Showing posts with label Alistair Cooke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Alistair Cooke. Show all posts

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Working With Charlie Chaplin, Vol. 6: Talking Story

Chaplin holds a scenario conference at the Lone Star Studio during production of Behind The Screen, 1916.
 L-R: Eric Campbell (2nd from left), Henry Bergman (next to Campbell, partially visible), 
Frank J. Coleman, Loyal Underwood, Albert Austin (wearing boater hat), CC, Rollie Totheroh (far right).
(Source: Jeffrey Vance/Chaplin: Genius Of The Cinema)
  • For story conferences on pictures preceding The Circus and City Lights, Charlie used a small frame bungalow on the far northeast cor­ner of the studio lot. Consisting of a bedroom and dressing room, a bathroom, and a small kitchen, it was secluded and quiet. Sometimes he would sit, one foot tucked under him, slashing at the leather cushion with one of his limber bamboo canes, as if in an effort to whip out an idea. Mostly, though, when he was thinking he would walk. Furiously. The room was small. Restlessly he would pace up and down like a caged animal. Sometimes he would detour through the rest of the bungalow. That he was in another room didn't stop him talking.... "Have you got that down?" Charlie would demand incessantly of Carl Robinson who, pencil in hand, had been making notes of all ideas expressed and suggestions made. He would walk up and shake an impatient finger at the sheet of paper. "Get all this down! I can't remember everything. Have you got the ring gag down? And the fruit stand? And the vegetable wagon?" Carl would nod. --Excerpt from Harry Crocker manuscript, Academy Leader, April 1972
  • He came scurrying into the bungalow every morning on the dot of ten in cap, tieless shirt, white slacks and the angora sweater, sat down at the creaky little table and said, "Shall we go?"...Then we started the [Napoleon] script, and the first thing he taught me was that you don't begin at the beginning. "We look," he said, laying down the law with a firm index finger tapping the table, "for some little incident, some vignette that fixes the other characters. With them, the audience must never be in any doubt. We have to fix them on sight. Nobody cares about their troubles. They stay the same. You know them every time they appear. This is no different from the characters who surround 'the little fellow.' He's the one we develop."
  • Sometimes we had along Carter de Haven, whom Chaplin had hired to be assistant director on Modern Times....Almost always, except during the knottier historical sketches, there was his massive old friend, spiritual uncle and adviser, Henry Bergman, who had played in some of the early two-reelers as every sort of foil from a fat lady and a bum to a pawnshop owner. Bergman was a huge, gentle old German to whom Chaplin always referred some promising scene or gag. He said very little, but if Chaplin had doubts, in the moment of improvising, he would look over to Bergman, say, "No?" and Bergman would shake his head, and we'd forget it. --Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

Still from How To Make Movies (1918).
L-R: Tom Wilson, Loyal Underwood, CC, Henry Bergman, Rollie Totheroh Jack Wilson, Edna Purviance

  • The "writing" of the story is done in Charlie's room at the Athletic Club, for obvious reasons which will appear when it is related that the other night a bellboy, entering Charlie's room, found the whole crowd rehearsing a wild scene, and started to call for the police. --Grace Kingsley, "Charlie Chaplin Begins Work In New Studio," Los Angeles Times, January 20th, 1918
  • A Chaplin picture conference is something that defies description. When the picture situations (they are never referred to as gags on the Chaplin lot) have been perfected in the mind of Chaplin--a long, slow process that requires from two to four years--Della [Steele] and Henry [Bergman] are then summoned to a conference in Charlie's bungalow.
  • About the table gather Charlie, Henry and Della and the situations are then acted out one after the other. Charlie begins by taking his own role of the little tramp, closely watching their reactions to his every move. Henry, who weighs the better part of a ton, is then called upon to play Chaplin's role, Della takes Miss [Paulette] Goddard's role of the little street waif and Charlie is the factory foreman. They go into the scene, silently moving about the room. Swiftly they change parts again. Della is Charlie the tramp. Henry is the policeman and Chaplin becomes the street waif, a look of pathetic wistfulness stealing across his face as the Chaplin features fade into some vague mist and the hungry child of the streets emerges in perfect form. Trying to hide their tears Della and Henry watch the character before them. Not Chaplin. Certainly not Chaplin. But a strange and terrified child. --Sara Hamilton, "Charles Chaplin and Charlie Chaplin," Straits Times, March 20th, 1936
  • There is another story that Harry D'Arrast loves to tell as convincing proof that Charlie is an eccentric and unpredictable genius. Shooting had been suspended for a few minutes while the staff sat down to discuss a certain scene. During the discussion a fly kept buzzing around Charlie's head; he slapped at it several times, finally became annoyed, and called for a fly swatter. The swatter was obtained and Charlie took charge of it. As the discussion continued he watched the fly, waiting for an opportunity to swat it. But this was a very elusive fly. Three times Charlie swung at it and three times he missed. At last the fly settled on a table directly before him. He raised the swatter to deliver the death blow. Then he changed his mind and lowered his weapon, allowing the fly to escape.
    "Why didn't you swat it?" someone demanded.
    Charlie shrugged. "It wasn't the same fly." --Adolphe Menjou, It Took Nine Tailors, 1948

Monday, September 7, 2015

Working With Charlie Chaplin: Vol. 2: Lunch Time

Lunch on location

"Most days we went to lunch at Musso and Frank's, a nearby restaurant that is to this day one of my favorites. Charlie, Henry Bergman (who appeared in any Chaplin films), Carter de Haven, Sr. (who had been a famous actor, and was the father of Gloria de Haven), and I would travel in splendor in Charlie's limousine. We always sat in the same corner table in the back room and had the same rather bored waiter. Almost anyone else would have been elated at the prospect of serving an artist of such eminence, but this one was onto all of Charlie's tricks and affected to be unaffected by them. But I loved every minute of it. Charlie had certain little songs with which he would order lunch, and we learned to sing them along with him. One of them, to the tune of 'I Want A Lassie,' went: 'I want a curry; a ricy, spicy curry, With a dish of chutney on the side!' Another, to the melody of 'Irish Eyes Are Smiling,' went: 'An I-rish Stew, with veg-e-ta-bles...!' All were performed with gusto. Diners who were startled by the sudden outbursts from the corner table seemed to be quickly mollified at the thought of enlivening their dinner conversations with the accounts of the luncheon entertainment. --David Raksin, "Life With Charlie Chaplin," Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, 1983

"[Eating] his lunch of a single tomato...he could never understand why the crew needed a whole hour for lunch when he only took a couple of minutes" --Robert Lewis, Slings and Arrows, 1996

"At lunchtime, Oona would arrive on the set with a carton of cottage cheese and pineapple, or hard-boiled eggs. They would sit in his little portable dressing room nibbling away contentedly until [Robert] Aldrich called, "OK! ready for the next shot!" --Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, 1989

"Charlie Chaplin had lunch [at Musso & Frank's] almost every day; his favorite was the boiled lamb with caper sauce."--"Coast Grill Still Thriving," Bridgeport Post, July 1, 1964

 Oona lunches with Charlie

"At precisely 4:00 pm...Gino [Chaplin's butler] 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, 2001

"We always went off to the same place [for lunch], Musso & Frank's, and Chaplin made a point of banning all talk of the script. At the end of the meal, he would make a silent sign to [Henry] Bergman, who produced the money and paid the bill. I never remember Chaplin carrying money." --Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

"At twelve o'clock on the second day, I yelled, 'Lunch!' The silence was terrific. You could hear the jaws drop. Nobody yells on a Chaplin set, not even Mr. Chaplin. Chuck came over, in that exquisite ballet-dancer gait of his. Pleasantly he asked me, 'What was that, m'love?' (Chuck called me 'm'love' during all the twelve weeks we worked. It's his term for Annabella--in the picture.) So I explained. People who aren't geniuses get hungry at noon...Chuck thought it was a wonderful idea. He couldn't imagine why somebody hadn't told him about it before. So for the duration of the picture, I called lunch. And now that I think of it, maybe that's the reason the crew and other members of the cast used to insist that I come around to the set even on the days that I didn't appear in the script!" --Martha Raye, Movieland, Feb. 1948

"Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance used to be [at Graham's Confectionery] almost daily. At that time, Charlie was not the cultured man he is today. He was a rather bad-tempered little customer, inclined to make temperamental scenes. I remember he nearly scared one of the girl waitresses to death one day by yelling, as he pounded his hand on the table, 'I want service! My time is money! Give me service or I'll get out? I can't wait around here all day!'...Charlie is a very different person, now" --Picture Play, September 1926

"Perhaps his emotional state can be best illustrated by the food he eats. One week he solemnly informs us that he is a vegetarian, that meat is bad for one, and that lettuce and fruit form the ideal food. We all become vegetarian. The next week, he looks up and says: 'What I need is a big juicy steak. Good meat to build up the body and brain.' The following week it becomes cantaloupe filled with ice cream. 'Everybody is eating too much,' he says. 'One can work much better on light lunches.'" --Virginia Cherrill, Picturegoer magazine, Dec. 9th, 1935

Afternoon tea on the set of Sunnyside.

"When Dad was engrossed, he lost all conception of time. Lunch hour might come and go without a break, especially as no one would find the temerity to interrupt and tell him that it was twelve noon. Sometimes it would be as late as two o'clock before he would come to his senses and dismiss the company for an hour. Syd and I always took lunch with Dad in his dressing room." --Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father Charlie Chaplin, 1960

"When we'd go on location, Sid would have his half-brother Wheeler keep an eye on the food-line. They had a special table set up for Charlie and the heads; I always sat over with the workmen and I think Charlie got a little put out about it, too. They'd break their necks; they'd do anything for me. I'd say, 'I'm no better than they are. What the hell, I don't have to sit over there and listen to all this and that.' Charlie happened to see Wheeler Dryden checking on me; he had a notebook, checking on every guy as he went along taking his dinner. Charlie finally said, 'Listen, what have they got over there to eat?'--where all the crew and everybody was eating. 'Well, so what, what have we got here?' You feed them over there the same that this table is eating. Regardless of what we got here, they eat the same thing. Remember that. See that you do.' Always for the underdog." --"Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed," Timothy J. Lyons, ed. Film Culture, Spring 1972

Monday, January 26, 2015

Charlie & Paulette entertain newlyweds Alistair Cooke and his wife, Ruth, at the Coconut Grove nightclub, September 1934

Property of Roy Export SAS

Chaplin was supposed to be best man at Cooke’s wedding in 1934, but failed to show up the day of the nuptials.  Alistair Cooke's biographer, Nick Clarke, contends that Chaplin didn't attend because Cooke's bride-to-be was worried that her straight-laced father would be offended by the fact that Paulette was living in sin with Charlie (Clarke said in an interview that this information came from an interview with Ruth Emerson Cooke, whom Alistair divorced in 1944). Cooke recalls in Six Men that Chaplin promised to come but just never showed up, something he was certainly known to do sometimes.

Several days after the ceremony, Cooke called Chaplin who behaved as if nothing had ever happened and offered to host the mother of all wedding parties for the newlyweds at the Coconut Grove.

While everyone looks happy in the picture, things apparently went downhill later in the evening:
The midnight show at the Coconut Grove was coming to an end. The star performer was one Gene Austin, a sugary crooner who had an alarming, but highly admired, habit of modulating his final notes a whole octave higher and so giving out the sound of a boy soprano or castrato. “Revolting” muttered Chaplin, who had declined into a brooding silence. Riding home, Paulette kept up the heartbreaking pretense that from now on her evenings would be agog with music and dancing. Chaplin gave her a black parental look. He started in about the cacophony of jazz, which he hated, and went on about the decadence of night life, the excruciating “eunuch” sounds to which he had been subjected, and the fate, similar to that of Sodom, which would shortly overtake the Republic. Paulette saw her vision collapse like the Ghost of Christmas Present. A tear ran down her enchanting face as she said, “What are we supposed to do evenings—stay home and write theses?!” Well, Chaplin replied, “One night a year is enough of that rubbish!”
At the house, his spirits revived, but there was no champagne to help them along. He never, through the two years I knew him best, drank or offered alcohol. He ordered his men to fetch a huge pitcher of water and the required number of tumblers. Our wedding party ended on a scene that would have warmed the heart of a Southern Baptist. We sat there yawning slightly, throwing in monosyllabic responses to Chaplin’s elegy on the modern world, and took long meditative drafts of pure cold water. (Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chaplin & Napoleon

             
                                                    Chaplin in costume as Napoleon, c.1930

Chaplin had a life-long fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte and for many years considered making a film about him. When he was looking for a dramatic vehicle to launch Edna Purviance's career, one of his first thoughts was to star her as Josephine to his Napoleon. Edna was not the first of Chaplin's female friends/companions to be offered the role of the Little Corporal's wife. Among them were Lita Grey (in private, Chaplin referred to her as "My Empress Josephine"),1 Raquel Meller, Merna Kennedy, Estelle Taylor,2 and May Reeves.

Merna Kennedy wearing a Napoleon-style hat (the same one Harry Crocker is wearing below)
in a photo taken at the Chaplin Studios.
Lita Grey posing in Napoleonic jewels at an exhibition in New York City, 1932.
During her marriage to Chaplin, they attended a fancy dress party as Napoleon and Josephine.
Click here to see a photo.

During the summer of 1934, Chaplin embarked on a screenplay for the Napoleon film with with his new friend, Alistair Cooke. Many months were spent on the script, which would be based on Napoleon's experiences in St. Helena, until Chaplin suddenly declared "it's a beautiful idea, for someone else."3

               
                                                                  With Harry Crocker

Below is a home movie of Chaplin as Napoleon that was filmed by Alistair Cooke aboard Chaplin's yacht, Panacea, during the summer of 1933. Alistair Cooke describes the film in his book, Six Men:
Chaplin suddenly asked me to take some photographs, both still and in motion, of himself as Napoleon. He pulled his hair down into a ropy forelock, slipped one hand into his breast pocket, and slumped into a wistful emperor. He started to talk to himself, tossing in strange names to me--Bertrand, Montholon--and then took umbrage, flung an accusing finger at me and, having transformed his dreamy eyes into icicles, delivered a tirade against the British treatment of him on "the little island." His face was now a hewn rock of defiance. I still have it on film, and it's a chilling thing to see. 



For a more in-depth look at the Napoleon project and how it eventually morphed (somewhat) into The Great Dictator, click here to watch a 20-minute visual essay by Chaplin archivist Cecilia Cenciarelli entitled "Chaplin's Napoleon."

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1Lita Grey Chaplin, My Life With Chaplin

2Movie Classic, November 1932. Additional note: Chaplin was romantically linked to Taylor during the early part of 1924. There were even rumors of an engagement, but Taylor nipped that in the bud: "No, I couldn't take that kind of punishment. I will pick my own persimmons. Charlie isn't one of them." (Adela Rogers St Johns, Love, Laughter, and Tears

3Alistair Cooke, Six Men

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Andy Anderson, Charlie, & Paulette, 1933

Andy Anderson, a former Keystone Kop, was the skipper of Charlie's yacht, Panacea.
Photo by Alistair Cooke.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Charlie & Food

  • Charlie and I lived together, sharing the same room, for more than two years, and many's the time we cooked our dinners in our room. I fried the chops, while Charlie sat close to the door playing his mandolin to keep the landlady from hearing the sizzling of the meat over the gas--which was put there for lighting purposes only and not with any idea of cooking!  --Stan Laurel, Film Weekly, Sept. 1929. Reprinted in Peter Haining's Charlie Chaplin: A Centennial Celebration
  • Perhaps his emotional state can be best illustrated by the food he eats. One week he solemnly informs us that he is a vegetarian, that meat is bad for one, and that lettuce and fruit form the ideal food. We all become vegetarian. The next week, he looks up and says: "What I need is a big juicy steak. Good meat to build up the body and brain." The following week it becomes cantaloupe filled with ice cream. "Everybody is eating too much," he says. "One can work much better on light lunches." His favorite dish I remember to be banana nut ice cream. --Virginia Cherrill, Picturegoer magazine, Dec. 9th, 1935. 
  • Every Tuesday at the Manoir was the cook's day off, and my mother used to take over the kitchen. She is surprisingly good over a cookstove. Tuesday was the day when she cooked for my father all his favorite dishes. None of the five star Cordon Bleu routine, but things he must have had, or wished he'd had, as a kid in South London...tripe and onions, steak and kidney pie, and stews with dumplings in them. But his craziest food fad is for a thing called Almond Joy. They're an American chocolate bar with an almond on top of them. The Swiss, with a swinging chocolate industry, don't encourage outsiders, and you can't buy Almond Joy there or in England. So any visitor he has coming in from the States loads up with candies for the old man. --Michael Chaplin, I Couldn't Smoke The Grass On My Father's Lawn, 1966.

  • Most days we went to lunch at Musso and Frank's, a nearby restaurant that is to this day one of my favorites. Charlie, Henry Bergman (who appeared in any Chaplin films), Carter de Haven, Sr. (who had been a famous actor, and was the father of Gloria de Haven), and I would travel in splendor in Charlie's limousine. We always sat in the same corner table in the back room and had the same rather bored waiter. Almost anyone else would have been elated at the prospect of serving an artist of such eminence, but this one was onto all of Charlie's tricks and affected to be unaffected by them. But I loved every minute of it.  Charlie had certain little songs with which he would order lunch, and we learned to sing them along with him. One of them, to the tune of "I Want A Lassie," went: "I want a curry; a ricy, spicy curry, With a dish of chutney on the side!" Another, to the melody of "Irish Eyes Are Smiling," went: "An I-rish Stew, with veg-e-ta-bles...!" All were performed with gusto. Diners who were startled by the sudden outbursts from the corner table seemed to be quickly mollified at the thought of enlivening their dinner conversations with the accounts of the luncheon entertainment. --David Raksin, "Life With Charlie Chaplin," Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, 1983
  • The Chaplins ate outdoors as often as possible, on a large terrace overlooking a long expanse of lawn, and the mountains in the distance. Wild strawberries with heavy cream provided an occasion for a kind of dramatic production by Chaplin. He would choose the best-looking ones and present them, one at a time, to Oona, to himself, to a guest, and to each of his children--in that order. At the close of one such production, he shared a confidence with me. "Every once in a while," he said, "the old lady and I get out the caviar and champagne. And we don't invite anybody else. We sit here gorging ourselves. Just the two of us." --Lillian Ross, Moments With Chaplin, 1980


  • Charles Chaplin likes stewed tripe and hates whiskey. He does like good wines, and drinks cocktails when the occasion seems to require it. Before prohibition, he always had a well-stocked cellar, never drank much himself, and always was a perfect host alcoholically. Since prohibition came, the same is true. Besides stewed tripe, he likes lamb stew. Those are two of his three favorite dishes. He dislikes seasoning, never uses sauces or violent condiments and doesn't care for highly spiced dishes. The one exception is curry, the hotter the better. That's his third favorite dish. He is utterly inconsistent about eating. Sometimes he will go for twenty-four hours or longer without taking a morsel. Then he'll eat four or five meals within the next day. He goes on diets but never keeps them up. He went rabidly on a raw vegetable diet for several days. "Look at animals," he said, "they eat raw vegetables and are healthy. The elephant is the biggest and strongest animal; he eats only vegetables." That night, Charlie ate two beefsteaks, rare.
  • His cook will work for a day or two to prepare an epicurean meal for him. Charlie sits down and it is served. He doesn't like the looks or aroma of something before him. So he leaves the table and goes to a cheap lunch counter and eats ham and eggs. He likes to eat at drug store lunch counters. His favorite restaurant is Henry's. The proprietor is his assistant director. When he is served something he likes very much, he takes as many as five helpings. It makes him violently ill. --Harry Lang, "No Talkies For Charlie," Photoplay, May 1930
  • I went to Chaplin’s house. And they served dinner in the living room, and I remember they served chicken, loose chicken. And there was a bowl in the middle so you could help yourself. And the plate was quite large, and it was like a soup, but not quite—it was wonderful looking. And Charlie gets a spoon, slurp, both hands, the bread, slurp, and I’m going, "Oh my God! Uuuh!" And I’m going, "I don’t believe this!" ‘cause I’m very proper, and Oona was so proper, but you know, I figured she knows what to do, I’ll just follow what she does, just consider everything normal and keep on going. And it was the funniest thing, because it was such a shock! I’d never seen anybody schlurp it in and chew with an open mouth and with everything going at once. And laughing and talking and everything, and I’m going, "Oh my God!" --Interview with Marilyn Nash, Limelight magazine, Spring 1997
  • Looking across to the little boats bobbing gently by the quayside at Avalon, I was startled by a deferential cough and turned to see Chaplin standing over me. He had come up from below as lightly as a grasshopper and was standing there in an attitude of a butler awaiting orders, head cocked expectantly, a napkin over the left forearm, his hand poised in a kindly step-this-way freeze. It was the silent movie call to breakfast and we went below. I have seen only one other man dispatch a meal with such speed. But whereas Adlai Stevenson, belying his general reputation for delicacy shovelled the stuff in with hands as pudgy as baseball mitts, Chaplin disposed of eggs and bacon and a wad of pancakes almost as  a display of sleight of hand. One of the permanent pleasures of being with him was to watch the grace and deftness with which he performed all physical movements, from pouring syrup to swerving like a matador just out of the line of an oncoming truck. --Alistaire Cooke, Six Men, 1956
  • He was a great entertainer. It was always nice to go out with him. He'd do these amazing things with fish in the restaurant too. He'd always ask for a trout that's boiled alive. It's sort of twisted into a funny position and he would take the trout and look at it and say, "Oh, Emma, darling!" And kiss the trout on the lips, and suck out its eyes. We'd all be screaming. "Oh, daddy! Oh, how can you! It's so horrible." He'd ask for the wine, taste it, spit it out and the say, "Wonderful." He loved an audience and we, his kids, were a fantastic audience for him. --Geraldine Chaplin, Variety, April 2003.
  • Chaplin conveys the stigma he felt, as a "nondescript of the slums" and underlines the depth of their destitution, by citing simply the absence of a home-cooked dinner on Sunday. "Even the poorest of children sat down to a roast that night," he reports, a ritual that distinguished one poor class from the beggar-class, "and we were that...The shame of it —especially on Sunday!" But they just couldn't afford it. On the other side of the same coin, something they could afford that Chaplin loved, was bread and dripping. This was fried bread sopped in beef juice: that was what impoverished English families ate when they couldn't buy anything else to eat. It was what was left from other foods: bread was used to sop up juice and melted fat from some meat that had been cooked and eaten, often long before. It was a staple of the poor. The night they returned from his father's funeral, this was all there was to eat--they even had to sell a little oil stove in order to buy bread. His association with it is pleasant: "There were times when I would stay home, and Mother would make tea and fry bread in beef dripping, which I relished...."
  • His wealth is not just protection, it is his revenge for the stinging humiliations he endured as a nobody. But his greatness? He continually returned to the term, "clown," "nothing but a clown," until I asked him directly whether he had any idea of what it was that linked him to the millions of people who felt so close to him, who loved his "tramp" who worshipped him as something more than an actor, as something more personal than a showman. His whole answer, in strong, decisive terms, was: "Yes. Bread and dripping." --Peter Steffens, "Charlie Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp," Ramparts, March 1965

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"O Come, All Ye Faithful" with Charlie & Alistair Cooke

I don't think Charlie knows the words!

From the home movie All At Sea (1933)**

I included the part that came after the song because I think it's cute. You can really see the curls in Charlie's hair.

**This version with musical accompaniment can be found among the extras on the Criterion edition of Modern Times.