Thursday, April 28, 2016

Helen Keller visits the set of "Sunnyside" & laughs at Charlie's films

Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, visited the Chaplin Studios in late 1918 during the filming of Sunnyside. She was able to "talk" to Charlie by reading his lips with her hands and feeling the vibration of his voice on his throat. She remembered him as being "shy, almost timid, and his lovely modesty lent a touch of romance to an occasion that might otherwise have seemed quite ordinary." Keller & her party had dinner with Chaplin and then were screened two of his films, A Dog's Life and Shoulder Arms. "Before he reeled off the pictures," Keller recalled, "he let me touch his clothes, his shoes, his moustache that I might have a clearer idea of him onscreen. He sat beside me and asked me again and again if I was really interested--if I liked him and the little dog in the picture" 1 Keller's teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, described the scenes with sign language in the palm of Keller's hand. "Onlookers declare that she led the laughter as the absurd situations developed and that she did not miss one of the subtle bits of comedy." 2

L-R: Polly Thompson, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller, and Chaplin on the Sunnyside set.

Keller later remembered how well Charlie and Anne Sullivan hit it off:
Teacher was shy and restrained with all [the stars] but Charlie Chaplin. At a dinner party he would talk with no one else but she, telling her the story of his life and all his marriage problems. Finally he asked her:
"Do you think I'm disgusting?" "Yes," she replied. "Anyone who would have so many custard pies thrown in his face is disgusting." They soon became fast friends. 3
Keller "talks" to Charlie by feeling his lips and throat.

Helen Keller, Midstream, 1929
Moving Picture World, Dec. 21, 1918
Jean Houston,  Public Like A Frog, 1993

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Day By Day: 1936

(circa)April 21st-April 23rd: Annam

Page from photo album in Chaplin Archives.

Following their visit to Angkor, Chaplin and his companions traveled east to the area along the coast of then-French Indochina formerly known as Annam, visiting the cities of Tourane (now Da Nang) and Hue.

Charlie & Paulette at the Hotel Morin in Hue.

On April 23rd, rumors began to circulate worldwide that Chaplin had "dropped dead in Indochina." The rumors began, according to the Singapore Free Press, when American and British news sources had tried to locate Chaplin in Tourane to no avail. Wrote the Free Press: "Film circles in Hollywood believed all the rumours at first and American newspapers prepared Mr. Chaplin's obituary." 1 The rumors were put to rest when Chaplin responded to a cable he received in Hue.

"Are you dead, as reported?"
"Not yet," Chaplin promptly replied. 2

Chicago Tribune, April 24th, 1936

From Hue the group will travel north to Hanoi where they will spend several days. More on that to come in Day By Day: 1936.

Below: Charlie, Paulette, and Alta in Tourane (Da Nang).

RIP Paulette (April 23rd, 1990)

1Singapore Free Press, April 24th, 1936
2Chicago Tribune, April 26th, 1936

Friday, April 22, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Working With Charlie Chaplin, Vol. 6: Talking Story

Chaplin holds a scenario conference at the Lone Star Studio during production of Behind The Screen, 1916.
 L-R: Eric Campbell (2nd from left), Henry Bergman (next to Campbell, partially visible), 
Frank J. Coleman, Loyal Underwood, Albert Austin (wearing boater hat), CC, Rollie Totheroh (far right).
(Source: Jeffrey Vance/Chaplin: Genius Of The Cinema)
  • For story conferences on pictures preceding The Circus and City Lights, Charlie used a small frame bungalow on the far northeast cor­ner of the studio lot. Consisting of a bedroom and dressing room, a bathroom, and a small kitchen, it was secluded and quiet. Sometimes he would sit, one foot tucked under him, slashing at the leather cushion with one of his limber bamboo canes, as if in an effort to whip out an idea. Mostly, though, when he was thinking he would walk. Furiously. The room was small. Restlessly he would pace up and down like a caged animal. Sometimes he would detour through the rest of the bungalow. That he was in another room didn't stop him talking.... "Have you got that down?" Charlie would demand incessantly of Carl Robinson who, pencil in hand, had been making notes of all ideas expressed and suggestions made. He would walk up and shake an impatient finger at the sheet of paper. "Get all this down! I can't remember everything. Have you got the ring gag down? And the fruit stand? And the vegetable wagon?" Carl would nod. --Excerpt from Harry Crocker manuscript, Academy Leader, April 1972
  • He came scurrying into the bungalow every morning on the dot of ten in cap, tieless shirt, white slacks and the angora sweater, sat down at the creaky little table and said, "Shall we go?"...Then we started the [Napoleon] script, and the first thing he taught me was that you don't begin at the beginning. "We look," he said, laying down the law with a firm index finger tapping the table, "for some little incident, some vignette that fixes the other characters. With them, the audience must never be in any doubt. We have to fix them on sight. Nobody cares about their troubles. They stay the same. You know them every time they appear. This is no different from the characters who surround 'the little fellow.' He's the one we develop."
  • Sometimes we had along Carter de Haven, whom Chaplin had hired to be assistant director on Modern Times....Almost always, except during the knottier historical sketches, there was his massive old friend, spiritual uncle and adviser, Henry Bergman, who had played in some of the early two-reelers as every sort of foil from a fat lady and a bum to a pawnshop owner. Bergman was a huge, gentle old German to whom Chaplin always referred some promising scene or gag. He said very little, but if Chaplin had doubts, in the moment of improvising, he would look over to Bergman, say, "No?" and Bergman would shake his head, and we'd forget it. --Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

Still from How To Make Movies (1918).
L-R: Tom Wilson, Loyal Underwood, CC, Henry Bergman, Rollie Totheroh Jack Wilson, Edna Purviance

  • The "writing" of the story is done in Charlie's room at the Athletic Club, for obvious reasons which will appear when it is related that the other night a bellboy, entering Charlie's room, found the whole crowd rehearsing a wild scene, and started to call for the police. --Grace Kingsley, "Charlie Chaplin Begins Work In New Studio," Los Angeles Times, January 20th, 1918
  • 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 gather Charlie, Henry and Della and the situations are then acted out one after the other. Charlie begins by taking his own role of 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 and Charlie is the factory foreman. They go into the scene, silently moving about the room. Swiftly they change parts again. Della is Charlie the tramp. Henry is the policeman and Chaplin becomes the street waif, a look of pathetic wistfulness stealing across his face as the Chaplin features fade into some vague mist and the hungry child of the streets emerges in perfect form. Trying to hide their tears Della and Henry watch the character before them. Not Chaplin. Certainly not Chaplin. But a strange and terrified child. --Sara Hamilton, "Charles Chaplin and Charlie Chaplin," Straits Times, March 20th, 1936
  • There is another story that Harry D'Arrast loves to tell as convincing proof that Charlie is an eccentric and unpredictable genius. Shooting had been suspended for a few minutes while the staff sat down to discuss a certain scene. During the discussion a fly kept buzzing around Charlie's head; he slapped at it several times, finally became annoyed, and called for a fly swatter. The swatter was obtained and Charlie took charge of it. As the discussion continued he watched the fly, waiting for an opportunity to swat it. But this was a very elusive fly. Three times Charlie swung at it and three times he missed. At last the fly settled on a table directly before him. He raised the swatter to deliver the death blow. Then he changed his mind and lowered his weapon, allowing the fly to escape.
    "Why didn't you swat it?" someone demanded.
    Charlie shrugged. "It wasn't the same fly." --Adolphe Menjou, It Took Nine Tailors, 1948

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Day By Day: 1936

(circa) Monday, April 20th: Charlie & Paulette visit the ruins of Angkor

It was around this time 80 years ago that Charlie, Paulette, her mother, Alta, and Chaplin's valet, Frank Yonemori visited the ruins of Angkor, once the capital city of the Khmer Empire, and its famous temples: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom.

With tour guide, Victor Goloubew (left)

Their tour guide was archaeologist Victor Goloubew of the EFEO.* Sadly, I could find little information about this visit or Chaplin's impressions of the place. They spent at least two days here, staying at the Grand Hotel d'Angkor in Siem Reap, the closest city to Angkor.

See many more photos of the visit here.

*EFEO aka École française d'Extrême-Orient is a French institute dedicated to the study of Asian societies

Coming up: The Chaplin party continues east toward Tourane (Da Nang), and Chaplin is reported dead. Stay tuned...

Day By Day: 1936: a document of one year of Chaplin's life.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

L-R: Chaplin, Joseph Schenck, Irving Berlin, Fred Niblo, and Sid Grauman, January 1928

This photo shows Sid Grauman presenting Berlin with a "life pass" to the Chinese Theater in the form of a watch. Taken on the occasion of the Irving Berlin Jubilee at the theater.

Chaplin appears to be wearing the same coat he wore three years earlier at the end of The Gold Rush when he becomes a "multi-millionaire."

Monday, April 18, 2016

Day By Day: 1936

Saturday, April 18th: "Sak Lo"* arrives in Phnom Penh.

Chaplin and his companions left Saigon on the 14th en route to Siem Reap to see the temples and ruins of Angkor Wat. Not much is known about their stops along the way until they reach Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capitol, on the 18th.

At the Hotel Le Royal, Chaplin chatted with reporters for two hours at a bar table. They reported that he received them with "much courtesy and charm." It seems he had been misinformed in Saigon about what he would find once he reached Cambodia. He had arrived in Phnom Penh "expecting to camp in a broom closet." Instead he was "put up at a superb hotel where we had perfect service."

What were his impressions of Phnom Penh?  “The Cambodian capitol is a charming little town," Chaplin said. "The Royal Palace as well as the Silver Pagoda are delightfully pretty.”

Asked if he would be doing any big game hunting during his visit, he replied that he had never fired a rifle in his life and had no desire to kill. The only game that interested him was an elephant which he only desired to capture but not kill.

"Sak Lo" with the elephants

Chaplin concluded the evening interview with the observation that his drive through Indochina had been productive, in terms of new and unexpected sights. He offered to carry out intensive publicity on behalf of Indochina tourism on his return to the United States. The next morning the Chaplin party departed for Angkor Wat.

Sadly there aren't too many photos from this leg of the trip. But there will be more coming after they reach Angkor Wat.

* "Sak Lo" is the Cambodian pronunciation of "Charlot."

Day By Day: 1936

"Chaplin In Cambodia," Phnom Penh Post
Darryl Collins, "Chaplin in Cambodia," Sarika Magazine, 2002
"The Tramp Lives On," Southeast Asia Globe

Saturday, April 16, 2016

The long-awaited Chaplin's World museum opens in Switzerland

The idea of turning Chaplin's Swiss home into a museum goes back at least 10 or 12 years. I'm so glad it has finally happened--and on his birthday.

Here is some footage of the Grand Opening.

An interview with Charlie on this 80th birthday

"I've lost my prettiness," he says.

San Bernardino Sun, April 17th, 1969
Click to enlarge.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Charlie and Lita, Feb. 27th, 1925

This may have been at a screening of the John Ford film, The Iron Horse, at Grauman's Egyptian, which the couple attended as special guests of Grauman himself.

Lita was about 7 months pregnant with Charlie, Jr.

Happy birthday, Lita Grey Chaplin (April 15th, 1908)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Mutts Love Charlie

On the 98th anniversary of the release of A Dog's Life, here is a touching little story about Charlie and the dogs in the film. Evidently he wanted to adopt them all.

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 22nd, 1918

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chaplin Conducting Orchestra and Belly Dancing at 5th Liberty Loan Drive, 1919

If you have not seen this rare footage before (or even if you have), you are in for a real treat. It starts around the 1:23 mark following some info on Chaplin's participation in the Third Liberty Loan Drive.

(The first photo of Chaplin shown in the video was actually taken after finishing The Immigrantnot A Dog's Life. I write about it here.)

Don't miss all the other familiar faces on stage with Charlie: Edna Purviance, Henry Bergman, Loyal Underwood, Albert Austin, and Tom Wood.

Day By Day: 1936

April 12th-13th: Saigon

Chaplin's movements in Indochina are hard to pinpoint so please bear with me over the next couple of weeks. I will try to be as accurate as possible.

Arriving aboard the Aramis on the 12th, Charlie and his companions spent a couple of days in Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City), staying at the Hotel Continental, before setting off on a road trip across Vietnam & Cambodia. Their first destination is Angkor Wat, the ancient temple, but they will take their time getting there.

Watch this space for more in Day By Day: 1936, in which I document one year of Chaplin's life.

Look closely, Charlie is wearing his spectacles.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Day By Day: 1936

April 10th-April 12th: En route to Indochina (Vietnam)

These photos show Charlie, Paulette, and Alta aboard the French ship, Aramis,* between Singapore and Saigon, exactly eighty years ago. Charlie's valet, Frank Yonemori, who is traveling with the group, probably served as photographer.

For the first time on this long trip, Chaplin was traveling to a place he had never been (nor had Paulette). Perhaps it's no coincidence that this leg of the trip was scheduled to coincide with his birthday.

*This ship has a rather sad history. In 1942, it was seized by the Japanese and renamed Teia Maru. It served as a repatriation ship in 1943, and then as a transport between Singapore and Japan. In 1944, it was torpedoed & sunk by a U.S. submarine killing over 2600 people.

Day By Day: 1936