Chaplin Talks Continued

“He doesn’t fool around much,” Russ
Spencer remarked with a grin.
I commented upon the unusual spirit
he puts into his work; falling down
stairs and crashing through skylights.
“And those,” said Clem, getting to work
with the sandpaper, “are just two of
the tough shots he made. He could pay
a hundred guys to do these things. But
he doesn’t. He does every tough shot
himself. There’s that street scene where
he dives into a barrel. Maybe that
doesn’t look like much of a trick, but
anybody who thinks it isn’t … better
try it! I lined the barrel with sponge
rubber to make it as easy on him as I
could, but it was still up to Charlie to
make the dive. I tried it myself just
once, and I was lame for three days.
“I’ve been in this business quite a
while, but I never worked for a man
like this, one. When the lot needs an
executive, he’s an executive. When we
need comedy like jumping into a barrel,
in he goes. Or when there’s something
to work out in the prop department and
I’m greasy and dirty, there is Mr. Chap-
lin right with me greasy and dirty too.
There isn’t another producer in the
business who would get ‘right in on a
job and help carry it through from the
first problem to the last.”
Clem went on with his sandpapering.
I continued looking through the pile of
sketches … presently coming upon
one of Miss Goddard as Hannah, the
scrub girl of the ghetto, and which re-
called to me the day when, after watch-
ing her excellent work, I had com-
mented on the hair style, so perfect for
the part. She is a -,lender, pretty, ani-
mated person with eyes an unusual
shade of delphinium blue.

“All the credit goes to Charlie,” she
had told me . . . and had then related
how two professional hairdressers had
been called in, but had failed utterly to
get the proper effect after which Mr.
Chaplin, tying up her titian “mop” with
a string, had begun pulling it down
strand by strand until it looked as he
wanted it to. And thereafter had had
to dress it himself every day for the pic-
ture, as no one else seemed able to get
quite the same appearance.
Several “professional” designs had
been made, too, for her scrub girl dress.
And these, also, had just missed. So
Mr. Chaplin had purchased a few yards
of burlap, had cut out something which
Miss Goddard had described as “like
you’d make a paper doll dress,” had
put her into it, had gone systematically
to work pulling it out of shape and
throwing things at it. . . .
“And that’s what I’m wearing,” she
had laughed.
When I had commented on Mr. Chap-
lin’s skillful direction of herself and the
other players, she had given me one of
the most understanding insights as to
his manner of working which I had
ever heard:
“Don’t you see how he does it?” she
had said. “He thinks in rhyme and
tempo. To the people who are to play
a scene, he will describe it as though
they were dancers. If they find them-
selves doing a bit of business awkward-
ly he will say, ‘That’s because you
started on the wrong foot.’ Doing a
scene with him is so exactly like work-
ing to music that you can’t help falling
into it.”

MEREDITH WILLSON whose distinc-
tive scoring of the picture is one of its
real features, told me more about Mr.
Chaplin’s feeling for music.
“The themes we use,” Mr. Willson
said, “excepting for a bit of Wagner and
Brahms interpolation, are about half
Mr. Chaplin’s and half mine, with my
development and orchestration. And it’s
uncanny how right he always is when
technically he isn’t a musician and can’t
read a note of music. In scoring the
picture we’d run it through, then in this
place or that one he’d sing a few notes;
something he’d call a ‘twiddeldy bit,’
and it would unerringly work out to be
exactly what the sequence needed.”
On the recording stage when I finished
with the sketches, I watched the orches-
tra go to work on interlocking music,
action and sound; seventy-five musi-
cians in typical Hollywood dress; sweat-
ers, flannel shirts and bright necker-
chiefs, the usually immaculate Mr. Will-
son on the podium now in wilted shirt
and galluses, his hair looking very much
like that of a gentleman just out of a
shower. Facing the orchestra, he also
faced a picture screen above them. At
a long rough-wood table, a keenly ob-
servant Mr. Chaplin watched it all.
“All right,” Mr. Willson said to the
orchestra. “Here we go . . . .”
He spoke into a mike connecting with
the projection booth.
“It’s a rehearsal,” he said. “Roll it.”
Lights dimmed. On the screen ap-
peared the Palace, our Great Dictator
on the balcony addressing the cheering
Mr. Chaplin has long cultivated a
strange sort of jumbled double talk
meaning nothing at all, but imitating
perfectly the inflections of any language
he pleases to choose from Chinese to
African Bushman. It has long been one
of his favorite whimsies to address a
conversation in this sort of talk, to some
stranger to whom he may be introduced
at some ultra affair, while his friends
who are “in the know” stand by to see
the polite but puzzled attention with
which the person addressed endeavors
to discover what the great Mr. Chaplin
is saying.
This was the talent he had applied in
the scene now appearing on the screen
as a speech thundered from the Palace!
Actually, however, the speech had not
been made in the Palace at all! One
day Mr. Chaplin, shooting quite another
bit, dressed as the barber, not the Dic-
tator, had felt an impromptu inspira-
tion, had stopped the sequence in work,
to suddenly begin delivering his Pal-
ace speech, everybody about the lot
hearing it, over the loud speakers, stop-
ping dead in their tracks to seep in to-
ward the sound stage.
Of course laughter was the response
he expected, instead of which there was
a burst of loud and long applause. And
this was the speech which, now prop-
erly fitted into the Palace setting, ap-
peared on the screen above the or-
chestra. With the musical background
also “dubbed’,’ in, it was complete.
The next sequence for today’s record-
ing was a barracks cot, the ghetto bar-
ber divesting himself, with one brief
wriggle, of all his clothes but under-
Mr. Chaplin watched it, made fun of
his own acting, then, f or no reason at
all, proceeded to execute a ballet step
to the music, taking himself around to
where, when the first music rehearsal
for the scene ended, he was beside Mr.
“You know,” he said, “we could do
some very funny music where my
clothes slide to the floor.”

“He doesn’t fool around much,” Russ
Spencer remarked with a grin.
“Something chromatic?” suggested
Mr. Willson… “something like this….”
He came down from the podium, and
with a bit of vocal illustration accom-
panied by a bit of illustrative wriggling
on the part of the actor, a satisfactory
result was arrived at … but one which
I did not wait to see recorded, for now
Mr. Chaplin’s car was waiting to take
me home. He walked outside with me.
“Haven’t you been longer on this pic-
ture,” I asked, “than on any other you
ever made?”
“Much longer,” he said, in his friendly,
simple. always unassuming manner,
“for I have wanted this more than any
comedy I ever made, to be a good one.
Just now, the world needs laughter so
“By the way,” I said, “while we were
talking about London I wanted to ask
the names of your father and mother.
Were they both English people?”
“Quite,” he smiled. “Both born in
London. My father was Charles Chaplin
too. And my mother,” he said, putting
me into the car and giving his chauffeur
the name of my Hollywood hotel…
“my mother’s name was Lily Harley.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *