Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Random Excerpt

Charlie & Oona arriving in New York, September 1952

From Moments With Chaplin by Lillian Ross (1980):
When the Chaplins arrived in New York [in 1952], they checked into the Sherry-Netherland, and Oona called me to ask if I wanted to go walking with Charlie around the city. "I can't go," Oona said. "He walked me for four hours in Chicago. I've got blisters on both heels."

The next morning at eleven, I went to pick Chaplin up at their suite.

"Walking around the city is a ritual with me...I love to walk all over New York. It's a bloody ritual with me."

Chaplin was dressed for the walk in an oxford-gray, double-breasted suit, a white shirt with a black satin necktie, and gray socks and well-shined black shoes. His hair, pure white even then, was long, curling up at the back of his neck. His eyebrows, too, were pure white. His cheeks were pink. He was smiling, and was eager to get going.

Out on the sidewalk, Chaplin took a deep breathe. "I like this kind of day for walking in the city, " he said. "A sultry, Indian-summer September day. But do you know the best time for walking in the city? Two AM. It's the best time. The city is chaste. Virginal. Two AM in the winter is the best, with everything looking frosty. The tops of the automobiles. Shiny. All those colors." He took another deep breath. "It's really hot today," he said. "Thank God I left my vest off."


"Seems as if I'd been here forever", Chaplin said to me as we continued our walk down Fifth Avenue. "You come along this avenue and you meet the world. In Hollywood, you walk for miles and you don't meet a single friend. Sometimes when I have a whole day here I walk the whole day. I just go along, and I discover places. I discovered Sweet's, the famous fish place, all by myself. Down near the Battery. To me, that's the romantic part of New York. Especially on Sunday. It's so quiet. So chaste. So clean. Nobody's around. You take any business center, there's something very romantic about it when it's inactive. So I went walking down to the Battery by myself and saw this place with all the limousines parked outside. Dowagers stepping out of the limousines. Very respectable gentlemen. So I said to myself, 'This must be very good.' And I went in there and had myself a load of clams. I love clams. I used to go to Grand Central--to the Oyster Bar. I'd get a dozen clams, and all you'd want besides is the lemon. You'd get a dozen clams for eighty cents."

We walked along in silence for a few moments. Chaplin looked with interest at the other pedestrians.

"Every time I walk, I get a terrific exhilaration, " he said. "Each new day is a day of promise. There are always parts of the city to explore. Always parts you haven't seen."


Chaplin clasped his hands behind his back as we passed the Scribner Bookstore. "I used to haunt the secondhand bookshops in those days," he said. "I was pretty lonesome. It was the most terrible lonesomeness. I've ever felt, that first year in New York. Anyway, the day I got off the boat in New York, I planted myself right in the middle of Broadway. I didn't know how to function at all. I had taken a streetcar, and I got off at Times Square. There were all those old brownstones, rooming houses, where English people looked for digs, all along there. I took a little back room, for three bucks a week. There used to be a saloon near where the Paramount Theatre is now. I later stayed in a room above the saloon. I was terribly ill there. I couldn't get out of bed. They used to have a magnificent free lunch. God, in those days! What an array! The pigs' knuckles! Ham sandwiches! Sauerkraut! Hot dogs! All free! Let's go over that way. To where the American Music Hall used to be. I played there with the Fred Karno troupe for six weeks in 1911. Near the corner of Eighth Avenue, on Forty-second Street. I like to go look at it. But let's not go on Forty-seventh or Forty-eighth Street. They're very sad streets.
"The American Music Hall used to have two theaters in it," he said. "You'd take an elevator and go up and play to another audience. Don't tell me there's a bank there now. That would be horrifying. No, the Anco Theater. That's it. 'The Thrill Film Theater, Robin Hood--The Half Breed.' he read from the marquee. "My God! How the whole place gets lost, doesn't it? Let's go up to the next corner. I'm a little cloudy about this, but I know the Eltinge Theater was around here, too. Julian Eltinge was a great vaudeville star. A female impersonator."
An old woman in a torn dress was standing in from the of New Amsterdam Theater selling pretzels from a battered baby stroller. "I don't think the old girl would know whether this is where Ziegfeld had his 'Follies,' or whether it had a roof garden," Chaplin said. He stopped walking. He looked puzzled, a bit hurt.
An elderly man with a pale, freckled face, who was bald except for reddish hair at the base of his skull, came along and stopped beside us..."Visiting your old haunts, Charlie?" the man said.

"Why, yes," Chaplin said. "Yes. Yes, I am."

"I used to come in as a kid, fifteen years old", the man said. "They were the good old days."
"Wasn't this where Ziegfeld had his 'Follies'?" Chaplin asked. "And didn't it have a roof garden?"
"You're right," the man said. "And it still does have a roof garden." 
"You see, I was right, wasn't I?" Chaplin said to me.  
"What are you doing now, Charlie?" the man asked.

"I'm still in the movies, " Chaplin said. "At least, I think I am." Charlie gave us a laugh....

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