Fairbanks walk arm in arm at the Chaplin Studios, c. 1925

RIP Douglas (December 12, 1939)

Mack Swain, in costume for The Gold Rush, is in the background.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Screenland magazine contest: Win a Christmas gift from Charlie Chaplin

Screenland, December 1928

According to the article: "Charlie's Xmas gift of the Graflex camera is a worthwhile present. There will be a silver plate on it with the winner's name inscribed thereon as presented from Charlie Chaplin." The winner, announced in the March 1929 issue, was Lucie Wiltshire of Washington, DC (there was no mention of which film she thought was Chaplin's best).

Ralph Barton cartoon, 1926

Liberty, February 27, 1926

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Random Excerpt

The following is Jim Tully's first-hand account of the filming of the opening scenes of The Gold Rush on Donner Summit near Truckee, CA, early 1924:
As we left the train a great shout of "He's here--he's here!" echoed over the snow-white country. It was from Chaplin's lieutenant, Edward Sutherland, and members of the company who had blazed the trail for the general. The same shout was always given when Chaplin arrived at the studio.
Summit consisted of a general store and a pine hotel perched on a mountainside. Weary of the day, we walked toward the hotel. 
Boxes filled with sawdust served as spittoons in the roughly furnished lobby. A battered registry book was open on a garishly painted red desk. 
We waited about it until Chaplin had written his heavy signature. We then wrote our names. Teamsters, carpenters, and other men loitered in the lobby. They gazed in awe at Chaplin. As he walked past them in a narrow hallway several men said, "Hello, Charlie!"
He answered "Hello!" cheerily. 
The preparation for the trek over Chilkoot Pass had been a long and arduous task. So loyal and efficient were Chaplin's assistants that upon his arrival every detail had been carried out. He was up at five the next morning, going over plans with Eddie Sutherland, his assistant, and [Chuck] Reisner, his chief gag-man. 
At seven that morning the army of hoboes arrived. 
As the disheveled 500 vagabonds left the train they marched in a body to the front of the hotel and shouted, "Hurrah for Charlie!" The world's greatest screen artist listened with a wry smile. 
Chaplin (in middle with back to the camera) with the hobo extras. Lita Grey is at left.
Sutherland and Reisner were outdoors marshaling the army of nondescripts. The pass headquarters was three miles away, in a white basin of land surrounded by pine-covered mountains. The road was full of drifted snow. 
As we emerged from the hotel with Chaplin, dressed in baggy trousers, wearing the derby and holding his cane, another mighty shout went up from the assembled vagabonds, who stood as if at attention. I hurried with Chaplin into a waiting sleigh. The horses dashed through the cold air. Chaplin held his hand to his derby, the men shouting the while, "Hey, Charlie boy!" Hurrah for Charlie--he's our kind--hurrah--hooray!" Cold, benumbed fingers lifted greasy caps and hats as the horses dashed onward by them. 
"Isn't it great, Charlie--those men love and understand you--hear them cheer!" I said. 
As the men marched single file after the sleigh, they resembled a long black string across a white earth. We soon lost sight of them. 
Chaplin is in the middle between Lita Grey and Eddie Sutherland (in black hat).
Jim Tully is on right (in white shirt).
Cameras turned upon the marching men as they drew near the pass headquarters. Feeling a communion with Chaplin, like boys at a picnic, the weary trudgers enjoyed it all. Their gay and life-streaked faces showed it. 
The comedian's energy was indefatigable. He hurried about giving orders through a large megaphone. Chaplin wanted to make his opening shots of this picture "the greatest ever made." Teams, wagons, sleighs, hauling supplies, came endlessly from Summit. 
Within two hours the first march over Chilkoot Pass was started. One by one the men trudged through a narrow pass between two mountains, nearly two miles long. Far up, men scaled the pass. Down below, men clambered upward with lust for the gold which lay beyond. 
Chaplin's original idea for "The Gold Rush" was ironical. The end finally chosen came only after many, many changes, until Charlie had what he felt he had been seeking. 
The working hours passed swiftly and were generally pleasant. Chaplin's energy seemed inexhaustible. 
The terrible glare of the sun on snow nearly blinded us at times. It made our skin turn red and blister and caused our eyes to burn through the night. 
Chaplin wears sunglasses to shield his eyes from the blinding snow.
Time after time hundreds of men walked by the camera uncomplainingly as ghosts and as heavily laden as army mules. Blankets and other paraphernalia of miners were strung across their backs. Chaplin, during this sequence, was one of the men. He would direct it until it came time for him to join the march. He would then hand his megaphone to his assistant director, Edward Sutherland, adjust his battered derby, and fall in line. 
As he stepped along with the army of vagabonds, his face slowly and miraculously took on a sad and sadder expression, until, as he neared the cameras, you saw a broken explorer in a lonely moment, worn and heartsick, and trudging onward to a very uncertain destiny. He was able to interpret perfectly his companions' sufferings on his mobile face. I stood near a cameraman who had photographed the comedian for seven years [Rollie Totheroh]. He sighed as he looked at Chaplin's face and turned the camera. 
Here, indeed, was the man Chaplin great. Here he made you forget all his superficialities and all his sad futilities. He was now a troubadour, two skillets rattling on his back, his derby hat near to falling off, his mouth in little puckers of agony, and his eyes too brave to cry. 
You wanted to laugh at his grotesque make-up. But his face kept you from it. He looked about dismally at his companions, who staggered onwards heads down, backs hunched, as if to better bear their loads. On and on they walked, leaning forward like men going up a steep hill. These 500 hoboes--social rebels hating all established order--were now as docile as lambs. 
The cameras turned in a steady, monotonous rhythm. Voices yelled to the men "Don't look at the cameras--keep goin' on--if you look up at all--look at the narrow pass--pay no attention to Charlie at all--he's just one of you--don't even look at him--it'll spoil the continuity of the action." Sutherland, the assistant, could be heard now above everything else. 
"Come on, men--a little slower--you're a little more tired--it's been a long walk, you know--but you've got to go on--you've got to make the pass before night--your feet are heavy--but you're game--slow up slowly--so it isn't too perceptible on the screen."
As Chaplin reached the headquarters he looked up and beheld his leading lady [then Lita Grey]. Clad in a fur coat, beautiful in contrast to her rough surroundings, she walked straight into the derbied vagabond's heart. Words were not needed--here was a life-and beauty-starved man. It was all written on his face as he looked at the girl. But as a sore-footed soldier might look at a rose while marching to battle, he dare not stop. 
Then came the villain and the mechanics of the screen. Chaplin became the tawdry hero and lost the poignancy of the situation. 
At least twenty times the men marched past the cameras. Chaplin alternately watching and walking with them. At last the effect was what he thought he desired. The men rested. In an hour they did it all over again. (Tully, "The Real Life-Story of Charlie Chaplin," Pictorial Review, March 1927)

Chaplin's final film for Keystone, HIS PREHISTORIC PAST, released 100 years ago today

Charlie plays Weakchin, a prehistoric man who wears a bearskin, a derby hat, and carries a cane. In My Autobiography, Charlie described how he came up with the idea: "I started with one gag, which was my first entrance. I appeared dressed as a prehistoric man wearing a bearskin, and, as I scanned the landscape, I began pulling the hair from the bearskin to fill my pipe. This was enough of an idea to stimulate a prehistoric story, introducing love, rivalry, combat and chase. This was the method by which we all worked at Keystone." Charlie also recalled that it was a "strain" to finish the film because there were so many business propositions requiring his attention. “I suppose that was the most exciting period of my career, for I was on the threshold of something wonderful.”

In 1982, silent film historian, Bo Berglund, identified Charlie's half-brother, Sydney, as the cop in the final scene. Syd had just begun his contract with the Keystone company & His Prehistoric Past was only his second film. As Syd's biographer, Lisa Stein Haven, noted, "It seems significant somehow that the brothers would work together in Charlie's final film for Keystone."

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Thursday, December 4, 2014

THE RINK, released December 4th, 1916

To give an idea of The Rink's popularity with audiences, here is a clipping from a 1917 issue of Motography. It's hard to tell if the owner of the theater was being serious:

The Rink was Chaplin's 8th film for Mutual. Much has been said about his skating talents. He no doubt honed these skills in the c.1909 Fred Karno sketch, Skating, which was co-written by Syd Chaplin (both brothers performed the sketch for different Karno touring companies). Chaplin employed another skating routine twenty years later in Modern Times, which revives some of the restaurant gags as well.