Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Chaplin -- "a singer of the first order"

British journalist Kathlyn Hayden describes watching Chaplin burst into song during a break on the set of City Lights:
In the flesh there is little of the pathos about Charlie. He is essentially the comedian. For instance, during one of the usual interminable waits while the electricians were charging the lights Charlie ordered the radio turned on. (It seems he always has a loud speaker on the set--to amuse him during the waits.) The stage was suddenly flooded with the glorious voice of Lawrence Tibbett--a gramophone recording of one of his numbers from 'The Rogue Song.'

Chaplin puts a record on the gramophone.
Behind him are (L-R): Ralph Barton, Virginia Cherrill, Allan Garcia, & Carlyle Robinson.
 At far left in the white coat (partially cut off) might be Granville Redmond.

Instantly Charlie sprang to his feet, struck a theatrical posture, and began to sing the song himself. As he imitated Tibbett he was pricelessly funny, capturing all of the grand opera star's mannerisms.1 But that wasn't all. The Chaplin singing voice is wonderful. The little fellow amazed me with his robustness of his middle register. And when Tibbett took the high notes Charlie was with him! Perhaps I am prejudiced, and I don't profess to be a music critic, but so far as I am concerned there is nothing to between Tibbett and Chaplin--as singers. 
But of course it would never do for the pathetic little tramp of the funny shoes and bowler to burst into song--in character.2 The Chaplin of the films couldn't do such a thing. Yet if only once he might consent to play a different role, I am sure he could win new laurels--as a singer of the first order.  
("A Day With Charlie," Picture Show, April 4th, 1931)


Note: I'm not sure if the above photos are from the same performance Ms. Hayden witnessed. 

One of Chaplin's favorite "turns" at private gatherings was to imitate opera singers. A couple of his favorites were Feodor Chaliapin and John McCormack. At one such party, Screenland's "Liza" noted that Chaplin sang Mother Machree & When Irish Eyes Are Smiling "in as good an Irish tenor as you can find in Hollywood." (Screenland, January 1941)

Little did they realize in 1931 that Chaplin would "burst into song" in his next film, Modern Times,--and it would be the first time audiences would hear the Tramp's voice.


  1. I so wish I could hear his performance! I often read about Chaplin being a great singer - I'd love to hear more of his singing!

    1. Me, too. We get to hear some singing in "Limelight" but I would really love to hear these operatic performances.

    2. I was ecstatic when I first heard him sing in "Limelight" (and I watched this movie even before "Modern Times" and "The Circus"). But then again, it would be great to hear what his voice was really capable of. With his dedication to the music, I always though he should've written a musical.