"Chaplin had definite ideas about costumes...but it was a lighting situation that motivated the costume in my first scene. It was dark in the doorway, and Charlie didn't like the way the light was hitting me, and neither did Rollie (Totheroh). The shadows were wrong. And Charlie said, "We've got to do something," and Rollie said, "Well let's throw a hat on her.""Oh, good idea!" And Rollie said, "I've got one." It was his rain hat. So Rollie went and he grabbed his hat and his raincoat and he put them on me. And the make-up guy came and started fussing, and I said, "No, I really like the hat like that." And Charlie looked, and Rollie said immediately, "That's it, that's it," cause Rollie's looking through the camera and he said, "That's it." And Charlie wanted it perfect because that's the first shot of the waif on the street. He had to have it just right."--Interview with Marilyn Nash, Limelight magazine, Spring 1997
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
Marilyn tells the story of her hat and coat below...
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
|Chaplin demonstrates a scene for Nash.|
In past installments of this series I included all different points of view on what it was like to work with Chaplin based around a theme, but this time I'm going to focus on just one person and one anecdote.
In Chaplin's 1947 film, Monsieur Verdoux, Nash played the prostitute that Verdoux picks up on a rainy night in order to test a new untraceable poison. Her character's name was "Renée," although we never hear it onscreen and she is only referred to as "The Girl" in the credits. In a 1997 interview with Jeffrey Vance, Nash recounted how Chaplin described her character & the scene to her and then showed her exactly how he wanted her to play it:
He described my character to me very strictly as a girl, a waif in trouble. And that's all he explained to me. It was strictly how I would do this this scene, and there wasn't much dialogue at that time because he hadn't really finished that scene. But he wanted to see what he could get out of me if he just explained what he wanted--like when he's going to kill her--that was the first scene he did with me, the scene with the wine: "You come in, and you stole a typewriter and were put in jail and now you've come here, and I've taken you off the street and I'm going to serve you some wine. And you have a little kitten you picked up off the street. And you haven't eaten and I'm going to serve you food. Now, this is what we're going to do, this is what you're going to say, this is what I'm going to say, and dada-dada-dada-dada" Then he would say, "but I don't want you to do your finger that way, I want it crooked just like that." In other words my finger was out like that, but no. It's not that way, it's this way. Every little teeny, tiny thing he wanted perfection. And maybe that's why he wanted somebody green, so he could mold them without having somebody that's a pro try to mold it his way and then throw in his own personality.
--Limelight magazine, Spring, 1997
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
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)|
Thursday, July 23, 2015
This is a new series in which Chaplin's associates describe what it was like to work with "the little genius."1
1Jim Tully recalled that Chaplin was teasingly given this nickname by a few of his associates. (Pictorial Review, 1927).
"Charlie has a mysterious personality, you are always trying to solve him, and you never do. He is almost feminine in his moods and the elusive quality of his personality. One morning he speaks warmly to you. The next he says nothing at all. He is an artist and temperamental.
Now Syd is more masculine. He is a great character actor. He can so change his personality in a scene that I can't recognize him. It is almost uncanny. Where Charlie's pictures are dramas, Syd's are melodramas. The two are exactly opposite, and it is the finest experience in the world working for them." --Charles "Chuck" Reisner, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 21, 1926
|Shooting The Gold Rush. L-R: Harry d'Arrast, Eddie Manson, CC, Rollie Totheroh,|
and Chuck Reisner.
"Working with Chaplin convinced me beyond any personal doubt that he is a genius. There's no one in Hollywood like him. In the four months I was in the picture I learned more about acting than I had during all the years I'd put in at it. Without my even realizing it at first, he started right in making me over. In the nine years I'd been carrying that old football for Paramount the one thing hammered into me was speed. Everything I did had to be quick stuff, the fly guy who was too fast for anybody to catch up with him. Chaplin changed all that. He would stop me in a scene and suggest my doing it in another way. At the moment I didn't understand what he was after. But it was clear enough when I saw it on the screen in the projection room. A glance showed me how he got his effects. Then he would say, 'All you have to do, Jack, is to take your time. If, for example, you're soaking a guy over the head with a mallet don't do it bing, bing, bing, but bing — bing — bing. That gives the audience time to laugh between each sock.' His timing is wonderful. --Jack Oakie, Hollywood magazine, August 1940
|With Oakie on the set of The Great Dictator.|
"All members of the cast received equal respect and attention from Chaplin, the director. In Monsieur Verdoux there was a scene with an infant-in-arms so young that, at short intervals, a different baby had to be substituted as the previous one would tire. After one take that he didn't like, Charlie came out from behind the camera, stalked up to the startled infant and scolded, 'You're anticipating again!'" --Robert Lewis, Slings & Arrows: Theater In My Life (I don't think the scene Lewis describes is in the final film.)
|Chaplin as Verdoux and Robert Lewis as Maurice Botello in Monsieur Verdoux.|
"Charlie gave me the biggest compliment I'd ever had. The script said that after listening to [Marlon] Brando's words I was to respond with a look, without saying a word.
'You're like an orchestra answering its conductor,' he said, almost moved. 'If I raise my hands, you go up, if I lower them, you go down....Outstanding.'
From those words, which were sewn inside me, a strong green plant grew, which continues to bear fruits today." --Sophia Loren, Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life.
|Sophia and Chaplin on the set of A Countess From Hong Kong.|
"Those scenes where we're playing on the street were not done at Mr. Chaplin's studio, they were done on the Paramount lot. And when we shot those scenes there was no music, so my cue was taken from Mr. Chaplin off-camera, giving me the tempo. And if you look, nobody is looking at him except me, because he is directing me on the tempo. And I can see fear in my face because I'm not a musician, but he knew that--he didn't ask me if I knew how to play the violin he didn't ask me if I knew anything about music--he just gave me the tempo. And when the picture was dubbed and the music was laid in, we were watching it in the dubbing room--and I have to tell you, when he was watching himself on screen, Mr. Chaplin never referred to himself as 'I,' he'd always say, 'Did he do that right? Was he funny?' He never said 'Did I do that right.' It was always in the third person. So anyway, we're watching the scene and he's screaming at me on the screen, 'God damn it, play faster, play faster!' And I'm sitting right next to him and he's yelling at the screen. It's because the tempo of the music he had written didn't match the tempo I was playing. I've never forgotten that: he was sitting right next to me and shouting at me on the screen! "--Julian Ludwig interview, Chaplin's Limelight & the Music Hall Tradition, Frank Scheide/Hooman Mehran, ed.
|The street musicians from Limelight. Ludwig is in the middle (watching Chaplin).|
With Snub Pollard (left) and Loyal Underwood.
"One of the more curious facets of my job was playing Charlie Chaplin in rehearsals. When a scene had to be set up to Chaplin 's satisfaction he would go behind the camera and call out: 'All right, let's see it!' With the famous battered derby on the top of my head--I stand an even six feet--and with the cane in my hand I would run through the actions of the scene with the other members of the cast. It was no surprise when Chaplin would say 'No, no, no, he wouldn't do that!' and leap in front of the camera to play the scene himself." --Harry Crocker, "A Tribute To Charlie," Academy Leader, April 1972
|CC and Asst. Dir. Harry Crocker during the filming of City Lights.|
"I thought he was very patient. He never lost his patience with me. But he did with Almira Sessions, the one that played the sister with the bird in her hat. 'Oh, that's him, that's really him, that's the one.' She couldn't get anything straight. He got so frustrated that he started yelling and screaming. 'Why can't you get anything straight? All you have to do is this, this and this,' and that flustered her even more. But other than that, the rest were alright." --Interview with Marilyn Nash, Limelight newsletter, Spring 1997
Lena Couvais (Almira Sessions) recognizes Verdoux in Monsieur Verdoux."[Charlie is] the easiest man [to work with]. He's never abusive, never impatient. I don't believe anybody else could get out of people what he does. At first they are a little overawed by such a big man. But he soon puts them thoroughly at ease. He always reassures them like this: 'I don't know much more about this than you do. Instead of telling you what to do, perhaps I can show you better.' If the player doesn't respond properly, instead of saying 'No, no, that is wrong!' he very quietly says: 'Maybe I didn't show you right. I will do it again.'" --Henry Bergman, Boston Globe, Feb. 22, 1931
|CC and Henry.|
"There was one scene I could not get right. It was between Charlie and me in my hotel room. Charlie tried to help me "break through," but I just couldn't make it. I don't know whether the fault was mine or the script. But Charlie understood and changed the order of the dialogue.
Shooting that scene took a whole day and afterwards I felt terrible about it. But when I tried to apologize he only laughed. 'Once with Paulette (Goddard) it took four days to get a scene right,' was his only comment." --Dawn Addams, "Leading Lady To A King," Charlie Chaplin: A Centennial Celebration, Peter Haining, ed.
|Chaplin & Addams in A King in New York.|
"It was funny about City Lights. We began rehearsing that water scene at night. Phew! We did it over and over and things wouldn't feel right. It wasn't until I discovered that Charlie is a southpaw that I realized what was the matter. You may notice I'm left-handed through the picture too--when we shake hands, and during the cigar stunt. Another thing, I've been on the water wagon for years, so I guess I was picked for that role on my past performances. Gosh, the spaghetti and scrambled eggs we consumed rehearsing! But I'll say that for Charlie, he never made me begin before 1 o'clock." --Harry Myers, Los Angeles Times, Mar. 1, 1931
Harry Myers and CC in City Lights."[Chaplin was receptive to ideas from his associates] but our ideas had to be good and this rarely happened. Chaplin carried the ball all the time, and we were mostly used as punching bags to try ideas on. None of us yessed him, and he always listened to any criticism we might make. Later, as I got to know him better, I discovered the best criticism was silence--and being a very sensitive artist, he knew something was wrong by the expression on our faces." --Harry d'Arrast, "Chaplin's Collaborators," Films In Review, January 1962
|With Harry d'Arrast|
"I'm the only girl around the studio most of the time, and they treat me like a queen. Everything is always pleasant and harmonious. Mr. Chaplin is very quiet himself and dislikes any unnecessary commotion.
He writes and directs his own pictures and, I tell you, I have to be wide awake and on the alert to keep pace with him, for I never know at what instant he will think up some big scene and, when he is in the mood, he likes to work quickly and steadily. It is always interesting to watch him develop the action, for he insists that there must be a cause leading up to the fights, the runaways, or whatever it is. He acts out our parts for us, and I assure you he can play even my role better than I can, for he is a natural imitator." --Edna Purviance, Motion Picture Classic, November 1919
With Edna during the filming of A Woman Of Paris.
1Jim Tully recalled that Chaplin was teasingly given this nickname by a few of his associates. (Pictorial Review, 1927).
Friday, October 3, 2014
Monday, July 1, 2013
- 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