Monday, July 1, 2013

Charlie & Food

  • Charlie and I lived together, sharing the same room, for more than two years, and many's the time we cooked our dinners in our room. I fried the chops, while Charlie sat close to the door playing his mandolin to keep the landlady from hearing the sizzling of the meat over the gas--which was put there for lighting purposes only and not with any idea of cooking!  --Stan Laurel, Film Weekly, Sept. 1929. Reprinted in Peter Haining's Charlie Chaplin: A Centennial Celebration
  • Perhaps his emotional state can be best illustrated by the food he eats. One week he solemnly informs us that he is a vegetarian, that meat is bad for one, and that lettuce and fruit form the ideal food. We all become vegetarian. The next week, he looks up and says: "What I need is a big juicy steak. Good meat to build up the body and brain." The following week it becomes cantaloupe filled with ice cream. "Everybody is eating too much," he says. "One can work much better on light lunches." His favorite dish I remember to be banana nut ice cream. --Virginia Cherrill, Picturegoer magazine, Dec. 9th, 1935. 
  • Every Tuesday at the Manoir was the cook's day off, and my mother used to take over the kitchen. She is surprisingly good over a cookstove. Tuesday was the day when she cooked for my father all his favorite dishes. None of the five star Cordon Bleu routine, but things he must have had, or wished he'd had, as a kid in South London...tripe and onions, steak and kidney pie, and stews with dumplings in them. But his craziest food fad is for a thing called Almond Joy. They're an American chocolate bar with an almond on top of them. The Swiss, with a swinging chocolate industry, don't encourage outsiders, and you can't buy Almond Joy there or in England. So any visitor he has coming in from the States loads up with candies for the old man. --Michael Chaplin, I Couldn't Smoke The Grass On My Father's Lawn, 1966.

  • Most days we went to lunch at Musso and Frank's, a nearby restaurant that is to this day one of my favorites. Charlie, Henry Bergman (who appeared in any Chaplin films), Carter de Haven, Sr. (who had been a famous actor, and was the father of Gloria de Haven), and I would travel in splendor in Charlie's limousine. We always sat in the same corner table in the back room and had the same rather bored waiter. Almost anyone else would have been elated at the prospect of serving an artist of such eminence, but this one was onto all of Charlie's tricks and affected to be unaffected by them. But I loved every minute of it.  Charlie had certain little songs with which he would order lunch, and we learned to sing them along with him. One of them, to the tune of "I Want A Lassie," went: "I want a curry; a ricy, spicy curry, With a dish of chutney on the side!" Another, to the melody of "Irish Eyes Are Smiling," went: "An I-rish Stew, with veg-e-ta-bles...!" All were performed with gusto. Diners who were startled by the sudden outbursts from the corner table seemed to be quickly mollified at the thought of enlivening their dinner conversations with the accounts of the luncheon entertainment. --David Raksin, "Life With Charlie Chaplin," Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, 1983
  • The Chaplins ate outdoors as often as possible, on a large terrace overlooking a long expanse of lawn, and the mountains in the distance. Wild strawberries with heavy cream provided an occasion for a kind of dramatic production by Chaplin. He would choose the best-looking ones and present them, one at a time, to Oona, to himself, to a guest, and to each of his children--in that order. At the close of one such production, he shared a confidence with me. "Every once in a while," he said, "the old lady and I get out the caviar and champagne. And we don't invite anybody else. We sit here gorging ourselves. Just the two of us." --Lillian Ross, Moments With Chaplin, 1980


  • Charles Chaplin likes stewed tripe and hates whiskey. He does like good wines, and drinks cocktails when the occasion seems to require it. Before prohibition, he always had a well-stocked cellar, never drank much himself, and always was a perfect host alcoholically. Since prohibition came, the same is true. Besides stewed tripe, he likes lamb stew. Those are two of his three favorite dishes. He dislikes seasoning, never uses sauces or violent condiments and doesn't care for highly spiced dishes. The one exception is curry, the hotter the better. That's his third favorite dish. He is utterly inconsistent about eating. Sometimes he will go for twenty-four hours or longer without taking a morsel. Then he'll eat four or five meals within the next day. He goes on diets but never keeps them up. He went rabidly on a raw vegetable diet for several days. "Look at animals," he said, "they eat raw vegetables and are healthy. The elephant is the biggest and strongest animal; he eats only vegetables." That night, Charlie ate two beefsteaks, rare.
  • His cook will work for a day or two to prepare an epicurean meal for him. Charlie sits down and it is served. He doesn't like the looks or aroma of something before him. So he leaves the table and goes to a cheap lunch counter and eats ham and eggs. He likes to eat at drug store lunch counters. His favorite restaurant is Henry's. The proprietor is his assistant director. When he is served something he likes very much, he takes as many as five helpings. It makes him violently ill. --Harry Lang, "No Talkies For Charlie," Photoplay, May 1930
  • I went to Chaplin’s house. And they served dinner in the living room, and I remember they served chicken, loose chicken. And there was a bowl in the middle so you could help yourself. And the plate was quite large, and it was like a soup, but not quite—it was wonderful looking. And Charlie gets a spoon, slurp, both hands, the bread, slurp, and I’m going, "Oh my God! Uuuh!" And I’m going, "I don’t believe this!" ‘cause I’m very proper, and Oona was so proper, but you know, I figured she knows what to do, I’ll just follow what she does, just consider everything normal and keep on going. And it was the funniest thing, because it was such a shock! I’d never seen anybody schlurp it in and chew with an open mouth and with everything going at once. And laughing and talking and everything, and I’m going, "Oh my God!" --Interview with Marilyn Nash, Limelight magazine, Spring 1997
  • Looking across to the little boats bobbing gently by the quayside at Avalon, I was startled by a deferential cough and turned to see Chaplin standing over me. He had come up from below as lightly as a grasshopper and was standing there in an attitude of a butler awaiting orders, head cocked expectantly, a napkin over the left forearm, his hand poised in a kindly step-this-way freeze. It was the silent movie call to breakfast and we went below. I have seen only one other man dispatch a meal with such speed. But whereas Adlai Stevenson, belying his general reputation for delicacy shovelled the stuff in with hands as pudgy as baseball mitts, Chaplin disposed of eggs and bacon and a wad of pancakes almost as  a display of sleight of hand. One of the permanent pleasures of being with him was to watch the grace and deftness with which he performed all physical movements, from pouring syrup to swerving like a matador just out of the line of an oncoming truck. --Alistaire Cooke, Six Men, 1956
  • He was a great entertainer. It was always nice to go out with him. He'd do these amazing things with fish in the restaurant too. He'd always ask for a trout that's boiled alive. It's sort of twisted into a funny position and he would take the trout and look at it and say, "Oh, Emma, darling!" And kiss the trout on the lips, and suck out its eyes. We'd all be screaming. "Oh, daddy! Oh, how can you! It's so horrible." He'd ask for the wine, taste it, spit it out and the say, "Wonderful." He loved an audience and we, his kids, were a fantastic audience for him. --Geraldine Chaplin, Variety, April 2003.
  • Chaplin conveys the stigma he felt, as a "nondescript of the slums" and underlines the depth of their destitution, by citing simply the absence of a home-cooked dinner on Sunday. "Even the poorest of children sat down to a roast that night," he reports, a ritual that distinguished one poor class from the beggar-class, "and we were that...The shame of it —especially on Sunday!" But they just couldn't afford it. On the other side of the same coin, something they could afford that Chaplin loved, was bread and dripping. This was fried bread sopped in beef juice: that was what impoverished English families ate when they couldn't buy anything else to eat. It was what was left from other foods: bread was used to sop up juice and melted fat from some meat that had been cooked and eaten, often long before. It was a staple of the poor. The night they returned from his father's funeral, this was all there was to eat--they even had to sell a little oil stove in order to buy bread. His association with it is pleasant: "There were times when I would stay home, and Mother would make tea and fry bread in beef dripping, which I relished...."
  • His wealth is not just protection, it is his revenge for the stinging humiliations he endured as a nobody. But his greatness? He continually returned to the term, "clown," "nothing but a clown," until I asked him directly whether he had any idea of what it was that linked him to the millions of people who felt so close to him, who loved his "tramp" who worshipped him as something more than an actor, as something more personal than a showman. His whole answer, in strong, decisive terms, was: "Yes. Bread and dripping." --Peter Steffens, "Charlie Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp," Ramparts, March 1965

9 comments:

  1. he was OBSESSED with food. it's basically the real-life equivalent of the proposal (about food in his films) for the conference next summer.

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  2. That's awesome, Rita! Best of luck! I was invited to participate in the conference as part of a roundtable of fans, but I don't know if I'll be able to afford to go. Italy is not exactly close by, at least for me. I'm working on it, though. Plus, if you get to speak, I'd love to be there to see it!

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  3. now i DO hope to make the cut, just to keep my fingers crossed for you to come over as well!!! it would be like hanging around a very fancy sweet-shop with VERY fashionable patrons.

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    1. me too! crossing fingers for both of us...

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  4. Excited and hopeful that both of you will be able to go! I submitted a proposal, too, about Chaplin and the child actors of The Kid. The food proposal sounds fabulous. I hope you get accepted, and Jessica, I hope you find the funds to get to Italy and speak on the roundtable. Keep us posted!

    Carrie

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    1. Best of luck, Carrie! I hope we can all meet next year in Bologna!

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    2. Wouldn't that be crazy-wonderful? Thanks for this food post. I love the story about Charlie grilling steaks in the cold to make up with Eric James. It reminds me a little of the story Rollie Totheroh told about a fight he had with Charlie during the filming of Woman of Paris. Charlie accused Rollie of shooting a scene out-of-focus; Rollie insisted it was fine and told Charlie he could find himself another boy, but he'd give him two weeks' notice. The next day when Rollie came in to work, Charlie bent over and told Rollie to please kick him in the rear for being a jerk. I love that he could admit being wrong so playfully.

      Carrie

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    3. It seems Charlie's film sets could be a volatile place at times. There are a number of stories where people threatened to quit or left and came back. It's good to know that Charlie could sometimes admit when he was wrong.

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  5. His love of food is surprising, considering how thin he was most of his life. He must have really burned through it.

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