Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chapin, Sony, Hitler & Kim Jong Un

I find it amazing that in this day and age anyone really cares about the content of the movie, "The Interview", by Sony Pictures.  The issue isn't the movie, but more about a failed state, North Korea, with a caricature of a dictator, Kim Jung Un, being able to dictate to one of our movie studios what movie to make.  Hollywood can and should make movies about any subject they want without fear of reprisals, threats or blackmail from some joke of a country with some decent hacking skills.

I'm embarrassed for Sony in kowtowing to these vague threats and pulling the picture. I think it was more the theater owner's fear of lost business on other movies rather than any real threat to anyone. Sony would not have made much money on the movie anyway so it is no real loss to them, but it is a loss of spine and the first step in our studios being bullied by foreign governments.

We only need to look back to 1940 for a similar episode to this one.  One of the greatest film makers of all time and one of the most famous men in the history of movies, Charlie Chaplin, had a similar experience with a far different outcome.  Chaplin was fascinated by Hitler in the late 1930s and admired his acting skills and oratory.  He hated Hitler, however, for what was going on in Germany and Europe.  Against the advice of all of the major studios, some powerful politicians and even his own brother, Chaplin went on to write, star, direct and produce his brilliant mockery of Adolf Hitler with his movie, The Great Dictator.

See Trailer Here: Trailer

At the time Chaplin started the project, 1937-38, Hitler was actually still admired by many people in the US who hid their heads in the sand.  By the time the movie came out in 1940, the full extent of Hitlers crimes against humanity were coming to light.  Chaplin was the only one in Hollywood to come out publicly against him. As Chaplin ran an independent studio and used his own money to make pictures, he was not subject to corporate pressures.  The other studios, all run by Eastern European members of the Jewish faith, had already acquiesced to Hitlers demands and removed their Jewish management from their German based affiliates and replaced them all with gentiles.

The movie Chaplin made was a masterpiece of mockery based on Hitler using the name Henkel as the head of the repressive state of Tomania.  The movie made a ton of money and was hailed as a masterpiece, even today holding an 8.5 rating in the top 100 at IMDB.

Chaplin was unafraid and used his comical genius to make a fool of Hitler when no one else would.

Sony, you need to look to the past and to the truly great pioneers of the film industry.  Have some guts.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Chaplin & Bob Hope

The funny similarities between Charlie Chaplin and Bob Hope 

A pair of new biographies show that the legendary comedians weren't so unalike after all.

A hundred years ago, Charlie Chaplin was the biggest film comedian in the United States. Drawing on the pantomime he'd mastered in the British music halls, the 25-year-old expatriate had pioneered a new style of slapstick comedy in American silent films, more leisurely and character based than the frantic action of the Keystone Cops, and moviegoers were enthralled. As Peter Ackroyd recounts in his new biographyChaplin: A Brief Life, Chaplin's fame spread around the world in 1915, his character the Tramp becoming a beloved figure to some 300 million people. He was celebrated in books, songs, comic strips, and nursery rhymes; the Tramp was merchandised with dolls, toys, clothing, charms, and plaster statuettes. Chaplin imitators adopted his signature costume of bowler hat, square mustache, too-small coat, bamboo cane, baggy pants, and oversize shoes; that summer at Luna Park, an amusement park in Cleveland, a crowd turned out for a Chaplin impersonation contest. The winner was a local 12-year-old who, 30 years later, would himself become the biggest film comedian in the U.S., performing as Bob Hope.
The two men are seldom mentioned in the same breath: Chaplin is revered not only as a performer but as one of the greatest Hollywood filmmakers, whereas Hope spent the last 40 years of his life tarnishing his great screen legacy with lazy, complacent NBC specials (he died in 2003 at the age of 100). Chaplin's life and work have been documented so exhaustively that Ackroyd's book, in keeping with the title, succeeds by virtue of its brevity; beautifully written, emotionally incisive, and critically astute, it provides the ideal entree for someone unfamiliar with Chaplin's life. Richard Zoglin takes on quite a different agenda with his massive Hope: Entertainer of the Century; definitive and exhaustively researched, this new biography sets out to rescue Hope's reputation, making a case for him not only as a groundbreaking comedian who conquered movies, TV, radio, and the Broadway stage but as a businessman and public servant whose accomplishments in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s have been emulated by Hollywood stars ever since.
Considered side by side, the books also reveal men who were strikingly similar despite the obvious polarities in their art (Chaplin's comedy was physical, Hope's primarily verbal) and their politics (Chaplin was a socialist, Hope a staunch conservative). Both were born in Britain and grew up in dire poverty, Chaplin emigrating to the U.S. as a young man and Hope coming to Cleveland with his family at age five. Both were ill educated and took up show business as a means of survival, growing addicted to the spotlight and obsessed with themselves. Both were compulsive workaholics of unchecked ambition who neglected their wives and children, public men who were perceived by their intimates as being empty inside. And each man traveled the same career arc, enjoying a period of synchronicity with the American mood but, in his old age, falling badly out of step, Chaplin with his pro-Soviet sentiments during the red scare of the late 1940s and Hope with his knee-jerk support of the Vietnam war and the Nixon White House in the early 1970s.
Chaplin's traumatic upbringing in South London was etched into his art and his personal character. His mother, Hannah Hill, married Charles Chaplin Sr., an alcoholic music-hall singer, when she was already pregnant with another man's child; he adopted the boy, Sydney, and in 1889, Hannah gave birth to Charles Jr., though she was so promiscuous that Charlie would always wonder who his true father was. After the couple split up, Hannah remarried, but that marriage collapsed too; from 1896 onward the two boys bounced around from their respective parents' custody to the workhouse to a school for orphans, and by 1898 their mother had been consigned to an insane asylum. From a tender age Chaplin learned to swipe food from street stalls and dance for pennies outside the local public houses. The year his mother was institutionalized, he embarked on a music-hall career of his own, performing with a group of clog dancers called the Eight Lancashire Lads.
The music halls were the British equivalent of vaudeville—cheap, crowd-pleasing, lower-class entertainment—and from them Chaplin learned the traditional pantomime that would stand him in such good stead on the screen. "Movement is liberated thought," he told an interviewer in 1942; when shooting a movie, he always made sure his feet were in the frame so people could see his whole body. He made a name for himself in England with the Fred Karno comedy troupe and in 1910 accompanied Karno to the U.S. for a vaudeville tour. When Chaplin was hired by the Keystone Studios in late 1913, he immediately distinguished himself with his elegant body language, and after a few appearances he came up with the Tramp character, an immediate hit. Comparing Chaplin with Ford Sterling, chief of the Keystone Cops, Ackroyd pinpoints the innovation that made the young Brit a star overnight: Sterling specialized in "florid gestures, exaggerated expressions and a general tendency to be over-theatrical. . . . Chaplin was in contrast more contained and much stiller . . . Sterling had only an outer, while Chaplin possessed an inner, life."
Hope's childhood wasn't as horrible as Chaplin's, but he grew up plenty hungry. His father, Harry Hope, was an underemployed stonemason who took to drink out of frustration, moving his family from London to Lewisham to Eltham (where the comedian was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903) to Weston-super-Mare and, finally, to Cleveland, where two of Harry's brothers had already emigrated. Hope's mother, a much stronger woman than Hannah Chaplin, held the family together, but Leslie and his five brothers all went to work as soon as they were able, contributing their earnings to the family budget. Leslie was shaping up as a pool hustler and petty thief, and between 1918 and 1921 he spent at least a year and a half in reform school before his talents as a singer (like Chaplin, he performed on the street for pennies) and a dancer led him into show business. By age 21, he was touring vaudeville theaters as part of a comedy-dance duo, and in 1927 he made his premiere on Broadway in the revue Sidewalks of New York.
As a physical comedian, Hope had his moments—check out his rubber-legged walk after he's released from a steamer trunk in The Ghost Breakers (1940)—but the key to his success was his verbal wit. He came of age in vaudeville when the old tradition of performers being heralded onstage with cards on an easel had been superseded by the emcee, who would tell jokes, ad-lib with the audience, and announce each act. Hope learned his craft from Frank Fay, a popular comedian of the era, and soon became a master, quick on his feet and skilled in handling any sort of audience. He began building an encyclopedic joke file and hired a giant staff of writers. When he got into radio in 1935, he developed a lightning-quick pace, and within a few years, elaborating on the political satire of his idol Will Rogers, he'd more or less invented the topical monologue that would become the template for Johnny Carson, David Letterman, and every late-night broadcaster after them.
Hope may have had the gift of gab and Chaplin the gift of mime, but as portrayed by their biographers, they were both meticulous in the art of getting laughs. As a director, Chaplin tended to begin with a premise and improvise on the set, burning through miles of film stock as he worked out his ideas; he would coach his players in the minutest aspects of movement and expression, putting them through dozens upon dozens of takes until he got exactly what he wanted. Hope was similarly precise in creating his material; his overworked writers would deliver dozens of jokes on a single subject and Hope would sift through them to assemble his monologues. "When you wrote for Hope, you learned not to put one word extra in," recalled Sherwood Schwartz. "He knew how to pack it in, pace it, and fill it. You had to write all bone and make a great joke in twenty-four words or less." In addition to his skill as an editor, Hope could come up with killer lines all his own, and his ad-libs often got bigger laughs than the prepared material.
"I want you to know that you are one of the best timers of comedy I've ever seen," Chaplin told Hope when the two men met in April 1939. Hope was shooting The Cat and the Canary, a haunted-house comedy that would cement his movie persona as a wisecracking coward, and his costar was Paulette Goddard, Chaplin's third wife. The younger man was elated to hear such high praise from an artist he'd always worshipped, yet their meeting came at radically different points in their movie careers. Hope's was about to explode: after The Cat and the Canary he would costar with Bing Crosby in Road to Singapore (1940), inaugurating a series of wildly anarchic buddy comedies, and on his own he would rack up such gems as Caught in the Draft (1941), My Favorite Blonde (1942), Monsieur Beaucaire (1946), The Paleface (1948), and Son of Paleface(1952). By contrast, Chaplin was preparing his antifascist satire The Great Dictator (1940), in which he would play the Tramp for the very last time; his Hollywood career would never recover.
Twenty years earlier, Americans had looked at the Tramp and seen themselves. The essence of the character, Ackroyd notes, can be seen in the famous final shot of The Tramp (1915), when Chaplin trudges sadly down a country lane, his back to the audience, but then rouses himself: "His little dance upon the road is a form of self-definition. He is free. He is essentially alone but he will never truly be lonely because he is infinitely resourceful. . . . He has the will to live in a world that may not be worth living in. The open road is an important conclusion to him; it implies an endless journey, with the Tramp implicitly in the role of Everyman." But that was a different America, and silent movies a different medium. By the time Hope and Chaplin met, the older man had spent more than a decade trying to ignore the advent of sound: his only two movies since then, City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1935), were both silent, as anachronistic as they were brilliant.
By the war years, Americans were more likely to see themselves in Bob Hope. "He was brash, sophisticated, modern," writes Zoglin. "He was an all-American wise guy, accessible to everyone." Woody Allen, who adored Hope and based his own comic persona on Hope's quivering quipster, appreciated his average-guy appeal: "He was not a sufferer, like Chaplin, or even as dimensional as someone like Groucho Marx, who suggested a kind of intellect," Allen says. "Hope was just a superficial, smiling guy tossing off one-liners. But he was amazingly good at it." What really endeared Hope to Americans, however, was his tireless career as a public servant, raising money for humanitarian causes and criss-crossing the globe to perform for servicemen in international hot spots. As a USO volunteer in World War II, he made extended (and sometimes genuinely dangerous) tours of Britain, North Africa, and the Pacific, showing up in the remotest outposts with his little entourage of singers and comedians. Soldiers far from home sent him thousands of letters, and he answered nearly all of them.
That was in public; in private Chaplin and Hope were both difficult personalities. Chaplin went through a string of wives and treated most of them abominably. He liked them young—his first and second wives, Mildred Harris and Lita Grey, were each 16 when he married them—and he always maintained the upper hand. His last marriage, to Oona O'Neill (daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill) lasted 34 years, but only because she catered to his every whim. Hope stuck with his second wife, Dolores Reade, for nearly 60 years, but he was notorious for his serial affairs, which were studiously ignored by Reade, a devout Catholic. (Among Hope's conquests, Zoglin reveals, was none other than America's sweetheart, Doris Day.) Both men neglected their children, breezing in and out of their lives, and bullied their colleagues. Marlon Brando, who starred in Chaplin's A Countess From Hong Kong (1967), called him "an egotistical tyrant," and Katharine Hepburn, who costarred with Hope in The Iron Petticoat (1956), thought him "the biggest egomaniac with whom I have worked in my entire life."
Poverty left its mark on both men. When they became successful, they instinctually turned to their siblings for protection; Sydney Chaplin cut short his own career as a performer to become his brother's manager, and Hope pulled his brothers Jack and George into his organization. Chaplin was haunted by the fear of winding up on the street again and, contrary to his socialist tendencies, invested heavily in the stock market; Hope sank most of his money into real estate, and at one point Forbes magazine estimated his net worth at $280 million (after he protested, the magazine revised the figure down to $115 milllion). Despite their philanthropic endeavors, both men were known as terrible cheapskates. "On payday," writes Zoglin, "Hope used to stand at the top of the circular staircase in his house, make paper airplanes out of the writers' paychecks, and float them downstairs, forcing the writers to grovel on the floor for their wages." He gave millions to charity but would complain when the video editors working late on his TV shows ordered pizza on his dime.
Chaplin and Hope may have been most alike in their sheer impenetrability; both men lived for the spotlight but seemed to have no inner life, shying away from any sort of emotion. As Ackroyd writes, Chaplin became more remote as his fame increased: "The popularity drove him further into himself; he became more aware of his fundamental isolation." Thomas Burke, a British writer who squired Chaplin around East London when the star returned to the UK in 1921, observed that "he is first and last an actor. He lives only in a role, and without it he is lost. As he cannot find the inner Chaplin, there is nothing for him, at grievous moments, to fall into." Burke's words are eerily echoed by Martin Ragaway, one of Hope's gag writers in the early 1960s: "Deep down inside, there is no Bob Hope. . . . He's shallow in the sense that he's never taken the time to look into himself, and he won't let others do it either."
In the end both men saw their cherished relationships with the public turn bitter. World War II may have made Hope, but it unmade Chaplin. "Patriotism is the greatest insanity the world has ever suffered," he had declared during another trip to London in 1931, and American critics were incensed by the Tramp's speech at the end of The Great Dictator: "Soldiers! Don't give yourselves to these brutes . . . who will drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, and use you as cannon fodder." His absence from the USO circuit was noted, and after the war his pro-Soviet sympathies landed him in the crosshairs of the House Un-American Activities Committee. His black comedy Monsieur Verdoux (1947), in which he plays a wealthy serial killer, was vilified as an attack on American mores, and in 1952, while he was overseas promoting his nostalgic dramaLimelight, he was denied reentry into the U.S. unless he would submit to an FBI investigation of his political affiliations. For the rest of his life, he made his home in Switzerland.
Chaplin returned to the U.S. only once, to accept a lifetime-achievement Oscar at the 1972 Academy Awards. (Driven around Los Angeles, which he hadn't seen in 20 years, he marveled, "It's all banks, banks, banks!") By that time Hope too had lost the pulse of America, defending the Vietnam war with condescending jokes about antiwar hippies and serving as a mouthpiece for President Nixon. His Christmas shows for American troops had become a TV perennial, but in 1969 he was roundly booed during a stop in Lai Khe when he mentioned Nixon's plan to end the war. "When the TV cameras panned the crowd, the GIs were standing up and giving the finger and making power salutes," one observer told Rolling Stone. "Then the troops started throwing things and tried to rush the stage. . . . Hope, who was visibly shaken, had to stop the show and leave." Hope's stock plummeted even further during the Watergate scandal, when he came to Nixon's defense and stuck by the president even after he'd resigned in disgrace.
"He seemed in the end to be at peace," Ackroyd writes of Chaplin, "but in effect he had withdrawn into a vast and silent sphere of self-regard." By the time Chaplin died in 1979, at age 88, his reputation had been restored, and new generations of moviegoers have embraced him even as the silent cinema continues to slip away. Hope outlived Chaplin by more than 20 years, refusing to go away and wearing out his welcome as an elder statesman of comedy; young people today, if they remember Hope at all, remember a smug octogenarian carrying a golf club and reading from cue cards. Whether Zoglin's book will prompt people to rediscover the edgy young movie comedian of the 1940s remains to be seen, but both Chaplin and Hope understood only too well that the selves they created for the public would be the only thing they left behind.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Joy of Research

Sometimes the joy of research for my book has overtaken the writing process.  I can't stop reading about Chaplin, Kelly and Jobs.  There are over 600 book on Chaplin with most being regurgitations of previous works.  I'd estimate that there are only two dozen really good works.  There are 85 movies to watch also and each must be watched two or three times to really see the many nuances in his work.

Gene Kelly has far fewer books about his life and there are only 6 or so that are noteworthy.  He has 45 movies and, again, each must be watched numerous times.  I say, must be watched, but for Kelly and Chaplin, it's a joy and I'm amazed with each viewing as I see different aspects of their genius.

Steve Jobs is almost the outlier in this group, because he was not an entertainer, but with the premise of the book being perfectionism, he fits.  All three men were brutal to work for, demanding, mean in some cases and egotistical, but all were only interested in providing the best product and getting the best from their people.

Chaplin and Kelly forced actors to work through dozens of takes on a single scene until it was right. Chaplin often went into hundreds of takes for one scene.  Steve Jobs would force workers to go back to the drawing board over and over again to got to the perfection he envisioned for a product of feature.  He would study hundreds of prototypes until he was satisfied.

Two or three books come out each year on Chaplin.  Only a book every two or three year or so on Kelly is published.  Steve Jobs is the subject of many books from basic biographical accounts to studies of his management and presentations styles.

I could be totally happy just doing research, but the book calls and I need to finish.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Review of Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life"

Over 600 books have been written about Charlie Chaplin.  Most are simple regurgitations of other books.  As one author put it, "People will read five books and publish a sixth".  Peter Ackroyd's book is pretty much a compilation of many other books.  I have read over 30 books on Chaplin so far, picking and choosing from the the best out there, as well as hundreds of journal articles on him and seeing every movie at least twice.  Ackroyd's book has a few small details I had not seen before and a few minor mistakes of fact.

It is so hard to separate fact from fiction on Chaplin due to the quantity of books published, but when only one book states something, it is immediately suspect.  When I see something in book after book, I begin to take it as fact.  Ackroyd's book does offer some juicy tidbits on Chaplin's personal life when it comes to his female conquests as well as the controversies therin, but not much new about his work life or movies.  This is not meant as a criticism as there is little out there new to find unless one of his children decides to write a book or one of the few people left alive who worked with him. Sophia Loren or Claire Bloom might decide to talk on the record about their time with Chaplin, but there are a precious few others, and those would be distant spectators rather than principal players.

The book is pleasant reading overall and well written.  Ackroyd's style of writing makes it comfortable to just sit and read.  Many other books on Chaplin are not.  His son Sydney wrote a book that was hard to read and Georgia Hale's book was a pain due to her lack of time references.  I could not always tell from the context when things were happening even though I consider myself well read on the subject.

Details like Chaplin painting his private parts with Iodine are not relevant to the genius that he was. Bedroom details never make for a good book unless an author is writing a book about what goes on in the bedroom.  These details don't help us to understand his genius or his talent, but are meant to be salacious tidbits for shock value.

That being said, I enjoyed the book.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Remake An American in Paris? Are they nuts?

An American in Paris Without Gene Kelly? by Patricia Ward Kelly

When I learned recently that so many of my good friends were cast in the upcoming "reimagining" of An American in Paris, I eagerly went to the website to read about the new production scheduled to premiere at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on December 10, 2014, and to open in New York City next spring. Because the movie was such an important part of Gene's career -- and meant so much to him personally -- I was surprised not to see him even mentioned on the page.
When Gene first brought me to California to write his memoir back in 1986, he was, for me, essentially a blank slate. I had to get up to speed on everything. Because I would eventually wear the dual hat of wife and biographer, I felt it incumbent upon me to double- and triple-check my primary source -- my husband. As a result, I spent hours at the University of Southern California library exploring the expansive Arthur Freed collection. Most of Hollywood had little or no regard for its history (film scores were tossed in a landfill, and film cans were often of more value to executives than the film in them). Fortunately, Freed donated the records and production notes of many of my husband's greatest and best-known films, including An American in Paris andSingin' in the Rain. These minute-by-minute accounts provide a remarkably detailed -- and accurate -- record of the preparation, rehearsals and shooting schedules of the movies. In the notes regarding An American in Paris, Gene is frequently listed as "Director," with Minnelli's name following in parentheses.
While Freed was producer of the MGM musical and Minnelli the credited director, Gene was the choreographer of the picture and also the director of several important segments of the film, including "Embraceable You," "I Got Rhythm," and the ground-breaking, seventeen-and-one-half-minute "An American in Paris Ballet." When I asked Gene about his involvement, he said, "I discussed the shooting with Vincente Minnelli and the cameraman. But I had final control of the camera. If it ever came to a question, I would have the last word. The director usually has final say. ... But it was my baby, mainly, even though it was a collaborative effort." As Leslie Caron confirmed when asked to comment about Minnelli's role shooting the picture, "Oh, no, it was Gene Kelly behind the camera!"
On the website for the new stage version, Arthur Freed is described as the "one who put together a set of existing songs on which he created a story." According to Gene, it was he and Minnelli who chose the songs and the writer Alan Jay Lerner who crafted the script on a typewriter as he sat in his bed at the famed Bel Air Hotel. "We had a choice of every song the Gershwins ever wrote," Gene said, explaining the selection of numbers. "You might say, 'Oh, boy, what riches.' But we didn't know what to select -- we spent more time trying to fit the songs in. ... I don't think we could have ever doneAn American in Paris if we hadn't had someone like Alan Jay Lerner, who could adapt every time Minnelli and I changed a song and put it in a different place."
Though Gene did not receive any of the film's eight Academy Award nominations, he was presented with a special honorary Oscar "in appreciation for his extreme versatility as an actor, singer, director, and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film." That the history of the film is so badly bungled in the presentation of the new production -- and that Gene is omitted entirely -- is both sad and careless.

I have been told that the new stage production diverges significantly from the original; that the story, the music and the dance are changed. If this is the case -- if everything is indeed altered so considerably -- why is it then called An American in Paris?
Gene never relished seeing his own films. He watched them with me, begrudgingly, because of our work together. But he always saw things he could have done better. One exception was An American in Paris. Though he disliked the opening number, "By Strauss," which he felt "never came off," he thought the rest held up. As we ran the film together, nearly 40 years after its inception, he said frankly, "Take those first 10 minutes out, which are embarrassing, and it's a great picture, and, in 1951, way ahead of its time." When we eventually reached the end, he turned to me and said, "I'm glad I saw it. There are some things in there that are sensational -- that nobody else could have done -- and I'm proud of them." It was an important confession for a man who found it difficult to say, "I did that."
The last project Gene was engaged to do before his massive stroke in July 1994 was a recreation of the "American in Paris Ballet" for the Three Tenors Concert at Dodger Stadium. He was excited about the work -- it would be his "swan song," he said -- and each night he sat in his chair with a yellow legal pad drafting ideas well into the wee hours of the morning. He was very proud to be joining a team of friends and esteemed professionals: Zubin Mehta, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carerras. Determined to make the ballet something special and unique, he enlisted the award-winning production designer Rene Lagler to design the set and contacted Helgi Tómasson, the artistic director of San Francisco Ballet, about the possibility of using several dancers from the company. Instead of just one pair, as in the movie, Gene wanted multiple pairs to convey the emotion of each section of the ballet. Sadly, this beautifully-conceived project never came to pass.
Gene would be the last person to want new generations to mimic his work. He always encouraged young people to take what he did and go beyond. Similarly, he would never wish for those following in his footsteps to forget the important role he and others played in both the creation and execution of the masterpiece that begat this new production.
At the very least, the producers should rightfully acknowledge the very broad shoulders upon which they stand.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

City Light; Perhaps Chaplin's Greatest Film

Shakkyo: How Charlie Chaplin's City Lights crossed boundaries

An unlikely double bill at Tokyo International Film Festival proved one of the best ideas a film festival has ever had, says Robbie Collin

Charlie Chaplin in the 1931 classic City Lights
Charlie Chaplin in the 1931 classic City Lights Photo: Rex Features
In March 1936, during a tour of Japan, Charlie Chaplin called in on the Kabuki-za theatre in downtown Tokyo. A photograph commemorates the visit: Chaplin, handsome, silver-haired and moustache-less, stands beside the kabuki master Koshiro Matsumoto VII, grinning broadly and pointing at the actor’s elaborate costume, obviously impressed.
Seventy-eight years and seven months later, during the Tokyo International Film Festival, Chaplin returned to the Kabuki-za in one of the best ideas a film festival has ever had: a double-bill of his silent 1931 masterpiece City Lights and a short kabuki play called Shakkyo – The Stone Bridge – about a fantastical lion chasing two pesky humans off his turf.
Kabuki is a highly stylised form of classical Japanese theatre, all ghosts and samurai, swathed in mist and myth – hardly an obvious match for the misadventures of a tragicomic tramp in earthy, clattering interwar America. But seen side by side, they’re such obvious cousins you half-expect the Little Tramp to wander on stage, edge gingerly past the lion and, in turning to flee, fall over the side of the bridge.
Both art-forms were born within spitting distance of the gutter: silent comedy in the music halls where performers like Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy honed their craft, and kabuki in the pleasure quarters of old Tokyo and Kyoto, where acting troupes performed light-hearted, often bawdy plays about the struggles of everyday life.
Each one relies for its impact on its performers’ faces, which were stylised almost to the point of abstraction with thick, white make-up. Each gleans extra dramatic power from a musical score: in kabuki’s case, it’s performed by a 16-piece orchestra of wooden flutes, drums, voices and shamisen (imagine a triangular banjo played with a fish-slice).
The action in both is fast and energetic, but choreographed as meticulously as dance, with ingrained routines that even experts took years to master. Both attracted trouble in their heydays, and the performers’ private lives became fodder for public scandal – stories about storytellers.
But perhaps most crucially, both are able to speak volumes about the experience of being human without recourse to human speech – something that makes both art-forms timeless and borderless, for all their cultural idiosyncrasies. Silent comedies have been enjoyed since the earlier days of cinema, while kabuki has been performed since the 17th century. And that night, its spiritual home shook with laughter at the universal genius of Chaplin.
City Lights may be Chaplin’s greatest film. He started work on it in 1928, when every studio in Hollywood and cinema in Europe and America was gearing up for the age of sound, but it’s defiantly, triumphantly silent. Chaplin’s Little Tramp meets a poor, blind young woman (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers on the roadside, and, in the kind of misunderstanding that only silent comedy can pull off, she mistakes him for a millionaire. Delighted by her error, he plays along – and then, later that same day, he befriends a real millionaire (Harry Myers), who stumbles down to the river in a drunken stupor, with the intention of drowning himself.
These people are the Tramp’s two closest friends, but the friendships are only possible because neither actually sees him for who he is. Whenever he sobers up, the millionaire has him thrown out of his house, while the flower girl feels the cuff of his suit and thinks of a gentleman rather than a drifter. Desperate to live up to this imagined version of himself, the Tramp takes two jobs to help pay the flower girl’s rent: firstly as a street-sweeper, and then as a reluctant boxer in a prize fight.
The 12-minute sequence in which he psyches himself up for the match and then skips frantically around the ring, determined to keep the referee between himself and his huge opponent at all times, is the best and funniest thing Chaplin ever did. The scene is so precise, it isn’t acted so much as danced. It’s as abstracted, and perfected, as kabuki.
In 1931, a kabuki troupe visiting the United States went to see Chaplin’s City Lights in the cinema, and returned home with astonished stories of this man who combined comedy and pathos as brilliantly as the best in their discipline. They went on to adapt their memories of the film into a kabuki play called Yasu the Bat. In place of the boxing scene, there’s a sumo bout.
Somegoro Ichikawa, the great-grandson of Koshiro Matsumoto VII, played the lead role of the lion in Shakkyo that evening, and the ghost of Chaplin was never far from the stage. The humans tumbled head-over-heels as the lion attacked like the Tramp lunging from one side of the boxing ring to the other.
The only immediately obvious difference was the colour: the stage of the Kabuki-za was almost supernaturally bright, with dazzling blue fabric waterfalls rushing past dark rocks and lush, green undergrowth, and, during the climax of the battle, while the lion’s red mane lashed out like a tongue of flame, silver petals fluttered from the ceiling like snow.
It was art and spectacle from another time, and the thousand-strong audience, styled, coiffed and primped to the edge of modernity, leapt to their feet to applaud.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Tramp at 100

A fine article on Chaplin by Paul Whitington of the Independent

Charlie Chaplin
One hundred years ago, a young Charles Chaplin made his movie debut in a comic short called Making a Living. Chaplin had only recently arrived in America as part of Fred Karno's comic troupe, and had been spotted by scouts from the Keystone Studios.

Chaplin had reservations about the Keystone films, which he considered a "crude mélange of rough and tumble", but the lure of Hollywood proved too great. He arrived in California in December of 1913, and within a couple of months was appearing in short comedies. In Making a Living he played a fastidious dandy with a gaucho moustache who steals money from a gullible passer-by. Chaplin hated the film, but his elegant movement marked him out from his co-stars.

Making a Living was released on February 9, 1914, and a week later Chaplin's famous Tramp character was introduced to the world. In later years Charlie Chaplin liked to tell the story of how the Tramp was accidentally invented on a quiet day at the Keystone lot.

He was playing a minor role in a film called Mabel's Strange Predicament when studio boss Mack Sennett decided the movie wasn't funny enough and told Chaplin to go off and put on a silly costume and clown around.

On the way to wardrobe, he had a moment's inspiration. "I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large." The little moustache was added later to make the baby-faced, 24-year-old actor look older, and that, according to Chaplin, was that.

"The moment I was dressed," he wrote in his autobiography, "the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."

The Tramp would go on to become perhaps the most celebrated screen persona ever, an impecunious everyman who had cinema-goers the world over rolling in the aisles one minute, and wiping away a tear the next. Chaplin would later use him to bemoan the ills of capitalism but above all, the Tramp was a clown, a prankster and an endless source of joy.

In recent times Chaplin's films have fallen from fashion somewhat, partly because they're silent, perhaps because of their disconcerting sentimentality. But his contribution to cinema is immense - a lot of his films and routines stand up extraordinarily well, and his Tramp is a timeless character, a tragicomic hero who refuses to give up and accept that he is sunk.

Until Chaplin came along, homeless people were almost invariably portrayed in film as vagabonds, drunks and villains. But Chaplin had a real understanding of what poverty and hardship were, having endured a positively Dickensian childhood.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889, and both his parents were music hall singers. His father left when he was two, and Hannah Chaplin struggled to make ends meet. Things got so bad at one point that Charles was sent to the workhouse, and his mother was later committed to a mental asylum.

Young Charles survived by taking up performing. In 1899 he joined a music hall dance troupe and later moved on to small parts in West End stage shows. In 1906 he began to specialise in comedy, touring with a juvenile act called Casey's Circus. His half-brother Sydney Chaplin, meanwhile, had joined Fred Karno's celebrated comedy company and he managed to get Charlie an audition.

In 1910, Karno chose Charlie to star in a company tour of the North American vaudeville circuit. With him went one Arthur Jefferson, who briefly served as Chaplin's understudy and would later adopt the stage name of Stan Laurel. Charlie was signed to Keystone in 1913, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Chaplin began turning out short comedies at the rate of one a week for Mack Sennett, and by the end of 1914 he was writing and directing his own films and forming a stock company of players.

The idea of the Tramp, as we have heard, came about by accident, but there was nothing accidental about the way the character was then developed. In early appearances in films like Kid Auto Races, the Tramp didn't appear to be homeless at all. He looked reasonably well dressed, and often had jobs.

He was a tougher, meaner and rowdier character that the one who'd appear in Chaplin's later classics like Modern Times: he was obtuse, obstreperous, anarchical and sometimes violent. But over time Chaplin realised that a marginalised and sympathetic outsider would have much greater audience appeal.

By 1915, his homeless character had been given a heart. The Tramp, which was released in April of that year, is often cited as a major turning point in Charlie's career. In it, Chaplin's baggy-trousered hero was a good-natured drifter who finds work on a family farm.

He falls in love with the farmer's daughter, but is devastated when he finds out she already has a boyfriend. And at the end the Tramp waddles off down a country road, seeming disconsolate at first before visibly recovering his pep.

This was the formula that would make the Tramp the most beloved cultural icon on the planet for more than a decade: the plucky loser who refuses to believe that the world is as cruel a place as it seems. The Tramp went down a bomb in the US, and its successor, The Bank, did even better. By the end of 1915 Chaplin had become a cultural phenomenon, and signed a new movie contract with Mutual that would earn him $670,000 a year.

This new power allowed Chaplin to slow down the hectic pace of filming, and start making longer, more accomplished and finely honed films. A Dog's Life (1918), developed the idea of the Tramp as a Pierrot, or melancholy clown, while Shoulder Arms (1918) celebrated the quiet bravery of troops on the Western Front.

The Kid (1921), his first film to run longer than an hour, portrayed the Tramp as a warm-hearted hero who takes pity on an abandoned child. Chaplin wrote, starred, directed and edited it - he even scored the music.

Back in 1919, he, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and DW Griffith had formed their own studio, United Artists, and in 1923 Chaplin achieved full creative freedom when he started producing all his films through UA. He was now free to create his cinematic masterpieces.

In The Gold Rush (1925), the Tramp sets out for the Klondike with high hopes of striking it rich which are cruelly dashed. The Circus (1928) was full of inspired comic routines and saw our hero become an unlikely star of the big top.

When talking pictures arrived in the late 1920s, Chaplin was resistant. He was convinced that the Tramp's screen appeal would instantly evaporate the moment the public heard him speak. His 1931 masterpiece, City Lights, was filmed without sound, and told the moving story of the Tramp's love for a blind flower girl who assumes that he's a well-heeled gentleman.

As late as 1936, Chaplin was still resisting the pressure to switch to sound. Modern Times, his ambitious satire in which the Tramp character is now a factory worker oppressed by the exigencies of mass production, was originally supposed to be Charlie's first 'talkie', but at the last minute he changed his mind and reverted to the format he trusted.

He finally bowed to the inevitable in 1940 and produced his first talkie, The Great Dictator, an ambitious satire of Nazi Germany.

The film was a big hit, but by now the knives were out for Chaplin and his popularity was on the wane. Private scandals didn't help, including an embarrassing 1944 paternity suit, and his marriage at the age of 54 to playwright Eugene O'Neill's 18-year-old daughter, Oona. They would have eight children together, and stay united until his death, but Hedda Hopper and the Hollywood gossip columnists had a field day.

The FBI, meanwhile, had Charlie under surveillance as a possible communist and in 1952, when he was in London for the premiere of his drama Limelight, the US authorities decided to ban him from re-entering America.

He settled in Switzerland and in his latter years frequently holidayed in Co Kerry with his family. His last two films were serious dramas that dispensed with the Tramp altogether and Charles Chaplin died peacefully at home in Switzerland on Christmas Day, 1977, at the age of 88.

Hollywood had asked him back to receive an honorary Oscar in 1972, but this gesture was small compensation for the shameful treatment he'd endured.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Chaplin vs. Keaton Dancing: Who was better?

Well, of course, I'd say Chaplin just because, but I have to admit that Keaton was a powerhouse of comedy along with Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.  Keaton simply made some poor business and career decisions that cost him dearly in creative control and wealth.  He signed with MGM and lost all of his autonomy rather than starting his own studio like Chaplin.  Then, a divorce cost him in the pocket.  He became a sad case for a time.  Lucile Ball hired him as a consultant on I Love Lucy and he managed to eek out parts in movies in the 50s and 60s, but lived a quiet life until his death for the most part.

Chaplin, on the other hand, continued to proper and create through the 1940s, 50s,and 60s and retired to Switzerland with a nice nest egg and a huge family and estate.  Harold Lloyd made more movies and more money than both Chaplin and Keaton and had one of the biggest homes in Hollywood.  He retired wealthy and happy, but his films were all but forgotten until only recently.

Of the three, Chaplin gets the most press for being the king of silent comedy, but all three were pioneers in their field.  They each created a unique character and really didn't compete with each other.

The video above shows various clips of Chaplin and Keaton dancing, but it leaves out some of his best routines from Limelight.  They both were physically adept and trained in that type of comedy with huge portfolios of gags and moves.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Chaplin's Final Joke

Geraldine Chaplin once recalled her famous father's resilient humor, which persisted even onto his death bed.
At 88, Charlie Chaplin's health was failing, and as doctors and relatives observed him, his eyes closed and barely breathing, Geraldine's mother audibly declared that the "final moment" had come.
"I'm just playing dead," Chaplin muttered back.
He remained to the end the energetic, lively man he had always been. He married four times and had 11 children. Yet one of them, the actress Geraldine Chaplin, has said on a current visit to Buenos Aires that at the age of 69 she feels "like 97." She insists she has felt old since turning 50. 
Geraldine is a talented actress. She was and remains a beautiful woman, as as our own recent picture of her shows. But does what she says reflect how she is, or how she wants us to see her?
Old age can take several forms. An old man can feel young, and a young man old. Geraldine may have inherited her father's lively genes, but the desire to live happily is something we gradually construct, in spite of passing time or bumps along the way. 
Geraldine Chaplin in 2012 — Photo: Odessa International Film Festival
Geraldine complains that the human life is "poorly made" when the body ages and youthful desires remain. There is, alas, no rewind button. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Visiting The Places of My Heroes

From upper left:

Gene Kelly's house on 725N Rodeo Drive, Hollywood
Apple Headquarters Cupertino, CA
Chaplin Studios on La Brea and DeLongpree in Hollywood

It's a great feeling to stand where they stood and be where they worked and created their magic.  It's inspiring.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Chaplin Trivia

There is a scene in a Chaplin movie with items from this picture on a counter top as Charlie pretends to be a clock expert.

What movie is this scene from?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Chaplin Museum Groundbreaking 7 May 2014

100 years after he started, the "Mecca" for Chaplin fans broke ground.  Michael, Victoria and Eugene, three of his children in attendance.

Lights! Camera! A Swiss Museum for Charlie Chaplin

Memories of Charlie Chaplin will live on above the shores of Lake Geneva, where new generations will get a chance to be introduced to one of the silver screen's greatest comic geniuses.
Chaplin spent his last 25 years on his 14-hectare (35-acre) estate along the "Swiss Riviera," where he could surround himself with family and walk into town or drive in the countryside without drawing unwanted attention. He died at the 18th-century Swiss mansion on Christmas Day in 1977.
Now, after 14 years of planning, Chaplin's family, investors and supporters are ready to convert the run-down Manoir de Ban and its property into a museum complex.
Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919 and helped define the silent era with films such as "City Lights" in 1931 and "Modern Times" in 1936. He came to Switzerland when he was in his 60s, fleeing accusations of being a communist sympathizer during the McCarthy-era witch hunt in the United States. In his peaceful new setting, he raised eight children from his last marriage, wrote an autobiography, made films, composed music and entertained other artists and celebrities.
Three of his children — Michael, Eugene and Victoria — and their business partners in the nearly 60 million Swiss franc ($69 million) project said Wednesday they are on track to open the museum early in 2016.
Eugene Chaplin, who was born at the mansion, lived there until six years ago.
"I used to play football, soccer, on the lawn here with my dad. It was a very, very nice family life, it was a big family house," he recalled. "Of course he was born in England, did his films in the States, but he found his happiness in Switzerland."
The mansion, with its verdant lawn and serene view of the lake and the Alps, is stripped bare and will be refurbished as it was when Chaplin lived there. It has gardens, service buildings and a pool and plans call for a large new building with recreated sets from Chaplin's movies.
"It was a dream house for growing up," said Laura Chaplin, a granddaughter and Swiss artist. "This house represents everything that he did for us. ... We're thrilled. We've waited a long time for this museum and now it's finally taking off."
Nearby Montreux has a huge archive of Chaplin photographs, manuscripts and other documents from the Victorian-era London of his youth and from pre-World War II Hollywood, where he found success with his "Tramp" character.
Chaplin and his last wife, Oona Chaplin, the daughter of the great tragic playwright Eugene O'Neill, lived most of their married life at the Swiss mansion. She also died there, at age 66, in 1991.
A Luxembourg investment firm, Genii Capital, purchased the property in 2008 with the aim of creating the museum. The Swiss canton (state) of Vaud provided a 10 million-franc loan for the museum, which is being developed with corporate help including French ski resort developer Compagnie des Alpes and Vevey-based food and drink giant Nestle.
"He is still very well-known and beloved around the world," said Yves Durand, the museum's director. "His soul, his spirit, is still here ... so people will meet him, people will encounter him, people will hear his voice, will see his movies, will hear his music."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Chaplin & Keaton as Rivals Part 1

This is a great documentary about the rivalry and a comparison between two of the three top comedians of the silent era, the third being Harold Lloyd.  I, of course, favor Chaplin for the depth of and pathos in his humor, but Keaton and Lloyd were funny in a more slapstick fashion.  Keaton used more advance cinematic techniques than Chaplin, but did not really explore humor the way Chaplin did.  Lloyd was in the thrill humor business.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Chaplin & Hitler

A nice article in Photoplay from 1940 almost criticizing Chaplin for taking on Hitler while America hadn't made up it's mind about the Nazi monster yet.

Photoplay Excerpt

People were anxiously awaiting the movie and knew it would be great, but many in Hollywood were afraid to event talk about the subject of Hitler.  There were many sympathizers around to challenge what Europe already knew, but Chaplin knew better and took him on.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Charles Spencer Chaplin: The Books I've Read

Early Charlie Chaplin: The Artist as Apprentice at Keystone Studios
Neibaur, James L.

Charlie Chaplin (First Edition) w/ Dust Jacket
McCabe. John

Chaplin's Vintage Year: The History of the Mutual-Chaplin Specials
Hayde, Michael J.

Chaplin: The Mirror of Opinion
Robinson, David

The Search for Charlie Chaplin
Brownlow, Kevin, Brand: UKA Press

Charlie Chaplin: Intimate Close-Ups (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series)
Hale, Georgia, Kiernan, Heather

The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian
Schickel, Richard

Weissman, Stephen

Shadow and Substance: My Time with Charlie Chaplin
Mandel, Gerry

Charlie Chaplin, A Life In Film (Movie Greats)
Schickel, Richard

My Father Charlie Chaplin 1ST Edition
Chaplin, Charles Jr

My Life In Pictures Charles Chaplin
Chaplin, Charlie

My Father, Charlie Chaplin
Chaplin Jr., Charles

Tramp! Charlie Chaplin's Own Story (Illustrated)
Chaplin, Charles

Charlie Chaplins Own Story (Illustrated)
Chaplin, Charlie

My Trip Abroad
Chaplin, Charlie

My life with Chaplin;: An intimate memoir,
Chaplin, Lita Grey

Chaplin: His Life and Art
Robinson, David

On Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd

2,000 lovers of the comedy genius who didn't like women: New book reveals Charlie Chaplin's obsession with young girls - and how cruelly he treated them

  • Chaplin never trusted women, writes Peter Ackroyd in new book on actor
  • ‘I am not exactly in love with her, but she is entirely in love with me,’ actor said of ideal woman
  • Distinguished biographer tells of Chaplin's affairs often with women under-18
  • Ex-wife described him as 'short-tempered' man who treated her like a 'cretin'
At parties, Charlie Chaplin could usually be counted on to liven up the atmosphere. Determined to be the centre of attention, he’d mime the parts of a bull and matador or dance with invisible balloons.
Then, using his skills as a mimic, he’d pretend to be one Hollywood leading lady after another — in the throes of love-making. 
Whether he’d slept with them all is open to doubt, but he was incorrigible in making advances to female film stars. 
Charlie Chaplin pictured with one of his many wives, Lita Grey. In his new book, biographer Peter Ackroyd describes Chaplin as 'incorrigible in making advances to female stars'. Chaplin confessed to having sexual relations with more than 2,000 women
Charlie Chaplin pictured with one of his many wives, Lita Grey. In his new book, biographer Peter Ackroyd describes Chaplin as 'incorrigible in making advances to female stars'. Chaplin confessed to having sexual relations with more than 2,000 women
He boasted frequently about his conquests, and eventually confessed to having had sexual relations with more than 2,000 women. What did they all see in him? Of course, it helped that by his mid-20s, his phenomenally successful films had made him the most recognised man in the world. 
He was short — between 5ft 4in and 5ft 6½in — and his head was a little too large for his lithe and delicate body. But Chaplin was considered by most to be good-looking, with his deep blue eyes, crinkly coal-black hair, skin like ivory, neat white teeth and lips that were firm and meaty. 
He was short, between 5ft 4in and 5ft 6½in, and his head was a little too large for his lithe and delicate body. But Chaplin was considered by most to be good-looking
He was short, between 5ft 4in and 5ft 6½in, and his head was a little too large for his lithe and delicate body. But Chaplin was considered by most to be good-looking
Most of the time, he used and discarded his partners at will. When asked by Vanity Fair in 1926 to describe his ideal woman, he replied: ‘I am not exactly in love with her, but she is entirely in love with me.’ 
Chaplin never really trusted women. He always feared loss and abandonment, slight and injury, and would indulge in paroxysms of jealousy on the smallest provocation. 
His complicated attitude is reflected in his films. On celluloid, Charlie is often bashful with respectable females, approaching them tentatively. 
Towards ‘loose’ women, however, he is vulgar and aggressive — using his cane, for instance, to hook them by the neck or legs and drag them nearer.
No one had particularly high expectations of this apparently reserved young Englishman when he made his first Hollywood picture. It lasted just 13 minutes, had no sound and took no more than three days to shoot.
Nor was it a stunning debut. Indeed, in the completed film, in which 24-year-old Charles Chaplin played a seedy-looking toff, he seemed a little stiff and over-anxious. 
His new boss, Mack Sennett, later described him as ‘a shy little Britisher who was abashed and confused by everything that had anything to do with motion pictures’. 
Still, Sennett needed another actor for his Keystone Cops productions, and Chaplin had proved he could do vaudeville sketches in small theatres. So, although Sennett had trouble remembering his name, he thought the slight youth from Kennington, South London, might do.
He was right. Within a year, by an instinct of genius, this barely educated boy from the London slums had created an icon that appealed to people around the globe. In his portrayal of a tramp — or ‘The Little Fellow’, as he called him — Chaplin seemed to epitomise the human condition itself: flawed, frail and funny. 
As soon as he appeared on screen, audiences would erupt in cheers and hilarity. At local cinemas, according to one reporter, Chaplin’s antics ‘had the kids in hysterics. Really jumping with laughter.’ 
The new craze became known as ‘Chaplinitis’ or ‘Chaplinoia’. Not only had Chaplin become much larger than film — he was now the very emblem of popular culture.
Nothing could have seemed more unlikely when he was born into the shabby world of late 19th-century South London.
As for his own morals, they were few indeed - at least when it came to women, whom he treated appallingly.
One of the first to discover this was his co-star Edna Purviance, whom he met in 1915. The pair are pictured here in 1918 film The Bond
As for his own morals, they were few indeed - at least when it came to women, whom he treated appallingly. One of the first to discover this was his co-star Edna Purviance, whom he met in 1915. The pair are pictured here in 1918 film The Bond
The predominant smells were those of vinegar, dog dung, smoke and beer, compounded by the stink of poverty. The houses and tenements were bursting with people, so women and children spent much of their time on the streets.
One of these children was Charlie — born in April 1889 to a part-Romany music-hall singer called Hannah Chaplin. She’d already had one son out of wedlock and, although she was married to a successful music-hall artist called Charles Chaplin, it’s unlikely that he was Charlie’s real father. 
Whatever the truth, Chaplin senior gave the infant his name. But a year after the birth, he walked out — probably because he suspected Hannah of infidelity — leaving her and the boys to lead an impoverished existence.
Charlie later confessed that his mother had many subsequent affairs. It’s likely that, in times of extreme poverty, she also took to the streets. This was not unusual in working-class South London, where women drifted in and out of prostitution to save their families.
Edna was a 19-year-old blonde with a full figure and no experience of making films. This didn't bother Chaplin at all; he actually preferred to mould the 'clay' into the shape he most desired
Edna was a 19-year-old blonde with a full figure and no experience of making films. This didn't bother Chaplin at all; he actually preferred to mould the 'clay' into the shape he most desired
As Charlie once said: ‘To gauge the morals of our family by commonplace standards would be as erroneous as putting a thermometer in boiling water.’
As for his own morals, they were few indeed — at least when it came to women, whom he treated appallingly. 
One of the first to discover this was his co-star Edna Purviance, whom he met in 1915, when he was 25. He’d recently left Keystone studios — where films were completed in two or three days — for a studio which allowed him to spend three weeks on each one.
On the day after his arrival, he placed an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle that read ‘Wanted — the prettiest girl in California to take part in a moving picture’. 
The lucky girl was Edna, a 19-year-old blonde with a full figure and no experience of making films. This didn’t bother Chaplin at all; he actually preferred to mould the ‘clay’ into the shape he most desired. 
Soon enough, he and Edna were more than screen partners. She seems to have been as undemanding as she was unpretentious and dealt well with his anxiety and unpredictable moods. For a while, they even contemplated marriage, but hesitated on the brink. 
Their personal relationship foundered a year later, chiefly because of his ferocious work ethic. Now directing and starring in his own films, he’d often rehearse each scene 50 times, film it a further 20 and then spend exhausting hours in the editing room.
In short, he was concentrating all his attention on his work and not on Edna, who moved on to another man. But she continued to be his leading actress for another seven years, starring in 34 films. 
Chaplin soon forgot about her when he met 16-year-old child actress Mildred Harris at a party in 1918. 
By then aged 29 and one of the richest actors in Hollywood, he was infatuated. He sent bouquets of roses to the hotel in which Mildred was staying, and lay in wait for her in his car outside the studio where she was working. Before long, they became lovers. 
When Mildred informed him that she was pregnant, however, he panicked; the last thing he wanted, at the time, was domestic responsibility. But he was well aware that he needed to avoid a terrible scandal. 
Chaplin met 16-year-old child actress Mildred Harris at a party in 1918. By then he was 29 and one of Hollywood's richest actors
Chaplin met 16-year-old child actress Mildred Harris at a party in 1918. By then he was 29 and one of Hollywood's richest actors
A quiet wedding was arranged at the home of the local registrar, and he took Mildred home to a leased house, described by one of her friends as a ‘symphony in lavender and ivory, exquisite in every detail’. 
Soon after they’d moved into this paradise, however, it became clear that Mildred wasn’t pregnant at all. She’d either misread her symptoms or tricked him into matrimony. 
This suspicion could not have made married life any easier to bear — particularly as Chaplin knew that he wasn’t in love. 
He gave Mildred her own chauffeur, servants and unlimited credit at the shops, but he was irritable and moody in her company and gave nothing of himself.
Soon, the new Mrs Chaplin was indeed carrying his child. It was  not a happy time for anyone concerned: at one stage, she was reported to have suffered a nervous breakdown and been hospitalised for three weeks. 
Her situation wasn’t helped by Chaplin’s frequent affairs with other women. Mildred later complained that ‘Charlie married me and then he forgot all about me’. While Chaplin was working on a film called A Day’s Pleasure in July 1919, she gave birth to his son. 
The child had malformed intestines and died three days later. Charlie was inconsolable for a day or two, but then moved out of the house and took up permanent residence at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. 
In April 1920, Mildred Chaplin began divorce proceedings, citing ‘cruelty’. During the subsequent case, she painted a bleak picture of life with Charlie. 
If she invited her own friends to the house, he simply wouldn’t come home. Nor would he ever tell her when he’d be back: ‘He said he had to be free to live his own life and do as he pleased.’
‘He was short-tempered, impatient and treated me like a cretin,’ she protested. 
In an out-of-court settlement,  Mildred was granted $100,000 and a share of Chaplin’s property. For Chaplin, who was in many respects a withdrawn and secretive man, the case had been deeply wounding. 
But in Hollywood women were plentiful, and almost too ready to be seduced by the most famous man in the world. And Chaplin was willing and eager to take up all offers. 
Soon after leaving Mildred Harris, while working on The Pilgrim, Chaplin had an affair with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who'd married five millionaires and had the word 'gold-digger' invented in her honour
Soon after leaving Mildred Harris, while working on The Pilgrim, Chaplin had an affair with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who'd married five millionaires and had the word 'gold-digger' invented in her honour
While working on The Pilgrim, he had an affair with Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who’d married five millionaires and had the word ‘gold-digger’ invented in her honour. On first meeting Chaplin, she apparently asked: ‘Charlie, is it true what all the girls say, that you’re hung like a horse?’ 
His next disastrous relationship was with a child — 15-year-old actress Lita Grey, whom he’d chosen as co-star for his great film The Gold Rush.
During filming in Sierra Nevada, Chaplin casually announced to Lita that ‘when the time and place are right, we’re going to make love’. He fulfilled his wish some weeks later in the steam-room of his home in Beverly Hills. 
In the most famous sequence of the film, Charlie cooks a boot for himself and his companion as food in their hour of need, and then eats it as if he were dining at the Ritz. The boot was made of liquorice and so many ‘takes’ were filmed, with so many different boots, that he became violently ill for several days.
Just as he was completing these scenes, Lita Grey announced that she was pregnant. It was a re-run of what he’d gone through with Mildred.
Charlie Chaplin began a relationship with actress Lita Grey when she was just 15. He chose the actress as his co-star for The Gold Rush. While completing the film, Lita fell pregnant
Charlie Chaplin began a relationship with actress Lita Grey when she was just 15. He chose the actress as his co-star for The Gold Rush. While completing the film, Lita fell pregnant
Chaplin suggested she have an abortion, a proposal which her Catholic mother indignantly rejected. He then suggested that a willing young man be chosen as her husband on payment of a dowry of $20,000. This, too, was turned down. 
Aware that he could face charges of sex with a minor and 30 years’ imprisonment, he bowed to the inevitable. ‘I was stunned and ready for suicide that day when Lita told me that she didn’t love me and that we must marry,’ he said.
The ceremony was conducted in Mexico in the deepest secrecy, after which Chaplin left his bride to go fishing. He’d made it clear what he thought of her, calling her a ‘little whore’.
Actress Paulette Goddard began an affair with Chaplin at 17. She claimed that she was 22 at the time
Actress Paulette Goddard began an affair with Chaplin at 17. She claimed that she was 22 at the time
On the train back to California, his wife went out to stand on the platform of the observation car. Joining her, he said: ‘This would be a good time to put an end to your misery — why don’t you jump?’ 
Despite his contempt for his wife, however, he was ‘a human sex machine’ she later revealed, who could make love six times a night without noticeable fatigue. 
Chaplin pictured in 1936 Modern Times. His wife Lita Grey described him as 'a human sex machine' who could make love six times a night without noticeable fatigue
Chaplin pictured in 1936 Modern Times. His wife Lita Grey described him as 'a human sex machine' who could make love six times a night without noticeable fatigue
His behaviour became more erratic after Lita announced she was pregnant again. He started taking up to eight showers a day, installed a listening device in her bedroom and patrolled the grounds of their house at night with his pistol.
At the end of the year, Lita filed for divorce in a statement that accused him of pulling a gun on her and trying to make her have an abortion. The more salacious passages claimed that throughout their married life, Chaplin had ‘solicited, urged and demanded’ that Lita gratify his ‘abnormal, unnatural, perverted and degenerate sexual desires’.
He’d told her that ‘all married  people do those kinds of things. Youare my wife and you have to do what I want you to do.’
Chaplin, who denied the charges, was devastated. According to his chauffeur, he tried to jump out of a New York hotel bedroom window. 
Lita’s lawyers then threatened to reveal the names of the six actresses with whom Chaplin had slept after his marriage. As some were married themselves, this was unthinkable. In a hasty settlement, Lita was awarded $625,000, with a $200,000 trust fund for their sons — the largest divorce settlement in American history. 
With his reputation badly damaged, Chaplin went back to work on his film The Circus. The studio hands remarked that his hair had turned completely white. 
But far from learning that it was best not to tangle with teenage girls, he went on to have an affair with the gamine actress Paulette Goddard, who’d told him she was 17. It was just as well that she’d lied and was really 22. 
She soon moved into his mansion, and he cast her as his leading lady in Modern Times, a satire on the machine age.
Goddard recalled that on the first day of shooting, she turned up in ‘the full glamour rig’ for her debut. ‘Charlie took one look at me, shook his head and said: “That’s not it. That’s definitely not it.” 
'He told me to take off my shoes, change my suit and remove my make-up. Then he threw a bucket of water all over me.’ 
He went on to have an affair with the gamine actress Paulette Goddard, who'd told him she was 17. It was just as well that she'd lied and was really 22. She soon moved into his mansion and he cast her as the lead in Modern Times
He went on to have an affair with the gamine actress Paulette Goddard, who'd told him she was 17. It was just as well that she'd lied and was really 22. She soon moved into his mansion and he cast her as the lead in Modern Times
The film, which opened in 1936, was a huge success. Afterwards, Chaplin took Paulette to the Far East for five months, where he claimed to have married her — though no evidence of a marriage has ever been found. 
He cast her as a member of the Resistance in his next film, The Great Dictator, a satire on Nazi Germany, insisting she had to be on set at 8am every day so he could personally style her hair. 
Once, in her presence, Chaplin told his oldest son that ‘your  stepmother worked very hard today and I had to tell her a few things about acting’. Paulette lay down on the sofa and cried.
Fed up with Chaplin’s attempts to control her, and his bullying on set, she left him soon after the premiere in October 1940.
Paulette Goddard left Chaplin soon after the premiere of The Great Dictator in October 1940 (the couple are pictured here at a gala for the film)
Paulette Goddard left Chaplin soon after the premiere of The Great Dictator in October 1940 (the couple are pictured here at a gala for the film)
By then, Charlie was 51. He’d made a complete mess of his romantic life so far — and, for all his fame and fortune, there seemed little prospect of him ever finding true love. The roots of his deeply dysfunctional behaviour with women went all the way back to his childhood, for the truth was that he had never really recovered from being abandoned by his mother, when he was just a little boy, for the best part of a year.
As he said later: ‘My childhood ended at the age of seven.’ 
But as we shall see on Monday, it was the deprivation and squalor that he endured in those years of misery that would be the very foundation of his whole astonishing rise to fame — which saw him become the best-paid entertainer the world had ever known.

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