Thursday, March 6, 2014

World Tour Revisited: Chaplin bids farewell to May Reeves and embarks for Japan, March 6th, 1932

Charlie, May, and Syd in Naples, March 6th, 1932.
Boris Evelinoff, European representative for United Artists, is standing (I think)
behind Charlie to his right. May was left in the care of Evelinoff after his departure.
He eventually lost his position at UA because of his continual appeals to Chaplin on May's behalf.

The Japanese ship, Suwa Maru, was set to embark from Naples at 5:30pm on Sunday, March 6th. In their hotel room in Rome that morning, Charlie was in such a rush to catch the train and the ship that May didn't have time to put on makeup or finish dressing. When they were alone in their compartment on the train, Charlie told her, "Dear, I want to thank you for all you've given me. You've made me very happy, and my only wish is that this should continue. This short separation is just a chance to prove yourself. Remember to keep me informed of everything you do. Only swear to me that you'll be faithful and that you won't look at other men." She remembered holding his "feverish hands." "Why were they so hot?" she wondered, "Was it the thought of separation, or of his departure." At Naples, they lunched at the Exselsior Hotel and then visited the poor section of town--something Charlie often did when he was in new city. May spent the afternoon going through the motions in a tearful haze. To keep his courage, Charlie would avoid looking at her.

May (far right) accompanies Charlie as he boards the ship. 
Charlie and Syd pose for photos aboard the Suwa Maru. May Reeves & Kono
are standing behind them.
Chaplin poses with crew members, March 6th, 1932

The captain of the ship invited them to his cabin to drink champagne with the other officers. Charlie looked at May and lifted his glass, "To our love, darling. To you forever. Be faithful to me. We'll see each other again soon."

A short time later an officer opened the door: "Return to the dock. We're leaving."

Here Charlie and May said their final farewells. Chaplin remembered that there were no tears. "As the boat pulled out, she was imitating my tramp walk along the quay. That was the last I saw of her."

May's recollection of their separation was more vivid:
Everything passed before me in a flash. Charlie took me in his arms: "Goodbye, dear, till we meet again." They led me to the dock. I can still see myself, lost in the middle of the crowd, watching the ship pull slowly away. Near the dock, in a small boat resting on the oily water, an accordionist played one of those Neapolitan songs that wring the heart. 
All the passengers waved their handkerchiefs. Charlie leaned out from a spot on the bridge where there was no railing, which seemed so dangerous to me that I uttered a loud cry. I was afraid he would fall into the sea. Finally he stood alone at his post, his white hair waving in the wind. As long as he could see me, he held up two fingers to signify two months of separation, and then he pointed to the third to signify the clinching of an imaginary alliance. 
May waving to Charlie from the dock.

Charlie waving back.

Those unfamiliar with May's story may wonder what ever became of her pregnancy (Spoiler Alert: the following is the last chapter of May's book, so if you haven't read it, you might want to skip this part):
Four weeks later, after atrocious suffering, Charlie's wish was granted. He wouldn't have a third child...For several weeks I struggled with death. I telegraphed the news to Charlie on several occasions and wrote long letters of explanation, but I never received a response. Only when I was convalescing did I receive a telegram: "Hope you are better--cheer up--Love Charlie." And as a last sign of life, Charlie's representative in Paris [Boris Evelinoff] received a cable asking him to send the doctor's bill. 
Thus ended my romance with Charles Spencer Chaplin

Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography
May Reeves, The  Intimate Charlie Chaplin
Lisa K. Stein, Syd Chaplin: A Biography


  1. Again I have to say - I've read this book and always felt May was making A LOT of this stuff up. Why in the heck would anyone (gold digger or not) put up with as much abuse as he allegedly shoveled her way over the course of their relationship? The truth always lies somewhere in between, and I completely believe that in this case!

    1. Like Lita's book(s), I'm sure there is some truth to her accusations. Others have written about Charlie's cruel streak. I'm sure it was emotionally draining to be around him and some women were just not equipped to deal with his mood swings & idiosyncrasies. Again like Lita, May had a habit of arranging the facts to suit her agenda. She wanted to be seen as a victim. However, Charlie is not completely innocent. Charlie kept May around long after he had grown tired of her. She seemed to enjoy going on and on about his jealousy but I don't think it was because he was so in love with her, I think it was the age-old "I don't want her but I don't want anyone else to have her either." He was the same way with Lita and Mildred.

  2. Agreed. I really enjoyed Georgia's book, it seemed much more balanced (ignoring her fantasy/dream sequences, of course). How I would have loved a Goddard tome on that relationship. For a woman with such a strong business acumen, I am surprised she did not give in to the temptation to tell all. She could have made a fortune.

    1. Georgia's book gets a bad rap. I think her feelings for him were genuine & if he did indeed propose to her, I believe she would have been just as devoted a wife as Oona--and he probably wouldn't have had all those kids.

      It's too bad Paulette didn't write about her time with Charlie. I would love to hear all of those recorded reminisces that she did in the '70s. The Gilbert book quotes from them but I wonder if she said more than what's in the book.

  3. I remember thinking the same thing when I was reading the Gilbert book...give me more! However, I am the one who truly believes Gilbert stilted what she wrote to make Goddard look bad. I think the author was far more involved in writing about Remarque - I even learned later she wrote a play about him, and wrote about his time with Dietrich in much more detail.

    1. I agree with you about the Gilbert book. I thought it was an odd idea for a bio anyway. It should have just been about one or the other. She was pretty rough on Paulette at times--making her out to be talentless and materialistic--always wondering where her next diamond necklace was coming from. When in reality she was quite intelligent and had a keen business sense (I think Charlie once joked that Paulette had more money than he did).

  4. Nobody could fool around with good ol' Charlie. I guess only Mildred did so, and she payed quite a price. It seems it was his way or highway to everyone, especially women. He had the thicker skin of Hollywood, and probably it was a bad deal to be his girlfriend.

    Do you know if Syd and Charlie had a problem (besides that thing with May)? Because they were so fond of each other in the beggining and apparently a little too distant in the middle, recovering later when they were both older.
    *Just for the record, I really don't like Syd, and I don't have a clue why!

    1. I think Charlie and Syd went through periods where their relationship was strained. After their tour of Japan in 1932, they didn't see each other again for 5 or 6 years. Like Charlie, Syd was not always a likable person and he did some things (if they are true) that are despicable. But one thing that endears him to me are his letters. A few of them are included in his bio and they well-written and quite entertaining to read. He had a very naughty wit.

  5. I think Paulette kept her end of a semi-business relationshio with Charlie. She seemed to genuinely be interested and participated in his every whim. She was a fella's Huckleberry friend. I just had to get that in I heard Dietrich sing the Bacharach tune last week. I was moved hearing Audrey Hepburn sing it at the end of....whatever film it was.

  6. It's funny he should put distance between Syd and May both around the time of the voyage to Japan. I hope Syd did not stab May in the back by betraying any boohoo confidences. And I thought May miscarried after skiing with CC when she would rather not have. But that is a good show he put on with the finger signs as he pulled out of port.

    I don't hold with a man being trapped into marriage but May looks pathetic waving her white hanky goodbye. Maybe if CC didn't get cold feet at the thought of marriage he would've kept her longer. She might not have been marriage material. He said in his biography that he knew she was footloose when he met her.

    Did I already ask if Syd had met her on one of the Riviera's remote nude beaches? When I look at the Paris nightclub escorts and Follies Begere (?) beauties of the early 30s I blush. Tres moderne