Showing posts with label Max Munn Autrey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Max Munn Autrey. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Day By Day: 1936

Circa early October 1936: Publicity photos of Charlie and Paulette by Max Munn Autrey.

Autrey was the stills photographer for both Modern Times & The Great Dictator. This set gives us some nice views of the grounds of Chaplin's Beverly Hills estate.

Lesser known images from this shoot show Charlie buying tickets to a British Charity Ball
 from a young lady named Maureen Laing: 1

Another photo with Laing appeared in the Los Angeles Times on October 11th, 1936:

Plus photos of Charlie and Paulette talking to Laing's father, 
Capt. Alfred Benson Laing, a Canadian WWI veteran: 2

See more photos here.

1Laing later became a journalist under the name Maureen Dragone and one of the longest-standing members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
2Many thanks to Kate Guyonvarch of Association Chaplin for identifying Mr. Laing.

DAY BY DAY:1936: An account of one year of Chaplin's life.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Recording session for MODERN TIMES, November 1935

 At right, Chaplin shakes hands with conductor Alfred Newman. 

Eighty-years ago this month, Chaplin recorded the music for Modern Times, his final silent film. The sessions were held on a soundstage at the United Artists Studios, with a 65-piece orchestra conducted by Alfred Newman.1 Chaplin had composed the music himself, with the help of arrangers David Raksin and Edward Powell, including the "love theme" which would become one of his most famous melodies, better known as the pop standard "Smile."2

Below is Hollywood reporter Sidney Skolsky's eyewitness account of one of the recording sessions:
Chaplin sits in a camp chair on a large recording set at the United Artists studio, supervising the scoring. His hair is gray. He has a stubble gray beard. He wears black patent leather shoes with white suede tops, and his right arm is carried in a sling.3 A blue silk muffler serves as a sling. Chaplin broke his thumb in the door of his auto. 
Al Newman stands on a small platform, waving a baton at 65 musicians. David Raksin, who made the music arrangements for Chaplin, is also present to supervise. 
There is a screen hanging in midair in back of the orchestra. The part of Modern Times being scored will be shown on the screen. Chaplin is chewing gum in time with the orchestra. Only a few of Chaplin's personal friends among the magazine writers and several visitors from the Soviet cinema have seen sections of the picture. No newspaperman has seen a flash of it. I walk on the set, stand and watch. Soon Chaplin sees me. He grins a broad "Hello" and then says it. I approach him. "I'd like to watch you work. May I?" Chaplin has always been congenial to me. "Stay around," he answers, "but don't tell too much." 
The orchestra starts rehearsing the music for the factory sequence in which Chaplin revolts against being a slave of the machinery. He throws the place into confusion and does a wild dance. The music is as difficult as the scene. Every note must be timed exactly with the film, and the music is not loud and brazen as expected of factory sounds. The orchestra rehearses these few bars again...again...again. An hour later, they're still doing these few bars. The orchestra stops playing. The men leave their chairs. There's time out for five minutes, like a football team. It is strenuous work. The musicians work only three, four hours at the most, at a stretch. Then they have an hour for relaxation. Yesterday, they worked from 9 in the morning until 4 o'clock the next morning, and about half a reel was completely scored. It costs Chaplin on the average of $1,000 an hour to score this flicker. 
L-R: Charles Dunworth (asst. to Alfred Newman), Alfred Newman (conductor), CC, David Raksin (arranger),
 Paul Neal (recording engineer), and Edward Powell (arranger). 
Now, after several hours of rehearsing, Al Newman and Chaplin agree they will try to record this scene. The signal is given. The picture is ready to be flashed on the screen. The man in the sound booth is ready to pick up the music and capture  it. I am invited to sit in the sound booth with Paul Neal, for here I can see the picture and hear the music as it is recorded. He is the only man on the set who sees and hears the flicker as if it were being shown in a theater. Chaplin, with the baggy trousers, the big shoes and black hair, is on the screen. The Chaplin with neat clothes and gray hair sits looking at him. 
The flicker is on. Chaplin is performing. The first impression is very strange. I see Chaplin moving, his mouth opens--but no sounds, no words are heard. For a moment I believe something is wrong. Then I remember it is a silent flicker. The orchestra plays the same few bars again and again, and the picture is started over and over. By now I am becoming accustomed to silent pictures.4 Chaplin watches the picture and listens to the music. He jumps up to stop the music. He okays a take. He asks Newman or Raksin or Neal how it sounded. 
It is really interesting to watch Chaplin watch Chaplin. He never laughs at him, but is always intent. Chaplin when talking about the Chaplin on the screen says, "The little feller does that..." or "He doesn't do that..." But he never calls the Chaplin on the screen "I." To him the Chaplin on the screen is a character. 
--Sidney Skolsky, "Chaplin's Modern Times," Washington Post, November 27, 1935

Chaplin is seated at right near the conductor's podium.

Photos by Max Munn Autrey


1Alfred Newman would eventually walk out on the film after a blow up with Chaplin. According to David Raksin: "They were operating on ragged nerves, and after one bad take Charlie had accused the players of "dogging it"--lying down on the job. At this, Newman, who at the best of times had a hair-trigger temper, had broken his baton and stalked off the stage, and was now refusing to work with Chaplin." ("Life with Charlie," 1983) Newman never returned. Arranger Edward Powell took over as conductor for the remainder of the sessions.
2Lyrics were added to the melody in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons.
3You can see the sling on Chaplin in the last photo if you look closely. He is also wearing it in this photo taken at a party for H.G. Wells around the same time.
4By 1935, talkies had been around for nearly a decade and silent films were a thing of the past.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Autographed photo of Chaplin with composer Arnold Schoenberg, c.1935

Photo by Max Munn Autrey.

Click here to read David Raksin's description of the meeting between Chaplin and Schoenberg which was evidently a bit awkward.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Charlie & Paulette, 1936

The following photos were taken in October 1936 by Max Munn Autrey on the lawn of Chaplin's Beverly Hills home.

Charlie is shown in this photo purchasing tickets for a charity ball from Maureen Laing.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

With Meredith Willson, c. 1940

Willson was musical director for The Great Dictator. He is best known for writing & composing the 1957 Broadway hit The Music Man. (Photo by Max Munn Autrey)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Chaplin with his musical collaborators for Modern Times, 1935

L-R: Charles Dunworth (asst. to Alfred Newman), Alfred Newman (conductor, uncle of Randy Newman), CC, David Raksin (arranger), Paul Neal (recording engineer), and Edward Powell (arranger). Photo by Max Munn Autrey.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Della Steele

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

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

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

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

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

According to a 1936 article by Sara Hamilton,* Steele stood in for the actors during a story conference for Modern Times. The article also reveals how Chaplin could bring an audience to tears even during rehearsals (and even when he wasn't playing the Tramp)**:
About the table gather Charlie, Henry [Bergman] and Della and the situations are then acted out one after the other. Charlie begins by taking his own role of the little tramp, closely watching their reactions to his every move. Henry, who weighs the better part of a ton, [poor Henry!] is then called upon to play Chaplin's role, Della takes Miss Goddard's role of the little street waif and Charlie is the factory foreman. They go into the scene, silently moving about the room.
Swiftly they change parts again. Della is Charlie the tramp. Henry is the policeman and Chaplin becomes the street waif, a look of pathetic wistfulness stealing across his face as the Chaplin features fade into some vague mist and the hungry child of the streets emerges in perfect form. Trying to hide their tears Della and Henry watch the character before them. Not Chaplin. Certainly not Chaplin. But a strange and terrified child.**
Not much is known about Steele's personal life. A lifelong Californian, Della Elizabeth Dosta Steele was born in 1890 and died in 1955. She was married once (as far as I can tell) to a man named John Steele. They were divorced sometime in the 1920s. She is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I don't believe she had any children. She was among the few women who worked for Charlie who wasn't an actress. It's a shame she was never interviewed (to my knowledge) about her time working for him. I'm sure she had some great stories to tell.

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

*"Charlie Chaplin and Charles Chaplin," The Straits Times, March 20th, 1936

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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Charlie poses for sculptress Katherine Stubergh during the filming of Modern Times, 1935

Photo by Max Munn Autrey

Stubergh & "Charlie." From
To make the figure, Stubergh first made a wax impression (casting mold) of Charlie's face and then he sat for her while she sculpted the fine facial details. Two casts were made, one of which was sold in an auction just last year for $25,000.