Showing posts with label Monsieur Verdoux. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Monsieur Verdoux. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Marilyn Nash, in Rollie Totheroh's hat and coat, with Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

Marilyn tells the story of her hat and coat below...

"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, February 3, 2016

Working with Charlie Chaplin: Marilyn Nash

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 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Martha Raye on making a film with "Chuck"

©Roy Export S.A.S.

Excerpt from "Monsieur Chaplin" by Martha Raye
Movieland, February 1948

All right, I was scared. 
That sounds silly, I guess, coming from me, a toughened-up trouper who's afraid of neither men, mice, nor the special brand of rodent known as the night-club heckler. 
But the first day I walked onto the set to play a scene opposite Charles Chaplin I thought I'd never be able to open my big mouth. Me, Martha Raye! Funny, isn't it?
My agent had called me a couple of weeks before. "Martha," says he, "Charles Chaplin wants you to play opposite him in Monsieur Verdoux!"
"You must have got yourself a new writer," I came back, quick and cute as anything. "You were never this funny before."
It took the fellow ten minutes--and a few light taps with a ball peen hammer--to get it through my head that he was serious and that Charles Chaplin did want me to play the roll of indestructible Annabella in his French bluebeard comedy. 
I jumped at the chance. There isn't a comedian anywhere who wouldn't have. For to all of us, Chaplin is the tops--and corny as it may sound--to work with an artist like that is an honor and a privilege. 
But after I'd jumped at the chance, I wanted to jump right back again. In the interval before I went to work on "Verdoux," I envied those funny man high-divers in the newsreels--the ones who can un-plunge. ...
Wanta know how long that scared lasted? For about ten minutes after I started working with Mr. Chaplin. 
Somehow he put me at my ease immediately. He made me feel as though my contribution to the picture was a good one and important. And the Charles Chaplin whom I'd respected as an artist became "Chuck"--a person whom I liked besides. 
I've been tossing around words like honor and privilege. Words like that are usually associated with the kind of wonderful but darned uncomfortable feeling a man  must feel when he wears a boiled shirt. Working with Chaplin was not only an honor and a privilege, but more fun that I've had since funny business became funny business. And that, for me, was when I was three-and-a-half years old. 
That first day we worked through lunch hour and well into the afternoon. Chuck was intent upon some intricate effect, and the cast and crew, whose day had begun almost before daylight, began to get the haggard, hungry look of a high fashion dress model. 
At twelve o'clock on the second day, I yelled, "Lunch!"
Now when I yell, I yell! I heard later that workmen over in Honolulu knocked off early--there's a difference in time, you know. 
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.) 1
So I explained. People who aren't geniuses get hungry at noon. Every other place I'd worked somebody like an assistant director yelled lunch, and there was lunch. 
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!
One of the first scenes I played with Chaplin called for a bit of tricky dialogue. As my hsuband he plays the role of a sea captain and greets me with a staccato sentence, involving sou-wester and every polysyllabic nautical term there is. He did the take perfectly--but I realized something that hadn't occurred to me before. 
Sublime master of pantomime that he is, Chaplin still finds the spoken word a new medium. He could have spared himself that tongue-twister--after all he wrote the thing, didn't he--but because it was right he kept the lines, lines for which he had to gather up a bit every time he saw them coming. Chaplin doesn't spare anyone, even himself. 
After a few days, Chuck asked me if I didn't want to stay and see the day's rushes.
We'd talk about the scenes and he honestly seemed interested in my reactions. And while we were talking, he taught me things about show business I'd never thought of before. He knows every trick of the trade.
One day I brought my three-year-old daughter, Melodye, down to see me work. I think Melodye's pretty special, but then, of course, I'm her mother. 
I'd known that Chuck liked and understood children because I'd seen him work with little Allison Roddan, who plays his son in Monsieur Verdoux. But after all, movie time is money and Melodye was told that she could look--but she must not be heard. 
Martha's daughter Melodye visits the set.
Melodye is smart but she can't read. So she didn't know that the quick-moving little man with the thatch of silver hair and kind, freckled hands was a great artist, alone in his field. She wasn't awed; nobody remembered to tell her. 
So we all knocked off for the afternoon, while Chuck and Melodye got acquainted. IT was the day when a nightclub scene was scheduled, and the dress extras and the Can-Can chorus and the waiters and orchestra stood around--at union wages--and watched the pair of them have a delightful time., playing pixy. Mr. Chaplin, who's quite an intellectual, believe me, was simple and unaffected as Melodye. It takes a little kid to be that way--or a big man. 
Chuck taught me a lot. He's a genius. But the nicest thing he taught me was that a genius can be a good guy.

1According to Charles, Jr. he also called her "Maggie" (her real name was Margaret).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Monsieur Verdoux press conference, Gotham Hotel, NYC, April 12th, 1947

Brief audio clip from the press conference 

Held the day the after the disastrous premiere of Monsieur Verdoux in NYC (where members of the audience booed and hissed at the screen), this press conference was described by George Wallach, who recorded the event for WNEW, as "more like an inquisition than a press conference." However, Charlie was ready for them, and at the start of the interview he invited the journalists to "proceed with the butchery."

Here are some snippets:

Question: Mr. Chaplin, according to a report from Hollywood you are a personal friend of Hanns Eisler, the composer?

Chaplin: I am. I am very proud of the fact.

Question: Are you aware of the fact that his brother is the Soviet agent, so attested by...

Chaplin: I know nothing about his brother!

Question: Do you think Mr. Eisler is a Communist?

Chaplin: I don't know anything about that. I don't know whether he is a Communist or not. I know he is a fine artist and a great musician and a very sympathetic friend.

Question: Would it make a difference to you if he were a Communist?

Chaplin: No, it wouldn't.

Charlie arrives at the Gotham Hotel for the press conference.

Question: Now, Mr. Chaplin, the Daily Worker, October 25, 1942, reported you stated, in an address before the Artists Front to win the war, a Communist front group: "I'm not a citizen, I don't need citizenship papers, and I've never had patriotism in that sense for any country, but I'm a patriot to humanity as a whole. I'm a citizen of the world. [with heavy sarcasm] If the Four Freedoms mean anything after this war, we won't bother about whether we are citizens of one country or another. "Mr. Chaplin, the men who secured the beachheads, the men who advanced in the face of enemy fire, and the poor fellows who were drafted like myself, and their families and buddies, resent that remark. And we want to know now if you were properly quoted.

Chaplin: I don't know why you resent that. That is a personal opinion. I am--four fifths of my family are Americans. I have four children, two of them were on those beachheads. They were with Patton's Third Army. I am the one-fifth that isn't a citizen. Nevertheless, I-I-I've done my share, and whatever I said, it is not by any means to be meant derogatory to your Catholic uh-uh-uh-GIs.

Question: It's not the Catholic GIs, Mr. Chaplin, it's the GIs throughout the United States!

Chaplin: Well, whatever they are, if they take exception to the fact that I am not a citizen and that I pay my taxes and that seventy percent of my revenue comes from uh-uh-uh abroad, then I apologize for paying that 100 percent on that 70 percent.

Question: I think that is a very evasive answer, Mr. Chaplin, because so do those veterans pay their taxes too!

Chaplin: Yes?

Question: Whether their revenue comes from elsewhere or not!

Chaplin: The problem is--what is it that your are objecting to?

Question: I am objecting to your particular stand that you have no patriotic feeling about this country or any other country.

Chaplin: I think you're...

Question: You've worked here, you've made your money here, you went around in the last war [World War I], when you should have been serving Great Britain, you were here selling bonds, so it stated in the paper that I read, and I think that you as a citizen here--or rather a resident here--taking our money should have done more!

Chaplin: [pause] Well, that's another question of opinion and as I say I think it is rather dictatorial on your part to say as how I should apply my patriotism. I have patriotism and I had patriotism in this war and I showed it and I did a great deal for the war effort but it was never advertised. Now, whether you say that you object to me for not having patriotism is a qualified thing. I've been that way ever since I have been a young child. I can't help it. I've traveled all over the world, and my patriotism doesn't rest with one class. It rests with the whole world--the pity of the whole world and the common people, and that includes even those that object to my--that sort of patriotism.


Question: Mr Chaplin, do you share M. Verdoux's conviction that our comtemporary civilization is making mass murderers of us?

Chaplin: Yes.

Question: Would you enlarge on that a little bit? I felt in the picture that that was the most striking line and I would like to have you enlarge on that.

Chaplin: Well, all my life I have always loathed and abhorred violence. Now I think these weapons of mass destruction -- I don't think I'm alone in saying this, it's a cliché by now -- that the atomic bomb is the most horrible invention of mankind, and I think it is being proven so every moment. I think it is creating so much horror and fear that we are going to grow up a bunch of neurotics.

Question: And your line at the end of the picture -- had the atomic bomb in it.

Chaplin: Well, it didn't have the atomic bomb in it -- it had weapons of destruction, and if the atomic bomb is in it, then it goes for the atomic bomb. I don't go all the way with science.


Question: Mr. Chaplin, what was your reaction to the reviews for Monsieur Verdoux?

Chaplin: I beg your pardon?

Question: What was your reaction of the reviews--the press reviews--in New York on the picture?

Chaplin: Well, the one optimistic note is that they were mixed. [laughter]

Source: Film Comment (Winter 1969)

Friday, April 11, 2014

Premiere of MONSIEUR VERDOUX, New York City, April 11, 1947

Mary Pickford was Charlie and Oona's guest at the premiere which took place at the Broadway Theater. Charlie remembered that Mary, holding on to his hand, pushed her way through the packed lobby and propelled herself to the microphone:
In the midst of the shoving and pushing, said Mary: "Two thousand years ago Christ was born, and tonight..." She got no further, for, still holding on to my hand, she was yanked away from the mike by a sudden push from the crowd--I have often wondered since what was coming next.
There was an uneasy atmosphere in the theater that night. A feeling that the audience had come to prove something. The moment the film started, instead of the the eager anticipation and the happy stir of the past that had greeted my films, there was nervous applause scattered with a few hisses. I loathe to admit it but those few hisses hurt more than all the antagonism of the press.
Charlie got up long before the film was finished and paced in the lobby until it was over.

Afterward, at a party at "21," Charlie, "surrounded by ill-wishers," quickly downed two drinks at once, which was rare for him. Robert Lewis, who played Verdoux's friend, Maurice Botello, remembered that "other celebrities there didn't even mention the picture. They simply took over the party."

After supper, entertainers got up and performed their numbers. While Ethel Merman sang, Lewis watched Louella Parsons "dressed in black, sitting in a corner, her disapproving eyes glued on Chaplin. She looked like some predator waiting for him to do or say something that might be used against him in her column." Finally, in a desperate attempt to recapture his own party, Charlie got up and performed his bullfight pantomime where he plays both the matador and the bull. Although it was executed brilliantly, it wasn't enough to get much response from the crowd. Charlie once told Lewis about a recurrent nightmare he had had all his life where he would be performing in front of a large crowd and no one would be laughing. "Now his nightmare had become a reality."

Oona had left the party early, so Lewis and Donald Ogden Stewart escorted a tipsy & "genuinely shaken" Charlie back to his hotel. "Don and I helped Charlie undress. In his shorts, sitting on the side of his bed, the twentieth century's mighty performing artist sniffled like a little boy. 'They couldn't take it, could they?' he kept repeating, 'I kicked them in the balls, didn't I? I hit them where it hurt.'"



Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
Robert Lewis, Slings & Arrows: Theater In My Life, 1996

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Charlie entertains his friend, writer and critic Maurice Bessy, at his home in Beverly Hills, 1947

Chaplin included a couple of “in jokes” regarding Bessy in Monsieur Verdoux (1947):

A real estate sign in front of Mr. Varnay’s house says “M. BESSY”.

 His name also appears in one of the newspapers Charlie’s reading in the film (see the arrow).

Bessy was also one of the founders of Cinémonde magazine which also appears in the film (in the postman's bag).*
Click here to see a picture of Charlie reading a copy of the magazine during production of the film.

*Thanks to Dominique Dugros for pointing this one out to me. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Friday, November 8, 2013

Martha Raye cracks up Charlie in an outtake from Monsieur Verdoux

During the first days of filming, Martha had such hero worship for Chaplin that she found it difficult to do her work, so she decided to calm her fears by calling him “Chuck” and being a good sport, Charlie in turn called her “Maggie” (her real name was Margaret).  The two became fast friends. She would also yell “lunch!” if she felt Charlie was keeping everyone past lunchtime--something nobody else on the set would have had the nerve to do. According to others in the cast, it was sometimes difficult for “Chuck” & “Maggie” to get much accomplished when they had a scene together because they were too busy laughing and joking around.  Raye said many years later that she learned more from Chaplin than anyone else she had ever worked with and that working with him was like “working with God."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

RIP Henry Bergman (February 23, 1868 – October 22, 1946)

Henry Bergman became an indispensable member of Chaplin's stock company in 1916. He adored Charlie and was a loyal and supportive friend and associate for 30 years. Chaplin repaid that loyalty by keeping Henry on his payroll until his death.

In an interview from 1931, Henry remembers how he came to work for Charlie:
I had known Mr. Chaplin personally. We used to be quite friendly at dinners, etc., and when I mentioned to him that I was looking for a job he said, "Why don't you come with me? You can work with me when I start a company of my own." That's the way it was. (Interview with Mayme Ober Peak, Boston Globe, February 22, 1931. I posted a longer excerpt from the interview here.)
Bergman was a versatile actor and would sometimes have multiple roles in one film. During filming, he was known to be just as tireless as Charlie:
For hour on hour on a sweltering August day during Shoulder Arms, Charlie forced the weighty Henry, in a full parade of German arms and uniform and sweating under a full muff (or crepe hair beard) to pursue him, disguised as a tree stump, through a eucalyptus grove. "You great fat hulk," complained the ex­hausted comedian. "Can't I wear you out?" Henry pled fatigue, but told Chaplin he was determined not to give up until Charlie did. (Harry Crocker, "Henry Bergman," Academy Leader, April 1972). 
In the 1920s, Bergman opened a popular Hollywood restaurant called Henry’s (possibly financed, or co-financed, by Chaplin). Henry would often go from table to table talking with customers, with his ever-present cigar dangling from his mouth. Charlie, who was fascinated by the success of the restaurant, was a regular customer. His favorite dishes were the lentil soup and coleslaw.

One of the last photos of Henry was taken on the set of Monsieur Verdoux. He did not have a role in the film and died from a heart attack shortly after shooting had begun.

Cameraman Rollie Totheroh is between Bergman and Chaplin. Associate Director Robert Florey is on the left of Bergman and Charlie’s half-brother Wheeler Dryden is behind Florey. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Charlie and Robert Lewis in Monsieur Verdoux

Robert Lewis was an actor, director, teacher, founding member of the Group Theater in the 1930s & co-founder of the Actor's Studio. But among Chaplin fans he might be best-remembered for his role as Henri Verdoux's pharmacist friend, Maurice Botello, in 1947's Monsieur Verdoux.  Lewis met Charlie in the 1930s through Clifford Odets and was delighted to get a chance to work with him. He recalled that as a director, Chaplin was an actor's dream. "He gave me one direction: 'He's the kind of bore who doesn't talk. He lectures.' That was all I needed."

Lewis was also in attendance at the premiere of Monsieur Verdoux in New York City. The film was disastrously received with some members of the audience hissing & booing. Charlie left before the film was finished. At a party at "21" following the premiere, Charlie quickly downed two drinks at once, which was rare for him. Lewis and Donald Ogden Stewart escorted a tipsy & "genuinely shaken" Charlie back to his hotel. "Don and I helped Charlie undress. In his shorts, sitting on the side of his bed, the twentieth century's mighty performing artist sniffled like a little boy. 'They couldn't take it, could they?' he kept repeating, 'I kicked them in the balls, didn't I? I hit them where it hurt.'"

Robert Lewis died 15 years ago today at age 88.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Arriving at the ill-fated MONSIEUR VERDOUX press conference at the Gotham Hotel, NYC, April 12th, 1947

During the press conference, Charlie was asked mostly about his politics and patriotism and less about his film. Knowing what to expect, Charlie began the proceedings by inviting the journalists to "proceed with the ahead at this old gray head."