Showing posts with label Della Steele. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Della Steele. Show all posts

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Random Excerpt

Journalist Sara Hamilton describes a day on the Chaplin lot during the filming of Modern Times:
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 they gather--and the situations are acted out one after the other. Charlie begins by taking his own role as 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; Charlie is the factory foreman. Then swiftly they change parts again. Della is Charlie, the tramp; Henry is a policeman and Chaplin becomes the street waif. 
Henry Bergman and Della Steele, c.1935. ©Roy Export S.A.S.
It was his untiring striving for perfection in performance and his gentle patience with the clumsiest performer that impressed a titled visitor (and visitors are rare) at the Chaplin lot recently.  Rehearsals began at ten that morning with extras and bit players ready and waiting. Then began one of the strangest phenomena every witnessed. Chaplin directing his own picture. In explaining the action to the owner of the delicatessen shop, Charlie became the character. In some manner he took on enormous proportions, his face rounded, his hands grew massive and clumsy as the tramp faded in the background. 
In a flash he became the policeman, growing in stature before the eyes as he strutted, stormed and threatened. Then on to Miss Goddard's role. Prone on the sidewalk he wept, cried out in childish despair, "I didn't, please, please, I didn't steal the ham. Oh please, I didn't, Mister. Honest, I didn't." The voice, not Chaplin's, but the voice of the frightened waif--wept and cried and pleaded from the sidewalk. Now, in a flash, he was an extra tramp, weaving his gentle way in perfect rhythm in and out among the characters.  
Directing Paulette Goddard. ©Roy Export S.A.S.
From ten till four it went on without a moment's pause. And then, with the perspiration dripping down his face, he humbly thanked them all and with an apology for having carried them past the lunch hour, staggered off, tired and weary, to his little bungalow, his cane flipping a feeble staccato as he went. 
There is little boisterousness around the Chaplin studio. The Chaplinites feel that unwarranted noise or crude language might offend "him." "Him" in case you haven't guessed, is the little tramp, the tattered ragamuffin, the gallant little gentleman with his absurdly defiant elegance who picks his teeth with such delightful savoir faire and belches with such charming daintiness. 
To them this pathetic little creature who once, long ago, sprang from the forehead of Charles Spencer Chaplin, is a definite personality. He lives, he breathes, he thinks, he walks his troubled way alone. His name to all of them, is just "he."
In the midst of some hilarious bit of tragedy in which "he" finds himself involved on the set, Chaplin will figuratively stand aside and contemplate his little friend with an amused chuckle and a knowing wink that seems to say, "our little friend got himself into a fine pickle that time, didn't he?"
So it was when they showed Charlie the sweater knit by the loving hands of some dear old lady and sent over to the Chaplin studio with a note explaining it was for the little tramp when the wind blew cold. Chaplin's eyes grew misty as he said, "Write and thank her and tell her not to worry. "I'll always take care of 'him.'"
--Sara Hamilton, "The New Charlie Chaplin," Baltimore Sun, September 1, 1935 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Paulette Goddard and the crew of Modern Times

Front row: Paulette (far left), asst. director, Carter De Haven (middle), continuity secretary, Della Steele (far right).
Back row: cameramen Ira Morgan (second from left), Rollie Totheroh (behind camera) and Mark Marlatt (second from right)

Friday, September 6, 2013

In the director's chair on the set of Modern Times

Cameraman Rollie Totheroh is in the background (in a sweater), as well as continuity secretary Della Steele. Charlie appears to be in street clothes except for his shoes.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Della Steele (left) & Kathleen Pryor at the Chaplin Studio gate

Thanks to Dominique Dugros for this lovely photo.


Pryor was also a secretary with the studio. The above photo accompanies the following article from the Los Angeles Times dated January 15, 1927:

Note: the Chaplin Studios had been placed into receivership by the I.R.S. at this time and had literally been padlocked.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Della Steele

Filming The Circus. Merna Kennedy is standing at center with Harry Crocker (tall man with hat),
 Toraichi Kono (behind Crocker) & Henry Bergman behind the camera. 
Seated in front of Bergman is Della Steele.

I've always been curious about Della Steele, Chaplin's continuity secretary from c.1924 to 1936. She can be spotted in numerous behind-the scenes-photos from this period (like the one above)--sitting behind the camera (usually off to the side somewhere) writing her meticulous notes, no matter where they were filming. She was among the crew who accompanied Chaplin to the snowy mountains of Truckee, CA during the filming of The Gold Rush. Lita Grey Chaplin remembered that Steele was one of the first crew members to catch a bad cold.

Steele's notes provide valuable insight into Chaplin's filmmaking process. Sometimes they included little tidbits of info about late-night meals and who visited the set on a particular day:
Midnight supper served on stage. Shooting in Dynamo set. Worked all night from 7:30PM to 4:45AM. Paulette Goddard, King Vidor and Betty Hill [Vidor's girlfriend] visitors on set. (October 15th, 1934)
The production report for the next day is a little more dramatic:
Shooting in Dynamo set. Hard rainstorm stopped work for an hour and a half. Rain came through tarpoleon [sic] overhead and caused some damage to the sets. Hot supper served at 1 A.M. and worked balance of night to 5:10 Wednesday morning. [work began at 6:30PM the previous day]
Production Report, Oct. 16th, 1934. Source: Modern Times: Project Chaplin n. 2 (©Roy Export)

Usually the secretary just filled in the start and end time for the day on the production report. Maybe it's just me, but the fact that Steele reiterated that the crew had to work all night both nights in her notes makes it sound like she wasn't too pleased about it.

Charlie directs a scene for Modern Times: Rollie Totheroh & Ira Morgan are behind the camera. 
Della Steele is behind Chaplin. Assistant director Carter De Haven is seated with his legs crossed on the left.
 Standing at far right is Paulette Goddard. Charlie appears to be in street clothes except for his shoes.

According to a 1936 article by Sara Hamilton,* Steele stood in for the actors during a story conference for Modern Times. The article also reveals how Chaplin could bring an audience to tears even during rehearsals (and even when he wasn't playing the Tramp)**:
About the table gather Charlie, Henry [Bergman] 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, [poor Henry!] is then called upon to play Chaplin's role, Della takes Miss 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.**
Not much is known about Steele's personal life. A lifelong Californian, Della Elizabeth Dosta Steele was born in 1890 and died in 1955. She was married once (as far as I can tell) to a man named John Steele. They were divorced sometime in the 1920s. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I don't believe she had any children. She was among the few women who worked for Charlie who wasn't an actress. It's a shame she was never interviewed (to my knowledge) about her time working for him. I'm sure she had some great stories to tell.

Chaplin's crew circa Modern Times. Back row: Mark Marlatt (asst. cameraman), 
Girwood Averill (projectionist), William Bogdonoff (construction). 
Front row: Joe Van Meter (production asst.), Henry Bergman (asst. director),
 Rollie Totheroh (cinematographer),  Della Steele, Allan Garcia (casting).
Photo by Max Munn Autrey.
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*"Charlie Chaplin and Charles Chaplin," The Straits Times, March 20th, 1936

**Alice Davenport had a similar reaction while watching Charlie film the scene from The New Janitor where the Tramp pleads for his job because he has a large family to care for. Afterwards Davenport told Charlie, "I know it's supposed to be funny, but you just make me weep." Henry Bergman also recalled the crew members getting misty-eyed while watching Charlie film the final scene of City Lights.