Friday, November 23, 2012

Charlie and Robert Lewis in Monsieur Verdoux

Robert Lewis was an actor, director, teacher, founding member of the Group Theater in the 1930s & co-founder of the Actor's Studio. But among Chaplin fans he might be best-remembered for his role as Henri Verdoux's pharmacist friend, Maurice Botello, in 1947's Monsieur Verdoux.  Lewis met Charlie in the 1930s through Clifford Odets and was delighted to get a chance to work with him. He recalled that as a director, Chaplin was an actor's dream. "He gave me one direction: 'He's the kind of bore who doesn't talk. He lectures.' That was all I needed."

Lewis was also in attendance at the premiere of Monsieur Verdoux in New York City. The film was disastrously received with some members of the audience hissing & booing. Charlie left before the film was finished. At a party at "21" following the premiere, Charlie quickly downed two drinks at once, which was rare for him. Lewis and Donald Ogden Stewart escorted a tipsy & "genuinely shaken" Charlie back to his hotel. "Don and I helped Charlie undress. In his shorts, sitting on the side of his bed, the twentieth century's mighty performing artist sniffled like a little boy. 'They couldn't take it, could they?' he kept repeating, 'I kicked them in the balls, didn't I? I hit them where it hurt.'"

Robert Lewis died 15 years ago today at age 88.


  1. I've always loved "Monsieur Verdoux" and greatly admired Chaplin's chutzpah in doing it. However, I've always been appalled at how bad so much of the acting was. With the exception of Chaplin, Martha Raye, Robert Lewis and Isobel Elsom, the acting was uniformly amateurish. The scenes of Lydia's family and those with Marilyn Nash always make me squirm. I know Ms. Nash had never acted before, but she was so wooden. Chaplin had previously had wonderful supporting casts, so I don't know why his eagle eye allowed this. I'd love to hear what others have to say.

    1. I've had that same impression, but not so generally. I think the main "offenders" were the players of the Couvais family [cringe!] and, of course, Marilyn Nash.

    2. Personally I don't think Marilyn Nash is terrible. There are a couple of instances where she delivers her lines awkwardly, but overall I think she does an adequate job. The opening scene with the Couvais family is much worse. It's too slow and the acting seems too stiff. Evidently Charlie lost his patience with Almira Sessions, the actress who played Lena Couvais (Thelma's sister). According to Marilyn Nash: "He got so frustrated he just started yelling and screaming, 'Why can't you get anything straight? All you have to do is this, this and this.'" (Interview with Marilyn Nash, "Limelight", v. 3, #2, Spring 1997)