Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Louise Brooks and Charlie - Part 2

 Kenneth Tynan's article continues with Louise Brooks' appraisal of Charlie:


Louise is speaking:

"Do you know, I can't once remember him still. He was always standing up as he sat down, and going out as he came in. Except when he turned off the lights and went to sleep, without liquor or pills, like a child. Meaning to be bitchy, Herman Mankiewicz said, 'People never sat at his feet. He went to where people were sitting and stood in front of them.' But how we paid attention! We were hypnotized by the beauty and inexhaustible originality of this glistening creature. He's the only genius I ever knew who spread himself equally over his art and his life. He loved showing off in fine clothes and elegant phrases - even in the witness box. When Lita Grey divorced him, she put about vile rumors that he had a depraved passion for little girls. He didn't give a damn, even though people said his career would be wrecked. It still infuriates me that he never defended himself against any of those ugly lies, but the truth is that he existed on a plane above pride, jealousy, or hate. I never heard him say a snide thing about anyone.. He lived totally without fear. He knew that Lita Grey and her family were living in his house in Beverly Hills, planning to ruin him, yet he was radiantly carefree - happy with the success of 'The Gold Rush" and with the admirers who swarmed around him. Not that he exacted adoration. Even during our affair, he knew that I didn't adore him in the romantic sense, and he didn't mind at all. Which brings me to one of the dirtiest lies he allowed to be told about him - that he was mean with money. People forget that Chaplin ws the only star ever to keep his ex-leading lady (Edna Purviance) on his payroll for life, and the only producer to pay his employees their full salaries even when he wasn't in production. 

 "When our joyful summer ended, he didn't give me a fur from Jaeckel or a bangle from Cartier, so that I could flash them around, saying, 'Look what I got from Chaplin.' The day after he left town, I got a nice check in the mail, signed Charlie. And then I didn't even write him a thank-you note. Damn me."

Louise Brooks was one of the most fascinating and independent figures of old Hollywood. Here is the link to the complete Tynan article in the New Yorker of June 1979. It's an interesting look at this almost-forgotten star of silent film.



Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Louise Brooks, Kenneth Tynan, and Charlie

 A recent New Yorker magazine carried an article written by Kenneth Tynan on June 11, 1979. It is about a famous silent film actress named Louise Brooks. Her story is fascinating, a Hollywood fable unlike any I've ever read. 
    Louise was born in 1906, when Charlie was seventeen years old. She became well-known for her acting ability, her independent attitude towards studios and directors, and her hair style. Some referred to her as "the girl in the black helmet."
    Towards the end of this article, Tynan quotes Brooks on her opinion of Charlie Chaplin. It made me like her all the more, because she glimpsed a trait of the famous man that others knew little or nothing about. This is from the article:
    "Of all the names that spilled out of Brooke's memories of America in the twenties, there was one for which she reserved a special veneration: that of Chaplin. In an article for the magazine Film Culture, she had described his performances at private parties:
    He recalled his youth with comic pantomimes. He acted out countless scenes for countless films. And he did imitations of everybody. Isadora Duncan danced in a storm of toilet paper. John Barrymore picked his nose and brooded over Hamlet's soliloquy. A Follies girl swished across the room and I began to cry while Charlie denied absolutely that he was imitating me. Nevertheless I determined to abandon that silly walk forthwith.

      Tynan continues:
      "For me, she filled the picture."
    I was eighteen in 1925, when Chaplin came to New York for the opening of The Gold Rush. He was just twice my age, and I had an affair with him for two happy summer months. Ever since he died, my mind has gone back fifty years, trying to define that lovely being from another world. He was not only the creator of the Little Fellow, though that was miracle enough. He was a self-made aristocrat. He taught himself to speak cultivated English, and he kept a dictionary in the bathroom at his hotel so that he could learn a new word every morning. While he dressed, he prepared his script for the day, which was intended to adorn his private portrait of himself as a perfect English gentleman. He was also a sophisticated lover, who had affairs with Peggy Hopkins Joyce and Marion Davies and Pola Negri, and he was a brilliant businessman, who owned his films and demanded fifty per cent of the gross - which drove Joe Schenck wild, along with all the other people who were plotting to rob him.
I'll stop here. This is half of the section on Charlie. I'll pick up the other half on my next blog here. Thanks for reading...and commenting, please.




Saturday, June 18, 2022

Thoughts from an esteemed critic on "City Lights"

 In Film Comment, October 1972, the renowned critic Stanley Kauffmann gave his thoughts about Charlie's 1931 movie "City Lights." Here are some excerpts from that which I find interesting and thought-provoking.

Chaplin had a lot of trouble with Virginia Cherrill and tried to replace her during the lengthy shooting. This backstage story makes the results all the more astonishing. Chaplin got an extremely good performance from her. Without it, the last scene would have been impossible. When the (even more) ragged Tramp stares happily at her through the shop window, she says to her assistant, "I've made a conquest," with just the right touch of haughty pleasure, the slight air of cruelty in the formerly maimed person made whole. A moment later, when she takes his hand and recognizes him by touch, she becomes her former self, but larger. He says, "You can see now?" Her face -  on the reply, "Yes, I can see now" - is beautiful. The film has to end with a close-up of Charlie - we'd feel cheated otherwise - but, dramatically, the last scene is hers.

Chaplin did not always succeed as a director, or discoverer, of actresses. Merna Kennedy in "The Circus" is a dud, as is Marilyn Nash in "Monsieur Verdoux." But when he succeeded, as with Georgia Hale in "the Gold Rush" and Cherrill here, he transformed them into something they never touched again.

One more section of Kauffmann's article I want to include here:

Sentiment is the burden and the blessing of Chaplin's work.  The durability of the sentimental passages may be a chief secret of his survival. Of his one-time peers, only Keaton - who really is his peer - is still as affecting. ... In the beginning of "City Lights," when he discovers that the girl is blind, the film seems to stop for a moment. In the last scene, when he gazes at her so selflessly, so happily, he says more than in that whole last speech of "The Great Dictator."



Friday, February 11, 2022

A Hard Look at "The Kid"


The next film up in Film Comment, Sept-Oct 1972, is “The Kid.”

The author of the article is Gary Carey. I tried to find some information on him, but only came up with a rather long list of books he’s written, mostly about Hollywood stars and movies. I wanted to find out about him because he takes a strongly negative view of “The Kid,” one of the harshest assessments of the movie I’ve ever seen. Here are some excerpts from his contribution to the Chaplin legacy.


“Legend tells us that Chaplin first conceived the idea for “The Kid” when Jackie Coogan wink at him in a hotel lobby. Perhaps this encounter did give him the specific idea for the film, but Chaplin had for some time been considering a project to win the approbation of American motherhood. “The Kid” has occasionally been dismissed as a shameless ploy to achieve this end…The charge of sentimentality often leveled against “The Kid” could be dismissed were it not for the frame story, which drips off the screen with mawkishness”

He goes on to pretty much rip the entire film. After a description of several scenes, he lets loose with this:

“These scenes are further hampered by indifferent photography, awkward introduction of symbolic inserts, and the inadequacy of Miss Purviance. …”The Kid” also falls short of “A Woman of Paris” in story construction. (This was never Chaplin’s forte: In fact, A Woman of Paris: it arguably his best-constructed film.)”

Carey finds great fault in Chaplin’s inclusion of the “heaven” sequence. He calls the fantasy irrelevant to a plot and takes the idea too far. The article continues with some discussion of Jean Cocteau and how he used Chaplin’s heaven fantasy in one of his plays. Rather unsuccessfully.  Then he concludes with this:

“It’s hard to decide how much Chaplin consciously put into his films, and how much sprang from his unconscious - or our own. Cocteau, at least, believed Chaplin was in full control of his art.”

I’ll finish this blog with a few words which appear earlier in his article, and allows me to sign off on a more positive note, since I think “The Kid” is a gem and a promise of the Chaplin that lay ahead.

“Still, even the most antipathetic mother must have succumbed to Chaplin’s genuinely sweet relationship with Coogan - the first and best of the cherubs with dirty faces - and been touched by the pathos of the child’s and the Tramp’s temporary parting. These scenes are imbued with an honest sentiment, something of a rarity in the history of the American film”

If you know anything about the life/career/accomplishments of Gary Carey, please tell me about him. He seems to know what he’s talking about, has an impressive store of information on Hollywood, and isn’t afraid to criticize a Chaplin classic.

Monday, January 24, 2022

When Charlie Returned While Buster Was Fading

 I have this stack of magazines in the “Chaplin Section” of my office. They usually sit there, month after month, waiting to be opened, read, absorbed. The other day I was looking for an article in another magazine and came across Film Comment, Sept/Oct, 1972, with a special section on Chaplin. It contains 12 essays on Charlie and his films, by various writers and critics of that decade.

Here is the first one. Or at least some excerpts from it. The title: ”The Second Coming” by Charles Silver.

It starts off with a quote by Rollie Totheroh, Charlie’s cameraman.
“When his mother came to this country…they had her over on Ellis Island. When she went over there, they started to question her. And they said, ‘Are you the mother of Charles Chaplin? And she said, ‘I’m the mother of Jesus Christ’…she was ‘shell-shocked,” or supposed to be.”

Silver writes:
I knew Chaplin was coming back to America before there was a public announcement. As the word got out, and as I subsequently discussed the visit with my friends in the film world, I am afraid I astounded a great many people by saying, in effect, that this would be the preeminent event of our lifetime. For my adult interest and ultimately my career in films had begun with the 1964 Chaplin retrospective at the Plaza Theater in New York. Never before or since have I been so shaken by an artist and his art, and it is unlikely that I will ever quite recover my bearings.

Silver goes on for awhile about looking for Charlie at The Plaza Hotel in New York, mentioning that Chaplin had stayed there in 1916 while waiting to sign his contract with Mutual. Now, after 56 years, he had come back. After another page and a half, he quotes Andrew Sarris. “The difference between Keaton and Chaplin is the difference between man as machine and man as angel.” Then Silver continues, writing about these two great comics. Sarris prefers Keaton over Chaplin. 

Silver disagrees.

As a body, Keaton’s films lend themselves far more easily to critical analysis than Chaplin’s. Everything is visible on the surface and simple to describe. There is a vigor and glory in Keaton’s films, but they lack the profundity, development and wholeness of great art. More often than not, they reflect the fact that Buster was still a young, unsure artist experimenting, learning - not yet mature. Films like BATTLING BUTLER, SEVEN CHANCES, THE THREE AGES, and GO WEST are only sporadically inspired, having a good sequence here, a dull one there. The other works, especially THE GENERAL are better; they are as good as anything Chaplin did before THE GOLD RUSH.

And finally, and I find this quite touching…

The tragedy, the terrible pity of Keaton’s career can be seen in the collapse evident between the excellent THE CAMERAMAN and the quite bad SPITE MARRIAGE. Keaton was destroyed at thirty three, the age at which Chaplin had made nothing more formidable than THE KID. What Keaton might have accomplished had he been permitted to make his own films as a mature artist we will never know, and I mourn for those lost films as much as anyone. To consider him Chaplin’s equal on the basis of what actually exists, however, is wistful nonsense.

Other essays in the magazine cover THE CHAPLIN REVUE, THE KID, THE GOLD RUSH, among others. I’ll keep those in mind for future blogs on MY TIME WITH CHARLIE CHAPLIN.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Charlie, H.G. Wells, and the Russian Situation


Looking through some old books in my Chaplin collection, I came across "Six Men" by Alistair Cooke. In it, he profiles H. L. Mencken, Humphrey Bogart, Adlai Stevenson, Bertrand Russell, Edward VIII, and Charles Chaplin. So of course I had to re-read the Chaplin profile.
Russell mentions Charlie's conversations with H.G. Wells on the subject of Russia, and references Chaplin's autobiography. In Russell's words, "In his autobiography, Chaplin is frank enough to leave in the recollection of a conversation with H.G. Wells, whose fears of dictatorship and the suppression of civil liberties in Russia are dismissed by Chaplin as growing pains or tactical 'mistakes' not to be compared in grossness with the repudiation of foreign lands."

Given our times now, in 2022, of controversial political positions and conflicts, I thought it would be interesting to hear what Chaplin had to say about Russia in 1935, inspired by comments of Wells.
This is from Chaplin's "My Autobiography." Charlie had spent time with Wells in London in 1931, a trip for the opening of "City Lights." They maintained the friendship. This is an excerpt from Chaplin's book.
"When Wells visited visited me in 1935 in California, I took him to task about his criticism of Russia. I had read of his disparaging reports, so I wanted a firsthand account and was surprised to find him almost bitter about it.

'But is it not too early to judge?' I argued. 'They have had a difficult task, opposition and conspiracy from within and from without. Surely in time, good results should follow?'"

At that time Wells was enthusiastic about what Roosevelt had accomplished with the New Deal, and was of the opinion that a quasi-socialism in America would come out of a dying capitalism. He seemed especially critical of Stalin, whom he had interviewed, and said that under his rule Russia had become tyrannical dictatorship.
Charlie continues. "Of course Russia has made mistakes," I said, "and like other nations she will continue to do so. The biggest one, I think, was the repudiation of her foreign loans, Russian bonds, etcetera, and call them the Czar's debts after the Revolution."
Charlie has more to say, at least in his recollection of the conversation, some twenty years later. We all know that Chaplin became fascinated by world politics, especially events in Russia, which eventually caused him a great deal of trouble with Congress and the American public.
But there is one more quote I want to end this with. It's non-political, and is revealing about Chaplin. Again, from his Autobiography:
"Elsewhere I have said that sex will be mentioned but not stressed, as I can add nothing new to the subject. However, procreation is nature's principal occupation, and every man, whether he be young or old, when meeting any woman, measures the potentiality of sex between them. Thus is has always been with me.

"During work, women never interested me; it was only between pictures, when I had nothing to do, that I was vulnerable. As H.G. Wells said, 'There comes a moment in the day when you have written your pages in the morning, attended to your correspondence in the afternoon, and have nothing further to do. Then comes that hour when you are bored; that's the time for sex.'"
There you have it. A visit with Chaplin and Wells, and a wide ranging discussion on more than politics.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Charlie, Jason and Me: An Occurance of Synchronicity

      Charlie Chaplin appears at the most surprising times in the most unusual places.  No rhyme or reason, other than the unknown forces at work in our universe that occasionally reach out to tap us on the shoulder. "Hey, wake up. Take a look at this."

    Here's what I'm talking about. It begins in a Japanese restaurant on the main street of downtown Asheville, North Carolina. The main players are Jason Allin, Charlie Chaplin, and me. 

 Jason is The Chaplin Guy, totally immersed in the performance and personality of The Little Tramp. You see him in Jason's movies, videos, personal appearances and special events around the world. Jason is currently in the process of transforming my novel about Charlie into an audiobook. It requires a level of acting I had not imagined when I wrote it. So far, I've been blown away by what Jason has done.


        FYI: Title of the novel is "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin." If             you would like to buy a copy, email me at The cost is             $20, plus $4 shipping.(End of commercial)

On this particular day, Jason sends me a link to a recent conversation he and I had about the audiobook, the process, and Charlie...and the many voices required. I have not yet opened the link when I sit down for lunch at a Japanese restaurant, Wasabi. My girl friend - code named Zelda - and I sit at an outside table on this busy street. I order a tempura appetizer and udon noodle soup with chicken, in case you're wondering.

    Charlie is a participant in this from a distance. Or so I think. The book is about him, the audiobook will bring him to life in words and sound, and Charlie Chaplin Days is taking place the following day by the Niles Silent Film Museum, in Niles, California. That's where Charlie had a studio, in his early days. And that's where he filmed "The Tramp." Bronco Billy also filmed many of his westerns here. My conversation with Jason is introduced in Niles as an on-line virtual event.    

        FYI: Here is a link to that incredibly enlightening conversation between Jason and me:      Scroll down to the "Shadow             and      Substance" book cover, and click on Play Video. It's easy. 


 While we are waiting for our lunch, during a break in our conversation, I glance across the street. No reason. Just "looking." On a brick wall I see - or think I see - a familiar face. "Over there," I say to Zelda. "Look at that drawing over there." She turns and looks. "It looks like Charlie," she says. We're both on a first-name basis with him. I just stare and wonder. Is it really a drawing of Chaplin?




I excuse myself from the table. "I've got to take a closer look." I walk across the street. The wall is scarred and in disrepair, exposed brick and broken plaster. Still...

Other drawings are on the wall, but the one that stares at me is Charlie. On a busy street in downtown Asheville. Bold, simple, an iconic presence. I wonder, "Who. And why?" The building is closed. A poster in the window advertises an event for a comedy club.  


There I stand, on a busy street in Asheville, North Carolina, connected in some magical way to Charlie and Jason.

That night I dream Charlie visits me. He sits on a chair in the corner and says to me, in a soft, reassuring voice, "I liked your book. I like what Jason is doing with it." He stands up, prepares to leave, then turns and says, "Thank you."

No, I'm kidding. That dream never happened. But it sure makes for a nice ending.