Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chaplin's Choice

Ever wonder what Chaplin thought of other actors or directors? Which films did he enjoy? Here is a non-comprehensive list of people and films he admired, with comments by Chaplin where I could find them. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments, preferably with sources.

Many thanks my friends Dominique Dugros, Lucy Jaffe, and Doreen Feeney for their help in putting this compilation together.

Actors/Actresses

Fred Astaire: "This Top Hat man exudes personality." (New York Times, Feb. 16, 1936)

Lucille Ball: "He enjoyed Lucille Ball...thought her very funny & extremely talented." (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie)

Lucille Ball poses as Chaplin in 1962

Fanny Brice: "Fanny Brice is a wonder as a comedian." (New York Herald, Sept. 11, 1921)

Mae Busch: "The best actress on the screen." (Motion Picture, Nov. 1924)

Mae Busch
Marion Davies "One evening at the Fairbankses' they ran a Marion Davies film, When Knighthood Was In Flower. To my surprise she was quite a comedienne, with charm and appeal, and would have been a star in her own right without the cyclonic Hearst publicity." (Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography)

Benny Hill: After receiving the Charlie Chaplin International Award for Comedy in 1991, Hill was invited, along with his longtime producer/director Dennis Kirkland, to Chaplin's home in Vevey where he was given a tour of the Manoir by Charlie's son, Eugene. Kirkland recalls the story in his biography of Hill:
After lunch he took us into the house to his father's sitting room and
his father's study, where Benny, thrilled to bits, was invited to sit in
Charlie Chaplin's chair. He was in heaven.
Then Eugene took us to a little room with a TV set and a video recorder and
showed us a row of videotapes on a shelf. They were all of Benny Hill
shows.
'My father used to sit here and watch you all the time. He thought you were
the greatest,' Eugene told Benny.

I had never seen Benny quiet so overwhelmed. He could not believe what he
was seeing and hearing. There were tears in his eyes.

Benny Hill as his character Fred Scuttle

Bob Hope: Chaplin to Hope after they were introduced by Hope's Cat & The Canary co-star, Paulette Goddard, at Santa Anita Race Track: "Young man, I've been watching the rushes of The Cat & The Canary every night. I want you to know that you're one of the best timers of comedy I have ever seen." (Joe Morella, Paulette: The Adventurous Life Of Paulette Goddard)

Al Jolson: "[Chaplin] thought that seeing Jolson live was the highest theatrical experience of his life. 'It was electrifying how he moved the audience,' Charlie said. 'When he came down the ramp and bent on his knees and sang 'My Mammy' it sent shivers down your back." (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie)

Peter Lorre: "There is much of the born poet in Peter Lorre. His is a fresh and original talent. He is endowed with such intuitive, emotional and imaginative powers that he impresses me as one of the greatest character actors. I look forward to seeing him make a genuine contribution to the art of acting on the screen." (Motion Picture, June 1936)

Mary Pickford: "I once asked Charlie who was his favorite screen actress. 'I think Mary Pickford," he answered unhesitatingly." (Sam Goldwyn, St. Louis Star, Feb. 14, 1924)

Films/Directors

Ingmar Bergman: "After meeting Ingmar Bergman in Sweden [in 1964], Charlie gave an interview to the Herald Tribune, and said he never missed an Ingmar Bergman film." (Epstein)

With Ingmar Bergman

Luis Bunuel: "Bunuel remembered other visits to Chaplin's home. Several times he screened Un Chien Andalou: the first time Kono, who was running the projector, fainted away when he saw the opening scene of a razor blade slicing an eye. Years later Bunuel delighted to learn from Carlos Saura* that according to Geraldine Chaplin her father used to frighten the children by describing scenes from Bunuel's films." (David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art) *Saura is the father of Geraldine's son, Shane Saura Chaplin.

A PLACE IN THE SUN (Dir. George Stevens, 1951): The story goes that Chaplin attended an advanced screening of the film and afterward told director George Stevens that it was "the greatest movie ever made about America." I couldn't find an actual source for this quote. However in Remembering Charlie, Jerry Epstein recalled seeing the film with Chaplin and that he enjoyed it.

Elizabeth Taylor & Montgomery Clift in A Place In The Sun

BARRY LYNDON (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1976): One of the last two films Chaplin ever saw (the other was Rocky). As he watched the film, he commented, "Beautiful...beautiful." (Epstein)

BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, 1925): Eisenstein recalled that Chaplin's first words of greeting when they met by Chaplin's tennis court in 1930: "Just saw Potemkin again. You know, in five years it hasn't aged a bit; still the same." (Chaplin & American Culture, Charles Maland)

THE BELLBOY (Dir. Jerry Lewis, 1960): During a visit to Chaplin's home, Lewis requested a copy of Modern Times to show his children on Sundays, Chaplin complied but with one provision: That Lewis send him a copy of The Bellboy, which was his favorite of Lewis' films. (Peter Bogdanovich, Who The Hell's In It)

DR. STRANGELOVE (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964): In an interview with Francis Wyndham in 1964, Chaplin said he hated most American films but was enthusiastic about Dr. Strangelove and did "an hilarious impression of George C. Scott squirming in the war room." The film's other star, Peter Sellers, was also briefly considered for the role of Hudson in Chaplin's last film, A Countess From Hong Kong.

George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove

D.W. Griffith: "The teacher of us all." (Francis Bordat, Chaplin Cineaste)

IVAN THE TERRIBLE (Dir. Sergei Eisenstein, 1944) "The Acme of all historical pictures. Eisenstein dealt with history poetically--an excellent way of dealing with it." (My Autobiography)

M (Dir. Fritz Lang, 1931): Chaplin confessed to star Peter Lorre at the Brown Derby that he had seen the film three times. (Stephen Youngkin, The Lost One: The Life Of Peter Lorre)

Peter Lorre in M

MORTAL CLAY (Dir. Victor Sjöström, 1922) "A most beautifully prepared and executed work of art, an inspiration to all lovers of beauty and a vehicle that should elevate the whole standard of motion pictures." (Moving Picture World, Nov. 17, 1923)

ROCKY (Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 1976): "As he watched, he kept murmuring, 'Excellent...excellent.'" (Epstein)

Carl Weathers & Sylvester Stallone in Rocky

SALVATION HUNTERS: (Dir. Josef Von Sternberg, 1925): Chaplin considered the film to be one of the greatest ever made. (Photoplay, August 1925)

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Dir. William Wyler, 1946): "The most significant picture to come out of Hollywood in years--significant not only for what the film itself accomplishes but also for the encouragement the film's success will give to other producers [to make daring and out-of-the-ordinary films]." (New York Times, April 13, 1947)

MORNING GLORY (Dir. Lowell Sherman, 1933): "Splendid." (New York Times, Feb. 16, 1936)

L-R: Adolphe Menjou, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, & Katharine Hepburn in Morning Glory

REMEMBRANCE (Dir. Rupert Hughes, 1922): "The most human picture ever put on the screen." (Motion Picture News, Sept. 20th, 1922)

Carlos Saura: "You are a poet." Chaplin to Saura in a telegram after having seen Ana Y Los Lobos with daughter, Geraldine (who was the star of the film). (Claudine Monteil, Les Amants Des Temps Modernes, based on an interview by the author with Geraldine).

STELLA DALLAS (Dir. Henry King, 1925): "I must congratulate [Samuel Goldwyn] on STELLA DALLAS. A friend of mine, seeing it the third time, enjoyed it as much as I did, seeing it the first time. It's a great triumph for you and the members of the cast. The direction is splendid, and undoubtedly the finest thing Henry King has ever done. May it bring you the success you deserve." (Moving Picture World, Jan. 23, 1926)).

Belle Bennett as Stella Dallas

12 comments:

  1. Very enjoyable & fascinating! Nice to know Charlie admired some of my favorite stars.

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  2. I heard that Benny Hill was a huge fan. When he learned that Charlie was a huge fan of HIS, he was dumbfounded and so touched. I think Charlie had a bunch of Benny's videos at Vevey, and Benny was thrilled. Do I have this right?

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    1. Yes, the story is quoted above in the section on Benny Hill.

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  3. Don't forget Groucho Marx.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPHVUHAC-wU


    Tom K

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    1. Dan Leno, Marie Doro, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Caruso, Heifetz, all come to mind.

      Phil

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  4. Thanks so much for this compilation. I have been wondering for years whose movies CC watched and what he thought of them. I don't see negative comments from Chaplin - I guess those would be harder to find!

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    1. I wanted only positive comments for this compilation but there are negative ones out there. One movie he didn't like was "Dr Zhivago," which starred his own daughter Geraldine. He told Francis Wyndham that it "seemed very banal to me--that ridiculous scene when he writes a poem by candlelight!"

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    2. yeah - speaking ill of people who have passed on...but still enquiring minds want to know - haha!
      I know Chaplin was a distant father and also a task master with high expectations of his kids. I wonder if he would have had a different opinion of Zhivago if Geraldine wasn't in it.

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  5. Wonderful compilation! On a skeptical note, I've always seriously doubted the Benny Hill story. By many reliable accounts (such as Robinson), Chaplin did not watch television much in the 1970's. On top of that, commercial videotapes and video machines were not available during the mid-1970s, and I can think of no reasonable way that Chaplin would have to have obtained Hill's shows in this period. Nice story, but it's very doubtful that it is true.

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    1. Thanks, Paul.
      I do agree that the Benny Hill story seems far-fetched. But even if commercial video tapes and video machines weren't readily available at the time, I think Chaplin being Chaplin could have obtained tapes of the show if he wanted them. Or, someone close to him could have obtained them (as Jerry Epstein did with the film ROCKY).

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    2. VERY far-fetched. If there's any truth to it at all, it's more likely that Eugene showed Hill tapes acquired by the family in 1980's, long after Chaplin's passing, and the story has been embellished since then.

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  6. http://www.wellesnet.com/dr-bernstein-to-orson-welles-rko-will-not-renew-your-contract-under-any-circumstances-the-magnificent-ambersons-memos-part-ix/

    According to this source, Charlie admired 'Citizen Kane' and thought Welles was a great artist. The letter, written by Welles' former guardian Maurice Bernstein, also suggests that he join United Artists and work with Chaplin. Well, we all know what came of their collaboration over 'Monsieur Verdoux'.

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