Showing posts with label Al Hirschfeld. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Al Hirschfeld. Show all posts

Thursday, April 3, 2014

World Tour Revisited: The "funny man" arrives in Bali, April 3rd, 1932

*All photos are from Charlie and Syd's home movies.

The brothers' first glimpse of Bali was in the morning. "We were cruising along its beautiful shores on the way to Bulelang, our landing place. Silvery downy clouds encircled the green mountains, leaving their peaks like floating fairy islands. Majestic landscapes and smiling inlets passed until we reached our destination. How different this port looks from those of civilized countries; no chimney stacks to mar the horizon, no begrimed dry docks nursing rusty ships, no iron foundries, stock yards or tanneries. Only a small wooden wharf, a few picturesque boats and houses with red tiled roofs."



Charlie first heard of Bali during a conversation with his brother about the general unrest of the world. "If it comes to the worst," said Syd, "I'll go to Bali. That is an island untouched by civilization, where you can sit under sweltering palms and pick fruit off the trees and live as nature intended. There one doesn't worry about depression. The problem of living is easy. And the women are beautiful."

The conversation didn't arouse his interest at the time. But when they were en route to Japan aboard the Suwa Maru, Sydney brought him a book.* During the day, Charlie browsed through it "and after reading a chapter I was 'sold.'"

Much to Charlie's surprise, they are greeted at the dock in Bulelang by an enormous crowd. "To my horror, I discovered that the natives of Bali had seen one or two of my pictures. 'Good heavens,' I thought, 'have I come all this way for another Rotary Club welcome?'"

After tea at the governor's house, "we got into our automobile and sped along the road to south Bali, our final destination."

Although the landscape was beautiful, Charlie was disappointed. "Where were the beautiful women? I had been told that the natives went bare-shouldered, but I found they were all respectably covered up."

He wouldn't be disappointed for long. "We had been riding about fifteen minutes when my brother Syd nudged me. 'Look there, quick!'

"I turned and saw a line of stately creatures walking along the roads, dressed only in batiks wrapped around their waists and their chests bare. How picturesque they looked carrying curved shaped pottery upon their heads, with one arm akimbo and the other swinging in rhythmic motion as they filed by."

Charlie recalled that their guide, "an American Turk who sat in front with the chauffeur, was most annoying, for he would turn with lecherous interest to see our reactions--as though he had put on a show for us."

The brothers arrive at Denpasar and stop at the Bali Hotel, which had only recently been built. "It is in modern style...the sitting rooms are open like a veranda, and partitioned off with sleeping quarters in the back."



"How nice to be away from civilization," Charlie wrote, "relieved of stiff shirt fronts and starched collars. I had made up my mind to go around native-like with just a loose shirt, a pair of trousers and sandals. You can imagine my disgust when I found a notice posted in the room which read that all guests must be fully dressed when entering the dining-room. I was most indignant. Nevertheless I dined deliberately without changing my clothes or shaving."




That evening, Charlie and Syd were invited to dinner by the caricaturist Al Hirschfeld and his wife, who had been living in Bali for two months. "On discovering his anonymity," Hirschfeld later wrote, "Charlie decided to carry out an experiment. It was then I realized that the mustache, baggy pants and oversized shoes were of no more importance to Chaplin than the type of quill used by Shakespeare or the frame on any great painting. The pith helmet he carried with him would and did serve just as well for this research in laughter.

"His audience was composed of seven house boys who worked for me...These were the unwitting spectators of Chaplin's magical performance. He proceeded to put the pith helmet on his head and it sprang crazily into the air with a will of its own. Undaunted and with a wonderful look of nonchalance he tried it again. And again the hat flew off his head. The natives howled with laughter, thinking his hat to be possessed of demoniacal powers. When the simplicity of the trick was exposed to them they tried desperately amid great hilarity to snap their turbans in the same way. That was the experiment. He had wanted to see if the natives would laugh at his pantomime. They did. Chaplin's science is humor and his laboratory the world. His humor is contagious and natural. That was his first day in Bali and he had earned himself the descriptive title of 'funny man.'"


Charlie had originally planned to stay in Bali for only a week, but enjoyed it so much he stayed for two.

Coming up in my next WTR post: Chaplin immerses himself in Balinese culture.

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*The Last Paradise by Hickman Powell, published in 1930.

Sources:
Chaplin, "A Comedian Sees The World," 1933
Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
Al Hirschfeld, "A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds," NYT, 1942
Stein, Syd Chaplin, 2011

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds"

Drawing of Charlie by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld for his New York Times article
 "A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds" published July 26, 1942

In 1932, during a visit to Bali, Charlie met Al Hirschfeld who had been living there with his wife. The motion picture had not yet made an appearance on the remote island.

In the New York Times article mentioned above, Hirschfeld wrote:
On discovering his anonymity he decided to carry out  an experiment. It was then I realized that the mustache, baggy pants and oversized shoes were of no more importance to Chaplin than the type of quill used by Shakespeare or the frame on any great painting. The pith helmet he carried with him would and did serve just as well for this research in laughter.
His audience was composed of seven house boys who worked for me...These were the unwitting spectators of Chaplin's magical performance. He proceeded to put the pith helmet on his head and it sprang crazily into the air with a will of its own. Undaunted and with a wonderful look of nonchalance he tried it again...The natives howled with laughter, thinking his hat to be possessed of demoniacal powers. When the simplicity of the trick was exposed to them they tried desperately amid great hilarity to snap their turbans in the same way. That was the experiment. He had wanted to see if the natives would laugh at his pantomime...That was his first day in Bali and he had earned himself the descriptive title of "funny man."
Ten years later, Hirschfeld visited Hollywood and tried, unsuccessfully at first, to contact Charlie. In the 1942 article he described what happened next:
I had just about given up the idea of seeing him when Tim Durant, Chaplin's closest friend and companion, informed a friend of Durant's and mine that Charlie was "dying to see me." I had previously phoned his house twice a day since my arrival only to be told by his secretary that "Mr. Chaplin has just this minute stepped out." So with some suspicion I drove to his Summit Drive home and rang the bell in great trepidation. A man servant appeared and I asked to see Mr. Chaplin. He did not ask my name or business but merely said, "I have no idea where he is at the moment but you may find him asleep somewhere on the grounds."
Being unfamiliar with the terrain I set out on this peculiar adventure. I had not far to go. In a hammock alongside the swimming pool was the great man curled up asleep. Near by were some orange peels and on his chin were further evidences of a recent snack. He awoke on my approach and bounded up to greet me. We talked of many things. He was in great form.
I don't remember what he said. He was dancing, laughing and being the greatest pantomimist I had ever seen. White hair, honest blue eyes, a laugh more eloquent than any prose. Young in a way that few youths have ever been. Old with a rare dignity. I watched this man who dares to be simple, as fascinated and amused as the first time I saw him in the movies. He talks and thinks pictorially, knowing every second how he looks and not caring what he says. To listen is to lose everything. He uses words for the same purpose as a magician. He plays tennis with his left hand and writes with his right....
Chaplin has exploited to the full his endowed talents. He trusts and never underrates his genius. He will sometimes do nothing for months, waiting for the custard pie of creation to smack him. He is a man with both feet firmly planted in the clouds.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Scenes from the premiere of THE GREAT DICTATOR, New York City, October 15th, 1940


The film premiered simultaneously at the Capitol and Astor theaters.  Charlie and Paulette Goddard appeared at both.

Charlie and Paulette at the Capitol Theater. The couple did not travel together to the New York City premiere. Paulette flew in from Mexico, where she had been spending time with artist Diego Rivera, and Charlie arrived from Los Angeles. After the premiere, Paulette flew back to L.A. and Charlie stayed on in New York for another four months. During this time, Paulette moved out Charlie’s house.

Jack Oakie with Paulette & Charlie, who gives a Hynkel salute to the crowd.
Charlie fights his way through the crowd at the Astor theater.

Two-page spread from the New York newspaper PM, October 16th, 1940

A peek inside the original program which featured artwork by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
(from the collection of Phil Posner)





 After the premiere.
Dancing with Paulette at the Monte Carlo. 
Celebrating with H.G. Wells and Constance Collier.