Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds"

Drawing of Charlie by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld for his New York Times article
 "A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds" published July 26, 1942

In 1932, during a visit to Bali, Charlie met Al Hirschfeld who had been living there with his wife. The motion picture had not yet made an appearance on the remote island.

In the New York Times article mentioned above, Hirschfeld wrote:
On discovering his anonymity he decided to carry out  an experiment. It was then I realized that the mustache, baggy pants and oversized shoes were of no more importance to Chaplin than the type of quill used by Shakespeare or the frame on any great painting. The pith helmet he carried with him would and did serve just as well for this research in laughter.
His audience was composed of seven house boys who worked for me...These were the unwitting spectators of Chaplin's magical performance. He proceeded to put the pith helmet on his head and it sprang crazily into the air with a will of its own. Undaunted and with a wonderful look of nonchalance he tried it again...The natives howled with laughter, thinking his hat to be possessed of demoniacal powers. When the simplicity of the trick was exposed to them they tried desperately amid great hilarity to snap their turbans in the same way. That was the experiment. He had wanted to see if the natives would laugh at his pantomime...That was his first day in Bali and he had earned himself the descriptive title of "funny man."
Ten years later, Hirschfeld visited Hollywood and tried, unsuccessfully at first, to contact Charlie. In the 1942 article he described what happened next:
I had just about given up the idea of seeing him when Tim Durant, Chaplin's closest friend and companion, informed a friend of Durant's and mine that Charlie was "dying to see me." I had previously phoned his house twice a day since my arrival only to be told by his secretary that "Mr. Chaplin has just this minute stepped out." So with some suspicion I drove to his Summit Drive home and rang the bell in great trepidation. A man servant appeared and I asked to see Mr. Chaplin. He did not ask my name or business but merely said, "I have no idea where he is at the moment but you may find him asleep somewhere on the grounds."
Being unfamiliar with the terrain I set out on this peculiar adventure. I had not far to go. In a hammock alongside the swimming pool was the great man curled up asleep. Near by were some orange peels and on his chin were further evidences of a recent snack. He awoke on my approach and bounded up to greet me. We talked of many things. He was in great form.
I don't remember what he said. He was dancing, laughing and being the greatest pantomimist I had ever seen. White hair, honest blue eyes, a laugh more eloquent than any prose. Young in a way that few youths have ever been. Old with a rare dignity. I watched this man who dares to be simple, as fascinated and amused as the first time I saw him in the movies. He talks and thinks pictorially, knowing every second how he looks and not caring what he says. To listen is to lose everything. He uses words for the same purpose as a magician. He plays tennis with his left hand and writes with his right....
Chaplin has exploited to the full his endowed talents. He trusts and never underrates his genius. He will sometimes do nothing for months, waiting for the custard pie of creation to smack him. He is a man with both feet firmly planted in the clouds.

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