Friday, December 20, 2013

World Tour Revisited: Charlie & Syd's Skiing Adventure


Illustration by Robert Gellert from "A Comedian Sees The World,"
 A Woman's Home Companion, December 1933

From Syd Chaplin: A Biography by Lisa K. Stein:
This was only Sydney's second time on skis and the guide assured him he had nothing to fear. But, in fact, twelve of the group started down and only eleven arrived. "After I came to," Sydney remembered, "I found myself buried in snow at the bottom of a ravine. The rest of the party had disappeared. I had visions of being left there for the night and frozen to death. I managed to pick myself up and continue on. I arrived an hour later at the station just as the rest of the party were about to take the train back to St Moritz" looking like a snowman. Icicles were hanging from his nose and eyelashes. Everyone roared with laughter and Sydney was the joke of the evening. "I decided I had had enough of skiing and would confine my future activities to the bobsleigh, which I did. It's funny the different fears that people have," Sydney wrote. "Charlie would not go on the bob run for a £1000 and no one could persuade him to and yet he would go on night skiing expeditions that I would not have for any sum." 


Syd in St. Moritz (source: Syd Chaplin: A Biography/Lisa K. Stein)
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From The Intimate Charlie Chaplin by May Reeves:
Each morning we went up on a beginner's slope to ski. I accompanied Charlie on his first attempts. He wobbled and held me responsible for the slightest fall. He was afraid of breaking an arm or a leg, and got up moaning each time instead of accepting his apprenticeship with good humor. When we came to the trail where all the children practiced skiing, he took a tumble over some horse dung and fell flat. This was a catastrophe. "What are you thinking of, May," he roared, "leading me onto this slippery trail? Keep in mind that I'm not a champion yet." I could barely suppress my laughter, because the trail was already so flat that one had to put one foot in front of the other to move anywhere; there was no question of it being slippery. 

Charlie & May (far right)

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From "A Comedian Sees The World" by Charles Chaplin:
Douglas Fairbanks insisted that I be initiated into the art of skiing. I always thought it was easy, but oh, boy! I never knew how many knots I could tie myself into! For the first two hours I suffered with impediment of the legs and was continually standing on my own foot. Turning was most difficult, but this I mastered in my own fashion, deliberately sitting down and pivoting in the direction I wished to go. Sometimes, however, the sitting was not deliberate. To a beginner, skiing down a hill is very simple, especially if there are no obstacles in the way. But the problem is stopping. This is most difficult. You are instructed to assume a knock-kneed position, at the same time spread your feet apart and turn your ankles in, digging the sides of your skis into the snow. When I attempted it, I invariably went into the splits.
To give you an idea of the enjoyment of my first day's skiing, you must imagine yourself starting slowly down a hill developing speed as you go, thrilled and exalted with a sense of your own motive power and the icy breezes blowing against your cheeks. As the speed increases, however, your exhilaration changes to a growing anxiety, especially when the hill becomes precipitous and the going increases to about fifty miles an hour. You go flying past rocks, trees and other obstacles that miraculously escape you. After such gymnastic triumphs, you accumulate confidence and go whizzing on, resolved to see it through to the bitter end.
Then a sinister rock approaches and comes rushing at you menacingly. This time it is determined to get you. Your heart leaps into your mouth. You become philosophic. You relish the sweet memories of life before skiing. Death is contemplated. You see your skull crashed against the rock and your body flung over it like a pair of empty pants. But you are not killed. You survive. You go on living, crippled for life.
Then a miracle happens. Some metaphysical force moves the rock to compassion and lets you skim by it, and you go shooting onward, relieved. Your mind gains control of your reflexes and you make a decision to sit down, not perhaps as gently as you’d wish. So plunk!
You extricate your head from the snow. You discover you’re still conscious. You involuntarily sit up and look around for fear somebody has seen you. But a superior individual in slow tempo comes gliding up with the query, “Are you hurt?”
And you sally with a cheery, “No, not at all, thank you”.
Then you endeavor to start off again. But when the stranger’s out of sight, reason becomes the better part of valor, so you change your mind, take off your skis and call it a day.
However, dear readers, 'twas not ever thus, for later I became--but there, modesty forbids, so I shall quote from the newspaper, the South Wales Argus: "People at St. Moritz were electrified to see a small man go tearing down a steep village street at a terrific speed, to pull up suddenly at the door of his hotel. He was Charles Chaplin, film clown, says Reuter's correspondent. Perhaps there were painful memories of misadventures with the hotel revolving door that made him stop so sharply. Skiing experts declare that this dash was a very fine achievement. Charlie, in fact, is becoming an adept on skis."
The above is one of my most treasured clippings. 



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