Showing posts with label Louise Brooks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Louise Brooks. Show all posts

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Comedian In New York (1925), Part VII: Louise Brooks

Much has been written here and elsewhere about Chaplin's romance with Louise. However, the best source for information about their relationship, Louise wrote herself in her 1966 Film Culture article, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered" (read here). I would prefer not to rehash every detail from Brooks' article for this piece but present the basics of their relationship along with a few other tidbits. 

El Paso Herald, Oct. 15, 1925 

Chaplin met 18-year-old Follies showgirl and future silent film icon Louise Brooks at a cocktail party hosted by Walter Wanger shortly after his arrival in New York in August 1925.1 They were soon seen everywhere together--often double-dating with Louise's best friend in the Follies, Peggy Fears, and Chaplin's pal & assistant director, Harry d'Arrast. They went to nightclubs such as the Montmartre and the Lido, and to plays including The Cradle Snatchers (featuring a young Humphrey Bogart) and Outside Looking In (starring James Cagney), which Chaplin had already seen twice.

In late August, Fears was left without an escort when d'Arrast returned to Hollywood. He was replaced by A.C. Blumenthal, "the tiny film financier."2 At this time, Chaplin also left his room at the Ritz and installed himself, and Louise, in a suite at the Ambassador. However, according to Louise, most of their evenings were spent in Blumenthal's penthouse (also at the Ambassador).
Blumie played the piano, Peggy sang, I danced, and Charlie returned to reality--the world of his creative imagination. He recalled his youth with comic pantomimes. He acted out countless scenes for countless films. And he did imitations of everybody. Isadora Duncan danced in a storm of toilet paper. John Barrymore picked his nose and brooded over Hamlet's soliloquy. A Follies girl swished across the room, and I began to cry while Charlie denied absolutely the he was imitating me. Nevertheless, as he patted my hand, I determined to abandon that silly walk forthwith.3
NYC, August 1925
For the Film Culture article, Louise was discreet in writing of her time with Chaplin, but to friends she was more explicit:
Privately, she told a few close friends of one entire weekend the foursome spent in Blumie's suite, ordering up all their meals and rarely even bothering to get dressed...Afraid of contracting certain diseases, Chaplin had studied the matter and was firmly convinced that iodine was a reliable VD preventative. Normally he employed only a small local application, but one night at the Ambassador he was inspired to paint the entire sum of his private parts with iodine and come running with a bright red erection toward the squealing Peggy and Louise.4

Fitchburg Sentinel, Sept. 30, 1925

Louise also spoke candidly about Chaplin after his death in 1977. Below is an excerpt from Louise Brooks by Barry Paris:
"I had an affair with him for two happy summer months," she told Kenneth Tynan. "He was...a sophisticated lover." Chaplin's sexuality and creativity were dynamically intertwined, she thought. By day, he was in constant motion. At night, he required no booze or drugs to facilitate lovemaking or to induce the deep sleep of a child...The complexities of the man bordered on the perverse. "He adored his mother's madness," Louise claimed, "and credits her with giving him his comic viewpoint."
She also paid eloquent tribute to Chaplin's ethical character, even during the Lita Grey divorce. "The truth is that he existed on a plane above pride, jealousy, or hate," she said. "I never heard him say a snide thing about anyone. He lived totally without fear."
"He knew," she continued," that Lita Grey and her family were living in his house in Beverly Hills, planning to ruin him, yet he was radiantly carefree--happy with the success of The Gold Rush and with the admirers who swarmed around him. Not that he exacted adoration. Even during our affair, he knew that I didn't admire him in the romantic sense, and he didn't mind at all. 
"Which brings me to one of the dirtiest lies he allowed to be told about him--that he was mean with money. People forget that Chaplin was the only star ever to keep his ex-leading lady [Edna Purviance] on his payroll for life, and the only producer to pay his employees their full salaries even when he wasn't in production."

Chaplin and Brooks parted ways in early October when he returned to Hollywood. In a letter to Kevin Brownlow in 1966, Louise wrote: "When our joyful summer ended, he didn't give me a fur from Jaeckel or a bangle from Cartier so that I could flash them around, saying, 'Look what I got from Chaplin.' The day after he left town, I got a nice check in the mail signed, 'Charlie.'5 And then I didn't even write him a thank-you note. Damn me."6

Chaplin & Brooks never saw each other again.

Cortland Standard, Nov. 4, 1925

1The exact date of their meeting is unknown. Chaplin arrived in New York on August 3rd & he was already acquainted with Louise when he introduced her to Edna Purviance, who was in the city on her way to Paris to make a film, sometime between August 17-22. (Barry Paris, Louise Brooks
2Brooks, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered". Fears and Blumenthal married in 1927.
4Barry Paris, Louise Brooks,
5The amount of the check was $2500
6Paris, Louise Brooks

Friday, June 27, 2014

Chaplin's affair with Louise Brooks depicted in cartoon from c. 1925

The cartoon also references the then-recent suit Louise had brought against photographer John De Mirjian to prevent him from distributing nude photos he'd taken of her a couple of years before.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Charlie Chaplin Remembered"

Portrait by Nishiyama, New York, c. 1925

In honor of Louise Brooks' passing 28 years ago today, here is her 1966 essay about Chaplin in its entirety:
"Charlie Chaplin Remembered" by Louise Brooks
When Kevin Brownlow wrote me his account of an afternoon spent watching Charlie Chaplin direct A Countess From Hong Kong, I was astonished at his disciplined concentration which registered a thousand sights and sounds and emotions spread before him. I was astonished at his ability to remember every technical detail and everybody’s dialogue reconstructed from a few hasty notes he dared jot down in Chaplin’s prohibiting presence. But, at the end of his brief report, what more than astonished me was his insight into the character of Chaplin who is the most bafflingly complex man who ever lived. Kevin’s description and the shadow of my memory came together in pure Chaplin. If we knew nothing more of Chaplin than his subtly sweet and cruel method of reducing the sound mixer’s arrogance to submission, we would touch his essence. Beyond that, however, beyond his conflict with Marlon Brando, his seventy-seven years and grinding work, we find a man “happy” in the element of his genius, dancing a gay funny rumba, remaining forever young in the adoring smile of a lovely young actress.
As I envisioned this scene, forty-one years were stripped from my life. It was New York, August, 1925. Chaplin, aged thirty-six, was in town for the premiere of The Gold Rush at the Strand Theatre on Broadway. I, aged eighteen, was dancing in the Ziegfeld Follies round the corner at the new Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street. Submerged in my own fascinating being, I was only vaguely aware that The Gold Rush had brought Chaplin his greatest triumph; that he was the toast of all intellectual, cultural and social New York; and that for a week the tabloids ran front-page pictures of Broadway beauties, asking: “Who bit Charlie’s lip?” Then, one afternoon at a cocktail party given by Walter Wanger, I met him.
His physical presence revealed an exquisiteness the screen could not reflect. Small, perfectly made, meticulously dressed, with his fine grey hair and ivory skin and white teeth, he was as clean as a pearl and glowed all over. Inside he was glowing too with the radiant gaiety released by the successful conclusion of two year’s work on his film. Taken at this time for Vanity Fair magazine was the Edward Steichen photograph which has been reproduced in Chaplin’s autobiography. He is grinning with infectious naughtiness into the camera at the same time Steichen has caught his horned curls in a faun shadow on the background.
As if to receive him, New York had also put on a new glow of luxury, grace and elegance. Gone were the Scott Fitzgerald exhibitionists, the hip flask, the flapper and the Charleston. 1925 was the year that marked the beginning of Café Society. Photographs of English duchesses advertising Pond’s Cold Cream appeared in Photoplay magazine, and New York society men dined with Follies girls unmolested at the exclusive Colony restaurant. Harry d’Arrast, Chaplin’s assistant was staying with him at the Ritz, and they took Peggy Fears, my best friend in the Follies, and myself to all the smart new night clubs. Swirling in chiffons of pink and blue, Peggy and I danced the tango with them at the Montmartre where the head waiters bowed reverently before Charlie and the haughty patrons pretended that they were not thrilled at the sight of him. Charlie and Harry took us, Peggy shining in crystal beads and me magnificent but itchy in gold lace, to the Lido for the opening of the great dancer Maurice with his new partner Barbara Bennett--my second best friend. Beneath the composure of his public face, Charlie had an hilarious time because, in the opening waltz, Barbara muffed a step and giggled. Glaring with rage, Maurice did not kick her then only because he was reserving his punishment for their final Apache number at the end of which he sent Barbara skidding on her face to the very edge of the dance floor.
New York also produced dozens of new plays that season. We sat in a box at "The Cradle Snatchers" looking at Mary Boland, Edna May Oliver and a young actor, Humphrey Bogart on the stage while the rest of the audience looked at Charlie. From the Ambassador Hotel, where Charlie moved after Harry returned to Hollywood, we walked seventy blocks down to the Greenwich Village Theatre to see "Outside Looking In," a play about tramps which Charlie had already seen twice. In the cast were James Cagney, Charles Bickford and Blyth Daly who played a young girl disguised as a boy hobo. Her performance might have interested me more had I known that I would play her part in the film renamed Beggars Of Life after the title of Jim Tully's book which Maxwell Anderson had adapted for the theatre.
This passion of Charlie's for long walks led to two curious incidents. The first was a night walk to the Jewish ghetto on the lower East Side where, to get rid of a mob of fans following Chaplin, we ducked into a little white-tiled restaurant. Four hours passed before we came out because inside Chaplin had found a wild Hungarian torturing a violin, and Chaplin's absorption in his performance kept us there till closing time. Twenty-seven years later I saw the Hungarian violinist come to life again in the person of Chaplin in his variety hall act with Buster Keaton at the piano in Limelight. The second incident was a mystification of only minutes. Walking up Park Avenue one afternoon, I recognized the unmistakable figure of Chaplin more than a block ahead of me. Swinging his cane, he was strolling with his usual grace except that at intervals he would snap his head back for a quick look behind him. Running to catch up with him I asked: "What in the world is the matter with you?" Looking back once more, Charlie whispered, "Mr. Hearst is having me followed!" and then vanished through the Ambassador's lobby door. Ever since he had become a friend of Marion Davies and Mr. Hearst, because Mr. Hearst guarded Marion so closely, Charlie was sure that he too was spied upon. This, I could never believe, although I had first-had knowledge of the surveillance which prevented Marion from too frequently "dipping the bill." One day at the Warwick Hotel after Mr. Hearst had gone out and a group of girls had retired to her bedroom, Marion had barely time to say: "B-b-brooksie, get the gin out of the bathroom" and I had barely time to produce the bottle before Mr. Hearst stuck his head through the door, piping pleasantly: "Well, hello!"
After d'Arrast's departure, he was replaced in our foursome by A. C. Blumenthal, the tiny film financier. It was September now and Charlie was sick of being watched in public, sick of entertaining society and the intellectuals who numbed his soul. Most of our time together was spent in Blumie's big airy apartment atop the Ambassador. Blumie played the piano, Peggy sang, I danced, and Charlie returned to reality--the world of his creative imagination. He recalled his youth with comic pantomimes. He acted out countless scenes for countless films. And he did imitations of everybody. Isadora Duncan danced in a storm of toilet paper. John Barrymore picked his nose and brooded over Hamlet's soliloquy. A Follies girl swished across the room, and I began to cry while Charlie denied absolutely that he was imitating me. Nevertheless, as he patted my hand, I determined to abandon that silly walk forthwith.
And then, as fluidly as they had taken form, those exquisite Chaplin days dissolved. Peggy went on the road with the Ziegfeld Follies, I began my first film role in The American Venus at Paramount's Long Island studio, Charlie returned to Hollywood, and the Ambassador apartment was left alone with Blumie.
In his autobiography, Chaplin gave less than a page and less than a week's time to this period.* "Were we too dull to be remembered? or had the actress who bit his lips spoiled the memory?" I wondered until I read Kevin's fresh view of Chaplin and found him again in my past, realizing how hopeless it was to ponder the motives of a faun.
--Film Culture, Spring 1966


*This omission must have miffed Louise more than she lets on here because two years before this essay, she wrote scathing letters about Chaplin to a friend after she read his autobiography. Click here to read them (if you dare).

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks by Edward Thayer Monroe, c.1925
Charlie Chaplin by Edward Steichen, 1925
Charlie had a 2-month long affair with Louise Brooks during the summer of 1925 while he was in New York for the premiere of The Gold Rush.  Louise later spoke very openly about their relationship, including a story about an all-nude weekend at the penthouse of A.C. Blumenthal which included Louise, her friend Peggy Fears, A.C. & Charlie. At one point during the weekend, Charlie, who evidently coated his private parts with iodine to protect himself from venereal disease, burst from the bathroom and chased Louise around the room with “his little red sword." Louise said Charlie was a “sophisticated lover” who lived “totally without fear."  “His physical presence," she recalled, “revealed an exquisiteness the screen could not reflect. Small, perfectly made, meticulously dressed, with his fine grey hair and ivory skin and white teeth, he was as clean as a pearl and glowed all over." But, Louise’s recollections about Chaplin would not always be so kind.  She was quoted as saying that his sexual technique “was suitable only for little girls." She also wrote some scathing letters about him after she read his autobiography, which made her “ill."   Chaplin never publicly acknowledged their affair. However, late in his life he was quoted as saying that she had small breasts, “like pears."

For more tidbits about Charlie and Louise's affair, click here.

Louise died 27 years ago today.