Showing posts with label excerpt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label excerpt. Show all posts

Sunday, September 4, 2016

THE COUNT, released 100 years ago today

The Count was a struggle for Chaplin from the beginning. He built a set, as he often did, "with not an idea in my head."1 This lack of inspiration caused him a great deal of anxiety: "When I arrive in the morning I'm usually gloomy, especially when I haven't any idea what I'm going to do in a scene...," he told journalist Grace Kingsley in August 1916, "tears bedew my eyes as I put on my makeup, and I weep sadly as I step out on the stage."2

His first plea for help went out to his brother, Sydney, who was in New York at the time. How much Charlie counted on him for brainstorming gags and scenario possibilities is evident in their correspondence when Syd was away.
Wiring him at the Hotel Bonta in New York City, July 31, while he would have been filming The Count, Charlie pleaded: "Have you any suggestions for scenes? Have dining room and ballroom. I am playing a count but an imposter to win an heiress but cannot get story straight. Wire me some gags if possible. Playing in Chaplin make-up in fancy dress ball." Charlie's problems with this story continued, however, causing him to film the mostly one-man-show One A.M. in the meantime. By August, the situation was so dire that Charlie's butler and Man Friday, Tom Harrington, wired Sydney again:
"Charlie is very depressed condition for past two weeks. Doesn't seem able to get mind around to his story. He wishes nearly every other day that you were here...Think it very important for his future success for you to drop everything in New York and come here immediately at least three or four weeks. Charlie hasn't been sick but whenever he gets into difficult situation, which doesn't work out satisfactorily, he always wishes Syd were here."
Five days later Charlie wired his brother himself: "The last two pictures have given me great worry and I need you here to help me. Drop everything and arrange to be in Los Angeles by August 12 to help me in directing next picture. Wire answer immediately."3
Why was Sydney tormenting his brother this way?  It seems Sydney felt "used" by Mutual and that they weren't paying him what he thought he was worth. A settlement seems to have been reached because Sydney eventually returned to California.4

The Count's ballroom scene appears to have caused Chaplin the most stress. He told Grace Kingsley:
"And as for these gray hairs"--indicating those about his temple over his right ear--"I got them all the other day trying to be funny in a ballroom scene. I think any comedian who started out to be funny in a ballroom would have his career blighted at the outset." 5
Illustration by Gale for Grace Kingsley article, Los Angeles Sunday Times, Aug. 20th, 1916 

Charlie wasn't the only one driven crazy by this scene. Chester Courtney, an old music hall acquaintance who had been given a job at the studio, recalled:
If anyone were to play "And They Call It Dixieland" in my hearing I should run, screaming! It nearly lost me my sanity, thanks to Charlie. He kept a studio band playing it for weeks learning to dance with Edna Purviance."6
Despite all the problems, The Count was well-received among critics and fans, who had been disappointed with his last film One AM.  The public felt that Chaplin had made a come back of sorts.
The inimitable comedian returns to the type of motion picture farce in which he gained his fame and is seen in his familiar baggy trousers, cutaway coat at least two sizes too small, his dinky derby, diminutive moustache and slender cane, not forgetting the celebrated brogans.7

1 Charles Chaplin,  My Autobiography, The Bodley Head, 1964
2Grace Kingsley, "Beneath The Mask: Witty, Wistful, Serious Is The Real Charlie Chaplin," Los Angeles Sunday Times, August 20th, 1916
3 Lisa K. Stein, Syd Chaplin: A Biography, McFarland, 2011
5 Grace Kingsley, "Beneath The Mask: Witty, Wistful, Serious Is The Real Charlie Chaplin," Los Angeles Sunday Times, August 20th, 1916
6Chester Courtney, "The Real Charles Chaplin," Film Weekly, Feb. 1931
7Moving Picture World, September 2nd, 1916

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"A Day With Charlie Chaplin On Location"

Motion Picture writer James E. Hilbert describes his day at the location shoot of Charlie's last Mutual film, The Adventurer. Their location was "a summer camp” in Los Flores Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains.  Evidently the day did not go so well for Charlie...
A dummy dressed as a prison guard was to be rolled down the mountainside, and when everything was ready it was started on its way. It did not reach the much-desired bottom; instead it dangled by its coat-tail in midair from a shrub on the mountainside. Thereupon Charlie complimented  it for its foresight in stopping short of its destination and for wasting several feet of good film.

The next scene was one which must be taken on the narrow road, and a director's "imp" was sent out on a motorcycle in the direction which the camera faced, in order to stop the traffic from coming that way. In his haste to get away, the "imp" upset a nice young lady and her camera, who was trying to get a snap of Charlie. With much gusto and gallantry, Charlie assisted the young lady to her feet. He posed specially for the dear girl.

I am sorry to say that Charlie got real mad. A flivver that refused to stop for the "imp" was in the picture, and it had to be done all over again.  Charlie wished "Henry much peace!"

The scene was taken again, just as Charlie made his get-away and the guards were starting down [the mountainside], a lovely big rattlesnake loomed up on the trail and stopped the whole proceedings.

The two guards stopped short, a long pole was procured, and Mr. Snake was promptly executed. Charlie tried again, and to make sure everything was right, he went through his dialog:
"No more flivvers coming? No. No more snakes in sight? No. Are you ready up there you bum guards? Yes. Are the caps off the cameras? Yes....Then you know the rest. All ready! Camera!"
At this point some one mentioned it was "Friday the 13th," and, with an exclamation of annoyance, Charlie said with the tones and air of finality:
"We shall all go home at once. This is my Jonah day, and I absolutely refuse to work any more today."
(Excerpt & photos from "A Day With Charlie Chaplin On Location" by James E. Hilbert, Motion Picture Magazine, November 10th, 1917)

Monday, August 19, 2013

"I Was A Chaplin Kid"

Raymond Lee played the bully who picks on Jackie Coogan in this scene from The Kid. Lee also appeared in A Day’s Pleasure (along with Jackie) & The Pilgrim (the child who applauds Charlie’s sermon).  Many years later, Lee recalled Charlie guiding the two boys through the fight scene:
“Boys this is a very simple scene. Very simple. Two boys fighting. All boys fight. Must be a million boys fighting all over the world this very minute. It’s born in you—like tonsils. But boys, you aren’t fighting. You’re dancing with each other....
 "Hunger, hideous word. Most hideous of all tortures. Of course neither of you boys have ever been hungry. God forbid! Your stomach like a balloon without air. Your heart in your eyes and your eyes without a friend."
Despite his heavy makeup, Chaplin's skin whitened, the lines around his eyes, stitches in a wound.
"There is hunger in this scene. A boyish hunger makes Raymond steal Jackie’s toy. And Jackie fights for his hunger for it. It’s not an ordinary fight. It’s been going on for thousands of years but it still isn’t an ordinary fight."  His hands visored the down-draught of sunlight.
"I’ve been so hungry I could eat a shoe!”'
Cracking his knuckles, Chaplin leaned back in his chair, and cupping his mouth, whispered to [Albert] Austin. "I must sound like a damn fool talking to these kids like this." 

From “I Was A Chaplin Kid” by Raymond Lee, Movie Digest, Sept. 1972. Reprinted in The Legend of Charlie Chaplin by Peter Haining

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, June 22, 2013

Random Excerpt

From "The Man Who Knows Charlie Chaplin Best" By Mayme Ober Peak, Boston Globe, Feb. 22nd, 1931:
Henry's huge figure had been familiar to me for some time. But not until I looked into his kindly eyes did I realize what a definite quality of sympathetic understanding radiated from his tremendous strength. One can appreciate  how the high-strung artist--the world's playfellow, but the loneliest man in it, has grown to rely upon Henry Bergman. 
At first he was reluctant to talk of his association with Chaplin. So, to draw him out, I asked him to talk about himself, knowing it would be impossible for Henry to do this without talking about Charlie. 
The first thing I learned was surprising--that Henry is a native of California, as are three generations of Bergman farmers. Bergman's father was a breeder of fine horses, his mother a former grand opera singer, who as "Aeolla" was well-known in Europe. Henry inherited his mother's talent and sang on the  same stages on which she appeared. He studied in Germany and Italy, making his operatic debut in a small role in Faust
"I got my histrionic training in Wagnerian roles," he told me. 
"Twenty years ago I came into pictures. Before that I had been with Augustin Daly's company for nine years in New York. I was catapulted from stage to screen by a music comedy flop. I had been rehearsing for it many weeks without pay and when it closed a few days after it opened I was disgusted. 'This is no business for me,' said I."
"One day I ran into a player I had known in Germany. When I asked him what he was doing he said. 'Sh-h-h, don't let anyone know, I'm working in pictures. Doing pretty well, too, making $5 a day.'
"He suggested he might be able to fix me up at a studio. The idea rather appealed to me, that when you don't get paid, you don't need to work, so I went out with him to the Pathe. There I got my first job as heavy with Pearl White in The Perils Of Pauline. An introduction to Paul Panzer led to my association with Henry Lehrman with whom I came to Hollywood with the Elco Company in 1914.
"We did a series of pictures after which I went to Mr. Chaplin and stayed with himI 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." 
As simply as that, Henry tried to dismiss his long association with the Napoleon of the movies. But the reporter pressed him for details. 
"Just how do you assist Mr. Chaplin in directing?" I asked. 
Henry shrugged a protesting shoulder at the word "directing."
"What I really do is cueing. I stand in Mr. Chaplin's place cueing while he enacts the scene. Then he takes my place and I do his part while he directs."
"Is Mr. Chaplin difficult to work with?" I inquired.
"The easiest man, never abusive, never impatient. I don't believe anyone 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's wrong!' he very quietly says: 'Maybe I didn't show you right. I will do it again.'
"He always likes the most dramatic scenes best. When he did the last scene in City Lights, where the flower girl recognizes him. I was sitting alongside the camera. Gradually I could feel my eyes fill up. 'That's funny I'm affected that way.' I thought. I turned around and the script girl had tears rolling down her face. I looked at the cameraman, Mr. Totheroh, who had been with Charlie for 15 years, and he was weeping."
"When Charlie saw the reaction, he was like a child. He looked at me and said, 'All right, Henry?' Then he got a little cocky and said, 'I'll do it again.' 'Oh, don't spoil it, Charlie.' I urged. But he did the scene twice again and better each time."

"A few hours after the Hollywood opening of City Lights, I was just leaving the studio in my car when Charlie drove up. At once he came to me and said in all seriousness: 'Henry, I don't know so much about this picture, I'm not sure.' And I said to him: "I'm telling you, Charlie, I've never failed you yet, have I? If this isn't right you will quit the business and go live abroad on what you've got. Nobody can do what you've done."
"It really is a supreme achievement of histrionic art. Finer ln construction than A Woman Of Paris or The Kid. It has more comedy and one of the most dramatic moments that has ever appeared on the screen."
"Did you ever see such a world of drama?" said Henry, now appealing to me, "when the flower girl recognizes in the tramp the man she had visualized as being wealthy and charming? Charlie realizing that he would break the spell if he walked away, did the only thing there was to do--left it to your imagination. It is your business to figure out what you would like to happen."
I made a futile attempt to get some admission from Mr. Bergman as to whether he played any part in assisting Mr. Chaplin to compose the score for City Lights. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if he hasn't had something to with the comedian's love of music. Music and travel are his only relaxations.
"When Chaplin left Hollywood" (on his world tour), remarked Henry, "he said: 'I won't be long. I'll come back and go to work after I've relaxed and played around a little bit.' He took his Japanese valet with him, and his secretary, Carlyle Robinson.
"Until he returns, I'll not hear a solitary word. Charlie never writes to anybody. He never even wires about business. That's why he has to have someone with him all the time."
"Mr. Chaplin is interested financially in your cafe is he not?"*
"That's just a story," said Henry, "but I haven't bothered to deny it. When I found myself, seven and eight months at a time, walking up and down Hollywood Boulevard between Chaplin pictures, I said to myself, "this won't do. I'm getting to the age where my mind must be occupied. I've been a bachelor all my life, eaten in restaurants in all parts of Europe. I thought it would be a good idea to create in Hollywood a place where people could feel at home, sit around and chat with their friends. The kind of cafe they have in every country in Europe."
As I passed out of the cafe, by the deaf and dumb newsboy who maintains the front of Henry's as his special right, and walked down the gayly lit boulevard, I thought how strange it was that in Hollywood, obsessed by self-aggrandizement, I should find in the heart of a cafe proprietor such unselfish allegiance and devotion to the world-famous clown with whom he works and weeps.
In a way, Henry Bergman can be likened to a piano tuner who keeps the unique instrument that is Charlie Chaplin in shape to play upon the world's emotions.

*Henry's Cafe opened in the 1920s. It became one of the most popular lunch spots in Hollywood. Charlie was a regular customer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

World Tour Revisited: With Maurice Chevalier in the south of France, summer 1931

Top & bottom photos: Voila, May 26th, 1934
Excerpt from The Intimate Charlie Chaplin by May Reeves (Chaplin's companion during much of his world tour:)
We were often in the company of Maurice Chevalier & once we spent an entire day with him and Yvonne Vallée in his luxurious villa at Cannes .... Behind his villa, Maurice had installed a bowling alley and established as a rule of the game that the person who lost  must present himself before an altar erected in the back of the garden and press a button. A double door then opened, and one had to kiss the statue of the saint who emerged. Having lost in my turn, I saw the magic door open: a fat woman lifted her skirt and offered me her backside to kiss, and, to satisfy the taste of the master of the house, I had to comply. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Random Excerpt

While I was slithering around Sunset Boulevard, Charlie was a more and more frequent guest at our house. He had just recently been starred for the first time at Essanay, and was now making a fortune with a series of one-reelers at Mutual. He and three other friends of mine--Mary Pickford, Doug Fairbanks, and David Griffith--were about to join forces as the United Artists.
Though Popsy was wary of my Hollywood companions, he trusted Chaplin because he knew him. It has always amused me to see cautious parents accept as suitable suitors old friends who are often as eligible as Don Juan. It is probably the quality of the unknown that terrifies them so.
To me, there remained very little unknown about Charlie. He unburdened his heart to me. He loved talking about himself; but I adored his sense of humor and appreciated his sense of values. He was marvelous fun to be with, Charlie!
He wasn't very prompt, and one night he arrived for dinner an hour and a half late. Mutz, who had kept her patience for weeks, now was furious. Such a tirade! She told him how selfish and thoughtless he was; and we were all sure that we would never see him again. What did he do when mother finished? He kissed her and said, "How wonderful you are. You've scolded me just as you would your own son. Now I know I'm one of the family. Thank you, thank you."
What could one do with such a reaction? We all adored him. How stimulating Charlie was! Those intense gray eyes! Even in repose, there was always a faint smile hovering around his lips. There was always an imp in Charlie, no matter how serious he was being, an element of the unpredictable. He was an elf with a memory of sadness.
He loved playing with abstract ideas. His brain never stopped buzzing. When he was working he would ask me to the studio so I could watch him work. Though he used a script, ideas, fresh and sparkling, would spill from him while the camera was going. Some of his most famous scenes were spontaneous. His slim, nervous body would respond instantly to any improvisation that struck him. He was nimble in everything. He moved like a dancer.
Charlie was still to become the intellectual's darling, the controversial exile, the legend. Life was simple then--like the people. Chaplin was funny and the public laughed. The scholars and students hadn't recognized him as a genius. He was loved as a clown.
Charlie, however, was always impressed with himself--like a small child who has suddenly found a doting audience for his antics. He was quicker than his audience and always ahead of them. I loved going to the movies with him. He would laugh until he cried. Then he would nudge me.
"Wait, Daggie. Wait till you see what's going to happen now!"
When it happened, he would become convulsed. I think I enjoyed watching Charlie watching Charlie more than the movie.
— Dagmar Godowsky, First Person Plural: The Lives Of Dagmar Godowsky, 1958.

Dagmar appeared in 24 films between 1919 & 1926,
including The Sainted Devil in which she co-starred with Rudolph Valentino.
 She is also among the many celebrities, including Chaplin, to appear in the 1923 film, Souls For Sale.

Charlie with Dagmar's father, pianist/composer Leopold Godowsky, 1917.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Random Excerpt

He was always fond of people who were not carried away by his name. During my stay with him he had a young lady friend whom he called Hotsy Totsy. It was the only name I had ever heard him give her.

One night he called at her humble home to take her to dinner. As he rang the bell a voice came from upstairs.

"Let him in, Mother."

"Be down in a minute, Charlie," called the girl.

The mother returned to the kitchen, where Chaplin overheard her talking to a man. He remained alone in the "front parlor."

Presently Hotsy Totsy came downstairs.

"Well, I'm all ready for the eats, Kiddo," she said.

After riding for several blocks Chaplin asked, "Did your mother know who I was?"

"Sure, Kiddo," I told her your'd be calling and to let you in. She hardly ever comes in the front room--sits back there and talks to dad. They should worry a lot and build a house about who calls on me! I got 'em trained different."

Hotsy Totsy was long a favorite with the comedian.

— Jim Tully, "The Real Life-Story Of Charlie Chaplin, Part Four," Pictorial Review, April 1927

Saturday, December 1, 2012


Charlie in St. Moritz, c. 1932

In this excerpt from his travel memoir, "A Comedian Sees The World," Charlie recalls his first time skiing in St. Moritz, Switzerland during his 1931-32 world tour.

Douglas Fairbanks insisted that I be initiated into the art of skiing. I always thought it was easy, but oh, boy! I never knew how many knots I could tie myself into! For the first two hours I suffered with impediment of the legs and was continually standing on my own foot. Turning was most difficult, but this I mastered in my own fashion, deliberately sitting down and pivoting in the direction I wished to go. Sometimes, however, the sitting was not deliberate. To a beginner, skiing down a hill is very simple, especially if there are no obstacles in the way. But the problem is stopping. This is most difficult. You are instructed to assume a knock-kneed position, at the same time spread your feet apart and turn your ankles in, digging the sides of your skis into the snow. When I attempted it, I invariably went into the splits. 
To give you an idea of the enjoyment of my first day's skiing, you must imagine yourself starting slowly down a hill developing speed as you go, thrilled and exalted with a sense of your own motive power and the icy breezes blowing against your cheeks. As the speed increases, however, your exhilaration changes to a growing anxiety, especially when the hill becomes precipitous and the going increases to about fifty miles an hour. You go flying past rocks, trees and other obstacles that miraculously escape you. After such gymnastic triumphs, you accumulate confidence and go whizzing on, resolved to see it through to the bitter end. 
Then a sinister rock approaches and comes rushing at you menacingly. This time it is determined to get you. Your heart leaps into your mouth. You become philosophic. You relish the sweet memories of life before skiing. Death is contemplated. You see your skull crashed against the rock and your body flung over it like a pair of empty pants. But you are not killed. You survive. You go on living, crippled for life.
Then a miracle happens. Some metaphysical force moves the rock to compassion and lets you skim by it, and you go shooting onward, relieved. Your mind gains control of your reflexes and you make a decision to sit down, not perhaps as gently as you’d wish. So plunk!
You extricate your head from the snow. You discover you’re still conscious. You involuntarily sit up and look around for fear somebody has seen you. But a superior individual in slow tempo comes gliding up with the query, “Are you hurt?”
And you sally with a cheery, “No, not at all, thank you”.
Then you endeavor to start off again. But when the stranger’s out of sight, reason becomes the better part of valor, so you change your mind, take off your skis and call it a day.
However, dear readers, 'twas not ever thus, for later I became--but there, modesty forbids, so I shall quote from the newspaper, the South Wales Argus: "People at St. Moritz were electrified to see a small man go tearing down a steep village street at a terrific speed, to pull up suddenly at the door of his hotel. He was Charles Chaplin, film clown, says Reuter's correspondent. Perhaps there were painful memories of misadventures with the hotel revolving door that made him stop so sharply. Skiing experts declare that this dash was a very fine achievement. Charlie, in fact, is becoming an adept on skis.
The above is one of my most treasured clippings.
(Charlie Chaplin, "A Comedian Sees The World, Part IV," A Woman's Home Companion, December 1934) 

With Douglas in St. Moritz, c. 1932.  There's that sweater we know and love.
Skiing with Douglas. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

First Impressions

Photo by Albert Witzel, c. 1922

"I met a rather handsome man with almost jet-black hair and brown eyes [sic] which looked at me with a seriousness I should scarcely connect with a comedian. In fact, although I have seen him in comedies many times on the screen, I should not have known him." --Victor Eubank, "The Funniest Man On The Screen", Motion Picture, March 1915

"He was just an ordinary fellow in his twenties--twenty-five, I learned later--rather short and slight of build; but the thing that impressed me most was his smiling, friendly features. At once I ceased wondering why they called him Charlie." --Mary E. Porter, "Charlie Chaplin, Cheerful Comedian", Picture-Play, April 24th, 1915

"Charlie Chaplin off the films is a charming young man...His smile is the thing about him which commands attention. If there could be a such thing as a smile with a man instead of a man with a smile, Charlie Chaplin's smile is it. One sees the smile before one sees Chaplin...He has a soft pleasant voice, with a strong English accent, and while he talks that really remarkable smile is flashing off and on, winning your heart--if it hasn't been won already. The smile is aided and abetted in its work by two side partners in the way of eyes--blue eyes with a twinkle and a crinkle. There are little humor lines raying out from the corners of the eyes, and, once you come to study the matter, you find that really the eyes smile as much as the mouth." --Miriam Teichner, "Charlie Chaplin: A Tragedian Would Be", The Globe &  Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 19, 1916

"He is a little dark-haired, boyish looking man, with a quiet, decidedly English voice. Very easy and interested and unforced his manner was, and for the most part, though at times a trace of nervous timidity would creep in. He hadn't a scrap of affectation. In the dim light from the fireplace he looked about twenty years old, but later, when I met him in the daylight, I saw that his hair is threaded with gray. But his face is as smooth and healthily ruddy as a schoolboy's." --Walter Vogdes, "Charlie Chaplin: Rather A Quiet Little Guy Who Takes His Pantomime Art Seriously", New York Tribune Sunday, Dec. 30th, 1917

"A frail figure, small footed, and with hands as exquisite as those of Madame la Marquise. A mass of brindled-gray hair above a face of high color and nervous features. In conversation the pale hands flash and flutter and the eyes twinkle; the body sways and swings, and the head darts birdlike back and forth, in time with the soft chanting voice. His personality is as volatile as his lithe and resilient figure. He has something of Hans Andersen, of Ariel, touched with rumors of far-off fairyland tears. But something more than pathos is here. Almost, I would say, he is a tragic figure." --Thomas Burke, "The Tragic Comedian", The Outlook, January 18, 1922

"Far away from the din and glare of the make-believe stage, I have come to know the real Charlie Chaplin, a far more interesting personality than the movie star. He does not wear a moustache; his features are well cut; large eyes; large head, too, and excellently shaped; lips astonishingly mobile and well formed; a very handsome face, and a handsome, slight figure, with tiny hands and feet." --Frank Harris, "Charlie Chaplin and A Visit To Sing-Sing", Pearson's Weekly, April 1922

"There isn't a fraction of pose about him, and if one gains his confidence he will open his heart with the frankness of a child. But shyness largely rules, and, while he has no difficulty at all in facing the eye of the camera, facing an interviewer primed with questions is another proposition entirely." --Mordaunt Hall, "Shy Charlie Chaplin Opens His Heart", New York Times, August 9th, 1925

"Mr. Chaplin's hair is slightly flecked with grey. His face is smooth and vivacious, a mask full-lipped and ruddy golden as that of a faun in bacchanal of Rubens. The bright blue eyes cloud and sparkle incessantly, and the soft voice shoots out words, accompanied by gestures of the hands of an incomparable expressiveness, the listener becomes aware that Mr. Chaplin enjoys the more fruity elements of the English language with the gusto of Mr. Wells's Mr. Polly. Indeed, in Wellsian phrase, "juiciness" seems characteristic of Mr. Chaplin." --Robert Nichols, Future Of The Cinema: Mr. Charles Chaplin, Times [London], Sept. 3, 1925

"Charles Chaplin is small, slender, and graceful. His rather long curly hair has suddenly turned gray. His beautiful grayish-blue eyes move incessantly, and he often squints humorously. His mouth is almost always smiling. But the noblest and finest things about him are his two hands. They look like the hands of a young man except for the fact that veins have traced mysterious patterns upon them. He wore a discreet grayish suit of the pepper-and-salt variety, and his collar had black lines stitched in it." --Arnold Hollreigel, "Charles Chaplin At Home", The Living Age, July 1928

"Charlie, a little thinner, a little older than I had left him the year before, sat down on the edge of the pool and, taking his shoes off, began to wiggle his small, beautiful, feminine feet in the cool water." --Konrad Bercovici, "A Day With Charlie Chaplin", Harper's, December 1928

"Chaplin's eyes are a blue so darkly shadowed that they are almost purple. They are sad eyes; from them pity and bitterness look out upon the world." --Waldo Frank, "Charles Chaplin: A Portrait", Scribner's, September 1929

"The man we see is not the same Charlie Chaplin that appears in the films. He is fresh from his work, to be sure, but he has not actually been playing. He hasn't got his battered little derby, his bamboo cane, or his black moustache. Furthermore, his shoes are not so amusing or so ridiculous as they appear to be in the films. They shuffle as he walks and they are dirty and a little too big for him, but they are regular shoes. Their cosmic significance is due entirely to the art of their possessor, who now takes us...into the projection room. At once the shoes become inconspicuous and their wearer seems only a little flat-footed. He puts on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, for he is so far-sighted that he cannot even write his name without them. --Egon Erwin Kisch, "I Work With Charlie Chaplin", The Living Age, Oct. 15, 1929

"He smiled his bright smile. When the smile is directed at you it doesn't seem automatic. It seems friendly, slightly self-deprecatory, and utterly confidential. When you sit to one side and watch it bestowed upon someone else, the lips look mechanically creased, and the eyes seem absent, almost unseeing. The smile is a masterpiece made for one person at a time." --Robert Van Gelder, "Chaplin Draws A Keen Weapon", New York Times Magazine, Sept. 8, 1940

"His brown flannel trousers were not particularly well creased, his tan sport shirt and yellow sleeveless sweater were most informal, his pre-maturely gray hair making him, as always, a distinctive figure. There is nothing whatever in his appearance or manner to remind you of the character and personality we call Charlie Chaplin; nothing save the whimsical almost shy way he has of smiling; that fleeting indescribable manner of lips lifting at the corners." --Dixie Willson, "Chaplin Talks", Photoplay, Dec. 1940

"He was dancing, laughing and being the greatest pantomimist I had ever seen. White hair, honest blue eyes, a laugh more eloquent than any prose. Young in a way that few youths have ever been. Old with a rare dignity. I watched this man who dares to be simple, as fascinated and amused as the first time I saw him in the movies. He talks and thinks pictorially, knowing every second how he looks and not caring what he says. To listen is to lose everything. He uses words for the same purpose as a magician. He plays tennis with his left hand and writes with his right." --Al Hirschfeld, "A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds", New York Times, July 26, 1942

"It’s not every day that you meet, for the first time, someone, for whose work you have an intense admiration, in the nude! But, there in front of me, still in soft focus and heavily gauzed by steam, stood one of the great artists of our time, wearing, as I was, nothing but a loin-cloth. My own hands are not large, but the hand I now clasped seemed to evaporate into mine. Having only seen him in his screen make-up, I was not prepared for his distinguished good looks, but I think it was more the extraordinary mobility of feature than the features themselves that struck me. Watching Chaplin’s face was like looking at a fascinating ballet or rather—for ballet implies something planned or formal—a spontaneous improvised dance.” --Anthony Asquith, "Days With Charlie Chaplin", Cine-Technician, Nov.-Dec. 1952

“I like to think I would have been arrested anywhere by the face: features evenly sculptured into a sensuous whole, strong and handsome beyond any guess you might have made by mentally stripping away the black half-moon eyebrows and the comic moustache.…So seeing Chaplin for the first time was a more curious pleasure than having the screen image of any other star confirmed in the flesh." --Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

"Charlie's eyes are of the very darkest blue, the color that the camera likes best. They are "honest" and "unflinching" eyes, set deeply in a noble brow, and when he lies to people because he does not like them or their questions, they make him very persuasive. --Max Eastman, Great Companions, 1959

"He looked marvelous. Vigorous, groomed, genial, in a beautiful, dark-blue, satiny housejacket, his skin freckled and youthful, his step bouncy, he came striding towards us smiling broadly, his blue eyes large and free, phrases of welcome bubbling around his grin. He gave me an immediate sense of strength, I would even say of massiveness, that startled me. In contrast, his hands, outstretched in greeting, were small, his fingers very sensitive. But the impression of power was unexpected." --Peter Steffens, "Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp", Ramparts, March 1965

"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." --Louise Brooks, "Charlie Chaplin Remembered", Film Culture, Spring, 1966

"The Chaplins were conspicuous in their simplicity, their absence of props, the lack of preoccupation with fashion. With his small hands and feet and ample middle, Charlie looks the same no matter what he wears; padded, a silhouette forsaken for the love of vanilla ice cream." --Candace Bergen, “I Thought They Might Hiss,” Life, April 21, 1972

Saturday, November 3, 2012

May Reeves recalls her first evening with Charlie

Reeves memoir was originally published in 7 installments in
 the French magazine Voila from May-July 1934.  It was published in book form, in French, in 1935.
 An English translation was not available  until 2001. Reeves' book is underrated,
in my opinion, as a window into Charlie's personality.

Charlie met May Reeves (aka Mitzi Muller) in Nice, France in 1931 during his European vacation. She was hired by his press agent Carlyle Robinson to translate fan mail, but only worked one day. When Charlie was introduced to her, he was immediately infatuated. She would spend the next year as his lover and traveling companion.

One of the first things Charlie asked May was “do you tango?” Her reply: “The tango is my trade. I’m an acrobatic dancer."

The following is an excerpt from The Intimate Charlie Chaplin by May Reeves & Claire Goll, translated by Constance Brown Kuriyama (2001) :
[Chaplin & Reeves are dancing at a dinner party given by Frank J. Gould, Charlie’s host during his stay in Nice]
He played another tango. He drew me to him and we danced, temple to temple, eyes firmly fixed. “How sweet you are darling. In America they have no idea what a tango is. I’ve never danced it so well.’…The tango was over, but Chaplin continued to hold me in his arms and cautiously drew me closer. I turned  my head and his kiss brushed my cheek. “The others are waiting” I said. ‘the others, the others?’ he responded in a tone that suggested that he doubted there were any other people in the world.
[Later that evening in Chaplin’s suite] …He questioned me as if he were jealous of all my former life. Between questions he interrupted himself often and asked, ‘Do you like me a little?…just a very little bit?…you are so charming; oh that smile…let me keep holding your hands. Are you afraid, little girl? 
 Meanwhile it had grown late. ‘I must go home’ I said. 
‘No, no’ he pleaded, holding my hands prisoner. ‘Don’t be afraid, I only want to look at you.’
 But this time I couldn’t be persuaded, so he called a taxi for me, and in parting he gave me a sweet, very sweet, almost paternal kiss.
Composite photograph of Charlie and May from "Charlie Chaplin Intime", Voila magazine, July 7th, 1934.

Monday, August 27, 2012

With Buster Keaton on the set of LIMELIGHT

Excerpt from Remembering Charlie by Jerry Epstein (background, center):
Charlie still hadn't found his partner [for the violin and piano sequence]. At one point he thought Sydney's stand-in, who had a long lugubrious face, could play the pianist. But he was undecided. Then just before shooting, someone told him Buster Keaton was available -- that he was also broke, and needed money. That did it. Charlie hired Keaton.
Buster arrived on the set wearing his old Buster outfit with the small pancake hat. Charlie took him aside and said gently, "We're not playing our old characters now. I'm not playing the Tramp; you're not playing Buster." Keaton, like an obedient pupil, replied, "Yes, Charlie, of course." and removed his hat and went to wardrobe for a costume.
Before our picture began, all the technicians had been excited about working with Charlie Chaplin. He hadn't made a film in years and of course he was a legend...But after a few weeks of shooting, Charlie Chaplin became just another actor. Now their affection switched to Keaton. He was the new boy in town. But if Ben Turpin had shown up two weeks later, I'm sure Keaton would have been dropped like a hot potato. Charlie must have been aware of the technicians' attitude, but chose to ignore it. He just wanted to get on with the business ahead.