Thursday, August 21, 2014

Charlie and Jeff:The Good, the Bad, the Timely


A newsletter arrived in the mail today. Not email, but an old-fashioned, USPS delivered, 4-pager that you can hold in your hand, fold and put in your pocket, set a glass of iced coffee on it so the sweat won't leave a puddle. It's called Hightower LOWDOWN (all caps), and is written by Jim Hightower. No idea who he is. Didn't subscribe to it. Almost pitched it after reading the headline: "Like Walmart, only with supercomputers and drones: At Amazon.com, "cheap" comes at a very hefty price."

Not a subject I'm particularly interested in. Get depressed when I go to WalMart. Blame Amazon for running most of the independent bookstores out of business. The article fills the entire 4 pages. But then I read the opening sentence, some of it in bold type, and I reconsidered:

"IN HIS CLASSIC 1936 COMEDY, Modern Times, silent filmmaker Charlie Chaplin depicted the trials and tribulations of a harried factory worker trying to cope with the sprockets, cogs, conveyor belts, and managerial 'efficiencies' of the new industrial culture. The poor fellow continuously finds himself caught up (almost literally) in the grinding tyranny of the machine."














He goes on to call the movie "hilarious" while adding "it's also a powerful and damning portrayal of the dehumanizing consequences of mass industrialization...

" and elaborates on that aspect of the movie. "Ruthless bosses." "Faster output." "Monotonous assembly-line work." You've probably seen the movie, so you know what he's talking about. 

And you remember the contraption that force-fed workers as they worked. Charlie's hilarious scene with the bowl of soup, corn on the cob, and a piece of pie.
It's one of my favorite scenes in Modern Times. Especially considering how Chaplin accomplished the intricate timing on the contraption. 




Finally, Hightower gets to the point of the comparison between the movie and Amazon:
"Of course, worker-feeding machines were a comedic exaggeration by the filmmaker, not anything that actually existed in his day, and such an inhuman contrivance would not even be considered in our modern times. Right? Well....if you work for amazon.com,Inc., you'd swear that Chaplin's masterpiece is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' idea of a properly run workplace."

The next 3 1/2 pages are basically an indictment of the way Bezos runs his company. I don't want to take up space on Time with Charlie Chaplin talking about how and why Amazon got to be the 10th largest retailer in the country. Much of it reads like a horror story, reminiscent of 19th century London or lower Manhattan garment factories in the 1920's. It's almost enough to make me throw away my Kindle. Almost. 

At the end of the article, we return to Chaplin: "Reducing workers to Chaplinesque automatons in a rigid time-motion nightmare, however, is not the end of Bezos' reprogramming of work and workers. Why not just replace those pesky humans altogether?"

All of which makes me wonder just what Chaplin would have done with this scenario. Drones and robots and artificial intelligence and whatever else Bezos has in store for America. The more I think about it, the more it sounds like Metropolis instead of Modern Times. If you'd like to read the entire article, you can find it on www.hightowerlowdown.org. 





Amazon, of course, is not alone in its corporate environment. They have plenty of company throughout the world. Today it's the documentary that attempts to expose and correct these situations. Back in 1936, Chaplin did it with comedy, with The Little Tramp, and with Paulette Goddard.


I'd just rather keep the two separate, continue to enjoy Chaplin and Paulette and the brilliant scenes and sequences, finally ending with an iris out as Charlie and Paulette walk away from camera into the distance and a promising future. 


Now that's a happy ending, and I don't need a drone to deliver my next re-issue of Chaplin films.







Monday, July 14, 2014

Time for a Chaplin Statue

Two situations came together for me recently which tell me "it's about time."

The subject is a sculpture of Charlie Chaplin. In the United States.
Now you'd think there would be an appropriate statue of him in bronze somewhere in this country, but you'd be wrong. At least as far as I can tell. Certainly, there would be one in Hollywood, a town he helped create. They do have a bas relief of him on Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Hollywood Entertainment Museum.

There's another one of him across the street, in the lobby of the Hollywood-Roosevelt Hotel. It's a life-size Tramp sitting on a bench. And that's it.

About those two motivating events I mentioned:
I was talking to a friend of mine, Harry Weber, an accomplished sculptor with installations throughout the U.S., Europe, even Africa. He's currently working on a bronze statue of Elvis, to be placed in Springfield, Missouri. Don't ask me why Springfield. I didn't ask. Harry has created sculptures of Chuck Berry, Bobby Orr, 8 or 9 St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Famers, Doug Flutie, Tennessee Williams... the list is long and varied. You can see what I mean at Harry Weber sculptures

Harry and me with Chuck Berry sculpture.
Harry working on the Lewis & Clark sculpture.




















I'm not trying to drum up business for Harry, though I'd love to see what he could do with Chaplin. I'm just trying to figure out why there is no significant sculpture of Chaplin, when so many other celebrities and non-celebrities have been immortalized in bronze. Harry says it is usually an individual that steps forward to initiate a project. So it seems no one has done that on Chaplin's behalf.


Which brings me to event #2.
The scene is London. Today. Thanks to my friend Carl Sturmer, I've learned that the British honored Chaplin with a sculpture by John Doubleday in 1981. Originally it was in a place of honor: across from William Shakespeare in Leicester Square. Quite a duo, Will and Charlie. Covers a wide range of creative excellence that originated in London. Even though Chaplin's career grew and flourished in Hollywood, his roots were deep in London.








Due to a major renovation, Charlie was moved to a side street, about two blocks from Will. Carl tracked it down and took these photos. He says, "I was really sad when I saw it standing there. Despite it all as I loitered for a few minutes people still stopped to take their picture with him. Nothing can kill his legacy."


Here's the World View on Chaplin sculptures. It's probably more comprehensive than you imagined. There are sculptures of Charlie in Alassio, Italy; Merida, Venezuela; Shanghai; Vevey, Switzerland; Waterville, Ireland; the Czech Republic; Hyderabad, India, and a couple of more.


So I say, "It's about time." For the United States to honor one of its greatest film artists with a magnificent sculpture in a place of honor. In Hollywood. That's where it should go, I believe. In a significant location. There are lots of folks in Hollywood (and Beverly Hills and Malibu and Bel Air) who could write a check tomorrow for this and not even notice the cost. There are lots of folks who probably owe at least some part of their success to Chaplin's accomplishments and ideas. Maybe I'm biased but I can't think of any other individual who so much represents what the legacy of movies and Hollywood is all about.


I'm not experienced at starting grass roots movements. But I'll try. You can send an email to Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. Just tell him about this timely idea for a Chaplin sculpture. You can mention that 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of The Little Tramp, and it happened in Venice, California. There's no better time to initiate this project.
Also, you can drop a note to the LA Times. 
http://touch.latimes.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-79793461/

If this works, I've got a terrific idea. We'll all meet in L.A. for the dedication ceremony, followed by dinner at Musso & Frank Grill, a landmark on Hollywood Boulevard dating back to 1919. It was one of Charlie's favorite restaurants. I'll pick up the check...for the food...not the airfare. See you there. And thanks.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Arrivederci, Bologna


At this time, one month after my previous post, I had planned to give you an exhilerating report on my trip to Bologna for the big Chaplin celebration there. In fact I had all kinds of plans to upload photos of me with David Robinson, Kevin Brownlow, Lisa Stein Haven, Claire Bloom, Michael and Victoria Chaplin... the list is long and impressive. 

Unfortunately, the day before I was to leave, I decided to take my two Golden Retrievers for a hike in a nearby park. Not a big deal really. My wife, as I was about to leave, said "Better stay off the trails. We've had a lot of rain and they'll be muddy." 
"Sure," I said. "Good idea."
I got to the park, saw that the meadow was soaked, not a good place to let them run, so I decided to take them for a short hike on the trail. The rest is too painful to spell out, so I'll cut to the chase. I slipped going down the trail, bent my left leg at an impossible angle behind me, kind of like one of those NFL slo-mo injuries in process, and ruptured my quad tendon. Quick cut to the emergency room (this was on a Sunday), sent home for the night, back on Monday morning for surgery.

In fact, about the time I was being wheeled into the OR, my Delta flight was taking off from St. Louis, headed for NY, then onto London and Bologna via British Airways. For the rest of the week I spent a lot of time in bed, leg in an unbendable splint, trying to follow what was happening in Bologna through email and Facebook. 

Thanks to my good friend Mike Vogelle, I got some idea of just how special this gathering was. These photos are by, and of, Mike. He has many more on his Facebook page.

Mike with the beautiful Claire Bloom.


Mike between Michael Chaplin and Victoria Chaplin.


Thanks, Mike. And thanks to Lisa Stein Haven for additional updates, inputs and invaluable insights. 

Class, what lesson did we learn today?
First, life is what happens while you're making other plans.
Second, I'm not invincible. 
Third, I must listen to my wife more attentively.
And finally, when life hands you lemons, write a blog, a short story, a novel, a play.
So I've got this idea for a novel. About a guy, a devoted Chaplin fan, who has an accident and can't get to Europe for a big celebration for the Little Tramp. So Charlie visits the guy at his home in St. Louis and they spend some time together, here and in London and in Hollywood, present and past.

Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. Back to the keyboard.

Congratulations to all those who helped make The Little Tramp at 100 such a big success. Hopefully I'll make it to Vevey whenever the museum opens. No hiking with dogs to be scheduled then.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

From Venice to Bologna

Three points in my timeline are about to be joined. In Bologna, Italy.

The first point is February of 1914. That's when Charlie Chaplin stepped in front of a camera in Venice, California, not long after Mack Sennett called the young Englishman to Los Angeles to try out his talent in the new medium called "movies." The name of the film was "Kid Auto Races in Venice." In that short film, Charlie appears as a character that would soon, with modifications, become famous around the world as The Little Tramp. Or, as Chaplin preferred to call him, The Little Fellow.

The second point is June of 1960. Just out of the army (ours), I lived in San Francisco and began to frequent a bar/restaurant on the waterfront in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. I went there on Tuesday nights, when they showed Chaplin shorts on a worn screen. The prints were scratchy, jumpy, pieces missing, often faded. They were silent; no accompanying musical tracks. With all its faults, I was mesmerized by the unique character and his antics - and imagination. At the still impressionable age of 25 I had discovered The Little Tramp.


David Robinson
The third point focuses on Zanesville, Ohio, fifty years later, in October of 2010. Thanks to the efforts of Lisa Stein (now with a Haven at the end), an International Chaplin Conference revealed to me just how deep and widespread the allure of Chaplin was. This was the "Charlie in the Heartland" gathering. I met people whose books, articles and restorations sat on my shelves at home:  David Robinson, Chuck Maland, Hooman Mehran, Frank Scheide, David Shepard. Countries represented included England, France, Japan, Austria, Belgium. I  couldn't believe how vital the Chaplin culture was. 
With Joe Delmore and a
genuine Chaplin derby and cane.
Chuck Maland




Most of the group. That's Lisa Haven in the
front row, 5th from the right.





























It all comes together in  Bologna, 
beginning June 25th and continuing until the 28th.
Bologna, strangely enough, is just 165 km south of Venice. No auto races there, however. This is a 4-day event featuring a Who's Who of the World of Chaplin, silent films, and movie history. Besides the above mentioned, the esteemed Kevin Brownlow will be there. I met him at a Buster Keaton celebration a couple of years ago, a big day for me, a man I had admired since I had read "The Parade's Gone By...," his remarkable 1968 volume on the early history of the film industry.
The line-up for this 100th anniversary of the first appearance of The Little Tramp is too lengthy for this blog. Here's a link to information for the event.  Birth of The Tramp Celebration

I'll tell you how I feel about this celebration. It's like going to an All-Star game and getting to meet Mantle, Dimaggio, Williams, Musial and Ruth. Sorry about the sports analogy, but it'll give you an idea of the stature of these people. 

Thanks to all the dedicated people involved in putting this event together, beginning with Kate Guyonvarch, director of Roy Export S.A.S (Archives) in Paris, and Cecilia Cenciarelli and the Cinetecca Bologna. 
The Little Tramp is bigger than ever.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Time to Write a New Book

I've got an idea for a new book about Chaplin. This isn't easy. It seems just about every aspect of his life has been covered, many times over. It's almost in the same category as Abe. Do we really need another book about Lincoln? Still, authors find new angles.

That's not true of a biography I bought a couple of weeks ago, released in the United Kingdom, and containing nothing new. The author, Peter Ackroyd, has excellent credentials, but foremost among them must be the ability to read everyone else's books and stitch together pieces gleaned from their efforts. Which makes me wonder: Are there any new books to be written about Sir Charles? (I know of one in the process, by a friend of mine. She is on to a terrific idea but still has much work to do.)

So.... What's new? First of all, I immediately rejected the notion of "Charlie Chaplin for Dummies" and "Chicken Soup for the Little Tramp's Soul." He doesn't belong in a franchise collection.

Here are the six book ideas under consideration:

1) "The Charlie Chaplin Cook Book." Recipes that reflect an aspect of Chaplin's life and films. All recipes kitchen-tested. Includes Tramp Goulash, Pasta ala City Lights, Stewed Tripe (one of his favorite dishes), Plum Pudding (a British tradition), Boiled Boot Meuniere with stir-fried laces, Bean Soup Immigrant Style, Calvero Bolognese, Key Limelight Pie, and a Derby Danish.



2) "The Lost Symphonies of Vevey." During his final 24 years in Vevey, Switzerland, Chaplin, it is rumored, wrote four symphonies.  The scores still exist. Because Chaplin wrote the music for many of his films, he still felt the need after 1966 to compose, so he attacked the longer form of symphonies. Each symphony is inspired by one of his wives. Particularly noteworthy is the "Lita in Hell" work. This book will contain a CD with performances of those lost symphonies.



3) "Smile, Smile, Smile." The most famous song he wrote, from "Modern Times." This book contains profiles of every artist who ever recorded "Smile." A total of over one hundred. Includes vocalists such as Petula Clark, Elvis Costello, Josh Groban, Trini Lopez, Johnny Mathis, and Michael Jackson. Includes a CD with a rare recording by Marlene Dietrich, in German.



4) "Waiting On Charlie." A revealing insight into the artist as told by waiters from a variety of restaurants that Chaplin used to frequent. The men and women in aprons with order pads who saw the famous man at his hungriest. What he ordered, what questions he asked, if he used a knife and fork like the Brits do, how and if he tipped. And much, much more. Includes photographs.



5) "Chaplin: The Tell-Tale Hand." For the first time, the somewhat dubious science of graphology will be applied to Chaplin. His handwriting will be examined, which will reveal the motivation behind his films. It will also define his character, disposition, and attitudes. I will apply all three graphology approaches: integrative, holistic, and symbolic. This book could end up on the bottom shelves next to Weissman's psychological analysis of Chaplin, where it belongs. Still, a fascinating exercise and a possible best-seller among graphologists and mystics.



6) "Thursdays With Charlie." Through close examination of his letters, journals, tennis matches, film production schedules, and reservations at Musso-Frank's restaurant, I will document Chaplin's activities for every Thursday between 1921 and 1953. Quick math: That's over 1600 Thursdays. This book is sure to be a doorstop. 


Let me know which book most interests you. I'll be sure to let you know who the winner is, and when the book will be published. I'm already preparing my query letters to agents. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Special Tribute to Charlie Chaplin on his Birthday

Last night we celebrated Charlie's 125th with a dinner, some Mutual shorts, and lively conversation around the table. "We" were Janet Riehl, Jerry Garrett, Joe and Sharon Delmore, Pam and Jack Beahan, and Mary Lee and I. 

Janet brought appetizers as served in the 1920's, with antique plates from that era (she's a multi-faceted artist)Riehl Life
I made chicken cacciatore from scratch; Jack brought an absolutely incredible salad; Joe brought shortbread cookies made in England; Jerry contributed his delightful observations and sense of humor; we had a special cake (with ice cream); and Jack even brought a blackened shoe ala one of Chaplin's iconic scenes. 


The highlight of the evening, however was a poem written by Pam Beahan especially for this occasion. 

Pam is an accomplished poet and, along with husband Jack, a devoted fan of Chaplin. This is the third year in which she has written something for Charlie's birthday.. and, in my opinion, was her most compelling effort yet. She reached deeply into the man and his creation. Here is her introduction, followed by the poem. 


Gold Rush
by Pam Beahan, April 2014

...in honor of Charlie Chaplin's original 1925 film The Gold Rush,
the film by which he said that he would most like to be remembered.
And to remember his films is to remember him, for he also said that
if we want to know him, we are to watch his films.

* * *

The Gold Rush

Yes, in Charlie's film, gold does abound,
But not just in the frozen Alaskan ground.
No, instead, the most priceless golden treasures here to be found
Are mined from deep within the richest veins
of Charlie's golden heart, soul, and mind.

A battered old shoe from the Tramp's only pair
Breathes life a-new as Thanksgiving fare to thwart starvation,
despite plunging his now-freezing foot into deprivation
But, for him, no gift's too great, no time's too late
From a heart that shines gold, as it warms the cold,
by softly smiling its sacrifice.

At times, a speck of hope touches the Tramp's heart,
and bubbles up and erupts into uncontainable shimmers
that transform his eyes and body into dancing bursts of golden joy.

Other times, as befalls us all, at times,
his hopes, his innocence, and his joy
are swiftly ravaged, plundered, demeaned, degraded and shattered into
sharply lethal shards that catch and tear within his throat, his eyes, his heart, his soul...
And the only speck of gold dust left for him is to somehow struggle to go on...
...with a throat shredded wordless,
...with eyes ripped gleamless,
...with a heart drained nearly bloodless,
...and with a soul slashed soul less.

And yet, the richest gold, the strongest rush, after all, is that, at last,
his worth is seen, his treasure known, his hope replanted, his joy regrown.

At film's end, as we mine what we have seen,
Charlie's golden gifts can warm our own brightening souls
where we can search today, tomorrow, and yesterday for golden treasures of our own...
For, Charlie once more has shown that we need not rush 
to search for some cold and distant gold,
For it's been inside us all, all along.

* * *


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Birth, Rebirth, Celebration

Spring officially began about two weeks ago, at least according to the calendar, so this seems to be an appropriate time to talk about birth, rebirth, and celebration. 

Birth: Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889. His father was Charles Chaplin Senior; his mother, Hannah Harriett Hill. They were music hall entertainers, they moved around quite a lot, they kept incomplete records. The result is there is no official record of the birth of the man who would eventually conquer the world with laughter.

Birth: The character of The Little Tramp was born one hundred years ago, in February, 1914. The film was "Mabel's Strange Predicament" with Mabel Normand, one of Charlie's earliest films for Mack Sennett at Keystone. It would take several more films, however, before The Tramp character would be fully realized. And that's the character that captured the hearts of people around the world. 


Rebirth: There have been many Chaplin impersonators over the years. There are many today. I want to tell you about one young man I've met through the internet. His name is Jason Allin. Jason Allin's website
He lives in Innisfil, Ontario, near Toronto, and he first contacted me after reading about my novel. Here's the short version of what's going on with him. He's made short films as Chaplin, performed in a one-man show on stage about him, and is currently planning a trip to Adipur, India, for Chaplin's 125th birthday celebration. He will be making a documentary about the festivities there.  He was interviewed - via Skype - by the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury and Manhattan. Their film and television program is paying tribute to Charles on his birthday. (They also Skyped me the other day) He is booked for a showing of his movie in Ontario for the 2nd Annual International Comedy Festival.He has other Chaplin-based projects in the works. Yes, a busy and talented young man.

What's going on in India? Celebration. The entire town celebrates Chaplin's birthday, as they have for the past 40 years. I wouldn't have believed it either, until I saw pictures of it. Here's a link to a CBS item about it. 
Chaplin celebration in India


Jason is trying to raise funds to help pay for the trip to India for the documentary. If you have a few extra quid lying about, consider helping him on his questKickstarter for Jason Allin to India

The Celebration of Chaplin will continue throughout the year, around the world. One of the highlights will be a gathering in Bologna, Italy, in June to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Little Tramp. Almost anybody who's connected to Chaplin and his legacy will be there. They include two of my personal favorites: David Robinson and Kevin Brownlow, two of the most respected Chaplin experts in the world. If you want to put in a few hundred quid or lira for me, I'll go too. I accept personal checks. Chaplin in Bologna


If you're a Chaplin fan, 2014 will be a marvelous year. Proof that his star shines as brightly as ever.