Friday, November 20, 2015

A NIGHT IN THE SHOW, released 100 years ago this week*

*The release date for this film is almost always given as November 20th but contemporary trade journals give the date as the 15th. 

Chaplin's twelfth film for Essanay was based on Fred Karno’s music hall sketch “Mumming Birds” (known as “A Night In An English Music Hall” in the States) in which Chaplin played “The Inebriated Swell." In this film version, Chaplin plays two roles, the tipsy tuxedo-clad, Mr. Pest, and the drunken bum, Mr. Rowdy, who wreak havoc on a theater during a vaudeville performance.

What was said about it?

"This picture was so different from most of the appearances of the famous comedy artist that it was the subject of a great deal of comment. It was said that the picture was the best one of its kind ever seen at the theater, and it undoubtedly drew big crowds." (Moving Picture World, December 4th, 1915)

"In this play Mr. Chaplin doffs his old costume and appears in dress suit and silk hat. But even in this disguise it is impossible not to recognize the Chaplin walk, the Chaplin capers and the inimitable Chaplin mannerisms. He is Charles Chaplin, whether in the garb of a hobo or a man of society."(Motion Picture News, November 13th, 1915)

"The newest Chaplin, 'A Night at the Show,' contains the comedian in a dual role: with plastered hair and respectable evening attire; and, again, in the wildest and most disreputable rig—and an unaccustomed makeup, too—that he has ever assumed. Here Chaplin loses the rails again by reason of no story. And still he is funny. When they showed me this mussy, and at times decidedly unpleasant visual narrative I punctuated it with ribald shouts. I couldn't help roaring. 'Oh, for a Chaplin author!'" (Julian Johnson, Photoplay, December 1915)

"The audience wanted to enthuse, but there was nothing really worth while enthusing over. It was Charlie Chaplin in his latest comedy, 'A Night in the Show,' that the gathering went wild about. After that the evening appeared cold to the remainder of the bill." (Variety, November 19th, 1915)

"This two-reel Chaplin release, which is founded on the well-known English Music Hall sketch, 'A Night in a Music Hall,' permits Charlie Chaplin to revive the character of the man with the jag, and add highly laughable bits of new business to the old situations. Mr. Chaplin also impersonates a 'tough' in the gallery. The picture closes with a 'hot finish,' although every one in the cast is soaked with water from a fire hose." (Moving Picture World, November 27th, 1915)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Publicity photos of Charlie and Paulette by Max Munn Autrey, October 1936

Autrey was the stills photographer for both Modern Times & The Great Dictator. This set gives us some nice views of the grounds of Chaplin's Beverly Hills estate.

Lesser known images from this shoot show Charlie buying tickets to a British United Services Club Ball from a young lady named Maureen Laing (see another here) and the couple talking to an unknown man. (©Roy Export SAS)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Happy birthday, Petula Clark! Born November 15th, 1932

Here Petula sings "This Is My Song," with music and lyrics by Chaplin for A Countess From Hong Kong. This song became a hit for Petula in 1967.


Chaplin in 1946

Notice his (real) Verdoux mustache.

Photo by Karl Gullers at Chaplin's home in Beverly Hills. See more here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

BEHIND THE SCREEN, released this week in 1916

Goliath, the stage hand, and his assistant, David.
Charlie manages to carry a dozen chairs and a piano at once.

"Stage hands lunch hour." Charlie uses bellows to shield himself from Albert Austin's smelly onions.

Charlie discovers the new stage hand is really a girl (Edna).
He promises to keep her secret.
When Eric sees Charlie kissing the new stage hand, he makes fun
of him by doing an effeminate dance. These blatant references to homosexuality were very
risqué at the time. 
"The comedy department rehearses a new idea"--a pie fight.
After a fight with Charlie, Eric falls into the trap door that has been rigged with explosives
by the striking stage hands. 
Charlie and Edna congratulate each other on their escape. 

Je Suis Paris

"Only the unloved hate--the unloved and the unnatural." --Charles Chaplin, 1940

Friday, November 13, 2015

My thoughts are with everyone in Paris tonight.

Recording session for MODERN TIMES, November 1935

 At right, Chaplin shakes hands with conductor Alfred Newman. 

Eighty-years ago this month, Chaplin recorded the music for Modern Times, his final silent film. The sessions were held on a soundstage at the United Artists Studios, with a 65-piece orchestra conducted by Alfred Newman.1 Chaplin had composed the music himself, with the help of arrangers David Raksin and Edward Powell, including the "love theme" which would become one of his most famous melodies, better known as the pop standard "Smile."2

Below is Hollywood reporter Sidney Skolsky's eyewitness account of one of the recording sessions:
Chaplin sits in a camp chair on a large recording set at the United Artists studio, supervising the scoring. His hair is gray. He has a stubble gray beard. He wears black patent leather shoes with white suede tops, and his right arm is carried in a sling.3 A blue silk muffler serves as a sling. Chaplin broke his thumb in the door of his auto. 
Al Newman stands on a small platform, waving a baton at 65 musicians. David Raksin, who made the music arrangements for Chaplin, is also present to supervise. 
There is a screen hanging in midair in back of the orchestra. The part of Modern Times being scored will be shown on the screen. Chaplin is chewing gum in time with the orchestra. Only a few of Chaplin's personal friends among the magazine writers and several visitors from the Soviet cinema have seen sections of the picture. No newspaperman has seen a flash of it. I walk on the set, stand and watch. Soon Chaplin sees me. He grins a broad "Hello" and then says it. I approach him. "I'd like to watch you work. May I?" Chaplin has always been congenial to me. "Stay around," he answers, "but don't tell too much." 
The orchestra starts rehearsing the music for the factory sequence in which Chaplin revolts against being a slave of the machinery. He throws the place into confusion and does a wild dance. The music is as difficult as the scene. Every note must be timed exactly with the film, and the music is not loud and brazen as expected of factory sounds. The orchestra rehearses these few bars again...again...again. An hour later, they're still doing these few bars. The orchestra stops playing. The men leave their chairs. There's time out for five minutes, like a football team. It is strenuous work. The musicians work only three, four hours at the most, at a stretch. Then they have an hour for relaxation. Yesterday, they worked from 9 in the morning until 4 o'clock the next morning, and about half a reel was completely scored. It costs Chaplin on the average of $1,000 an hour to score this flicker. 
L-R: Charles Dunworth (asst. to Alfred Newman), Alfred Newman (conductor), CC, David Raksin (arranger),
 Paul Neal (recording engineer), and Edward Powell (arranger). 
Now, after several hours of rehearsing, Al Newman and Chaplin agree they will try to record this scene. The signal is given. The picture is ready to be flashed on the screen. The man in the sound booth is ready to pick up the music and capture  it. I am invited to sit in the sound booth with Paul Neal, for here I can see the picture and hear the music as it is recorded. He is the only man on the set who sees and hears the flicker as if it were being shown in a theater. Chaplin, with the baggy trousers, the big shoes and black hair, is on the screen. The Chaplin with neat clothes and gray hair sits looking at him. 
The flicker is on. Chaplin is performing. The first impression is very strange. I see Chaplin moving, his mouth opens--but no sounds, no words are heard. For a moment I believe something is wrong. Then I remember it is a silent flicker. The orchestra plays the same few bars again and again, and the picture is started over and over. By now I am becoming accustomed to silent pictures.4 Chaplin watches the picture and listens to the music. He jumps up to stop the music. He okays a take. He asks Newman or Raksin or Neal how it sounded. 
It is really interesting to watch Chaplin watch Chaplin. He never laughs at him, but is always intent. Chaplin when talking about the Chaplin on the screen says, "The little feller does that..." or "He doesn't do that..." But he never calls the Chaplin on the screen "I." To him the Chaplin on the screen is a character. 
--Sidney Skolsky, "Chaplin's Modern Times," Washington Post, November 27, 1935

Chaplin is seated at right near the conductor's podium.

Photos by Max Munn Autrey


1Alfred Newman would eventually walk out on the film after a blow up with Chaplin. According to David Raksin: "They were operating on ragged nerves, and after one bad take Charlie had accused the players of "dogging it"--lying down on the job. At this, Newman, who at the best of times had a hair-trigger temper, had broken his baton and stalked off the stage, and was now refusing to work with Chaplin." ("Life with Charlie," 1983) Newman never returned. Arranger Edward Powell took over as conductor for the remainder of the sessions.
2Lyrics were added to the melody in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
3You can see the sling on Chaplin in the last photo if you look closely. He is also wearing it in this photo taken at a party for H.G. Wells around the same time.
4By 1935, talkies had been around for nearly a decade and silent films were a thing of the past.

Monday, November 9, 2015

HIS TRYSTING PLACE, released November 9th, 1914

Written and directed by Charlie Chaplin.

Mabel Normand is brilliant as the frazzled wife and mother. 
"Here, play with this [a gun!]"
This is not the first film to show Charlie with a wife,
but it is the first to show him in a domestic situation.
Charlie tries to shield himself from Mack Swain's sloppy eating.
After a brawl with Mack Swain at the restaurant, Charlie accidently takes his coat,
 and vice versa.
Due to the coat mix-up, Mabel thinks Charlie is "trysting" with Phyllis Allen.
And you can imagine what Phyllis is thinking when she finds a baby bottle in her "husband's" coat.
But all's well that ends well...

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Part of the job

Paris, 1952

"[In Paris] they examine my signature closely. They seem puzzled. I look. It is spelled right. Oh, I see! They expected 'Charlot.' And I write some more with 'Charlot.' --Chaplin, My Trip Abroad, 1922

London, 1931

"Two children were at dinner with their parents in a cafe last night and Charlie Chaplin came in and sat at the next table. Followed a discussion between the little ones. The boy slid off his chair, approached the comedian and asked for his autograph on a menu card. Chaplin smilingly complied. When the little boy returned to the table and showed his treasure, the girl conceived the idea of doing likewise, whereupon her parents refused to allow her to further interrupt Chaplin at his dinner. Tears came into her eyes. Chaplin heard the altercation and came over to her with his card and a little picture he had drawn upon it for her. He is one of the best natured of the notables. And probably the one who is beset most frequently by souvenir hunters and autograph maniacs." --Atlanta Constitution, August 10, 1928

Aboard the Olympic, 1921

"In his last days in America, fearful of writ-servers, Chaplin slipped out of his hotel each day to lunch at the '21' Club. Al Reuter, the well-known autograph collector and dealer, happened to be working at the club at the time. Al came off duty at 3 p.m.--about the time that Chaplin left the club--and so, on several successive days, he put on his dark glasses and trailed Chaplin, autograph book in hand. Each day Chaplin eluded him until the last, when Al finally caught him and got an autograph from his visibly relieved quarry." --David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art

During Mann Act trial, 1944

[At the bar, Chaplin] held a gin and tonic while reporters crowded around. But, possibly for the first time in the history of press conferences, they weren't asking questions. They were asking for Charlie Chaplin's autograph. --Los Angeles Times, January 22, 1967

Paris, 1954

"Charlie Chaplin was huddled in a chair in a far corner of a popular night restaurant. A woman with an autograph album under her arm and dragging by the hand a child dazed with weariness entered the place looking eagerly up and down the rows of tables. It was past midnight. The lady spied Chaplin and the light of battle kindled in her eyes. Yanking the collapsing child into protesting wakefulness she strode to Chaplin's table. She shook the infant sharply. 'Darling, darling,' she cried. 'Shake hands with Mr. Chaplin, darling. Shake hands nice, darling, and make Mr. Chaplin a bow.' The child, lifting her tired white face, smiled stupidly at the comedian who gently patted her hand. 'I know Mr. Chaplin will be glad to sign your little book if you ask him kindly, darling,' said the mother. She thrust the book and a fountain pen into the child's hand. 'Thank Mr. Chaplin, kindly, darling.' The child was too fatigued to hear, much less obey, but giving the woman a brief, contemptuous look, Chaplin took the book and wrote: 'I'm tired of it too, my dear--Charlie Chaplin.'" --Colliers, July 1929

Chicago, 1942

"One particular weekend, Charlie, little Josie [his daughter] and I were driven into the village of Vevey. From his car, Charlie looked at the swans on Lake Geneva; Josie went out playing. Charlie was suddenly recognized by a group of children. They all rushed to the car and handed in slips of paper for his autograph. He happily signed. Then he noticed Josie crammed in amongst the children, also wanting his autograph!" --Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie

Ischia, 1957

"A traffic jam at the rue de Presbourg brought a touch of romance—and the American kiss. Two girls, obviously new arrivals from America, rushed up to Mr. Chaplin and begged for autographs. One gazed soulfully into the merry, twinkling eyes of her idol, but the other suddenly put her arms around the little man and planted a kiss which a screen director could only pronounce as genuine. Mr. Chaplin took this osculatory tribute with extreme grace...His car drew to the curb, he raised his hat to the girls and left them with more of a thrill than Paris, perhaps, will give them later." --New York Herald Paris Edition, March 20, 1931