Wednesday, March 5, 2014

World Tour Revisited: Charlie returns to Italy, March 5th, 1932*

Sometime during their three-month stay in St. Moritz, May Reeves told Charlie she was pregnant. Whether this was a real pregnancy, a false alarm, or an entrapment ploy, we will never know. Needless to say Charlie was less than thrilled by the news. Nevertheless, May's condition, whether real or invented, didn't change his travel plans. Arrangements were being made for City Lights to premiere in Japan and Charlie wanted to be there. His brother, Sydney, would accompany him.1 They would depart from Naples aboard the Suwa Maru on March 6th. It had been decided that May would not join Chaplin on this voyage. According to her version of the story, she would stay behind in Europe and reunite with him two months later in Hollywood. She was content with this plan for "a separation seemed desirable to me. In my condition, I couldn't have borne the strain of such a voyage."2 Furthermore, she and Charlie were not getting along and she felt that it would be best "to put the sea between us for a while."

Charlie's version of events is slightly different, however. There is no mention of May meeting him in Hollywood later (nor, not surprisingly, any mention of a pregnancy). Charlie felt that they had grown tired of each other and that May was "resigned and somewhat relieved" when they finally parted ways. "Since our sojourn in Switzerland, our alchemy of attraction was somewhat diluted, and we both knew it. So we parted good friends."3 Regardless of the promises or arrangements Charlie may or may not have made with May, their year-long romance was coming to an end.

Syd (seated at left), May, and Charlie at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome, March 5th, 1932

On March 2nd, 1932, Charlie and May left St. Moritz with his friend, "Hungarian consul Plesch," 4 traveling by car to Rome where they would arrive late in the evening on March 4th (along the way, they visited Rimini, Gubbio, and Perugia). Awaiting Charlie's arrival was his brother Sydney, who had come from Nice (he had left Charlie in St. Moritz a week or two earlier), with a message saying that arrangements could be made for a meeting with Mussolini. But this did not materialize. "I could only stay in Rome for two days which was too short a notice for Il Duce to give me any of his valuable time."5 May remembered that Charlie was disappointed because "he lost a unique opportunity to discuss politics."6

May recalled that her last evening with Charlie was spent having dinner at an old inn, "I joked to hide my sadness. Charlie laughed heartily when I imitated the Charlot of City Lights eating spaghetti." Afterward they visited a museum: Charlie "walked past the pictures and statues without looking at them. Occasionally he expressed his admiration by exclaiming, 'Oy, oy!' an expression he had adopted from a Jewish story someone told him. It was quite amusing to hear him exclaim 'Oy, oy!' in front of a Raphael."7

Coming up tomorrow: Charlie and May part ways in Naples.

*This was Chaplin's second visit to Italy on his world tour. In March 1931, he spent a three days in Venice.

1It seems Sydney had to ask to be invited to Japan. According to Charlie Chaplin: King of Tragedy by Gerith Von Ulm: "Syd had urged Kono to arrange for him to accompany them to the Orient. Kono did suggest it to Charlie, who, after a few days hesitation, finally consented to take him along. Syd was informed by telegraph at Nice that he was to join them at Naples." This is confirmed in Lisa Stein Haven's bio of Syd which includes the actual text of the telegram: "When can you come? Leave here Thursday. Sailing from Naples six March. Charlie."

2May Reeves, The Intimate Charlie Chaplin

3Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography

Arpad Plesch (1889-1974). Hungarian Consulate in France before WWII. Chaplin may have met him c. 1929 when he visited the Chaplin Studios with the former president of the Hungarian Republic, Count Mihaly Karolyi, & Konrad Bercovici. (Many thanks to Dominique Dugros for this info).

5Charles Chaplin, "A Comedian Sees The World"

6Reeves, The Intimate CC


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