Showing posts with label Eric James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eric James. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Working with Charlie Chaplin: Vol. 4

I couldn't come up with a title for this one but suffice to say you didn't want to get on Chaplin's bad side. I must admit that I did consider calling it "For Christ's Sake!" You'll see why...

[Chaplin to assistant director and half-brother, Wheeler Dryder, during production of Monsieur Verdoux] "No, no, no, shut up, you silly bastard, for Christ's sake, we cut to Annabella, you don't understand anything about motion pictures. I know what I'm doing, yeah, that's what I cut to. I have been in this business for 20--for 30 years, you don't think I am gaga? Oh, shut up...Christ... We cut to Annabella, I know goddamn well what I am doing...For Christ's sake, I have been cutting this scene in my mind for the past three years...I know exactly...then the music starts....Don't talk to me." (reminiscences of Robert Florey via "Charlie Dearest" by Brian Taves, Film Comment, April 1988)
Group shot on the set of Monsieur Verdoux, 1946:
L-R: Robert Florey, Wheeler Dryden, Henry Bergman (in front), Rollie Totheroh, and CC

After I had been working at the Manoir for a few days I ventured to ask if he ever stopped work for a cup of tea during the afternoon. He snapped back, "I don't like tea." Feeling this to be a bit lacking in consideration, I retorted equally, "Well, I do." To my surprise instead of a lordly rebuke he said quite gently, "How thoughtless, you must forgive me, Eric." He at once rang for Gino [the butler] and from that day and every day thereafter a gentle tap would be heard on the door at precisely 4:00 pm and Gino 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, 2000)
CC with longtime music associate Eric James

[Chaplin to son Sydney, who played Neville in Limelight] "For Chrissakes, come on Syd!. Get some feeling into the lines...Show a little warmth!...For Chrissakes, what's wrong with you? Get the lead out of your pants!" (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, 1989)
With Sydney in Limelight

It was on 
A Woman Of Paris. We were all in watching rushes. And he said, "Rollie, that's out of focus." And I said, "Gee, if it was out of focus, my eyes are sharp, I'd tell you." "For Christ's sake! Jesus Christ! Lousy!" he said. So I said, "Well, if you can say that is lousy, you'd better get yourself another boy." He said, "I will." "Okay." So he ran down to Mr. [Alfred] Reeves office. I went back and sat in my office. They went to lunch, and I went to lunch and came back...Word came down that we'd call it a day. [That night, Alf Reeves went came to talk to Rollie at home and made sure that he would come in the next day. Rollie said he would, and give Charlie his two weeks' notice.]The next morning I was sitting on the bench and instead of Charlie driving in through the gates where he always did, he came into his front office through the screen door and I was sitting on the bench outside. He mentioned to me to come down to him and he turned around and put his behind up in the air and he said, "Kick me in the ass, Rollie." And I did. And he said, "You know, I wanted to take that shot over anyhow." ("Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed," Timothy J. Lyons, ed., Film Culture, Spring 1972

With Rollie, 1923
He got so frustrated with Almira Sessions that he started yelling and screaming. 'Why can't you get anything straight? All you have to do is this, this and this...'" (Interview with Marilyn Nash, "Limelight" newsletter, Spring 1997)

Almira Sessions as Lena Couvais in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

"Hello, Gardiner," he said, looking at me with those strange, deep blue, and at times, pathetic eyes. "Say, you didn't show up at 6 a.m." And then rather sharply: "You held everything up, you know." I explained to him that there had been some mistake about the call as I had not received one the night before and that I was sorry I had caused him any inconvenience, but that it really wasn't my fault. "I must have cooperation at all times from people who work for me," he answered. "If people don't show enthusiasm over their work with me, I've no use for them. And if you feel you are not going to be able to put everything you've got into this role. I can always get someone else."I felt mortified and completely tongue-tied. I pulled myself together and, as calmly as I could, that I would do everything possible to do my part to the utmost and was looking forward to being in the picture more than any other assignment I had had previously."Well, that's fine, Reggie," he said, smiling now. "Let's say no more about your being late this morning." I smiled and thanked him and he walked away over to the camera. (Reginald Gardiner, "The Pleasure of Meeting A Dictator," New York Herald Tribune, September 16, 1940)

Reggie Gardiner, left, as Schultz in The Great Dictator (1940)

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, 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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas with Charlie, Vol. 2: Charlie's Strange Predicament

The following story is related by Eric James, Charlie's music associate for the last twenty years of his life:
I cannot leave the downstairs cloakroom without referring to a most amusing incident that occurred one Christmas. It had been the custom, just prior to Christmas Day, for members of a local choir to trudge up the steep hill from Vevey and position themselves by the main door of the Manoir to give a performance of carols. On this occasion Charlie had an urgent need to use the lavatory, where he sat on "the throne" but unfortunately had forgotten to pull over the curtains.
Happily engaged with the business at hand and in deep contemplation, he failed to notice the arrival of the choir until they burst into song just a few feet from the window. He was absolutely taken aback because although while sitting they could only see his head and shoulders, if he were to stand up the "herald angels" would take off in alarm! The choir was obviously quite impressed by the sight of him in the window because they mistakenly thought that he was so eager to hear them sing that he had stationed himself at this vantage point well in advance of their arrival. As it was, he had to sit there with his trousers down for half an hour, beaming at them every now and then and clapping animatedly after each carol.
It wasn't until the last of them had passed into the house that he was able to get up, pull the curtains and adjust himself before joining them. The leader of the group expressed their great satisfaction at having found Mr. Chaplin so impatiently awaiting their performance! Charlie's reply could not have been bettered. He thanked them and said that their singing had literally rooted him to the spot! --Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin, Scarecrow Press, 2000

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cooking with Charlie


Onscreen, Charlie cooks his boot with all the finesse and care of a five-star chef. But believe it or not, he also enjoyed cooking in real life, and with the same meticulousness that he put into to his films.

Here Lillian Ross and Eric James share their remembrances of "Charlie the chef":
"A number of moments from Chaplin's life remained fixed in my memory. There was a moment in 1950 when I found Chaplin and Oona in their kitchen fussing over a leg of lamb that they were roasting, while a couple of small children stood by watching. Food was always important to Chaplin, because, he used to explain, he had been so often deprived of it when he was a child. On this day, he was in charge of the oven, a chef's big white apron tied around his waist, a big spoon in his left hand, and he was giving the lamb his full concentration, with a Charlie Chaplin pursing of the lips, a Charlie Chaplin frown, a Charlie Chaplin raising of the spoon at his wide-eyed, frozen onlookers, to keep them at their distance.
'It's done now,' he reported, rather nervously. 'It's just right. Tender and succulent.'
 'Charlie did the basting while I fed the baby,' his wife said.
'I baste and baste,' Chaplin said to me, with authority.
'Baste and baste and baste.'" (Lillian Ross, Moments With Chaplin)


Eric James was Charlie's musical associate from 1956 to 1976. He was no stranger to Charlie's mood swings and bad temper. During one particular session, tempers flared and things quickly went downhill. Charlie eventually slammed down the lid on the piano, called off work for the day, and stormed out of the room.  Eric was sure his days working for Charlie Chaplin were over. But after about ten or fifteen minutes, Charlie opened the door and with "the wistful smile of the 'little fellow'" asked, "Have you ever eaten a barbecue steak?" Taken aback, Eric replied the he had not. "Well, you are going to tonight," said Charlie.
"At 6:00 p.m. the butler entered the salon to ask what I would like to drink and I was shortly joined afterward by Mrs. Chaplin. We both sat by the roaring fire enjoying our aperitifs when it occurred to me that Mr. Chaplin was late in joining us for his predinner gin and tonic. I asked Oona if she knew what had happened to delay him. She grinned and said, "Take a look out of the window." I got up and was quite unprepared for the sight that met my eyes. There, on a spot close to the staff quarters, stood a large portable barbecue they had brought from their home in California. Mr. Chaplin was garbed in a very heavy Crombie overcoat with its collar turned up to meet the rim of the black Homburg that had been pulled down well over his ears. He was gently turning the steaks and large jacket potatoes in between bouts of foot stamping and hand slapping, which, because of the extreme cold of this November evening, was so necessary in spite of the heat from the barbecue fire.

I felt deeply concerned that he should be exposed to such conditions and asked Mrs. Chaplin if I could go and help him. Mrs. Chaplin immediately replied, 'No, Eric, don't go outside. Just leave him alone. This is his way of saying he's sorry for being such a pig to you today.' I was deeply touched and felt that however difficult or unreasonable he would undoubtedly be in the future, this indication of a real and sensitive human being lurking within would help me to weather the storms and accept that this was part of the job. 
I might add that the meal was excellent. I have never had a better one and when at the end of it I was told that all the family would find it agreeable if from thence on I referred to them by their first names, I felt that I had really arrived. It had been a bittersweet day but it was the beginning of our long and mainly happy association. (Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin)

On that note, I'd like to wish everyone in the U.S a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope it's full good food and good cheer. --Jess