Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Press conference for THE GREAT DICTATOR, Waldorf Astoria, New York, October 13th, 1940

A dapper little gray-haired man with singularly expressive hands and shoulders and small, beautifully shod feet sat diffidently on the edge of his chair yesterday at the Waldorf, enchanting the press with tales of The Great Dictator.1
When Chaplin first entered the room his "quick blue eyes had an apprehensive look as if he were trying to remember what he must and mustn't say." But he relaxed once he realized the reporters were a sympathetic audience. "He let go a little and his fingers stopped playing with the nail heads on the edge of his chair...His feet grew quiet and his smile more spontaneous and only the beads of perspiration that still rolled down behind his ears were left to mark this experience an ordeal."2


"Making a comedy is the most lugubrious work there is," Chaplin said. "I've been at it almost constantly for two years now, and feel the need for both physical and mental relaxation. He told them that he had several film plans in mind but that he would like to spend the next three months vacationing, mostly in New York, and catching up with the changes that have come over New York since his last prolonged stay ten years before.3

The reason The Great Dictator was shrouded in secrecy was simply "to protect myself," he explained. "I closed the studio and kept the story secret because I didn't want to risk having someone else come out with my stuff ahead of me. That's happened before, even in Hollywood," he said with a smile.

Chaplin said there had been no protests from German or Italian officials. "We've had some crank letters--a few," he said.4

"My picture is a plea for humanity against barbarism. I think a little kindness and humanity are still the most important things in a technical world."5

Waldorf-Astoria, Oct. 13, 1940.
United Artists executive, Maurice Silverstone, is on Chaplin's right. 

"There is pathos and great comedy in all human suffering and tragedy," he asserted. "The secret lies in how you approach it. It must be done with discretion and good taste." Thus he explained how The Gold Rush was based on the tragic trek of the Donner Party in 1846.

Chaplin told the reporters that he believes man's chief asset has always been his ability to laugh, even under tragic circumstances. "It would be a sad moment if we couldn't laugh now," he continued. "I believe there is more promise and sign of victory if we in America can laugh about them (the Nazis). I've always felt that the nation which can laugh is the nearest to being sane."6


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1New York PM Daily, October 14, 1940
2ibid
3New York Times, October 14, 1940.
4ibid. Chaplin described the crank letters years later in his autobiography: "Some threatened to throw stink bombs in the theatre and shoot up the screen where ever it would be shown. Others threatened to create riots." 
5New York Sun, October 14, 1940
6New York Times, Oct. 14, 1940

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