Charlie Chaplin was a pioneer in the early days of Hollywood and became the most recognized face on the planet with a career spanning 40 years.
Gene Kelly was the most creative and athletic dancer of his time and pushed the boundaries of dance on film.
Steve Jobs revolutionized digital entertainment with technological innovation and pushing a major shift in media consumption by breaking the hold of the music and movie moguls.
See also: www.boldbrashandbrilliant.com
Steve Jobs was a "terror" for teachers, letting out snakes and exploding bombs in the third grade. He was "thrown out of school a few times."
"My mother taught me to read before I went to school, so I was pretty bored in school, and I turned into a little terror. You should have seen us in third grade. We basically destroyed our teacher. We would let snakes loose in the classroom and explode bombs. Things changed in the fourth grade, though. One of the saints in my life is this woman named Imogene Hill, who was a fourth-grade teacher who taught this advanced class. She got hip to my whole situation in about a month and kindled a passion in me for learning things. I learned more that year than I think I learned in any year in school. They wanted to put me in high school after that year, but my parents very wisely wouldn't let them."
This is the email I got from Her Majesty's Passport Office:
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Yes, there were other dancers. Excepting Fred Astaire, who was a genius of a different style, there just were not other dancers of Gene's overall caliber. There were several who could match Gene technically or even better him in one type of dance, whether it be tap, jazz, modern or ballet, but no one was able to blend the styles so successfully and have the on and off camera presence and that triple threat of dance, song and acting.
Just watching Gene dance is a joy. He's having fun and it's as easy as breathing for the rest of us. Other dancers to include Fosse, Cole, Champion, etc., could not put it all together and did not have the public persona that Gene possessed. So many dancers, great in their own right, moved into choreography and found success. Gene did that too, but was so valuable in front of the camera, most people don't know that he choreographed all of his dances and directed some of his movies, not to mention defining dance on film.
Watch this clip from An American in Paris and simply see the joy and ease of movement Gene displays. He floats. It's not work. He's not even breaking a sweat.
More than anything else, Charlie Chaplin was an observer of other people; how they walked, how they looked, their facial and hand gestures. He had an unrivaled ability to reproduce those movements in his own gestures and to convey a desired mood. His version of pantomime (see definition below) was unparalleled. He was a mimic, able to reproduce anything observed in another person's body movements.
During the early stages of his movie career, in 1914 - 1916, he was able to walk the streets of Hollywood in the evenings after dinner, unrecognized, and follow people for blocks copying the way they walked and moved. It is said his trademark Tramp walk came from watching an old drunk, Rummy Banks, in his boyhood neighborhood. There are other stories about its origin, but the walk became, along with his cane, bowler hat and mustache, a beloved trademark and unmistakably Chaplin.
When Charlie played a woman in the aptly titled movie, A Woman, he played it better than any female actress of the day. His gestures and movements were spot on.
He was not only the greatest actor, clown, mime and movie maker of his generation, he was a keen observer from his earliest days with absolute recall.
He observed Adolf Hitler for weeks on end to get his gestures down and the cadence and intonation of his speech. Even though Chaplin was speaking gibberish during his famous Hitler speech, it sounded exactly like the real thing.
GENE KELLY: MORE THAN JUST A DANCER Earlier this month, I was deeply saddened to learn that Gene Kelly, a screen legend and my personal idol, had died. Numerous tributes appeared in the media, some showing him dancing in the rain, in Paris, or on the town in New York.
He is forever young, frozen in time by his work, and any accolades he receives for directing, acting and dancing are well-deserved. But there is so much more to Gene Kelly than directing, acting and yes, even dancing. The passing of a great man is why I mourn.
Many wonder why I shed tears for a man I never met, one old enough to be my grandfather, one whose glorious cinematic achievements were during an era decades before my birth. I'd like to tell everyone who else Gene Kelly was:
Gene Kelly was an advocate who fought racism years before the civil rights movement. In 1948, he danced with two of the most talented and athletic male dancers ever to grace the screen, the Nicholas Brothers.
But they were black, and the studio balked that some theaters would cut the number. Gene insisted, and some now say he opened the door to many talented performers who were hidden by the color of their skin.
* Gene Kelly was a family man. When his second wife was dying from cancer in 1973, he refused directing assignments that would take him far from home. After she died, he accepted very few jobs in order to be both mother and father to his two children, who were 11 and 8.
Gene Kelly was an inventor. He was told that a low-angle shot he wanted was impossible because of the size of Technicolor cameras. So he invented the ``Ubangi,'' a mechanism that attaches to the camera to permit the shot he wanted.
Gene Kelly was honest. He was too proud of his heritage to change his name on Broadway. Then he yelled at MGM's publicity department when it covered up his facial scar. He wasn't perfect, and he didn't want to be seen as a ``star,'' just as one of the guys.
Basically, Gene Kelly was the forerunner of the ``Just Do It'' philosophy. Years before Roger Rabbit, he was told it wasn't possible to dance with a cartoon, but he found a way. When he was told musicals filmed outdoors would be unbelievable, he changed musical history.
And when he was told he'd never make it big, well, fortunately for all of us, he listened to his heart instead.
So although Gene Kelly was a great director, a talented actor (whose dramatic roles need to be heralded more) and the most innovative dancer ever, he was also a great man, one whom I admire because he set his mind to fulfilling any dream he imagined, and he succeeded.
Thanks, Gene, for making me believe I can accomplish anything with a little hard work.
Getting a book published today, even with the internet and self publishing, is not as easy as it seems. A writer can publish a book through various self-publishing sites, but both the visibility and marketing wherewithal are dubious. To get a book out in the public domain today, you really need a sponsor or literary agent of some type. That begs the question, how do you get the attention of a literary agent?
I have done a great deal of research on Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs, but also on how to get my book published. I've gone through the trouble of getting it copyrighted with the copyright office in Washington, DC. That will protect the name and basic premise from interlopers. One of the main ways to attract an audience is through social media, e.g; Facebook, blogs, Twitter and a webpage. I've done all, but Twitter. I need to have a partially established fan base before taking my book to an agent or publisher. There has to be an interest in the marketplace 1st. No publisher will take a chance on a first time author unless the author has or had direct access to the person they're writing about or from those who worked with or knew the subject directly.
I originally wanted to do a book on Gene Kelly alone, but while he is well known and still relevant in today's world of entertainment with shows like, Dancing With The Stars, the interest would be somewhat limited. His widow, Patricia Ward Kelly has been working on a book for years and her direct knowledge of the subject will be unparalleled. I could not compete on a biographical account with that kind of access. Unless I could find and interview anyone still alive who had worked with Kelly, who had not been interviewed previously, I'd have nothing new to offer on the biographical front. The same goes for Chaplin. Anyone can Google the Who, What, When and Where of Chaplin's, Kelly's or Job's lives. What I'm writing about is the Why and How.
Chaplin is still incredibly popular and will be for all time as will Kelly. His movies and brand of comedy will continuously be rediscovered by generations yet unborn. There was only one Chaplin and one Kelly and they were the top of their field. I feel safe stating that there will never be a comedian or dancer of their stature to come along and dominate like they did.
Steve Jobs was and is a cult figure similar to Chaplin in the late 19 teens and early 1920s. Steve was revered, admired, despised by some, feared by others and given that rare place as a technology giant and visionary. The definitive biography on Jobs was written by Walter Isaacson during the last few years of his life and released just after his death. While others will write biographies about Steve claiming this and that, they will all pale in comparison to Isaacson's work.
So, rather than pick one man, I decided to do three, not in the biographical sense, but more of the type of men they were in their day to day work environment, what provided their incredible drive, their hunger for perfection, how they drove themselves during exhausting creative periods and what kind of people were able and willing to join their quest for that perfect product, whether it be a gag, dance or consumer product.
By picking three artists of the highest caliber, all geniuses in their field, I hope to get the attention of a literary agent or publishing house. I don't want to self publish. That is akin to giving up before you start. If my book is to be a success and get out to the widest possible audience, it has to go the traditional route. In addition, when I see the dribble and "garbage" at the book stores that is piled high on the front tables of Barnes & Noble, I have to wonder if a book about three men of talent, drive and prestige in their field might do better. A book that should be interesting to many people of various persuasions covering three icons instead of one might just be able to wade through the mass of romance novels and some of the more dry non-fiction.
There have been so many straightforward biographies about Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs. Chaplin has been examined for his movie making skills, his comedy, pathos and womanizing. Even his politics have been scrutinized. Gene Kelly's dancing, wardrobe, masculinity and physique have been studied for years. Steve Job's management style, his ideas on design, his battle with cancer and his religious beliefs have been explored.
Just when you think there is nothing more to write, you're wrong. I'm covering each man on their pursuit of the perfect product, their work ethic, how they treated those closest to them at work and at home and what their ultimate goal was in seeking perfection.
In the case of Chaplin, it was the search for the finest detail in a comedy routine, a pantomime to convey a mood or feeling, or a physical gesture. He would do as many as 300 takes for one scene to get it right. He would often stay away from the studio for days, weeks or even months if he did not have an idea refined. He kept his entire staff on payroll since he owned the studio. He was the only writer, director, producer, lead actor and even composer of music for most of his movies.
Gene Kelly worked tirelessly to have the dance flow naturally from the storyline and to keep it from simply being an afterthought like musicals of the 1930s. He and his partner, Stanley Donen, developed new techniques for using the camera as part of the dance and how to extract the last ounce of style and form from himself and his dancing partners. He, like Chaplin would repeat takes over and over again to get them perfect.
Steve Jobs drove himself and his teams to the brink of breaking to get the perfect user experience. He strove for quality to the inth degree in every product. He would have dozens, if not hundreds of prototypes built of products and he, alone, would decide what to present as a finished product to the public.
What they all had in common, was complete creative control. Chaplin had it for 90% of his career, except for the first 6 of his 87 movies. Kelly had total control of his choreography for virtually all of his movies as well as getting highly involved in lighting, camera angles and movement, set design, wardrobe and directing some of his films.
Jobs had 100 percent control throughout his two stints at Apple and his time at Next. He knew what the public wanted better than the public. Apple stores, with over 375 in operation, have the highest $$/sq ft sales of any store chain on earth, including Cartier. People flock to them as they flocked to Chaplin movies.
When you see a Chaplin comedy, a Kelly Musical or use an Apple product, it is an experience like no other.
In trying to write daily to get my book finished by the end of the year, I find myself changing the format, chapter names, order, etc. I was originally going to do a separate piece on each of my chosen people; Charlie Chaplin, Gene Kelly and Steve Jobs covering similar topics on each and then comparing them at the end, but I've decided to write about the topics, by chapter heading and cover all three men within each chapter. They'll be separated chronologically, but it will be far easier for the reader to compare and contrast how each man worked their magic.
This is a rough list of some of my chapters that I'll use as topics when writing about each person.
Gene continued to work into his 60s and 70s, but his last dancing scene was in 1980 in the movie Xanadu. While a dreadful movie, it did showcase a 68 year old Gene Kelly still able to dance and display the skills and wonderful style we remember.
This is a wonderful scene with Kenny Ortega telling the story about how he met, and later convinced a 68 year old Gene Kelly to be in Xanadu. The movie is mostly awful, but the parts with Gene and his last on screen dance with Olivia is wonderful to watch. This behind the scenes story is great.
When you look at Charlie, Gene and Steve and their success, you can talk about intellect, skill, talent, artistry and many other qualities, but timing was key to their phenomenal success.
Charlie came to the early "flickers" at a time just after, about 10 years, its birth. By the time he got there, it was time for pictures, of the kind we take for granted today, to be developed. The early movies were more recording of live events with no narrative quality. People were so thrilled just to see moving pictures and almost didn't care what they watched. Charlie entered the industry under Mack Sennent, the producer of the Keystone comedies, at just the right time. Sennent's movies were crude, fast paced slapstick. Once Chaplin found his way in the movie making business, he realized the movies and the public needed more. He gave them much more and helped define a generation of comedic movies with his unique brand of pathos. He made us laugh and cry. He slowed the Keystone pace down to allow the gags to build and the characters to develop. Each movie built on the previous skills he was honing. He made 38 movies in 10 months and learned all of the skills necessary to take his movies to a level well beyond the others; Lloyd and Keaton. Starting with The Kid, Chaplin movies became timeless treasures that we celebrate 100 years later.
Gene was on Broadway in the late 30s and early 40s at a time when musicals were moving away from the goofy plot, boy gets girl and they both sing a happy song. After two "foot in the door" Broadway shows, he got the lead in Pal Joey, a Rodgers and Hart show. It was different with Gene playing a cad. He had already realized that he could create a character through dance, something novel. The show caught the attention of those movie guys on the west coast; Louis B. Mayer and David O. Selznick. Who was this guy on Broadway? By late 1942 Gene was in Hollywood ready to shake up the world of the goofy Hollywood musicals. Hollywood was still playing with sound and people were thrilled just to see and hear music on screen with a simple plot that had dances thrown in haphazardly. When Gene caught the eye of Arthur Freed and his magical musical unit, everything changed. The time was ripe for a change and Gene provided the talent and energy. Dancing and musicals moved from the simple stage productions with inane plots to stories with dance helping to tell the story. Gene and his apprentice, Stanley Donen, used the camera as part of the dance instead of simply a recording device. Starting with Cover Girl, it all changed. He moved beyond Astaire and danced in jeans a tea shirt with that "every man" style we know and love. Singin in The Rain and An American in Paris are as timeless as Chaplin's feature films.
When Steve Jobs med Steve Wozniak, the tech world was on the threshold of a huge change. The microprocessor was in it's early childhood and mainframe computers were used by huge companies. No one could imagine computers being something that average people would use. Jobs and Wozniak were beginning to envision a different world. Starting with the Wozniak designed Apple I, the PC market was born. Computers would quickly move from the corporate world to the home office and living room. Had it not been for Steve Jobs and others, namely Bill Gates and Intel, the PC market might have been delayed many years. Once the Apple PC took off, it quickly needed "the next big thing". Jobs somehow convinced Zerox and their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) to share or part with their Graphic User Interface (GUI) and put into his Macintosh PC. Microsoft Windows followed and the already fast moving PC market exploded. He did it again in the cell phone market at just the right time, in 2007, with the Iphone, and again in 2011 with the Ipad.
Talent? Yes. Skill? Yes. Genius? Yes, but don't forget timing.
This scene from An American in Paris is a dance, as well choreographed as any other. Not generally mentioned as such, but nevertheless, a dance. It is pure genius. Props to the prop men who designed the set for him to play to.
It is funny that all three of these men were basically against organized religion. Chaplin made light of it in the movie, The Pilgrim. Gene was openly hostile toward organized religion for not helping the poor while keeping churches well funded. Steve Jobs was not a religious man, but did become spiritual as he pondered his own death from cancer. He said, Sometimes I believe in God, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s 50-50 maybe. But ever since I’ve had cancer, I’ve been thinking about it more. And I find myself believing a bit more. I kind of – maybe it’s ’cause I want to believe in an afterlife. That when you die, it doesn’t just all disappear. The wisdom you’ve accumulated. Somehow it lives on.’ Then he paused for a second and he said, ‘Yeah, but sometimes I think it’s just like an on-off switch. Click and you’re gone.' He said and paused again, and he said, 'And that’s why I don’t like putting on-off switches on Apple devices'." What does it say about men who were in the stratosphere of talent and pure genius that also groups them as agnostics? Is there something they know that the rest of us don't? Or, are they simply so totally objective that they discount religion as an outdated primeval ritual? Whatever the case, the best and brightest seem to fall into the same group. You be the judge.
Since it is July 4th, I thought I'd talk about these three men and their feelings toward the United States, nationalism and their politics. All three have had questions about their indifferent or non-nationalistic feelings.
Chaplin was not an American citizen, but did live and pay a huge amount of taxes here for 40 years. He was involved in the WWI war bond drive with many other Hollywood stars of the time. He was questioned by Americans and by his home countrymen in England as to why he did not go back to enlist in the military, but this would have been a waste of his talents to have him die in the trenches fighting the Germans. He did much more for the morale of the troops and the home front, both here and in the UK making people laugh during the war. Those that complained of his lack of military service were and are short sighted. His sons served honorably during WWII and even Einsenhower used his 1918 Shoulder Arms film as a morale booster for the troops during WWII. He was the first public figure in the US to openly condemn Hitler when the US was staunchly isolationist and blind to the Jewish persecution leading up to and during the war. His movie, The Great Dictator, helped push the anti Nazi movement, but he was condemned as a war monger as late as November of 1941. The next month, with Pearl Harbor and the Axis powers forming against us, Chaplin would be vindicated. Later when asked to speak in the place of a State Department official at a rally, he called for a 2nd front to help our ally, the Russians, and was condemned as a communist sympathizer. He was always just a few steps ahead of government policy makers. This finally led, in 1952, to his loss of reentry permission to the US and a 20 year absence.
Chaplin always felt that he was a citizen of the world and a humanist. He disliked nationalism and war, but said that he would have gladly fought for his country if needed.
Chaplin was treated horribly by the same group of Nixon/McCarthyites who ran the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that destroyed the careers of so many people in Hollywood and other professions.
Gene Kelly's wife, Betsy Blair was black listed by the same group of "Better Dead than Red" politicians. Gene escaped this fate because Louis B. Mayer knew Kelly was not a communist, but Gene was part of a group of 10 major stars who went to Hollywood to condemn the HUAC decimation of the entertainment industry.
Gene was a loyal American, but against the regimentation of the military and war in general. He was a Lieutenant in the Navy in WWII, but worked for two years making movies out of Washington, DC until 1946. He desperately wanted to do his part for the war effort, but Mayer had held him back.
Gene was a left wing democrat taking part in many union negotiations, but never had any dealings with communists. His wife, Betsy, was much farther to the left in her political feelings and it cost her.
There is not much on the political persuasion of Steve Jobs. He escaped the draft while in college. He experimented with many types of drugs in the early 70s. His visionary and single-minded focus on Apple Computer in his first stint running the company occupied all of his time. He did not speak out on politics in any public forum. Jobs was apolitical. He was also agnostic. He did love this nation and gave it and the world many wondrous products and an outlook on life and business that will be the model taught in business schools for many years to come.
All three men wished only to improve their craft and product for the world to enjoy.
Soon, in the heart of the Swiss Riviera, an astonishing museum dedicated to the life and times of Charlie Chaplin will be unveiled.
Featuring over 3,000 square meters of discovery, experience and emotion in a symbiosis of the scenic, cinematographic, multimedia and virtual world.
A three-hour tour through a history filled with sensitivity, revelation, excitement and emotion showcasing Charlie Chaplin’s mythical mansion and a brand new exhibition hall in the centre of a fabulous 14-hectare domain graced with gardens, pathways and terraces offering a spectacular lake view in the Alpine splendour that is Switzerland.
An amazing journey into time. A unique, spectacular and overwhelming experience. Opening planned for 2015
Click here to be taken to the Chaplin Museum Website
Charlie Chaplin made 87 movies from 1914 to 1967. He made 68 of these prior to starting his own studio in 1918. Do the math 68 movies in four years and you get 17 movies a year or 1 movie every three weeks for 4 years. Most of these movies were the so called, "shorts", of a 10 to 15 minute duration. The films he made starting in 1918 with his own studio were mostly full length features.
Charlie directed around 80 of his films and wrote 75 of them as well as directed each. This is an extraordinary feat. No other actor in the history of motion pictures had so much artistic control as Chaplin. As he began to take control of his career starting in March of 1914, he began to interject more of a story into his movies even though they were mostly the shorts.
Once he began to both write and direct his own movies for the Keystone Company, Essanay and Mutual, the movies took on a more sophisticated look and feel and with Pathos or sentimentality. The tramp character evolved from a slapstick, not always ethical hobo, to a more lovable character. Chaplin was still doing films for National at the time he started United Artists with D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Mary Pickford.
He made only a dozen films from 1920 to 1967 and would often go three, four or up to seven years between his last few movies, but these full length features were his best work that included: The Kid, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Even some of the shorter films during this time were brilliant.
I've been watching these movies, but in a strange order. I started watching the last seven movies first to get a feel for the full extent of Chaplin's genius and to see how his brand of comedy had evolved over the years, taking into account all of the gags, mannerisms, facial expressions and pantomime. I then went back to watch the movies from the beginning to spot where these gags originated since Charlie would often try out things as he went along in his filming and either include or cut them if it didn't promote the story line.
Watching his movies is not work, but simply fun and I find myself laughing out loud and having to go back to take a more academic approach to my viewing.