Showing posts with label Douglas Fairbanks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Douglas Fairbanks. Show all posts

Monday, November 28, 2016

United Artists stars & producers gather to protest the Fox West Coast Theater monopoly, November 1930

"We'll show our pictures in tents!" they said.

L-R: Al Jolson, Mary Pickford, Ronald Colman, Gloria Swanson, Douglas Fairbanks, Joseph Schenck, Charlie, Samuel Goldwyn & Eddie Cantor.

Modern Screen, Feb. 1931. Click to enlarge.

What did Chaplin have to say?

Santa Cruz Evening News, Nov. 29, 1930

(City Lights premiered January 30th, 1931 at the newly constructed Los Angeles Theater.) 

Fox West Coast and United Artists eventually reached a compromise in August 1931. Read more about it here.

L-R: Douglas Fairbanks, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Chaplin

Monday, September 19, 2016

Chaplin and others at the premiere of THE GOLD RUSH, June 1925

This photo is currently up for sale on eBay.* It appears to be from the Hollywood premiere of The Gold Rush.

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford are at far left with Gloria Swanson. I'm not sure who the women are on either side of Charlie. That might be Norma Talmadge at far right. Someone more knowledgable may be able to identify them. I think there is something a little fake-looking about this photo. The background looks airbrushed out. Or it could be a composite of individual photos from the premiere.

*The eBay seller lists Paulette Goddard as being in the photo. Of course, she is not. And the photo they include of the back is for a different picture.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Hollywood premiere of THE GOLD RUSH at Grauman's Egyptian Theater

More than 15,000 fans, held in check by ropes and police, gathered outside the theater on the evening of June 26th, 1925 to watch the celebrities descend from their cars. Among those in attendance were: Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, Gloria Swanson, Mabel Normand, Rudolph Valentino, John Barrymore, Lillian Gish, Marion Davies, Irving Thalberg and Norma Shearer, who were on their first date. Chaplin's then wife, Lita Grey, did not attend.*

Cover of premiere program. See the inside here.
Inside the theater the stars were announced to the audience via an elaborate stage prologue called "Charlie Chaplin's Dream" described as a "thing of matchless beauty":
A novel presentation of the celebrities present was accomplished by unreeling a special movie showing a procession of stars in specially acted incidents with Fred Niblo as master of ceremonies, both in film and on the stage.
Rudolph Valentino in the screen introduction was presented in a bathing suit and bathrobe as an oceanside victim of auto thieves. At this point a noise of running feet in the aisles attracted attention to a racing figure which was Rudy, sure enough, in a bathrobe.  Niblo reproached the sheik for appearing in such a costume, whereupon Rudy nonchalantly unpeeled the checkered robe and revealed the proprieties of a tuxedo.1
The applause for Mabel Normand's entry was second only to that of Charlie himself.

Chaplin at the premiere.

When the film was over Chaplin received an ovation and made his way to the stage but was "too emotional, he explained, to make much of a speech and then, characteristically, he proceeded to deliver a fairly good one."2

John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlotte Pickford, and Mary Pickford
at the opening.
Another person in the audience that evening was William E. Curry, grandfather of Lita Grey, who was Chaplin's original leading lady in the film until she became pregnant. "At the intermission, old Mr. Curry confided to a friend the depth of his disappointment at seeing Georgia Hale instead of Lita in the screen triumph he had anticipated for his 17-year-old granddaughter."3

Chaplin with Sid Grauman

Afterward a party was held for Charlie at the home of Sam Goldwyn. The celebrations continued the next afternoon with a "bachelor lunch party" at the Montmartre attended by the "back wash of the Chaplin premiere of the night before. Charlie himself with Douglas Fairbanks, Harry d'Arrast, and Robert Fraser." Charlie was clad in a "snappy sports outfit, white buckskin shoes, white serge trousers with a black hair line, and a form-fitting khaki coat. He received visits from many admirers at his table." Interestingly, a "nattily turned out" Syd Chaplin was also there, but "lunched with Hawaiian friends."4

*Lita had been in practical seclusion during this time. Three days after the premiere, the birth of Charlie Chaplin, Jr. was announced. His date of birth was given as June 28th, although he had actually been born on May 5th. Since Charlie and Lita had only been married 6 months, he paid the doctor $25,000 to falsify the birth certificate with a later date. In order to keep the birth a secret for another 7 weeks, Lita and the baby were hidden away--first in a cabin in the San Bernadino mountains and then in a house in Redondo Beach. 

1Rosalind Shaffer, "All The Old Guard of Movieland Sees Chaplin Premiere," Chicago Daily Tribune, July 5, 1925
2David Robinson, Charlie Chaplin: His Life and Art, 1985
3Chicago Daily Tribune, July 5, 1925
4Rosalind Shaffer, Chicago Daily Tribune, July 5, 1925

Friday, May 13, 2016

Accidents will happen...

During the filming of The Great Dictator (1940)

While filming one of the ghetto scenes with Paulette, Chaplin's left hand was caught in a slamming gate, breaking his middle finger.

"Leading lady (and Mrs. Chaplin) Paulette Goddard quickly called a car and rushed Chaplin to Hollywood Hospital, where they found themselves completely ignored by the hospital doctors & staff. After an interminable wait, Goddard approached a doctor and said that Mr. Chaplin's case needed immediate attention. The doctor looked more closely at Chaplin and his finger, then immediately apologized, stating, according to the original press book of The Great Dictator, 'When I saw you both coming in in makeup, I thought it was a couple of Hollywood jokers having a little fun at our expense.'" (Hooman Mehran, "Second Thoughts On The Great Dictator,Chaplin: The Dictator & The Tramp, BFI, 2004)

Watching the film closely, you can see Chaplin favoring his finger in certain scenes, including the one right before the gate closes, which suggests that he reshot this scene after the accident.

You can clearly see a bandage on Charlie's finger in the coin-eating scene.

And at the October 1939 funeral of Ford Sterling.

L-R: Harold Lloyd, Mack Sennett, Barney Oldfield, CC, Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp and Charlie Murray.

During the filming of Easy Street (1917).

In the scene where Charlie pulls the lamppost down on the bully (Eric Campbell), the lamp's sharp metal edge cut across the bridge of his nose requiring stitches. The injury contributed to a delay in the release of the film.

During the filming of The Circus (1928).

Chaplin told journalist Egon Kisch in 1929 that he was scratched so badly by the monkeys while filming the tightrope scene that he had to be under a doctor's care for six weeks. Kisch noted that Chaplin had "two clearly visible wounds." (Egon Erwin Kisch, "I Work With Charlie Chaplin," 1929)

During the filming of The Idle Class (1921).

In his autobiography, Charlie mentions a "slight accident" with a blowtorch while filming the scene below. "The heat of it went through my asbestos pants, so we added another layer of asbestos." (My Autobiography, 1964)

Naturally, the press took this story and ran with it.

Capital Times, May 11, 1921

The "studio hospital"? Must have been next to the Chaplin Studio restaurant.
Adding that Edna "helped smother the flames" was a nice touch at the end.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Interview with Charlie and Doug, 1919

By Ray W. Frohman, Los Angeles Herald, December 2nd, 1919

This is a bit long but worth it, if you have time. The ALL CAPS are original.

RIP, Doug (December 12th, 1939)
(When Charlie Chaplin, creator of ludicrous film divertissements that assuage the cares of a troubled world, was treated to a "pre-view" of Ray W. Frohman's interview with him for The Evening Herald--the first authentic interview Chaplin has granted for over two years, and the first dialogue between Chaplin and Doug Fairbanks ever recorded--Chaplin, the laughmaker, LAUGHED and said: "This is the first artistic interview I've ever had. It is one of the very few articles ever written about me that really reveal me to the public."
Blushing over the praise of himself he had read, the comedian added that "perhaps the writer was a little too sympathetic!"
And then Charlie, who, as his "big brother" Doug says, "can't concentrate," pleaded to keep the "copy" "to read it again more leisurely so that I can enjoy it more.")
If the KIDS could vote, CHARLIE CHAPLIN would be our next PRESIDENT!
And if it's true, as Doug Fairbanks told Charlie in my presence, that in Sweden and Denmark, too, they consider Charlie in a class by himself, he may yet be King of Scandinavia!
In fact, when the League of Nations gets to working and the Brotherhood of Man is a reality, my guess is that it's the internationally popular Charles Spencer Chaplin who'll be the first President of the World--in spite of his feet.
Even at RIVAL studios, publicity men paid to lie for Charlie's competitors--if he can be said to have any--say freely, "Nobody's ever had the vogue that Chaplin has."
The peerless Douglas Fairbanks himself says: "There is only ONE king in pictures--Chaplin; and only ONE queen--Mary Pickford. The rest of us must be content to be pretty good and compete with EACH OTHER!"
No wonder my kneecaps vibrated as I chatted over an hour with Charlie Chaplin--and Doug Fairbanks, too, at the same time--out in darkest Hollywood.
There we were, all in the same small room for one admission: Charlie and Doug and I--the king of comedy, the nonpareil light comedian, and a dictographic nonentity--talking our heads off, or, rather, talking Charlie's head off!
Everybody knows Charlie joined Essanay in 1915, knows about his million-dollar contract with First National, and that he's now "on his own" and one of "The Big Four." Everybody's seen every Chaplin comedy from "The Bank," "A Night Out," "A Woman," "His New Job" and "Police" up through "A Dog's Life," "Shoulder Arms" and "Sunnyside."
In fact, since they say "Chaplin doesn't work" and call his producing concern out on La Brea "the century plant," we've all been content to go to see him, and him alone, over and over again in the same films!
So I didn't hash over with Charlie the well known facts of his pictorial biography.
Doug and Charlie, with an occasional interpolation from me, talked and talked of Charlie's views on art and books and plays, on beautiful women and sunsets, on the Grand Canyon and whether or not a desert is beautiful, and everything else from cabbages to kings, from "Hamlet" to Doug's new funny overcoat; and on Charlie's professional methods and unprofessional soul--for he has one--and what he says he's trying to do to pictures and is doing and is going to do.
And Eureka! Now I can tell the world for the first time WHY Doug smiles and smiles and smiles that famous smile of his!
For Charlie, I think most of us agree, on the screen is "the funniest man in the world."
And at times during our chat he was twice as funny as that!

And Doug--when he's "kidding" and playfully baiting Charlie and leading him on conversationally, or waxing Rabelaisian, or mimicking a noted English author for Charlie and then registering a lobe-to-lobe grin--is funnier than Charlie!
And I might have been funny myself, for I was weak and helpless from laughter!
Through the flimsy cheesecloth curtain of a window I saw for the first time--and recognized--the little smooth-shaven face of the off-screen Chaplin. It was thrust forward in a sort of cataleptic grin toward Doug, who was uttering one of his introductory "Do you know, Charlie's" in the deadly-serious resonant tones that he affects toward his little friend.
"Hah!" quoth I to myself, waxing Shakespearian, "I have thee on the hip"--and I was upon them.
It was the REAL Charlie Chaplin.
I do not mean the Chaplin you see on the screen, the last of the royal jesters, with all of us as his patrons, the beloved vagabond, who has been paid the sincerest flattery, that of imitation, by more people than any other man who ever lived--by little kids all over the globe, by folks at masquerades, by "would-bes" on "amateur nights," by "rival" screen "comedians," both Caucasian and Oriental.
That Charlie, with his most active flexible cane and his dogs, his oddest derby constantly being tipped to cops--until the psychological moment arrives--and to fair women, his trick moustache and his loose-fitting shapeless trousers, and the biggest feet in Filmland as well--that Charlie every man, woman and child under the stars knows.
He has probably been kicked and shot in the pants--on the screen--more than any other living man. The camaraderie this humblest screen character displays toward policemen and burglars, until the moment arrives for him to destroy them--for he can pick up his feet quicker than any man in Shadowland--is world famous. A captivating smile, an artless blush--and then an agile hoof--is the way Chaplin on the silver sheet, broke in a saloon or restaurant, handles striking policemen before they strike.
And you are aware how chivalrous he is toward the fair sex; how his matchlike--not matchless--figure, and his inimitable--not immaculate--garb have captivated many a beautiful heroine.
He can get more fun out of stepping in a waste basket--but what's the use? You know him.
Let it suffice to say that Chaplin's smirks, shrugs and sucking together of his cheeks, his characteristic Chaplinesque gestures, his personal accoutrements and mannerisms are the most individual, distinctive on the shadow screen.
But those, as Doug opined to Charlie and me, are merely "the externals, the trappings" of his screen art.
"Our most subtle comedian," he has been called by the critic of an eastern magazine, the veteran of a million reviews.
"Vulgar," say some folks who have seen Charlie spout food on the screen amidst the medley of mock romance, mock tragedy, mock adoration, mock courtesy that he "spills" in the comedies he ORIGINATES.
But no "highbrow" has ever been able to sit through a Chaplin comedy without bursting involuntarily into spontaneous "Hah hahs!" right out loud; and cultured, intellectual college professors--wasn't Professor Stockton Axson, brother-in-law of President Wilson, one of them!--have publicly proclaimed him an ARTIST.
However, the Chaplin I talked with, as I said, was not the screen Chaplin. 
 Neither was he the make-believe-real Chaplin who USED to talk to interviewers before he made all the money he wants and decided that he didn't need any publicity. That Chaplin, I have one of his intimates' word for it, used to turn on the phonograph in his room and chat engagingly, ALWAYS CAMOUFLAGING HIS REAL SELF.
The Charlie Chaplin who talked to me is the real, honest-to-goodness, personal, unprofessional, actual Charlie Chaplin, I give you my word for it. He was as artless, as "off his guard" as a three years' child who doesn't know the camera's there when you snapshot him.
Charlie, you know, when it comes to being interviewed--which he hasn't permitted for YEARS--is what Fielding's eighteenth century bailiffs would have called "a shy cock."
When famous newspapermen representing papers from all over the country with President Wilson's party called on him. Charlie stuck his head in the door, took one look, said he "had to have some air," and "ditched" them all--went out for an auto ride!
When his own casting director, Edward Biby pleaded with him for an HOUR A MONTH for nation-wide magazine interviews, saying it would be worth a million dollars to Chaplin, Charlie merely waved a hand airily and said: "Oh, no, that's all right, that's all right!"
But I found him a delightfully interesting conversationalist, a sensitive little aesthete who's well-read and well versed in art, a cultured little chap with artistic sensibilities, a rather deep thinker--though I won't vouch for the soundness of his theories--and withal a somewhat shifty or shifting one.
Where the "shifts" came in, the mental sidestepping from one "highbrow" subject to another or from high to low, the "sacheting" to use a dancing term, of the gray matter in instinctive--and courteous--reaction to the conversation of others, were with Doug Fairbanks.
For when talking with Charlie, the jovial "Smiling Doug" Fairbanks is not merely magnetic--he is HYPNOTIC! He holds his friend Charlie in the hollow of his hand.

"I've been dreaming of London," mused Charlie, who was born near there only 31 short years ago and was in vaudeville there--for he became identified with the theater when he was seven years old. "I tried to show it to someone, but there was always fog or night or something--I couldn't show its beauties. But I would say 'WAIT--you'll see it.'"
Charlie said he hasn't been back in dear old Lunnon since he attracted favorable notice in "A Night in an English Music Hall," as the lead in which he came to the United States before he made his picture debut, some years ago.
But, pause! I didn't tell you how the real Charlie looks!
He's a slender sapling, this artist in the neat gray-checkered suit and black knitted tie and yellow-tinted pleated shirt who lolled in a Morris chair chatting so naturally and vivaciously. He has curly black hair with touches of gray--a young man's gray--at the temples, and vivid blue eyes, and sensitive features like the person of high-strung temperament that he is.
When he shows his perfect teeth in a grin--a charmed, fascinated, hypnotized grin--at his master, Doug, he has Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat "backed off the boards."
At times when his eyes shine and his face glows as he gets talking of his professional or aesthetic enthusiasms, Charlie becomes almost beautiful.
And when he gets really "worked up," his disreputable LITTLE black shoes with they grayish tops twist, and his supple figure writhes, as his right hand helps him to express himself by graceful, powerful gestures.
"I became a star when I'd been at Keystone SIX MONTHS," said Charlie in response to my question. "I was there about a year. No, that's not the world's record--with some people it takes only one picture. Look at the way Betty Compson's salary jumped after her work in 'The Miracle Man.'
"Did I have 'awful struggles,' or fights with bosses to MAKE them star me? My struggles were over before I went into pictures."
"After one picture the public fell on its face and worshipped him," said Doug. "I'm an admirer of yours, Charlie, even if you are a friend. And when I see you on the screen there's something goes from you to me, I feel an interchange.
"It isn't what he DOES, or even how he does it, that makes you laugh," "enthused" Doug to me. "When you watch his pictures it's the human dynamo WITHIN that you see. And evidently what he's giving us is what the public wants."
"What I put into my pictures is what I WANT to do," supplemented Charlie.

"Before I went into pictures, I felt repressed, I wasn't in my proper sphere. Now for the first time I'm doing what I want to do.
"I get a feeling, from a play or somewhere, and then THINK OUT WHAT I WANT TO DO."
Sometimes, say folks at his studio, where his own people never dare disturb him when he's "on the set" or on the job mentally, Charlie sits for as long as eight hours in solitude thinking up something the world--for his audiences are numbered by the hundred million--hasn't laughed at!
"I got a feeling from reading Thomas Burke's 'Limehouse Nights,'" continued Charlie, "and the result was 'A Dog's Life'--working it right out, going through natural experiences and having the consequent reactions. It is a translation, though not in Burke's language or style, of course.
"There is beauty in the slums!--for those who can see it despite the dirt and sordidness. There are people reacting toward one another there--there is LIFE, and that's the whole thing!
"Look at Rabelais. Vileness? That's only his SUBJECTS, BUT--!
"Writers have no STANDARDS of beauty. What IS beauty? It is indefinable!
"Beauty is all WITHIN," continued Charlie after Doug quoted "Hamlet" by the yard. "I DON'T THINK ANYONE HAS EVER PAINTED A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN!"
"Artists today put on the canvas a 'Follies' type--which people call beautiful. That sort of beauty is merely external. Look at the old masters, such as Van Dyke, and you see old women with their faces screwed up with wrinkles. It's the beauty that's WITHIN that counts."
When Doug called him an admirer of Basil King's novels, Charlie did not dissent; and when Mark Twain was mentioned Charlie said: "Ah, now you're getting me back on my favorite topic.
"I've been reading Waldo Frank's book of essays, 'Our America,'" continued Charlie. "He is DEEP! You think when you start out it's the ordinary fervor, but when you get into it-! And I caught something of myself in what he wrote about me."
"Me, too," said Charlie, showing his dimples in a smile of assent, when Doug remarked that he thinks the mouth is the most expressive feature--though Charlie said he's seen some women with small mouths who were uglier than other women with large mouths.
When Doug said to him: "You are not responsible for what you are able to do," meaning that Charlie's ability to produce mirth-provoking comedy is God-given, Charlie modestly remained silent, making a gesture of instant, impersonal agreement.
Dimpling, he admitted that he "hates it more than anything else when they call me sentimental." 
Whether he meant in real life or reel life will ever remain an unsolved mystery.
We talked of sciences. "A scientist must be a lover of life," said Charlie.
Do you know that Chaplin has none of his excruciatingly funny stunts worked out on paper in advance, nor even the plot of his comedies prepared in "script"? He admitted it.
"He takes an idea, a theme, and works it out by himself as he goes along," said his admirer, Doug, to his face, uncontradicted. "He's a remnant of an aristocrat going through all those adventures. Reel after reel WITHOUT SUBTITLES--ACTION!"
"You are more HEART," returned Charlie, regarding Doug's screen work.
And then Charlie sprung NEWS of a new departure in Chaplin comedies!
Said he:
"In the one I'm making now there's a whole reel of drama before I appear. I've got pathos, human interest, tragedy, humor--we've had that before--EVERYTHING in it! Yet it is all pertinent, constructive of the plot. It's a comedy DRAMA. That's what I'm going to do from now on.
"Edna (Edna Purviance, his leading lady) is an OPERA SINGER in this one! I didn't have her commit suicide."
It was a soul-wrenching effort NOT to call him "Charlie" but--"Mister Chaplin," I asked, "isn't it a terrific constraint for a sensitive man of artistic sensibilities and tastes like you to play a vagabond, a TRAMP?"
At that, Doug Fairbanks exploded: "Why, he's naturally a BUM!" said Doug, uncontradicted by the smiling Charlie. "When he has a clean collar on it's Tom Harrington (Charlie's secretary) who's responsible!"
Entirely aside from his alleged bumminess, "Spencer," as Doug called him once, fervently declared that he LIKES the smell of idoform--"the hospital smell," as it is popularly known.
He averred that the reason why people aren't particularly fond of the fragrance of the skunk is simply because their ancestors for generations haven't liked skunks, and they think of the odor that's going to get on them.
"You," he added, turning to Doug, "are particularly sensitive of odors."
But we were getting quite Rabelaisian, weren't we! Perhaps I'd better tell you at once that Charlie also talked familiarly of Bill Sikes and Nancy, and thinks that "Los Angeles will eventually be a great artistic center."
And ONCE Charlie's eyes blurred.
There were tears in them.
The face of the man who, say some who know him, works not for money but as a creative artist, and plans to retire from money-making screen work in about five years, trembled with silent emotion--whether modest shame or gratefulness, I know not.
It was when Doug quoted someone as saying that people regard Charlie as the one and ONLY, "than whom" there is no one like.
Something about that tribute touched the droll comedian's heart.
CHARLIE CHAPLIN became, for that moment, a TRAGEDIAN!

Monday, August 31, 2015

Charlie gives Doug & Mary a lift home from the train station in Pasadena

"The Big Three" in Charlie's new Rolls Royce. Mary puts on a brave face.

After several months traveling in Europe, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were back in California. "Although all sizes and varieties of machines were drawn up for the purpose of taking Douglas and Mary back to Hollywood," the Los Angeles Times reported, "Charlie Chaplin, fairly oozing pride in a new blue roadster, literally pushed them into it. Mary, plainly hesitant at risking her life to Charlie's driving, kept remonstrating, 'But Charlie, are you sure you can drive?' The famous comedian, frowning at her lack of faith, merely shoved in the clutch and they were off. At a late hour last night no casualties had been reported, so it is assumed that Charlie can drive."

Safely home at Pickfair

Monday, August 3, 2015

Charlie (right) and Douglas Fairbanks run hurdles with Olympic gold medalist, Charles Paddock, 1923

Paddock was once called "the world's fastest human."

Evidently Charlie himself had aspirations of becoming an Olympic marathon runner:
You see, I have quite a good lung development. And then, my legs were quite well developed from dancing with the 'Eight Lancashire Lads' on the stage. I used to belong to the Kennington Harriers, and thought nothing of running fifteen miles. In fact, I considered going into the Marathon in the London Olympics, but became ill about that time.
I can still run ten miles without minding it. You never lose that stamina and lung power. People are surprised today to know that with my slight figure I can run long distances. (New York Herald, September 11, 1921)
Georgia Hale recalled that Douglas Fairbanks once challenged Charlie to a run around Beverly Hills. Thinking Charlie was out of shape and fragile, Doug, who kept himself in great shape, warned him, "Don't try to keep up. You mustn't over do it. Drop out anytime and I'll meet you later." Charlie ignored his advice. A half hour later, Charlie came running up to Doug who was by now sitting on the side of the road.
Doug said good-naturedly, 'I always noticed your legs were developed. Now let me have it.' Charlie had never told Doug before that running was his forte as a youngster and that he had quite a reputation for long-distance running in England. Douglas threw his arms around Charlie and said, "I'm proud of you. I never knew or dreamed you had it in you." (Georgia Hale, Intimate Close-ups)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Swimming at Pickfair, c. 1922

Mary, Doug, and Charlie are in the water. Mary's brother, Jack, & his wife, Marilyn, are sitting on the lawn in the background.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"The Big Three" in Philadelphia during the Third Liberty Loan Drive, April 9th, 1918

This was their last appearance together before setting off on tour by themselves. Chaplin headed south, Pickford to the north, and Fairbanks to the midwest. Chaplin's southern tour began in Petersburg, VA on April 11th.

Chaplin was impressed by the enthusiasm of the people of Philadelphia. "It is just what I expected to see in this great city of Independence." (Evening Public Ledger, 4/9/18)

Schedule for Philadelphia's "Movie Day" Liberty Loan program.
Evening Public Ledger, April 9, 1918
All open-air meetings were cancelled due to rain.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chaplin appears on Wall Street at the start of the Liberty Loan tour, April 8th, 1918

A crowd of 50-100,000 people (reports vary) gathered on Wall Street in New York City to hear Charlie and Douglas Fairbanks make speeches on the steps of the Sub-Treasury Building. "There was a roar as Charlie mounted the platform and announced that he had just come from addressing a Liberty Loan meeting in Washington [where the tour officially started] and that his 'British heart was 100 percent American today.'" He appeared without his famous costume, wearing a blue suit & black derby. But with the help of a cane he performed his celebrated Tramp walk for the crowd, lest some of the folks may not have recognized him. Noticeably suffering from stage fright, he was the first to address the crowd:

"Now, listen, I've never made a speech in my life, but I believe I can make one now. You people out there, don't think of the percentage of the loan, think of the lives that are being sacrificed. America's richest blood is now being given up for democracy. The Germans are now in an advantageous position and we must get them out of it....Money is needed—money to support the great army and navy of Uncle Sam. This very minute the Germans occupy a position of advantage, and we have got to get the dollars. It ought to go over so that we can drive that old devil, the Kaiser, out of France.

Next up was Douglas who asked the audience what they thought of Charlie's speech. They answered, "Fine!" "Good, I wrote it!" responded Doug. This produced a roar of laughter from the crowd. At the end of his speech, and with an arm flung over Charlie's shoulder, he led the crowd in "Over There" and the "Star-Spangled Banner." Then, in a typically acrobatic move, Doug grabbed Charlie around the waist and hoisted him above his head--creating one of the most famous photos from the rally:

Chaplin spent one month touring the southern states selling Liberty Bonds before quitting early due to illness & fatigue. As time allows, I may focus on some of these stops over the next month. Chaplin's Liberty Bond tour provides an interesting peek into Charlie Chaplin-mania which was at its height in 1918. He was hunted, swarmed, and mobbed everywhere he went. Stay tuned...

Chaplin's War Trilogy by Wes Gehring, 2014
New York Evening World, April 8, 1918
New York Tribune, April 9, 1918

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dodge Brothers Radio Hour

Back Row: Albin Kesley Schoepf (Dodge Bros. rep.), Douglas Fairbanks & Joseph Schenck, president of UA.
Front Row: Dolores Del Rio, John Barrymore, CC, D.W. Griffith & Norma Talmadge.

On March 29th, 1928, six of United Artists' biggest stars gathered behind locked doors in Douglas Fairbanks' studio bungalow to do a nationwide broadcast on the Dodge Brothers Radio Hour. The show would be heard not only in people's homes but also in movie theaters in a 55-city hookup. Radio had fast become a popular form of entertainment by the late 1920s and was the movies' only competition. Mixing the two was a controversial move:
R.F. Woodhull, president of the Motion Picture Theater Owners of America, protested that broadcasting the voices of favorite screen stars during normal show times would sharply reduce attendance. In fact, MGM, Paramount and First National had all been approached by the radio people and had passed on the project. Only Joseph M. Schenck, president of United Artists, was willing to take the risk. In the face of Woodhull's protestations, Schenck could only respond that all the contracts had been signed and the broadcast had to go on.1

On the program that evening were Douglas Fairbanks, who gave a speech on exercise and self-confidence & also served as master of ceremonies, Dolores Del Rio sang the title song to her forthcoming film "Ramona," Norma Talmadge discussed women's fashions, D.W. Griffith read an essay about love,  John Barrymore, not surprisingly, presented a soliloquy from Hamlet, and Chaplin told "characteristic stories."2 Paul Whiteman's Orchestra performed a number of tunes and Dodge Brothers president, Edward Wilmer, spoke for ten minutes, much to the chagrin of the audience, about the company's latest "Standard Six" model. Mary Pickford was originally on the bill but was forced to back out due to the death of her mother. Gloria Swanson was also asked to participate but declined saying that she felt her audience would prefer to see her rather than hear her.

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Douglas Fairbanks introduced "Charles Chaplin" as "the hardest working man I know." Audibly nervous, Chaplin spoke to the audience: "Ladies and gentlemen, in thanking my good friend, Douglas, I admire the spirit in which he remains modest about himself while extolling the achievements of others." Chaplin then told several "humorous" stories. Including one about how he was once complimented by a lady who thought he was Harold Lloyd. Another was about a cake, and one story he attributed to Ed Wynn. He closed by saying "I  must now get behind the screen, where I am more eloquent than here." His performance brought mixed reviews. The Syracuse Journal was pleasantly surprised by the "heavy, masterful tones, with an unmistakeable English accent." The Chicago Tribune noted that "he had a nice little voice" although it was "a bit nervous and hesitating at times." The reviews in Variety weren't so kind. Abel wrote: "Rather see Charlie in makeup than hear Charles from now on" Chaplin was not only the "only star to stutter," but the stories he told had been heard before. After the broadcast, Chaplin remarked that he nearly died from "mike fright" & was worried as to how had done.

The broadcast also had its share of technical problems. There were complaints of static due to bad weather. A number of theater owners claimed that the entire program was inaudible because of it.
However the biggest problem was the reaction of the audience, especially at the Fifth Avenue Playhouse in New York where patrons booed, hissed, stamped their feet, and yelled "take it off!" until theater managers were forced to comply. Some theaters tried to show newsreels and silent comedies during the broadcast but it didn't help. Numerous patrons left the theater in disgust. Others demanded that the theater bring back the regular feature. The overall consensus was that the broadcast was a flop. As Variety succinctly put it: "Movie stars should be screened not heard."

Following the show, Chaplin hosted a "buffet supper" at his home. "Having received from Dodge Brothers a $5,000 check for five minutes' talk, Chaplin felt he could afford to entertain Wall Street right royally which he did until three o'clock in the morning. Fifty people attended the supper, featured by a speech by the comedian on "Capital and Labor" that sent Otto Kahn into convulsions of laughter!"3

This was not Chaplin's first radio broadcast. In 1923, he appeared on WOR in New Jersey to promote A Woman Of Paris. He went on to do a handful of radio broadcasts over the next twenty years. Read more about them here.

1Rob Farr, "Screened But Not Heard, The Big Broadcast Of 1928," 2000
2New York Times, March 30th, 1928
3Mayme Peak, Boston Globe, April 11, 1928

Other sources:

Chicago Tribune, March 30, 1928
Decatur Daily Review, March 30, 1928
Film Daily, April 1, 1928
Syracuse Journal, April 1, 1928
Variety, April 4, 1928

Farr, Rob, "Screened But Not Heard, The Big Broadcast Of 1928," 2000
Crafton, Donald, The Talkies: American Cinema's Transition to Sound, 1926-1931, 1999