Friday, January 30, 2015

Los Angeles premiere of CITY LIGHTS, January 30th, 1931

City Lights premiered at the newly constructed Los Angeles Theater. Charlie's guests that evening were Albert Einstein and his wife, Elsa. He recalled that the professor "laughed like a boy" and would nudge him and exclaim, "Ach, das ist wunderbar! Das ist schön!" During the emotional last scene he  caught a glimpse of the great Einstein wiping his eyes and later noted that it was "further evidence that scientists are incurable sentimentalists." 2

With Einstein at the premiere.
The new Los Angeles Theater boasted a restaurant, art gallery, "crying room" for mothers,
shoeshine parlor, ballroom, etc. Halfway through the premiere, the management thought it was a
good idea to stop the film, flip on the lights, and have a voice over the loudspeaker describe the theater's
fabulous features. Chaplin was furious and went looking for the "son of a bitch manager."
The crowd was with him and began stamping their feet, applauding, and eventually booing
until the lights went off and the film restarted. (MA, pg. 330)

 Chaplin was understandably nervous about the opening. He was releasing a silent film three years after talking pictures had taken over Hollywood. He worried that the film was a mistake and the audience would be disappointed. "However, I must walk the plank," he wrote in 1933, "and accept what the gods have in store for me. When the first laugh comes what music it will be to my anxious ears." 3 Georgia Hale,Chaplin's date that evening, witnessed this anxiety firsthand on the way to the theater: "The closer it came to the time of the showing, the more apprehensive Mr. Chaplin became. He whispered something he'd never admit only under duress. 'I'm worried. I have an awful feeling the film isn't going to be received well...I don't care about being popular, wanting acclaim...but I do. I do care...I must have it...the applause of people. I love it...I live on it. But I'm afraid tonight.'" When the picture was only a quarter over, Georgia could tell that Charlie's fears were diminished and he was relaxed. "The audience was once again in the palm of his hand and he knew it." 5

City Lights is not only a favorite film among fans, but it was also a favorite of Chaplin himself. In 1966, he told Richard Meryman: "I think I like City Lights the best of all my films." 6

Einstein and his wife are on either side of Chaplin. Georgia Hale is at far right.
Among the famous names who attended the premiere were King Vidor, Gloria Swanson,
Constance Bennett, Marion Davies, Thelma Todd, Claire Windsor, John Barrymore,
 Merna Kennedy, Dolores Del Rio, and Gary Cooper.

*As a side note, I'd like to clear up some confusion surrounding a quote that is often associated with the premiere of this film. Chaplin is generally misquoted as saying to the professor as the onlookers cheered them: "They applaud me because everyone understands me, they applaud you because nobody understands you." Not only is the wording of this quote wrong but it did not take place at the City Lights premiere & can be attributed to neither Chaplin nor Einstein. The real quote and the story behind it can be traced to Chaplin's 1933 travelogue "A Comedian Sees The World." In it,  he describes a visit with Einstein at his apartment in Berlin in March 1931. During tea, Einstein's son made an observation on the psychology of the popularity of both Einstein and Chaplin: "You are popular because you are understood by the masses. On the other hand, the professor's popularity with the masses is because he is not understood." There you have it.


1Translation: "Oh, that's wonderful! It's beautiful!"; Charles Chaplin, A Comedian Sees The World, Part 1, Sept. 1933
2Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
3Chaplin, A Comedian Sees The World, Part 1, Sept. 1933
4Hale was Chaplin's leading lady in The Gold Rush (1925) & his constant companion between 1929 and the time of the City Lights premiere. When Chaplin fired Virginia Cherrill from City Lights in November 1929, he briefly thought of replacing her with Georgia (her screen test still exists). However Chaplin soon realized it would be too costly to reshoot everything with Hale so he rehired Cherrill.
5Georgia Hale, Charlie Chaplin: Intimate Close-ups, 1995
6"Chaplin: An Interview by Richard Meryman," Life, March 10, 1967.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chaplin at a party honoring Arthur Rubinstein, 1939

CC is chatting with Gladys Peabody. At left is Reginald Gardiner (Schultz is The Great Dictator)

More photos from the party here.

With Pola Negri at the Pebble Beach Lodge in Del Monte, CA on the day they announced their engagement, January 28, 1923

Chaplin told the reporters: "Yes, we are engaged." (NYT, Jan. 29, 1923) However within a month or two the whole thing would be called off--thank goodness. What a disaster that marriage would have been.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Footage from the Hollywood premiere of THE CIRCUS at Grauman's Chinese Theater, January 27, 1928

Charlie appears around the :50 mark with his guests Ambassador Moore & Will Hays. Harry Crocker and Charlie's press agent, Carlyle Robinson (in glasses), can be seen, very briefly, with Charlie & his guests when they arrive.

Apparently the crowds lining the sidewalk to see Charlie were so enormous that members of the National Guard had to be brought in to help bring it under control. When Charlie arrived, he stepped from his car, locked arms with Sid Grauman, and paraded up and down the street for two blocks with one of the big spotlights, which you can see in the background, following them. Before the showing of the picture, Fred Niblo introduced members of the cast. The LA Times reported that Chaplin received a "notable ovation." Grauman's prologue, "Ballyhoo," included performances by real circus performers including Pepito the clown and Poodles Hanneford (see more footage of the premiere plus some of the "Ballyhoo" performances here)

Program for the Grauman's premiere:

Note the ad for Gay's Lion Farm. Their most famous lion, Numa, appeared in the film.
I wrote an article about it for Flicker Alley's "The Archives" blog here

Monday, January 26, 2015

Charlie & Paulette entertain newlyweds Alistair Cooke and his wife, Ruth, at the Coconut Grove nightclub, September 1934

Property of Roy Export SAS

Chaplin was supposed to be best man at Cooke’s wedding in 1934, but failed to show up the day of the nuptials.  Alistair Cooke's biographer, Nigel Clarke, contends that Chaplin didn't attend because Cooke's bride-to-be was worried that her straight-laced father would be offended by the fact that Paulette was living in sin with Charlie (Clarke said in an interview that this information came from an interview with Ruth Emerson Cooke, whom Alistair divorced in 1944). Cooke recalls in Six Men that Chaplin promised to come but just never showed up, something he was certainly known to do sometimes.

Several days after the ceremony, Cooke called Chaplin who behaved as if nothing had ever happened and offered to host the mother of all wedding parties for the newlyweds at the Coconut Grove.

While everyone looks happy in the picture, things apparently went downhill later in the evening:
The midnight show at the Coconut Grove was coming to an end. The star performer was one Gene Austin, a sugary crooner who had an alarming, but highly admired, habit of modulating his final notes a whole octave higher and so giving out the sound of a boy soprano or castrato. “Revolting” muttered Chaplin, who had declined into a brooding silence. Riding home, Paulette kept up the heartbreaking pretense that from now on her evenings would be agog with music and dancing. Chaplin gave her a black parental look. He started in about the cacophony of jazz, which he hated, and went on about the decadence of night life, the excruciating “eunuch” sounds to which he had been subjected, and the fate, similar to that of Sodom, which would shortly overtake the Republic. Paulette saw her vision collapse like the Ghost of Christmas Present. A tear ran down her enchanting face as she said, “What are we supposed to do evenings—stay home and write theses?!” Well, Chaplin replied, “One night a year is enough of that rubbish!”
At the house, his spirits revived, but there was no champagne to help them along. He never, through the two years I knew him best, drank or offered alcohol. He ordered his men to fetch a huge pitcher of water and the required number of tumblers. Our wedding party ended on a scene that would have warmed the heart of a Southern Baptist. We sat there yawning slightly, throwing in monosyllabic responses to Chaplin’s elegy on the modern world, and took long meditative drafts of pure cold water. (Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Footage of Winston Churchill's visit to the set of CITY LIGHTS, September 1929

A week or so after his visit with Chaplin, Mr. Churchill wrote to his wife Clementine: 
"We made gt friends with Charlie Chaplin. You cd not help liking him. The boys were fascinated by him. He is a marvellous comedian - bolshy in politics - delightful in conversation. He acted his new film for us in a wonderful way. It is to be his gt attempt to prove that the silent drama or pantomime is superior to the new talkies. Certainly if pathos & wit still count for anything it is out to win an easy victory." (
Besides CC and Churchill, others in the footage include (L-R):
Chaplin's studio manager Alf Reeves, Churchill's son, Randolph, Churchill's brother, John,
his son, John, Jr., and Chaplin's friend, Ambassador Moore (note his photobomb at :54).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chaplin with members of the Shochiku Cinema Company, 1925

CC is second from left. At far right are Toraichi Kono and Harry d'Arrast
See another photo here.

From the book Charles Chaplin In Japan by Ono Hiroyuki

On Joseph Schenck's yacht, Invader, August 1933.

The woman is Alva Green, wife of comedian Harry Green.

See other photos taken the same day here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

RIP Jack Oakie (January 23, 1978)

Oakie and Chaplin on the set of The Great Dictator.

Oakie describes below being approached for a role in The Great Dictator by Syd Chaplin when both men were returning to America from Europe aboard the Ile de France:

"Charlie's working on an idea for a picture about Hitler," Sid said. And in afterthought I remember that he used to look me over as if her were trying to guess my weight. Never dreaming that he would ever send for me, because I wasn't German and felt sure there was nothing in a Hitler picture that I could play. I cheerfully joked about the idea.
"Sounds good to me, Sid. After all, Hitler's been trying to imitate Charlie wearing his mustache."1
So when Charlie did send word that he wanted to speak to me I could hardly believe it. I began guessing that perhaps with my rotund build he was considering me for a character like Goering.
"Oakie," he said, "I've been watching you, and I hear you have a reputation for being a wise-cracker. How would you like to be in a picture about Hitler?"
"What would I play, Charlie?" I asked.
"No! Oakie, I want you to play Mussolini," he said.
"Mussolini!" I couldn't believe it. "Charlie, you must be kidding."
"No, Oakie, I'm not kidding. I want you to play Mussolini."
"Charlie, I'm Scotch-Irish," I protested, almost talking myself out of the job.  "You want an Italian to play Mussolini."
"What's so funny about an Italian playing Mussolini?" he asked.
"Charlie," I said as fast as I could, "I'm your man!"
"Good, good," he said. He could see how thrilled I was. "Good!" he said again and meekly raised his left palm, Nazi fashion, and saluted me. He kept his elbow tucked into his waist and held his hand below shoulder level. It was the sheepish salutation he used all through the picture. (Jack Oakie, "When Your Boss Is Charlie Chaplin," Saturday Evening Post, April 1978)

 With Paulette Goddard & CC at the New York premiere of The Great Dictator.
Chaplin is giving a Hynkel salute to the crowd.

1A different version of the story of Syd recommending Jack for the role is told in an article in the Los Angeles Times from September 1940. In that version, they are talking at a Hollywood party when Syd asks Jack: "Stick out your jaw again that way, will you?...I want you to come around and see Charlie tomorrow, I've got an idea." (Stein, Syd Chaplin)

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rare photos of Chaplin in Nice, March 31st, 1931

Chaplin is seen here on the day of his arrival in Nice during his 1931 world tour. He had just been reunited with his brother, Syd, who had been living there for the last several months. These photos show the brothers, along with press agent, Carlyle Robinson, and European rep. for United Artists, Boris Evelinoff, being greeted at the Imperial Hotel by Frank J. Gould and his wife, Florence. Gould was Chaplin's host in Nice and owner of the hotel.

Chaplin met May Reeves not long after these photos were taken. Both Robinson and Evelinoff would eventually lose their jobs because of the Reeves affair.

Charlie is at left. Syd is second from right.
Frank J. Gould, far right.
Florence Gould shakes hands with Charlie. Carlyle Robinson is at left facing CC.
The woman on the right might be Elsa Maxwell, a friend of Chaplin's,
whom he saw during his visit in Nice.
Charlie and Syd.
Florence Gould pins a flower on Charlie's lapel.
Syd is at right. I believe that's Boris Evelinoff in the center.
Carlyle Robinson is in back behind CC. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dr. Charlie Chaplin

In June 1962, Charlie received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University.  Hugh Trevor-Roper, a distinguished historian and Oxford don, was horrified by the idea. He stated publicly that honorary degrees would be degraded by this award to a mere comedian. "We might as well be honoring a circus clown," he said. That made Charlie "mad, damned mad."

A couple of years later, Chaplin told journalist Peter Steffens about the ceremony:
When I got there, they gave me a big, black robe, and the ceremony went ahead. I still wasn't sure whether I would speak or not--I had an attack of bronchitis, and could hardly speak above a whisper.  Then they told me that I could say something if I wished. I did.
I looked around the audience and I saw him (Trevor-Roper) sitting there, but I didn't look at him directly, and didn't know if I should mention him or his attack, or not. I began, and I said to them, 'I cannot compete with you on knowledge, so I cannot talk about "truth." And I couldn't presume to try to tell you about "goodness" or morality, that's something you understand better than I. But I can talk about "beauty"--that's a matter of individual taste, and preference. I guess we're all equals when it comes to beauty....
And you know, beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. It can be seen (and with a wave of the hand, the whole audience, and the small, black sea of Oxford dons addressed by this English slum boy was before me) in a back alley, with a shaft of sunlight suddenly cutting across a rubbish bin, spilling over with trash...Or, it can be in a rose...floating down a gutter. Or even (slight pause), in the antics of a clown.'
And then I looked straight at him, and they applauded, and that's all I said.
(Steffens, "Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp,"  Ramparts, March 1965)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chaplin, John Barrymore, & Douglas Fairbanks clowning on the set of Barrymore's film Beau Brummel, 1924.

Barrymore considered Chaplin a great artist & one of the best actors in Hollywood. He told Alma Whitaker in 1925: “The genius of Chaplin is like an iceberg—you only see what’s above water, but you sense the depths. Humor above the water, tragedy below.” (Los Angeles Times, June 21, 1925)

100 years ago this week: Chaplin begins work at the Essanay Studio in Niles, CA & discovers Edna Purviance

Los Angeles Times, January 20th, 1915

100 years ago this week, Chaplin, along with his stock company, arrived at the Essanay studio in Niles, CA, a small town southeast of San Francisco. After making one film1 at Essanay's Chicago studio, Chaplin had deemed it "too damn cold."

Heavy on his mind at this time was finding a new leading lady for his comedies.  Shortly after his arrival & while a cafe set was being built at his new studio (Chaplin said when he was lost for an idea or a gag, a cafe set usually supplied one), he accompanied G.M. Anderson (co-founder of Essanay) to San Francisco to search for a leading lady. One of Anderson's cowboy actors had told Chaplin about a pretty girl who frequented Tate's Cafe on Hill St. He thought the proprietor might know her. Mr. Tate knew her well. Her name was Edna Purviance. She was from Lovelock, NV and was living with her married sister in San Francisco.  A meeting was arranged at the St. Francis Hotel. During the interview, Chaplin found Edna to be "more than pretty, she was beautiful...with large eyes, beautiful teeth and a sensitive mouth." However despite her looks, he thought she seemed "sad and serious" and doubted whether she could act or if she had any humor because she was so reserved. Nevertheless she was hired. If anything, he thought, she would be "decorative in my comedies."2 Edna arrived for work at the Niles studio on January 21st.

An interesting sidebar to this story is that around the time of Chaplin's arrival in San Francisco, Edna's photograph had appeared prominently on the society page of the January 17th edition of the San Francisco Examiner.  The original photo was taken on January 9th, a week before her meeting with Chaplin, at a Grand Ball at the San Francisco Civic Center. It was one of the pre-opening events to the 1915 World's Fair. Did Chaplin see this photograph? One can't help but wonder.

Edna is at far right.
Source: Linda Wada --

1His New Job, released Feb. 1, 1915
2Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964

Additional sources:
Linda Wada, The Sea Gull, 2008

Friday, January 16, 2015

The skylight fall from THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)

Above: The barber crashes through a skylight and is eventually apprehended by the stormtroopers. Watch the stunt here.

Chaplin actually fell through the skylight in this scene--a 15-foot fall. The "glass" was made from boiled sugar & water. He filmed the stunt in one take.

Below: Production sketches show how the fall was done. These sketches, by art director Russ Spencer, appeared in the December 1940 issue of Photoplay.

Abbott & Costello's favorite movie scene

Saturday Evening Post, January 27, 1945