Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Comedian In New York (1925), Part VII: Louise Brooks

Much has been written here and elsewhere about Chaplin's romance with Louise. However, the best source for information about their relationship, Louise wrote herself in her 1966 Film Culture article, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered" (read here). I would prefer not to rehash every detail from Brooks' article for this piece but present the basics of their relationship along with a few other tidbits. 


El Paso Herald, Oct. 15, 1925 


Chaplin met 18-year-old Follies showgirl and future silent film icon Louise Brooks at a cocktail party hosted by Walter Wanger shortly after his arrival in New York in August 1925.1 They were soon seen everywhere together--often double-dating with Louise's best friend in the Follies, Peggy Fears, and Chaplin's pal & assistant director, Harry d'Arrast. They went to nightclubs such as the Montmartre and the Lido, and to plays including The Cradle Snatchers (featuring a young Humphrey Bogart) and Outside Looking In (starring James Cagney), which Chaplin had already seen twice.

In late August, Fears was left without an escort when d'Arrast returned to Hollywood. He was replaced by A.C. Blumenthal, "the tiny film financier."2 At this time, Chaplin also left his room at the Ritz and installed himself, and Louise, in a suite at the Ambassador. However, according to Louise, most of their evenings were spent in Blumenthal's penthouse (also at the Ambassador).
Blumie played the piano, Peggy sang, I danced, and Charlie returned to reality--the world of his creative imagination. He recalled his youth with comic pantomimes. He acted out countless scenes for countless films. And he did imitations of everybody. Isadora Duncan danced in a storm of toilet paper. John Barrymore picked his nose and brooded over Hamlet's soliloquy. A Follies girl swished across the room, and I began to cry while Charlie denied absolutely the he was imitating me. Nevertheless, as he patted my hand, I determined to abandon that silly walk forthwith.3
NYC, August 1925
For the Film Culture article, Louise was discreet in writing of her time with Chaplin, but to friends she was more explicit:
Privately, she told a few close friends of one entire weekend the foursome spent in Blumie's suite, ordering up all their meals and rarely even bothering to get dressed...Afraid of contracting certain diseases, Chaplin had studied the matter and was firmly convinced that iodine was a reliable VD preventative. Normally he employed only a small local application, but one night at the Ambassador he was inspired to paint the entire sum of his private parts with iodine and come running with a bright red erection toward the squealing Peggy and Louise.4

Fitchburg Sentinel, Sept. 30, 1925

Louise also spoke candidly about Chaplin after his death in 1977. Below is an excerpt from Louise Brooks by Barry Paris:
"I had an affair with him for two happy summer months," she told Kenneth Tynan. "He was...a sophisticated lover." Chaplin's sexuality and creativity were dynamically intertwined, she thought. By day, he was in constant motion. At night, he required no booze or drugs to facilitate lovemaking or to induce the deep sleep of a child...The complexities of the man bordered on the perverse. "He adored his mother's madness," Louise claimed, "and credits her with giving him his comic viewpoint."
She also paid eloquent tribute to Chaplin's ethical character, even during the Lita Grey divorce. "The truth is that he existed on a plane above pride, jealousy, or hate," she said. "I never heard him say a snide thing about anyone. He lived totally without fear."
"He knew," she continued," that Lita Grey and her family were living in his house in Beverly Hills, planning to ruin him, yet he was radiantly carefree--happy with the success of The Gold Rush and with the admirers who swarmed around him. Not that he exacted adoration. Even during our affair, he knew that I didn't admire him in the romantic sense, and he didn't mind at all. 
"Which brings me to one of the dirtiest lies he allowed to be told about him--that he was mean with money. People forget that Chaplin was the only star ever to keep his ex-leading lady [Edna Purviance] on his payroll for life, and the only producer to pay his employees their full salaries even when he wasn't in production."

Chaplin and Brooks parted ways in early October when he returned to Hollywood. In a letter to Kevin Brownlow in 1966, Louise wrote: "When our joyful summer ended, he didn't give me a fur from Jaeckel or a bangle from Cartier so that I could flash them around, saying, 'Look what I got from Chaplin.' The day after he left town, I got a nice check in the mail signed, 'Charlie.'5 And then I didn't even write him a thank-you note. Damn me."6

Chaplin & Brooks never saw each other again.


Cortland Standard, Nov. 4, 1925
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1The exact date of their meeting is unknown. Chaplin arrived in New York on August 3rd & he was already acquainted with Louise when he introduced her to Edna Purviance, who was in the city on her way to Paris to make a film, sometime between August 17-22. (Barry Paris, Louise Brooks
2Brooks, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered". Fears and Blumenthal married in 1927.
3ibid
4Barry Paris, Louise Brooks,
5The amount of the check was $2500
6Paris, Louise Brooks

3 comments:

  1. I heard that she could get majorly nasty when she was angry. The original letters she wrote about him and his biography were really vicious. It's kinda odd that after he dies and has to remember that then she calls him a sophisticated lover. I think I read somewhere, it was probably here, that she once said that his loving making was more suited for younger women not mature women.
    Also, the parties! Dear Lord. To be young, rich and living in the roaring 20's.

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    1. Her feelings about Chaplin seemed to run hot and cold. One minute she remembered him fondly, and the next she hated him. She became very bitter about Hollywood in her later years too. It wasn't just about Chaplin. The comment about the younger women was in a Vanity Fair article about Louise from the '90s. I think I quoted from it on the blog somewhere.

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  2. Louise was a mean drunk, that's for sure. I read her biography and she would turn on anyone for the slightest reason, or more like whatever she perceived as a reason. She really mucked up her life with booze though

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