Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Random Excerpt

Boston Globe journalist, Mayme Ober Peak, describes a visit with Chaplin at his home:
"I'm sorry to have kept a lady waiting," the comedian smiled on me with the bluest eyes I ever saw in a man's head--eyes that took my measure as they twinkled at me. While retaining a hold on one coat sleeve, I measure back. 
What I saw at this close range was a beautifully gray-crowned head above a sensitive face of high color and nervous features; a figure fine-strung, resilient, lithe, with well-defined curves tightly buttoned in a double-breasted, well-cut suit of gray. His tie was black with Roman stripes, and as usual he wore gray cloth, button-top, patent-leather shoes. 
In appearance, my immaculate host was the opposite of the figure he cuts on the screen. Unmasked, the cinema's clown has nothing in common with its creator. Not a graceful gesture or unconscious pose of the man connects with the world-famous waddling comedy king. I think he is sick to death of that film fool who "throws custard pies in the world's face as a gesture of protest." Soon he expects to do Napoleon Bonaparte, with some of the authentic backgrounds screened in France. Will this mean the turning point, and perhaps loss of the film's comic-pathetic character who comes from nowhere and never gets anywhere, who cloaks himself in mystery even in his pictures? His next production will have the working title "Nowhere."
Autographed photo of Chaplin inscribed to Ms. Peak.
"To Mayme Ober Peake [sic], with best wishes, Charlie Chaplin,
Hollywood 1930."
 (Photo by Homer Peyton)
Once you hear his exquisite speaking voice with its charming English accent; watch the birdlike fluttering of his classical hands, and the elfin movements of his body, you find yourself wishing this glamorous personality would go on the stage and make us believe in fairies again.  
As one of his biographers has aptly put it, your first impression of Charlie Chaplin is of "something very warm and bright and vivid." There is an endearing charm about him that you impulsively respond to. He has that rare gift of concentrating with flattering grace--and apparently keen enjoyment, all his charm and highly intelligent interest upon you and you only. 
Undoubtedly, the bitterness of those sordid years of struggle, during which Charlie's mother lost her reason, corroded Charlie's soul and haunts him still. There can't but be a tinge of sadness to his success. But he does not let you feel this when you meet him in his home, which reflects none of the ostentation his vast income would permit. 
His setting is one of perfect taste and refinement. Although a bachelor's home run by man servants, I immediately sensed its well-ordered harmony and repose. Hereafter, I shall smile when I hear people say, "I feel so sorry for Charlie living all alone in that big house on top of the hill." For he revels in solitude. His nervous make-up positively requires it. "My idea of luxury," the movie millionaire said to me, "is to be absolutely alone until 5 o'clock in the afternoon." ... 
Even when given the rare opportunity, it is impossible to interview Charles Spencer Chaplin, as impossible to pin him to paper. He is too fascinating a conversationalist, too clever a raconteur, too amazing a mimic. You can neither keep him, nor yourself on a question track. Before you know it, he has raced off--you with him, in the direction of some new idea or suggestion. ...
"You baffle me," I told him when I said goodbye. As I went down the hill in the big limousine lined in gray the color of Charlie's shoetops and driven by one of his inscrutable Japanese, I opened the book he had loaned me, "The London Spy," by Thomas Burke, suggesting that I might  find the answer to his personality in a brief paragraph he had marked. This is what I read: 
"Even were he obscure, a mere nobody, without the imposed coloring of "Charlie," and world popularity, he would be a notable subject, for he has that wonderful, impalpable gift of attraction which is the greater part of Mr. Lloyd George's power. You feel his presence in a room and are conscious of something wanting when he departs. He has a rich-hued quality of Alvan in "The Tragic Comedians." You feel he is capable of anything. And when you connect him with 'Charlie' the puzzle grows and you give it up. The ambition that served and guided him for 10 years is satisfied, but it is still unsatisfied. The world has discovered him, but he has not yet found himself. He is the shadow friend of millions throughout the world, and he is lonely--an exile, seeking for something the world cannot give him." 
--Mayme Ober Peak, "Finds Charlie Aged and Frightened: Screen's Foremost Artist Entertains Globe Writer at Beverly Hills Home...," Boston Globe, April 22, 1928

5 comments:

  1. Another one of those lovely descriptions of Charlie which echoes so many of the impressions of others before and after this one--oh, to be able to witness that quicksilver grace, elfin charm, and bright intelligence in person!

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  2. That part about his concentration seeming to be on you and you only when he engaged in conversation....I have seen this so many times when he was photographed in conversation with others.....men or women. You can sort of feel the concentration of 'him'. Lovely article. Beautiful portrait.

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  3. Yes, I think that ability to concentrate on people so intently was probably one of his most likable characteristics. I do wonder if it was in part an extension of his shyness and insecurity about his own intellect, especially early in his life--did he get into the habit early on of listening so he himself wouldn't have to speak as much? Pondering. . .

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    1. I don't know. I think Chaplin had just as much of a reputation as a great talker. Harry Crocker, Paulette, Alistair Cooke, and others, have all referred to his ability to talk and talk for hours on end.

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    2. Another thought that just occurred to me is that Chaplin was notoriously shy with reporters. I don't know if he was worried about what he would say to them or how he would come across to the public--or both. Recently I read an interview with Chaplin by British journalist Margaret Chute and she also mentions what a good listener he was and how he focused intently on her when she would tell him stories about England.

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