Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Dr. Charlie Chaplin

In June1962, Charlie received an honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford University.  Hugh Trevor-Roper, a distinguished historian and Oxford don, was horrified by the idea. He stated publicly that honorary degrees would be degraded by this award to a mere comedian. "We might as well be honoring a circus clown," he said. That made Charlie "mad, damned mad."

A couple of years later, Chaplin told journalist Peter Steffens about the ceremony:
When I got there, they gave me a big, black robe, and the ceremony went ahead. I still wasn't sure whether I would speak or not--I had an attack of bronchitis, and could hardly speak above a whisper.  Then they told me that I could say something if I wished. I did.
I looked around the audience and I saw him (Trevor-Roper) sitting there, but I didn't look at him directly, and didn't know if I should mention him or his attack, or not. I began, and I said to them, 'I cannot compete with you on knowledge, so I cannot talk about "truth." And I couldn't presume to try to tell you about "goodness" or morality, that's something you understand better than I. But I can talk about "beauty"--that's a matter of individual taste, and preference. I guess we're all equals when it comes to beauty....
And you know, beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. It can be seen (and with a wave of the hand, the whole audience, and the small, black sea of Oxford dons addressed by this English slum boy was before me) in a back alley, with a shaft of sunlight suddenly cutting across a rubbish bin, spilling over with trash...Or, it can be in a rose...floating down a gutter. Or even (slight pause), in the antics of a clown.'
And then I looked straight at him, and they applauded, and that's all I said.
(Steffens, "Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp,"  Ramparts, March 1965)


  1. That's remind me the motto of a very famous Chaplin blog... D.

    1. I was hoping someone would notice that!