Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Comedian In New York (1925): Part V: Chaplin poses for Edward Steichen

Chaplin sat for Steichen twice. Once in the summer of 1925, and again in February 1931. Both times were for Vanity Fair magazine and both times in New York when Chaplin was in the city promoting a film.1

Steichen later recalled that Chaplin was one of his "favorites" to photograph. He also remembered that during that first sitting in 1925, Chaplin was ill-at-ease:
The first time he came to the studio, his secretary,2 who brought him there, said, "Mr. Chaplin has another appointment, so he can only give you twenty minutes." Then the secretary left. When we got Chaplin in the studio and started to arrange the lights, he froze. I dismissed my assistants and tried to work alone with him, but nothing happened. Finally Chaplin said, "You know, I can't just sit still.3 I have to be doing something and then I'm alright. So I stopped working and got out a portfolio of my photographs...Then I started to talk to him about his films, and as I waxed enthusiastic about The Gold Rush, the film he had just released, he loosened up and became enthusiastic in turn. I called the men in and in a few minutes I had a half- dozen portraits of Chaplin relaxed and himself, the image of a dancing faun.4

Two versions of the famous photo depicting Chaplin, as himself, in the foreground and his screen persona, The Little Tramp, in shadow on the white screen behind him.  The photo on the left is the more commonly-seen version. On the right is an alternate shot with Charlie's arms slightly more bowed than in the photo on the left.

The session yielded one of the most iconic photographs ever taken of Chaplin and when the sitting was over, the two men talked until the small hours: "When he came to the studio, his secretary had told me we had twenty minutes, but we separated that morning in a café down at the Bowery at half past four. I don't know how we got home."5


1Lisa Stein Haven, "Chaplin & The Static Image," Refocusing Chaplin, Scarecrow Press, 2013
probably Chaplin's press agent, Carlyle Robinson.
3In a later interview Steichen recalled Chaplin saying: "You know it's easy for me to do something in sequence for a film, but to sit still here for a picture, I just don't know how to do that." (Wisdom: Conversations with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day, James Nelson, 1958)
4Edward Steichen, A Life In Photography, 1963
5Wisdom: Conversations with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day, James Nelson, 1958

Friday, August 29, 2014

with Jean Cocteau in France, c. 1957

Editing Limelight, 1952

Other familiar faces include cameraman Rollie Totheroh in the background on the right. Assistant producer Jerry Epstein, wearing a dark shirt, in the photos on the left. The man on Charlie's left is probably editor Joseph Engel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Advertising tie-ins featuring The Great Dictator

Top photo: The Great Dictator: Chaplin Project Notebook N. 1
Bottom photo: Showman's Trade Review, May 17, 1941

THE MASQUERADER, released August 27th, 1914

This film is noted for Charlie's female impersonation (which is flawless), but to me, one of the best things about it is the business at the beginning with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle. They will do a full-fledged pairing up two films later in The Rounders (Chaplin & Arbuckle appeared together in seven Keystones).

screenshots from Chaplin At Keystone (Flicker Alley)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Charlie & Paulette pose with Jackie Cooper at the premiere of his film, THE BOWERY, 1933

Charlie poses next to a "Vanity Fair" float at the Chaplin Studios, 1922

Photo by James Abbe.

Photo property of Roy Export SAS/
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwback Thursday

This was the first of two "excerpt compilations" I posted. It is a collection of "first impressions" of Chaplin by friends and reporters. To read the post, click the photo below.

My second such compilation was about "Charlie & Food."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

After an absence of eight months, Chaplin returns to Los Angeles to face his divorce from Lita Grey, mid-August, 1927

Chaplin with his attorney, Gavin McNab, August 1927
Chaplin had been in New York since Lita filed her complaint for divorce in mid-January. Before heading to Los Angeles, he spent a couple of days relaxing with his attorney, Nathan Burkan, and a friend in Del Monte, CA. The divorce was set to go to trial on August 22nd* and although he spent most of his first day home in seclusion at his brother Syd's house, that evening he emerged with Henry Bergman and drove to his home on Summit Drive to see his sons, Charlie, Jr. and Sydney. Lita, her mother, and the boys had been occupying the house for the last several months under a court order. Charlie and Lita "exchanged greetings and hoped that the other was feeling well."1 Then while Lita and her mother stood in the background, Chaplin "sought out his two babies and spent the better part of a half hour caressing and playing with them."2 Before he left, Lita told him that her front door was open to him anytime he wanted to visit his children.

By himself--with and without his hat, August 1927

Later that day Chaplin visited his studio but according to Bergman, he kept to himself most of the time. "He is hopeless and doesn't want company. He is not avoiding anyone but he would rather be by himself." Charlie visited Henry's restaurant on Hollywood Blvd twice and there "nodded carelessly to friends and acquaintences." When he did not return home Syd's house that evening it was thought that he was likely out driving by himself.3


*A settlement would be reached by the 19th and the divorce granted on the 22nd.
1New York Times, August 18, 1927
2Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1927

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Monday, August 18, 2014

Chaplin at a train stop in Kansas City, January 1931

Charlie was en route to New York for the premiere of City Lights and then to England to begin his world tour.

Chaplin with his valet/secretary Kono (far left), c. 1933

They appear to be parked inside a tree tunnel, possibly at Yosemite National Park. I can't positively ID the man in the white suit. He looks a little like Upton Sinclair but that's strictly a guess.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Comedian In New York (1925), Part IV: Midnight premiere of The Gold Rush

Moe Mark, president of the Mark Strand Theater,
 greets Chaplin. At left is Joseph Plunkett,
Managing Director. 8/16/25

Chaplin arrived back in the city on the 15th after spending a day in Brighton Beach as per his doctor's orders to get some rest away from the big city hustle and bustle and to breath in the fresh sea air. He had been suffering from (take your pick): a cold, exhaustion, low blood pressure, a nervous breakdown, etc. Not to mention the hubbub caused by a supposed bitten lip. The gossips were quick to point out that his lips on the night of the premiere showed no sign of a scab or any other mark.

The premiere was held at midnight on August 16th at the Mark Strand Theater on Broadway. Several thousand people gathered at the back door of the theater to await his arrival but Chaplin tricked them by driving right up to the front door in a conventional black-and-white taxicab. His friend, Harry d'Arrast, paid the fare while Charlie sauntered in practically unnoticed until an onlooker spotted him and began shouting. A crowd quickly gathered and twenty policeman came to Charlie's rescue.

Before the curtain went up,  a wave of applause went over the theater and people stood up in their seats to catch a glimpse of Chaplin who quietly greeted old friends* as he made his way down the aisle. He was a little nervous and appeared much relieved when he finally reached his seat, which was in the center of the theater on the aisle.
It was a proud night for Chaplin as while he sat looking at the picture and listening to Carl Edourard's orchestra he was not insensible to the chuckles and shrieks of laughter provoked by his own antics on the screen. The joy of the spectators testified to the worth of the picture on which he had worked for more than eighteen months. (Mordaunt Hall, New York Times, August 17, 1925) 

When the film was over at 2:20a.m., Chaplin went to the stage and thanked the audience. He ended his "very brief" talk by saying that he was very emotional.

At some point during the festivities, Brunswick officials presented Chaplin with a gold-plated phonograph record of his two compositions "Sing A Song" and "With You Dear, In Bombay" which Chaplin recorded with the Abe Lyman Orchestra in early 1925. The songs were supposedly part of the sheet music that accompanied the film, all of which Chaplin supervised.

A small premier party was held in the ballet rehearsal room of the theater. A select few friends had invitations pressed into their hand by Chaplin's associates as they entered the theater. Chaplin appeared at the party "weary but relieved" that the picture was at last launched.


*Edna Purviance was in New York City at the time of the premiere but I could find no evidence that she attended the opening. Edna was en route to France to make her final film Éducation de Prince. However Chaplin's original leading lady, Mabel Normand, did attend. She was also present at the Los Angeles premiere in June.

Variety, August 19, 1925
"The Screen by Mordaunt Hall," New York Times, Aug. 17, 1925
Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1925
Picture-Play Magazine, November 1925

Friday, August 15, 2014

Chaplin with notorious Hollywood gossip columnist, Louella Parsons, c.1940

Chaplin first met Parsons in 1915 when she was head of the scenario department at Essanay. On his first day at the studio, she handed him a script. Alarmed, he snapped at her, "I don't use other people's scripts, I write my own!"

However, despite this abrupt first meeting, Chaplin and Parsons became friends (although Lita Grey recalls being present during a very heated argument between them in the 1920s). So when Chaplin became unpopular politically, one may have expected Parsons to come to his defense since she had long been known as a friend of his. But, as Charles Maland pointed out in his book, Chaplin & American Culture, "the prevailing political atmosphere (and the fact that her employer was the Hearst Newspaper chain), put pressure on her to criticize Chaplin." Thus protecting herself against the charge of being seen as a Communist sympathizer. Despite this, I don't think she was as venomous towards Chaplin as her rival Hedda Hopper.

Lita Grey Chaplin in Seasoned Greetings (1933) (in its entirety)

I posted a clip from this short a couple of weeks ago but it looks like someone has added the whole thing to youtube since then, so enjoy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chaplin with Lou Costello, 1942

A Comedian in New York (1925), Part III: Who bit Charlie's lip?

Here's Variety's version the lip-biting incident:
Previous to the opening of "The Gold Rush" Chaplin got a flood of publicity in New York without the assistance of a press agent. It was suspected the p. a. sent out, verbally, an account of the comedian's illness. That was picked up by the dailies and carried along, until the "News"published a story that Chaplin had been bitten on the lip by a chorus girl of the Ziegfeld "Follies." The "News" named Katherine Burke of the "Follies" as the biter. It was not Miss Burke, but Flo Kennedy. According to report, and It was not a bite but a sort of crush.

At a dinner given for Chaplin about eight of the "Follies" girls attended. After the dinner Chaplin was asked for a memento by the girls, but, not having eight of anything that could be distributed, he proposed to give away his gold cigarette case to the girl drawing the winning number from a hat. Miss Burke got the case. Miss Kennedy, It is said, in appreciation of Chaplin's good nature, sought to give him a collective kiss for all of the girls, and enthusiastically started to do so, misjudging the distance, however, on a flying leap, with her teeth making a slight mark on the comedian's lips.1,2

Burke later told reporters that she didn't know what all the fuss was about because she didn't see anyone bite Chaplin. "I don't think he was bitten at all," she said.3

Nevertheless, headlines touted that Chaplin had been bitten on the lip, blood poisoning had set it, and that he was near death. It seems Chaplin was ill, but not from a bite on the lip. In a statement made by his doctor, James B. McKenzie, Chaplin was suffering from "low blood pressure" brought on by "overwork" and "the tedious trip from the coast." He called the reports that Chaplin was blood poisoned from a kiss: "a lot of rot." Besides exhaustion, Chaplin was also suffering from a cold.4 Years later in his autobiography, however, Chaplin stated that he had had a "collapse":
I was staying at the Ritz Hotel and I could not breathe, so I frantically telephoned a friend. "I'm dying," I gasped. "Call my lawyer!"
"Lawyer! You want a doctor," said he, alarmed.
"No, no, my lawyer, I want to make a will."

His friend (Harry d'Arrast?) called both. His lawyer was in Europe but he was examined by his doctor who said he had an attack of nerves brought on by the oppressive heat in New York. He suggested that Chaplin leave the city and head to the ocean where he could relax in peace and quiet and get the sea air.5

Chaplin & d'Arrast headed to Brighton Beach. On the way he recalled that he "cried for no reason."

No sooner had they arrived at their beachfront hotel that Chaplin heard a barking dog. "It was a man drowning," recalled Chaplin. "The lifeguards brought him in right in front of my window, and gave him first aid, but it was too late; he was dead." He said that two others were also brought in by lifeguards but they recovered. "I was in a worse state than ever," he wrote, "so I decided to return to New York."6

Coming up on the 16th: Chaplin attends the New York premiere of The Gold Rush.


1Variety, August 19th, 1925.
2Louise Brooks later asserted that it was actress Blyth Daly who bit Chaplin's lip when she took offense at an unwanted kiss.
3Harrisburg Telegraph, August 14, 1925
4Los Angeles Times, August 12, 1925
5Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964. Chaplin also states that two days after returning to NY, he was well enough to return to California. He is a bit off in his chronology here. Newspaper reports state that he arrived in Brighton Beach on August 14th. He didn't stay long because he was back in the city for the premiere of The Gold Rush which took place at midnight on August 16th. He didn't return to California until October.

Today's the day! 24 hours of Chaplin on TCM