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. 


Thursday, April 15, 2021

"A Hero's Lesson" - An Original Poem for Charlie Chaplin

On April 16, 2013, a group of us gathered to celebrate Chaplin's birthday..

Pam Beahan wrote the following poem for the occasion.  

                    A Hero's Lesson

One of the many reasons that Charlie Chaplin is my hero

is because, by his example,

He taught us to insist on ourselves... matter the resistance.

We must use our passions

to persevere toward the perfection of

the essence of who we are.

Like Charlie, we must never quit -

no matter the obstacles -

until we achieve our goals.

Without Charlie, we might never have learned

that City Lights could mean

an inner vision,

a bright, emotional path

out of life's many darknesses,

And that we all can be

ever rich in spirit and attitude

if only we will insist on ourselves.

         # # # #

Monday, April 12, 2021

An Amazing Meeting of Talented Artists

 Granville Redmond, actor, painter, who worked with Charlie.

This article appeared in the New York Times, April 12, 2021.

This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.

In the opening scene of the classic silent film “City Lights” (1931), Charlie Chaplin’s character, the Little Tramp, dangles comically from a statue while its sculptor watches in horror, raising his hand to his mouth in surprise and wiping his brow in distress.
The actor portraying the sculptor, Granville Redmond, appeared in seven Chaplin films, recognizable by his wild mane of hair. Redmond was deaf, and his performances were early examples of deaf representation in Hollywood. Some believe Redmond even taught Chaplin, famous as a pantomime, how to use sign language.
But Redmond was first and foremost a artist, one who inspired Chaplin with paintings of California’s natural beauty: quiet, brown tonal scenes; lonely rock monuments jutting off an island peninsula; tree-dotted meadows lit by a warm sun; blue nocturnal marshes under the dramatic glow of the moon. His paintings are considered today among the best examples of California Impressionism.

“California Poppy Field” — Redmond  was admired for his landscapes depicting golden poppies, the state’s official flower.
California School for the Deaf, Fremont, Gift of Edith Redmond

The Los Angeles Times art critic Arthur Millier wrote in 1931 that Redmond was “unrivaled in the realistic depiction of California’s landscape.” Yet his style was never uniform: Some paintings left sections of the canvas exposed and chunky deposits of pigment, while others took on a smoother look.
Above all he was known for his paintings of golden poppies, the state’s official flower. His poppies accented his renditions of the rolling meadows of the San Gabriel Valley, often accompanied by purple lupines. Sometimes they complemented a coastal scene with bursts of yellow highlights.
“He painted them better than anyone else; I don’t think that can be argued,” said Scott A. Shields, who curated a show of Redmond’s work last year at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. “You can feel the seasons. You can feel when it’s spring, you can feel when it’s winter, and you can feel when it starts to become summer.”

His paintings of poppies became a popular keepsake for tourists, to Redmond’s chagrin; he preferred painting scenes of solitude.
“Alas, people will not buy them,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “They all seem to want poppies.”
Chaplin supported Redmond’s painting career, offering him a room to paint in the loft of an unused building on his studio lot. On breaks, Chaplin would visit Redmond there and quietly watch him work.
“Redmond paints solitude, and yet by some strange paradox the solitude is never loneliness,” Chaplin told Alice T. Terry in a 1920 article for The Jewish Deaf, a magazine.

He had such an appreciation for Redmond’s paintings that he took down the photographs of film celebrities from his walls so as not to detract from the Redmond work that he placed over his mantel.
“You know, something puzzles me about Redmond’s pictures,” Chaplin was quoted as saying in 1925 in The Silent Worker, a newspaper for the deaf community. “There’s a wonderful joyousness about them all.”
“Look at the gladness in that sky, the riot of color in those flowers,” he continued. “Sometimes I think that the silence in which he lives has developed in him some sense, some great capacity for happiness in which we others are lacking.”
Grenville Richard Seymour Redmond was born in Philadelphia, Pa., on March 9, 1871, the oldest of five children of Charles and Elizabeth (Buck) Redmond. (He changed the spelling of his name to Granville in 1898 to differentiate himself from an uncle.) His father was a Civil War veteran in the Union Army and a laborer who worked across several trades.
Redmond lost his ability to hear when he was 2, after coming down with scarlet fever. The next year his family moved to San Jose, Calif., to live near a family member who owned a ranch.

In 1879, he enrolled in the California Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Blind (now the California School for the Deaf) in Berkeley. It was there Redmond found an affinity for drawing under the instruction of another deaf artist, Theophilus Hope d’Estrella, who introduced him to a Saturday art class at the California School of Design. He went on to enroll in the school. In 1893, he was selected by the faculty to create a drawing for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Redmond communicated through sign language and writing, but because of his focus on art he never mastered written English, a gap in his education that he came to regret. “In my early days in school I was always drawing, drawing,” he wrote.
After graduation, he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian. In 1895, his painting “Matin d’Hiver” (“Winter Morning”), depicting a barge on a bank of the Seine, was admitted to the Paris Salon, a high honor for an artist at the time. He painted in France for a few more years, hoping to enter another painting at the Salon and win a medal, but he struggled financially and returned to California, depressed, in 1898.
He married Carrie Ann Jean, who was from Indiana and also deaf, in 1899, and they had three children.

Redmond’s paintings of poppies became popular among tourists — much to his chagrin. He preferred painting scenes of solitude. “Alas, people will not buy them,” he said. “They all seem to want poppies.”
Collection of Thomas Gianetto
Redmond’s early works were Tonalist in nature, a nod to his training in San Francisco as well as to the artists of the 19th-century Barbizon school, whose landscape paintings he had come to know in France. Many of his paintings are scenes from Terminal Island, Catalina Island and Laguna Beach in Southern California. He returned to Northern California in 1908, living and painting in Monterey, San Mateo and Marin Counties.
“A lot of newspapers would write that he could see more than the average person because his sense of vision was heightened,” Shields, the Crocker museum curator, said in a phone interview. “Redmond kind of believed that himself.”
Redmond’s work was well received, but a lack of funds — partly because of an economic downturn at the beginning of World War I — led him to move back to Los Angeles and try his hand at acting.
In the silent-movie era Redmond’s disability, coupled with his artistic inclination, worked to his advantage. Chaplin saw him as a natural for small parts in his films because Redmond expressed himself through gestures, Shields said. The two men communicated on the set by signing to each other.

Sometimes Redmond’s deafness worked its way into plotlines. In Arthur Rosson’s “You’d Be Surprised” (1926), Redmond played a coroner pretending to be a deaf valet. Only viewers who knew sign language could follow the conversation.
The movies also provided him with a new market for his art; buyers included the Hollywood elite, like Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Redmond died of complications of a heart condition on May 24, 1935. He was 64. (Chaplin died at 88 in 1977.)
Alice Terry, the writer for The Jewish Deaf magazine, saw artistic commonalities in the two friends.
“For more than two years now, these two have worked side by side,” she wrote in 1920, “Chaplin, silently and dramatically, by his ingenious trivialities, creating mirth and sunshine for millions of tired people; and Redmond, silently and none the less effectively, brightening the lives of all, by his radiant, appealing pictures on canvas.”

Monday, March 29, 2021

A Little Pre-Birthday Experience.

 Charlie's birthday is about 2 weeks away, on April 16 as you probably know. So I thought I'd go to my novel for a brief passage. I just got word that I will be appearing at a speaker series in mid-May, at Innsbrook Village, about an hour from St. Louis. The topic will be Charlie and my novel, "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin." I'll be going into a third printing, but have a few copies available for sale. $24...that includes shipping. End of commercial. The story briefly:

Cooper, a documentary film maker, meets Charlie in present day Los Angeles. They go to the Alexandria Hotel, in downtown LA, which is where Charlie stayed when he first came to LA.


Charlie walked to the front desk and returned with a room key. We entered the tired elevator, pressed the button for the fifth floor, and creaked and groaned our way up.

“Where are we headed?”
“Room 437. We’re in luck. It’s not occupied.”
We opened the door to the dark, sour room. Charlie stopped in the
doorway. For what seemed like a long time, he didn’t say a word. Then he carefully closed the door behind him and switched on the light. “They’ve changed the furniture. New wallpaper.” He moved like a shadow around the room, touching, inspecting. He looked out the window at the alley below and let out a short laugh. “They haven’t washed the windows since I was here.” He took a deep breath, shook his head and looked at me. “What do you think, Cooper?” 

“About what?”

“About this room. What’s your impression?”
I told him I found it depressing, sad. “But I didn’t live here eighty
years ago, Charlie. I’m sure it must have been a lot more cheerful then.” The room was just a square with a small bathroom attached. A single bed with a dark green blanket dominated the space, flanked by a wooden frame chair with no padding, a narrow desk and a small closet near the entrance. A glass jug lamp sat on the desk, while a ceiling light fixture struggled to dissipate the shadows. Even in the middle of the morning it was a losing battle.

Charlie leaned against the desk, crossed his arms over his chest, and surprised me with his next comment.

“I was happy here, Cooper. Do you believe that?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I had just opened a new door in my life, and the view I saw was breathtaking. I loved the movies. I was actually good at it. People paid their dimes and quarters to see me, to laugh, to be moved. Anything was possible. The Tramp had been born, an easy birth, and my mind was bursting with ideas.” He walked around the room, his hands gesturing with enthusiasm, as though he had stepped into the world of film for the first time. “I loved what I was doing. I always loved it, difficult as the creative process was at times. But at the start, before I was married, before troubles began to hound me I was...I don’t know how to explain it.” He walked over to me, placed his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “I didn’t have to measure up, Cooper. People had modest expectations of me. Every success was a surprise, to everyone except myself. I knew I could do it. With each new film, I made more friends, more fans. With no controversy. It was a wonderful, blissful time.” He let go of me, turned around and slowly ran his hand over the back of the chair. “Of course, feelings like that are always in retrospect. I didn’t realize just how exhilarating it was. But, oh, to have those days back. Just one day.” His voice softened. “I would love to relive one evening, dinner with Edna and Doug and Mary, in the restaurant downstairs, just the four of us. Or Fatty and I relaxing over a couple of drinks after a day at the studio.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “I long for the freshness of it all, that unexplored, everything-is-new feeling of adventure and promise that arrives only that first time and can never be repeated.”

I stood near the door and tried to take in the whole room and Charlie. I could picture him as a man of twenty-eight in the Los Angeles of 1920, with London behind him, the first World War just ended, the Roaring Twenties still ahead, the Great Depression a decade away, to be followed by World War Two, atomic bombs, suburbs and television.

This man in front of me was no longer the clown, the genius, the icon. He was less, and he was more. He was a small and lonely man with a deep-seated fear of poverty. He had physically left behind the slums and deprivation of London, but still harbored the gnawing, painful memory of his youth. Like so many others who start off life impoverished and become rich, the scars of the street never completely heal.

One other facet of Charlie had yet to become known. That was still a couple of days away, in a place that surprised me. The past that Charlie cherished was confined to a narrow stretch of two years, preceding his meteoric rise, and the Alexandria Hotel had become its focal point. There is no way for any of us to ever recapture that first breath of an April morning again or the first taste of a vanilla ice cream cone.

The day was moving on. I had only this Sunday before I stepped back into the all-too real world of Hollywood and television and Kevin. In spite of revelations and possibilities emanating from Charlie, I had little for the meeting.

“Charlie, is there anything here at the hotel that might be a help on the project?”

“You mean like secrets hidden in this room or in the lobby? Maybe a contract or a photograph, or how about a hidden letter that sheds light on the monster that dwells within?” An edge crept into his voice. “Nothing so clean and simple,” he said. “We’re together because I want to be left alone.” 

Thanks for reading this. And an early birthday wish to Charlie.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

More from Red Letter Days

Post #2 In a series:
This book has a series of articles in it from a British magazine called Red Letter. In 1916 it began a series of 37 articles about Charlie Chaplin.

This is an excerpt from an article that ran on May 6, 1916.
Thanks to Dan Kamin for bringing this book to my attention, and for putting it together. The articles were written by Fred Goodwins.

From Red Letter Days

It wasn't long before the necessity of getting started in returned to Charlie in full force, for he came flying back to Los Angeles within three days of his departure to the mountains.
     I happened to be on the stage when he walked into the studio, and I began forthwith to "kid" him strenuously upon his broken vows.
     "Did you take some good scenes up there, Charlie?" I asked.
    He looked at me vacantly. "Scenes?" he repeated."Scenes?" Then he got me. "Listen!" he grinned. "Are you trying to kid me, or just show me a good time?"
     "Neither," I answered. "But I like the way you 'start in right away,' Charlie."
     He immediately felt he was losing his dignity, and tried to pull a solemn face. "Really, Goody," he said. "I went up to the mountains in the sacred cause."
     "Of charity?"
     "Sure," he replied. "Harry" (his chauffeur) "was down with influenza, and I thought the trip would do him good."
     A volley of incredulous jeers greeted his diaphanous statement, whereat Charlie proceeded to look very much hurt. "You chaps don't believe I'm capable of doing a Christian act," he grumbled. But he couldn't keep it up any longer. That irresistible, twinkly smile came over his face, and he darted into his dressing-room.
     During the afternoon he unlocked his trunk, with its multitude of labels proclaiming the fact that he had but a short while ago travelled over the "Western Vaudeville Circuit" with the "Karno Company." Other labels betrayed him as having stopped at the So-and-So Hotel - - one dollar a night and up, with private bath one dollar 50 cents, in most of the big cities of the U.S.A. between here and New York City.     

These articles have given me insight into the Charlie Chaplin of the day, what his schedule and attitudes and thoughts were, plus observations by an accomplished journalist. I hope you enjoy these samplings.

If you would like to read a well-received  novel about Charlie, and what he was like in the 1920's...and what might happen if he were in Hollywood today...I suggest you purchase a copy of "Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin." Email me (, or reply to this post, and I will get one in the mail to you, for $20 plus shipping, signed if you like. Thank you.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

A Few Words from and about Charlie

This book has a series of articles in it from a British magazine called Red Letter. In 1916 it began a series of 37 articles about Charlie Chaplin.

This is an excerpt from an article that ran on April 29, 1916.
Thanks to Dan Kamin for bringing this book to my attention, and for putting it together. The articles were written by Fred Goodwins.

From Red Letter Days:

I had scarcely returned from mailing my last article, and settled myself to a perusal of the English papers when the telephone bell rang. It was Leo White.
"Come down to the office right away," he stammered excitedly. "Charlie gets in on the 4:30 train. There's a car waiting here to take us to the station!" And he rang off.

Charlie coming back! It sounded too good to be true, but I knew White too well to suppose he was "kidding," so I hastened to the comedian's office on Broadway. Outside was Charlie's big, seven-passenger touring car, containing eight actors and a chauffeur. They sandwiched me in somehow, and the way we cut by those cross-town streets was a caution.

Our waste was scarcely necessay, however, for when we arrived at the track and hurried into the station we were met by Harry Caulfield, the manager of the new Chaplin Mutual Company, who had arrived from New York the previous day.

"What's your hurry, boys?" he questioned round the corner of a fat cigar, which was tucked, American fashion," into his face. "She not on time; you've got ten minutes to spare."
"Here he is!" yelled one.
"No, he's in the Pullman at the rear end."
"Nonsense! That's a day-coach down there."
Right in the middle of it, a small figure, all alone, alighted from the steps of the end coach, 'way down the line, and strolled up towards us at the station. There was no mistaking that quiet, thoughtful stroll or the neat hang of that nifty little New York suit upon his dapper frame. It was Charlie at last.
It was fully ten seconds before he realized that we had come down to meet him, but when he finally "came to earth" and saw us - say, didn't he let out a whoop!
"Hi!" he shouted, his high-strung temperament overcoming for the moment his habitual calm. "Hello, boys! Home again!" Then, as we started to run towards him, he greeted us all in rapid succession.

The article runs on for another 2 pages in the book and is worth the read. I'll post excerpts from other articles in the book in the weeks ahead.