Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Random Excerpt

From "No Talkies For Charlie: Some Intimate and Never-Told Facts About the Screen's Only Practical Genius" by Harry Lang, Photoplay, May 1930
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.1
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.2
Chaplin is very much afraid of illness. He has a wiry body. He takes cold very easily. Whenever he is ill, it frightens him and the best available physicians are called. The sight of a sick friend affects him so that he cannot work....
Reading is one of his three favorite relaxations. The other two are walking and playing tennis. He plays tennis well. He wears partners out, because he insists on playing for five or six hours at a stretch. When he has no partner, he will play alone, against a wall, for as long as five hours without rest. He plays, then, automatically. He is not thinking of the game; he is thinking of other things. With the racket, he is ambidextrous. That is true too of his handwriting. He is naturally but not exclusively left-handed. He can write equally well with either hand, and writes very little. Within the past ten years, he has not written in his own hand more than a dozen personal letters. When he does write, he writes in short sentences--five or six words each.
Rather than buy sheet music, he writes his own. He has composed more than twenty numbers, ranging from jazz to ballads and music of classical type. He has never published any of his own compositions.3 He has written a half dozen numbers for his current picture, "City Lights," including the theme song. 4
He never took a music lesson in his life and plays proficiently the piano, organ, violin, cello, concertina, saxophone, guitar and ukulele. He has a huge pipe organ in his home,and sits alone at it for hours, improvising. He bows his violin and cello with his left hand, fingering with his right. The instruments are strung "backwards...." 5
His hair grows very fast. He has to have it cut at least four times a month. It used to be dark brown. Now it comes out grey, but for his pictures, he dyes it dark brown. Because it grows so rapidly, he has to have it dyed every ten days or so while making a film. He doesn't dye it at other times.
He has never worn a beard. He has only once had a mustache of his own and it wasn't much. He raised it while on a vacation with Douglas Fairbanks. When he got back to the studio, everybody laughed at it. He got mad and shaved it off at once. He has never raised one since.
His prop mustache has dwindled steadily through the years. When he first began in pictures, it extended beyond his lip-ends. Now it is a tiny double smudge under his nostrils. In three years, at the present rate, it should disappear entirely....
He wears very loud pajamas and locks himself in his bedroom. He locks every door in his bedroom, even that to his private bathroom. He will not unlock one of these doors until he awakes for morning. He keeps his windows open.
His pocket kerchief and his necktie must match. He hates breaking in new shoes. He has a favorite pair of shoes, black patent leather with grey cloth button tops. He has owned that pair twelve years and prefers them to all others.
They have been resoled and heeled beyond track.
He uses a great deal of a certain perfume for which he pays $40 per two-ounce container.6
He likes women and likes to be in their company but is afraid of them. He fears he cannot please them. They are usually wild about him. He believes he is a good judge of women, but has been known to be notoriously wrong. He thinks he can analyze their characters by the shape of their mouths, ears, nostrils and other facial characteristics, and tries to criticize his friends' women on that basis. He will not stand for any criticism of the women he is with on any basis.
He rarely goes out alone with women, and when he does it is usually Georgia Hale. He denies he will marry her....
He loves traveling and dislikes flying. He was one of the first to fly in aviation's infancy and doesn't think it's "ready" now, so he doesn't fly any more....
When he reads, he wears horn-rimmed glasses. He does not smoke. Up to a year ago, he smoked between four and five packs of cigarettes a day. For no reason he decided to quit. He has never smoked since unless the action of a scene calls for it, and then he prefers a cigar....7
He likes to dance and his favorite dance is the tango. He dreads social functions until he gets there and then he's the center of the party, no matter how big it is. Whenever he gives a function himself, he gives it on a big scale and swears the next day he'll never give another....
He has no pets. He had a parrot but when the newspapers began printing about parrot fever, he gave it away. He has no dogs but if he had one, he would have a mongrel because he prefers them to thoroughbreds....
He likes good plays and silent pictures and newsreels. He takes newsreels home by the half dozen to run in his private projection room at nights.
He has never sat through a talking picture.8 He insists they are far inferior to silents. He says he will never, never, never make a talkie.

1 Virginia Cherrill made a very similar observation in an article she wrote in 1935 about working with Chaplin: "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.'"

2May Reeves recalled in her memoir that Charlie woke her up in the middle of the night moaning, "I'm going to die! I'm going to die!" Panicking, she tried to call a doctor, but his problem was only indigestion from eating too many green beans the night before.

3 Three of Chaplin's compositions were published by the short-lived Charlie Chaplin Music Publishing Company in 1916: "There's Always One You Can't Forget," "Peace Patrol," and "Oh, That Cello" (years later, in his autobiography, Charlie would describe these songs as “very bad.") He published two more songs in 1925: With You Dear, In Bombay," and "Sing A Song," which were recorded by the Abe Lyman Orchestra with Chaplin guest conducting & playing a violin solo.

4 City Lights' theme song, "La Violatera" was written by Jose Padilla. 

5 Chaplin took violin lessons while on tour with the Fred Karno Company.  "As for the cello," he later wrote, " I could pose well with it but that's about all."

6 Guerlain's Mitsouko was Charlie's favorite cologne for many years. 

7 Chaplin didn't completely give up smoking until the early 1940s.

8 Chaplin describes seeing a talkie in c. late 1927 in My Autobiography.


  1. Thanx. I reflect on these excerpts daily....and smile.

    1. Glad to hear it--thank you. This article (from which the above is excerpted) is one of my favorites.