Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Working with Charlie Chaplin: Vol. 4

I couldn't come up with a title for this one but suffice to say you didn't want to get on Chaplin's bad side. I must admit that I did consider calling it "For Christ's Sake!" You'll see why...

[Chaplin to assistant director and half-brother, Wheeler Dryder, during production of Monsieur Verdoux] "No, no, no, shut up, you silly bastard, for Christ's sake, we cut to Annabella, you don't understand anything about motion pictures. I know what I'm doing, yeah, that's what I cut to. I have been in this business for 20--for 30 years, you don't think I am gaga? Oh, shut up...Christ... We cut to Annabella, I know goddamn well what I am doing...For Christ's sake, I have been cutting this scene in my mind for the past three years...I know exactly...then the music starts....Don't talk to me." (reminiscences of Robert Florey via "Charlie Dearest" by Brian Taves, Film Comment, April 1988)
Group shot on the set of Monsieur Verdoux, 1946:
L-R: Robert Florey, Wheeler Dryden, Henry Bergman (in front), Rollie Totheroh, and CC

After I had been working at the Manoir for a few days I ventured to ask if he ever stopped work for a cup of tea during the afternoon. He snapped back, "I don't like tea." Feeling this to be a bit lacking in consideration, I retorted equally, "Well, I do." To my surprise instead of a lordly rebuke he said quite gently, "How thoughtless, you must forgive me, Eric." He at once rang for Gino [the butler] and from that day and every day thereafter a gentle tap would be heard on the door at precisely 4:00 pm and Gino would appear with a silver tray containing a pot of tea, a wedge of chocolate cake, and an assortment of sweet biscuits. At this point Mr. Chaplin would then absent himself from the room for five minutes. Occasionally he would remain, sitting in the armchair facing me and I would feel waves of suppressed irritation wafting over me as he tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair and dared me with his eyes to linger a moment longer than he considered necessary. (Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin, 2000)
CC with longtime music associate Eric James

[Chaplin to son Sydney, who played Neville in Limelight] "For Chrissakes, come on Syd!. Get some feeling into the lines...Show a little warmth!...For Chrissakes, what's wrong with you? Get the lead out of your pants!" (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, 1989)
With Sydney in Limelight

It was on 
A Woman Of Paris. We were all in watching rushes. And he said, "Rollie, that's out of focus." And I said, "Gee, if it was out of focus, my eyes are sharp, I'd tell you." "For Christ's sake! Jesus Christ! Lousy!" he said. So I said, "Well, if you can say that is lousy, you'd better get yourself another boy." He said, "I will." "Okay." So he ran down to Mr. [Alfred] Reeves office. I went back and sat in my office. They went to lunch, and I went to lunch and came back...Word came down that we'd call it a day. [That night, Alf Reeves went came to talk to Rollie at home and made sure that he would come in the next day. Rollie said he would, and give Charlie his two weeks' notice.]The next morning I was sitting on the bench and instead of Charlie driving in through the gates where he always did, he came into his front office through the screen door and I was sitting on the bench outside. He mentioned to me to come down to him and he turned around and put his behind up in the air and he said, "Kick me in the ass, Rollie." And I did. And he said, "You know, I wanted to take that shot over anyhow." ("Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed," Timothy J. Lyons, ed., Film Culture, Spring 1972

With Rollie, 1923
He got so frustrated with Almira Sessions that he started yelling and screaming. 'Why can't you get anything straight? All you have to do is this, this and this...'" (Interview with Marilyn Nash, "Limelight" newsletter, Spring 1997)

Almira Sessions as Lena Couvais in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

"Hello, Gardiner," he said, looking at me with those strange, deep blue, and at times, pathetic eyes. "Say, you didn't show up at 6 a.m." And then rather sharply: "You held everything up, you know." I explained to him that there had been some mistake about the call as I had not received one the night before and that I was sorry I had caused him any inconvenience, but that it really wasn't my fault. "I must have cooperation at all times from people who work for me," he answered. "If people don't show enthusiasm over their work with me, I've no use for them. And if you feel you are not going to be able to put everything you've got into this role. I can always get someone else."I felt mortified and completely tongue-tied. I pulled myself together and, as calmly as I could, that I would do everything possible to do my part to the utmost and was looking forward to being in the picture more than any other assignment I had had previously."Well, that's fine, Reggie," he said, smiling now. "Let's say no more about your being late this morning." I smiled and thanked him and he walked away over to the camera. (Reginald Gardiner, "The Pleasure of Meeting A Dictator," New York Herald Tribune, September 16, 1940)

Reggie Gardiner, left, as Schultz in The Great Dictator (1940)

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