Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Chaplin gives his first radio broadcast to promote A Woman Of Paris

Chaplin was extremely nervous about his radio debut, which took place on October 3rd, 1923 at WOR in Newark, NJ. Before going on he paced the studio and continuously mopped his brow. "You can face the camera," he told J. M. Barnett, director of WOR, "knowing that if you make a mistake, if you slip up, you can try again; you can make over the picture. Think of all the thousands of people out there in the world hanging onto everything I say." Charlie frowned, mopped his brow again, and said pitiably, "I don't know what to say, I haven't prepared a speech."

Seated before the microphone, he nervously squirmed, gulped, buttoned and unbuttoned his coat. Finally he braced himself and opened his mouth: "My friends, this is all way beyond me. I’m glad you can’t see me—I am nervous as a witch.” He continued: "It is to me ghastly to think of you out there in your homes with Tom, Dick, Katherine, Harry and the baby all gathered around, and me here by this funny little thing perforated with holes (the thing, not I), my knees trembling, my hands tightly clasped."


In the course of the broadcast, which lasted half an hour, he did some imitations, including an imitation of a jazz band. "I can play any instrument of the orchestra," he declared, "Just listen." Then, one by one, he signaled the various members of a jazz band specially engaged for the occasion and made each man do his bit. "Now I'll play them all at once," he said, and the orchestra broke into "The Blue Danube." Chaplin concluded the broadcast by telling the listeners: "If you have nothing else to do, go to see my new picture, which I directed, A Woman Of Paris."

Afterward, Charlie told the studio director that he "lost nine pounds in fifteen minutes" (due to stage fright) and could sign a statement to that effect.

"As he left the studio, he asked anxiously, 'Did I talk sense into that thing?' Then he shook his fist at the microphone, grinned the grin that has earned him a fortune and went on his way."

Radio Digest, October 27th, 1923
Pictures & The Picturegoer, May 1924

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A few candid photos

With Leonard Bernstein, 1967
At the Chaplin Studios, c.1921
With journalist Margaret Buell Wilder, 1944
With Edna, c.1917
London, 1958

Friday, October 2, 2015

THE PAWNSHOP, released October 2nd, 1916

This film marked Henry Bergman's debut with Chaplin--an association
that would last for the next 30 years. 

There is a suspenseful moment when Chaplin teeters back and forth on a 10-foot ladder, and then falls and hits the ground in a graceful back somersault. "The audience clearly sees him take the fall," notes Dan Kamin. "There are no stunt doubles, nor does the street upon which he tumbles have pads to cushion his fall."1

Edna's dough becomes a lei (among other things) and her wooden spoon a ukulele. 
I'd like to know who's responsible for poor Edna's awful hairdo in this film.

After destroying Albert Austin's clock, Chaplin bops him with a hammer, then reveals to the camera that the hammer is made of rubber.

Charlie wreaks havoc when his head gets caught in a double bass. 
Chester Courtney, an old music hall acquaintance who had been given a job at the studio, 
recalled that: "During the filming of The Pawnbroker [sic] he held up the schedule for two weeks while he learned to play all the instruments that his prop man, Scotty Cleethorpes, had provided as dressing for the shop scene, in which they figured as pledged goods. When the end of the fortnight came he gave us an impromptu concert at which he played one tune on each instrument!"2

Eric Campbell plays a thief who tries to rob the place at gunpoint.

But Charlie saves the day (and bows to his audience).
According to Motion Picture Classic (Nov. 1916), Eric "spoiled the scene twice
by rolling outside the lines but Charlie finally whacked him on the camera-
side of his head, with the command to 'die higher up,' and this time
Campbell recorded his swan-song on the film."


1 Kamin, Charlie Chaplin: Artistry In Motion, 2008
2 Chester Courtney, "The Real Charles Chaplin" Film Weekly, Feb. 1931, reprinted in CC: Centennial Celebration, 1989.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Long may you run, Charlie...


Making headlines with Peggy Hopkins Joyce

In the late summer of 1922, director Marshall Neilan introduced Chaplin to the notorious Peggy, who had the term "gold digger" coined in her honor because she had married and divorced several millionaire husbands in quick succession. She arrived in Hollywood "direct from Paris," Chaplin wrote, "attractively gowned in black, for a young man had recently committed suicide over her." (My Autobiography, 1964)

During their "bizarre, though brief, relationship" (as Chaplin called it), Peggy told him several anecdotes about her association with a Parisian publisher. These stories inspired him to write A Woman Of Paris as a starring vehicle for Edna Purviance. In fact, in early notes for the film, he used the name "Peggy" to refer to Edna's character (later called "Marie").

During the course of their whirlwind affair, which included a week on Catalina Island, reporters had a field day speculating whether or not Chaplin would become Peggy's next millionaire husband (not bloody likely). 

Here's a sampling:

San Francisco Chronicle, September 6, 1922
Los Angeles Times, Sept. 2, 1922
Charlotte Observer, Sept. 11, 1922
Los Angeles Times, Aug. 29, 1922
Oakland Tribune, Sept. 12, 1922

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#OTD in 1915

Corpus Christi Caller, September 30th, 1915 

(Jess Willard was the heavyweight champion in 1915.)

Monday, September 28, 2015

A fire destroys the set of The Circus, September 28th, 1926

The studio production report for September 28th read: "Were shooting scenes in entrance to dressing rooms on enclosed stage. Fire broke out and whole interior of stage was burned--burning sets, props, etc."

It was Chaplin himself who first noticed the blaze while walking from the main circus set to the dressing room set where flames were already licking the canvas walls of the tent. "Chaplin, shouting the alarm, converted his entrance into a hasty exit. Miss [Merna] Kennedy and other members of the company also fled from the stage as the flames bit into the flimsy canvas and rolled toward the upper beams. As they ran, the skylight cracked from the heat and sent showers of glass falling around them."1

While firemen battled the blaze, cameraman Rollie Totheroh shot 250 feet of film which reportedly shows Chaplin "dashing about in his bathrobe among firemen, flames, and drenching water."2 Evidently this film is no longer in existence, however  a stills photographer captured shots of a distraught-looking Chaplin, still in costume, gazing at the burned-out circus set (below). Totheroh's film of the catastrophe was shown in theaters as pre-publicity for The Circus

Film stills exist of Chaplin wearing the same checkered robe he is wearing above, in a dressing room scene with Henry Bergman that was never used in the film. It's possible he was filming this scene, or one similar to it, when the fire started.

The fire, which caused $40,000 worth of damage, may have been started by a short circuit in the Klieg lights.3 The studio was put back into partial operation while the circus set was rebuilt. In the meantime, Chaplin came up with scenes that could be filmed elsewhere, including a cafe sequence that was never used in the film.

The crew of The Circus pose next to a "No Smoking On Stage" sign following the fire.


1Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1926. Some reports state that the glass skylights were broken by the firemen in an attempt to contain the fire.
2Motion Picture, January 1927
3L.A. Times 9/29/26; Film Daily 9/30/26

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Edna makes her debut as a star at the Los Angeles premiere of A WOMAN OF PARIS, September 26th, 1923

Crowds gather outside the Criterion for the premiere of A Woman Of Paris 

The premiere was the first attraction at the brand-new Criterion Theater (formerly the Kinema Theater) in Los Angeles. Chaplin did not attend because he was en route to New York for the opening there on October 1st. Edna Purviance, however, did attend. "For her debut as a star," wrote the Chicago Tribune, "Miss Purviance wore a gown of shimmering silver cloth, a wrap of brocade delicately embroidered in blues and reds, and a wide bandeau of silver cloth." When Edna appeared on stage following the film, "there was no polite applause, but a loud burst of appreciation. Edna was initiated into the stellar sorority." (Chicago Tribune, Oct, 7th, 1923)

Friday, September 25, 2015

THE IDLE CLASS, released September 25th, 1921

"An absent-minded husband"
In his autobiography, Chaplin mentions having a "slight accident" with the blowtorch in this scene.
 "The heat of it went through my asbestos pants, so we added another layer of asbestos."
Edna with Lillan (left) & Lillita McMurray (later Lita Grey),
 Chaplin's future wife and mother-in-law.
Chaplin (and I believe he is wearing the costume here)
struggling with the helmet of his knight suit. 
However the identity of the person wearing the armor in this scene remains a mystery--
or is it Armand Triller as suggested by Paul Duncan in the new book
  The Chaplin Archives (see comments below).

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Some "snapshots" from 1916 by Fred Goodwins

Photoplay, March 1918
"Alfred" Austin = Albert Austin. Goodwins worked as an actor and press agent for Chaplin.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Portrait by Pach Bros., NYC, 1921

In connection with my Anna Pavlova post from last week, this photo was presented to ballerina Joan Van Wart, who toured with Pavlova's company, during their visit to the Chaplin Studio in January 1922.

The inscription says: "Let me see! Charlie Chaplin, Jan. 31st, 1922

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Happy birthday, Sophia (September 20th, 1934)

"Working with Chaplin was an unforgettable experience. He was a meticulous filmmaker, fussing over even the smallest details. He could spend hours on just one scene, suggesting intonations, gestures, and, most importantly, moods, using the most remarkable images to evoke them. But it was when he stopped explaining and started acting that the world suddenly changed. Those were the moments when he forgot he was the director and he would leap around like a ham actor, despite his age. And you would find the Little Tramp right there in front of you. It energized you, but could also inhibit you. We all knew that he was one of a kind, and that everything started and ended with him." --Sophia Loren, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life, 2014