Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

To celebrate the holiday, here are a couple of past posts about gastronomical Charlie.

Enjoy the day, American fans. Don't eat too much!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chaplin delivers a Thanksgiving speech at Plymouth, England, November 15, 1931

Chaplin addressing the crowd at Plymouth. Photo courtesy of Dominique Dugros.

Chaplin attended the open-air Thanksgiving service, held at the place where the Pilgrims embarked on their voyage to America, as the guest of Lady Nancy Astor, who represented Plymouth as a member of Parliament. So dense was the crowd to see Chaplin that women and children were pushed to the edge of the Fish Quay, the scene of the service, causing one ten-year-old boy to fall 20ft into the sea (he was quickly recovered by another man who jumped in to save him). Ten thousand people crowded around a truck bed that was used as a platform. On the truck stood, Chaplin, Lady Astor, and the Bishop of Plymouth.  Astor asked Chaplin to address her constituents. Holding a megaphone, Chaplin told the crowd that he sympathized with fisherman in their arduous work. "Still, we all have our tribulations," he said. "Even millionaires have their tribulations, and we must just put up with them."1 Chaplin went on to tell his fellow countrymen that "the more I see of England,* the more I love her.  But the only thing I can do for her is to make her laugh."2 After the speeches, Chaplin did some tricks with his bowler hat much to the delight of the audience. Later, he danced with Lady Astor, "enjoyed himself in a barn dance, and delighted several partners."3

Chaplin with Lady Astor, right, and Toraichi Kono, left, in Plymouth,
November 1931.

1The Times (London), November 16, 1931
2Milwaukee Sentinel, November 16, 1931
3The Indian Review, Vol. 33, 1932

*This was Chaplin's second visit to England (and to Plymouth) during his 1931-32 world tour. He arrived in Plymouth from New York aboard the Mauretania on Feb. 19th, 1931. On February 27th, he attended the London premiere of City Lights (his guests were Lord & Lady Astor & George Bernard Shaw)After spending most of the year in the south of France, he returned to England in September 1931. It was during this second visit that he met Gandhi (on Sept. 22). Learn more about Chaplin's time in England (& other exotic locales) in my World Tour Revisited series or in the newly published A Comedian Sees The World, Chaplin's 1933 account of his world tour.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

90 years ago today: Chaplin marries Lita Grey in Mexico

The couple at a train station in Shorb, CA the day after their wedding.

The ceremony was performed at 5:00 in the morning in Empalme, Mexico1 by a justice of the peace who spoke through an interpreter. Those in attendance were Chaplin’s valet, Toraichi Kono, his lawyer, Nathan Burkan, members of Lita’s family, Charlie's publicist Eddie Manson, and his friend, Chuck Reisner. Sixteen-year-old Lita, who was three months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, was flanked by her mother. Chuck Riesner stood next to the groom, who held a lit cigarette between his fingers and puffed on it nervously throughout the ceremony. "Words cannot describe how grim [it] actually was," recalled Lita. When it was over, Charlie awkwardly kissed his bride on the cheek. She was then congratulated by her mother and Chuck, who had tears in his eyes. Lita looked around for Charlie but he had already left.

Afterward, the wedding party gathered for breakfast, but Charlie was not in attendance. Lita remembered that "it felt as if we had gathered for a wake instead of a wedding." She did not see him again until that evening in the drawing room of the train headed back to Los Angeles. At one point, she overheard him tell his entourage, "Well, boys, this is better than the penitentiary but it won't last long."

When Lita finally entered their compartment, Charlie yelled loudly enough that others on the train heard him, "What are you coming in here for? You made me marry you." 3

In her book, Wife Of The Life Of The Party, Lita described what happened next:
In our stateroom, Charlie said to me, "Don't expect me to be a husband to you, for I won't be. I'll do certain things for appearances' sake. Beyond that, nothing."
My throat was dry and I felt nauseated. "Please, would you get me a drink of water?"
"Get it yourself. You might later claim I tried to poison you." I staggered to my feet to get the water. 
After watching me for several minutes, Charlie said, "Come on, I'll take you outside. The air will do you good." Standing on the platform of the observation car, I stared at the couplings of the train below, breathing deeply the cold night air. Charlie broke his aggressive silence and said to me, "We could put an end to this misery if you'd just jump."4
At a deserted station in Shorb, CA, Charlie and Lita disembarked from the train and dodged the press as they moved quickly to an awaiting limousine. One exchange went like this:

"Charlie, how about the wedding?" asked a reporter.
Charlie replied: "I don't want any publicity."
"Are you going back to Hollywood?"
"I don't want any publicity."
"The public is yearning to know about your romance."
 Charlie snapped back: "The public knows all about everything already. My life's an open book." 5 & 6

The reporters followed Chaplin's car twenty miles to his Beverly Hills house. They were stopped only by his security gate. Once Charlie and Lita were inside, he issued the following statement:

"Just tell everybody we are happy, thankful, and glad to be home."

Charlie and Lita in Shorb.

1 Charlie attempted to marry Lita in Mexico on October 14th, but when they filed the application, they were told that by Mexican law they had to wait 30 days before the marriage could take place. 

2 Lita falsely gave her age as 19 on her marriage certificate.

3 Lita Grey Chaplin's divorce complaint, reprinted in Wife Of The Life of The Party.  Lita also states in her complaint that she and Charlie became engaged in May 1924 and that Chaplin "seduced" her under the promise of marriage and that is how she became pregnant. 

Lita once told the "jump from the train" story in an interview and she said that she couldn't tell if Charlie was being serious or not.

5 Chicago Daily Tribune, November 28th, 1924

6 I've never understood why Charlie schlepped Lita all the way to Mexico to marry her when he could have had the ceremony in the privacy of his home and avoided all the publicity and headaches. Lita herself wondered the same thing and said his behaviour reminded her of someone who was "deranged."

Monday, November 24, 2014

Don't miss A DOG'S LIFE tonight on TCM (USA)--in prime-time (8pm EST)!

Chaplin's 1918 classic kicks off TCM's last night of their month-long salute to Silent Stars. The new French documentary The Birth Of The Tramp will follow at 8:45. The rest of the evening will include films by Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, and others. I'm so glad I can watch TCM again after being without it for a month due to the Time Warner/Dish Network dispute. This is my go-to channel and I was lost without it.

Film Fun, July 1918

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Charlie at Jack Pickford's wedding at Pickfair, 1922

Charlie is in the center. Jack Pickford and his new wife, Marilyn Miller, are in front of him walking down the steps.
Douglas Fairbanks is inside the door (hard to see) and Mary Pickford is right outside the door wearing a white hat with her
head turned away from the camera.

See footage of the wedding here.

Charlie's JFK Connection

Originally posted 11/22/2013 

In the early stages of the screenplay for A Countess From Hong Kong, the character of Ogden Mears, played by Marlon Brando, was loosely based on President John F. Kennedy (in the original story, Mears was planning to run for president.) After Kennedy was assassinated, however, Chaplin revised the story because he didn’t want to offend the Kennedy family, especially Mrs. Kennedy.

Charlie with Marlon Brando on the set of A Countess From Hong Kong

Several years after Countess was released, producer and Chaplin family friend, Jerry Epstein, met Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary. Epstein recalled their conversation in his book, Remembering Charlie:
"He said that Kennedy had planned to do something about Chaplin’s exile. Salinger was supposed to visit him and invite him back to the United States. But of course in the meantime Kennedy had been killed. Salinger also mentioned that he’d seen A Countess From Hong Kong. ‘I know who that picture was based on’ he told me. ‘Mr. Chaplin captured it very accurately.' So I guess we didn’t disguise the Kennedy aspect too well."

Friday, November 21, 2014

Rare images from the set of SUNNYSIDE (1919)

These photos show Chaplin & the "wood nymphs" during a break in location filming. The nymphs were played by Olive Burton, Willie Mae Carson, Olive Ann Alcorn, and Helen Kohn.

Chaplin's friend, Rob Wagner, is at far left.
Rollie Totheroh is behind the camera.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Lita Grey Chaplin in Honolulu, 1926

In November 1926, Lita spent three weeks in Hawaii with her mother and Charlie, Jr. A few days after their return, she separated from Chaplin and moved out of his house. According to Lita, Chaplin suggested that she take the trip to think things over. However in cross complaint for divorce, Chaplin states that he sent Lita to Hawaii to get her away from the car salesman with whom he believed she was having an affair. The cross complaint also states that while she was on the boat to and from Honolulu "she so conducted herself and engaged in such a course of conduct as to cause passengers on the boat both to notice and to comment upon her conduct and to make uncomplimentary remarks of and concerning her and her said conduct." Lita's behavior caused Chaplin, according to his cross-complaint, "extreme mental anguish and sorrow and great humiliation."1 He also accused her of spending hours away from Charlie, Jr. during the course of the trip. These allegations were nothing more than an attempt, and an unsuccessful one at that, by Chaplin's lawyers to paint Lita as an unfit mother.

See photos of Charlie posing with Lita and Charlie, Jr. prior to their departure for Honolulu here and here.

1Chaplin divorce documents reprinted in Wife Of The Life Of The Party by Lita Grey Chaplin & Jeffrey Vance, 1998

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Random Excerpt

Journalist Sara Hamilton describes a day on the Chaplin lot during the filming of Modern Times:
A Chaplin picture conference is something that defies description. When the picture situations (they are never referred to as gags on the Chaplin lot) have been perfected in the mind of Chaplin--a long slow process that requires from two to four years--Della [Steele] and Henry [Bergman] are then summoned to a conference in Charlie's bungalow.
About the table they gather--and the situations are acted out one after the other. Charlie begins by taking his own role as the little tramp, closely watching their reactions to his every move. Henry, who weighs the better part of a ton, is then called upon to play Chaplin's role; Della takes Miss [Paulette] Goddard's role of the little street waif; Charlie is the factory foreman. Then swiftly they change parts again. Della is Charlie, the tramp; Henry is a policeman and Chaplin becomes the street waif. 
Henry Bergman and Della Steele, c.1935. ©Roy Export S.A.S.
It was his untiring striving for perfection in performance and his gentle patience with the clumsiest performer that impressed a titled visitor (and visitors are rare) at the Chaplin lot recently.  Rehearsals began at ten that morning with extras and bit players ready and waiting. Then began one of the strangest phenomena every witnessed. Chaplin directing his own picture. In explaining the action to the owner of the delicatessen shop, Charlie became the character. In some manner he took on enormous proportions, his face rounded, his hands grew massive and clumsy as the tramp faded in the background. 
In a flash he became the policeman, growing in stature before the eyes as he strutted, stormed and threatened. Then on to Miss Goddard's role. Prone on the sidewalk he wept, cried out in childish despair, "I didn't, please, please, I didn't steal the ham. Oh please, I didn't, Mister. Honest, I didn't." The voice, not Chaplin's, but the voice of the frightened waif--wept and cried and pleaded from the sidewalk. Now, in a flash, he was an extra tramp, weaving his gentle way in perfect rhythm in and out among the characters.  
Directing Paulette Goddard. ©Roy Export S.A.S.
From ten till four it went on without a moment's pause. And then, with the perspiration dripping down his face, he humbly thanked them all and with an apology for having carried them past the lunch hour, staggered off, tired and weary, to his little bungalow, his cane flipping a feeble staccato as he went. 
There is little boisterousness around the Chaplin studio. The Chaplinites feel that unwarranted noise or crude language might offend "him." "Him" in case you haven't guessed, is the little tramp, the tattered ragamuffin, the gallant little gentleman with his absurdly defiant elegance who picks his teeth with such delightful savoir faire and belches with such charming daintiness. 
To them this pathetic little creature who once, long ago, sprang from the forehead of Charles Spencer Chaplin, is a definite personality. He lives, he breathes, he thinks, he walks his troubled way alone. His name to all of them, is just "he."
In the midst of some hilarious bit of tragedy in which "he" finds himself involved on the set, Chaplin will figuratively stand aside and contemplate his little friend with an amused chuckle and a knowing wink that seems to say, "our little friend got himself into a fine pickle that time, didn't he?"
So it was when they showed Charlie the sweater knit by the loving hands of some dear old lady and sent over to the Chaplin studio with a note explaining it was for the little tramp when the wind blew cold. Chaplin's eyes grew misty as he said, "Write and thank her and tell her not to worry. "I'll always take care of 'him.'"
--Sara Hamilton, "The New Charlie Chaplin," Baltimore Sun, September 1, 1935 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Interview clips

Here is a compilation I put together of rare interview excerpts, probably from c. 1979, featuring Jackie Coogan, Lita Grey Chaplin, and Sydney Chaplin. These clips were extracted from the documentary Great Romances Of the 20th Century: Charlie & Oona Chaplin (1998).*

Note: Eric James tells a different version of Sydney's bathroom story here (or maybe it happened twice!)


*Courtesy of my dear friend, Lucy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

BEHIND THE SCREEN, released November 13th, 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's smelly onions.

Charlie discovers the new stage hand is really a girl (Edna).
He promises to keep her secret.
Eric gets the wrong idea when he sees Charlie kissing the new stage hand and then 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. 

Tennis at Summit Drive, c. 1952

Photos by Florence Homolka