from chapter 1 of "My Wonderful Visit" by Charlie Chaplin - allegedly, his favorite cartoon
Home » Charlie Chaplin » My Wonderful Visit, by Charlie Chaplin – Chapter I

My Wonderful Visit, by Charlie Chaplin – Chapter I

My Wonderful Visit (1922)

Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15

I. I DECIDE TO PLAY HOOKEY

A steak-and-kidney pie, influenza, and a cablegram. There is the triple alliance that is responsible for the whole thing. Though there might have been a bit of homesickness and a desire for applause mixed up in the cycle of circumstances that started me off to Europe for a vacation.

For seven years I had been basking in California’s perpetual sunlight, a sunlight artificially enhanced by the studio Cooper-Hewitts. For seven years I had been working and thinking along in a single channel and I wanted to get away. Away from Hollywood, the cinema colony, away from scenarios, away from the celluloid smell of the studios, away from contracts, press notices, cutting rooms, crowds, bathing beauties, custard pies, big shoes, and little moustaches. I was in the atmosphere of achievement, but an achievement which, to me, was rapidly verging on stagnation.

I wanted an emotional holiday. Perhaps I am projecting at the start a difficult condition for conception, but I assure you that even the clown has his rational moments and I needed a few.

The triple alliance listed above came about rather simultaneously. I had finished the picture of “The Kid” and “The Idle Class” and was about to embark on another. The company had been engaged. Script and settings were ready. We had worked on the picture one day.

I was feeling very tired, weak, and depressed. I had just recovered from an attack of influenza. I was in one of those “what’s the use” moods. I wanted something and didn’t know what it was.

And then Montague Glass invited me to dinner at his home in Pasadena. There were many other invitations, but this one carried with it the assurance that there would be a steak-and-kidney pie. A weakness of mine. I was on hand ahead of time. The pie was a symphony. So was the evening. Monty Glass, his charming wife, their little daughter, Lucius Hitchcock, the illustrator, and his wife—just a homey little family party devoid of red lights and jazz orchestras. It awoke within me a chord of something reminiscent. I couldn’t quite tell what.

After the final onslaught on the pie, into the parlour before an open fire. Conversation, not studio patois nor idle chatter. An exchange of ideas—ideas founded on ideas. I discovered that Montague Glass was much more than the author of Potash and Perlmutter. He thought. He was an accomplished musician.

He played the piano. I sang. Not as an exponent of entertainment, but as part of the group having a pleasant, homey evening. We played charades. The evening was over too soon. It left me wishing. Here was home in its true sense. Here was a man artistically and commercially successful who still managed to lock the doors and put out the cat at night.

I drove back to Los Angeles. I was restless. There was a cablegram waiting for me from London. It called attention to the fact that my latest picture, “The Kid,” was about to make its appearance in London, and, as it had been acclaimed my best, this was the time for me to make the trip back to my native land. A trip that I had been promising myself for years.

What would Europe look like after the war?

I thought it over. I had never been present at the first showing of one of my pictures. Their début to me had been in Los Angeles projection rooms. I had been missing something vital and stimulating. I had success, but it was stored away somewhere. I had never opened the package and tasted it. I sort of wanted to be patted on the back. And I rather relished the pats coming in and from England. They had hinted that I could, so I wanted to turn London upside down. Who wouldn’t want to do that? And all the time there was the spectre of nervous breakdown from overwork threatening and the results of influenza apparent, to say nothing of the steak-and-kidney pie.

Sensation of the pleasantest sort beckoned me, at the same time rest was promised. I wanted to grab it while it was good. Perhaps “The Kid” might be my last picture. Maybe there would never be another chance for me to bask in the spotlight. And I wanted to see Europe—England, France, Germany, and Russia. Europe was new.

It was too much. I stopped preparations on the picture we were taking. Decided to leave the next night for Europe. And did it despite the protests and the impossibility howlers. Tickets were taken. We packed; everyone was shocked. I was glad of it. I wanted to shock everyone.

The next night I believe that most of Hollywood was at the train in Los Angeles to see me off. And so were their sisters and their cousins and their aunts. Why was I going? A secret mission, I told them. It was an effective answer. I was immediately under contract to do pictures in Europe in the minds of most of them. But then, would they have believed or understood if I had told them I wanted an emotional holiday? I don’t believe so.

There was the usual station demonstration at the train. The crowd rather surprised me. It was but a foretaste. I do not try to remember the shouted messages of cheer that were flung at me. They were of the usual sort, I imagine. One, however, sticks. My brother Syd at the last moment rushed up to one of my party.

“For God’s sake, don’t let him get married!” he shouted.

It gave the crowd a laugh and me a scare.

The train pulled out and I settled down to three days of relaxation and train routine. I ate sometimes in the dining car, sometimes in our drawing-room. I slept atrociously. I always do. I hate travelling. The faces left on the platform at Los Angeles began to look kinder and more attractive. They did not seem the sort to drive one away. But they had, or maybe it was optical illusion on my part, illusion fostered by mental unrest.

For two thousand miles we did the same thing over many times, then repeated it. Perhaps there were many interesting people on the train. I did not find out. The percentage of interesting ones on trains is too small to hazard. Most of the time we played solitaire. You can play it many times in two thousand miles.

Then we reached Chicago. I like Chicago, I have never been there for any great length of time, but my glimpses of it have disclosed tremendous activity. Its record speaks achievement.

But to me, personally, Chicago suggested Carl Sandburg, whose poetry I appreciate highly and whom I had met in Los Angeles. I must see dear old Carl and also call at the office of the Daily News. They were running an enormous scenario contest. I am one of the judges, and it happens that Carl Sandburg is on the same paper.

Our party went to the Blackstone Hotel, where a suite had been placed at our disposal. The hotel management overwhelmed us with courtesies.

Then came the reporters. You can’t describe them unless you label them with the hackneyed interrogation point.

“Mr. Chaplin, why are you going to Europe?”

“Just for a vacation.”

“Are you going to make pictures while you are there?”

“No.”

“What do you do with your old moustaches?”

“Throw them away.”

“What do you do with your old canes?”

“Throw them away.”

“What do you do with your old shoes?”

“Throw them away.”

That lad did well. He got in all those questions before he was shouldered aside and two black eyes boring through lenses surrounded by tortoise-shell frames claimed an innings. I restored the “prop grin” which I had decided was effective for interviews.

“Mr. Chaplin, have you your cane and shoes with you?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t think I’ll need them.”

“Are you going to get married while you are in Europe?”

“No.”

from chapter 1 of "My Wonderful Visit" by Charlie Chaplin - allegedly, his favorite cartoon

THE CALIFORNIAN SEA LION
THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMOUS BOOTS REVEALED AT LAST.
(
One of my favourite cartoons.)

The bespectacled one passed with the tide. As he passed I let the grin slip away, but only for a moment. Hastily I recalled it as a charming young lady caught me by the arm.

“Mr. Chaplin, do you ever expect to get married?”

“Yes.”

“To whom?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you want to play ‘Hamlet’?”

“Why, I don’t know. I haven’t thought much about it, but if you think there are any reasons why——”

But she was gone. Another district attorney had the floor.

“Mr. Chaplin, are you a Bolshevik?”

“No.”

“Then why are you going to Europe?”

“For a holiday.”

“What holiday?”

“Pardon me, folks, but I did not sleep well on the train and I must go to bed.”

Like a football player picking a hole in the line, I had seen the bedroom door open and a friendly hand beckon. I made for it. Within I had every opportunity to anticipate the terror that awaited me on my holiday. Not the crowds. I love them. They are friendly and instantaneous. But interviewers! Then we went to the News office, and the trip was accomplished without casualty. There we met photographers. I didn’t relish facing them. I hate still pictures.

But it had to be done. I was the judge in the contest and they must have pictures of the judge.

Now I had always pictured a judge as being a rather dignified personage, but I learned about judges from them. Their idea of the way to photograph a judge was to have him standing on his head or with one leg pointing east. They suggested a moustache, a Derby hat, and a cane.

It was inevitable.

I couldn’t get away from Chaplin.

And I did so want a holiday.

But I met Carl Sandburg. There was an oasis amid the misery. Good old Carl! We recalled the days in Los Angeles. It was a most pleasant chat.

Back to the hotel.

Reporters. More reporters. Lady reporters.

A publicity barrage.

“Mr. Chaplin—”

But I escaped. What a handy bedroom! There must be something in practice. I felt that I negotiated it much better on the second attempt. I rather wanted to try out my theory to see if I had become an adept in dodging into the bedroom. I would try it. I went out to brave the reporters. But they were gone. And when I ducked back into the bedroom, as a sort of rehearsal, it fell flat. The effect was lost without the cause.

A bit of food, some packing, and then to the train again. This time for New York. Crowds again. I liked them. Cameras. I did not mind them this time, as I was not asked to pose.

Carl was there to see me off.

I must do or say something extra nice to him. Something he could appreciate. I couldn’t think. I talked inanities and I felt that he knew I was being inane. I tried to think of a passage of his poetry to recite. I couldn’t. Then it came—the inspiration.

“Where can I buy your book of poems, Carl?” I almost blurted it out. It was gone. Too late to be recalled.

“At any bookstore.”

His reply may have been casual. To me it was damning.

Ye gods, what a silly imbecile I was! I needed rest. My brain was gone. I couldn’t think of a thing to say in reprieve. Thank God, the train pulled out then. I hope Carl will understand and forgive when he reads this, if he ever does.

A wretched sleep en train, more solitaire, meals at schedule times, and then we hit New York.

Crowds. Reporters. Photographers. And Douglas Fairbanks. Good old Doug. He did his best, but Doug has never had a picture yet where he had to buck news photographers. They snapped me in every posture anatomically possible. Two of them battled with my carcass in argument over my facing east or west.

Neither won. But I lost. My body couldn’t be split. But my clothes could—and were.

But Doug put in a good lick and got me into an automobile. Panting, I lay back against the cushions.

To the Ritz went Doug and I.

To the Ritz went the crowd.

Or at least I thought so, for there was a crowd there and it looked like the same one. I almost imagined I saw familiar faces. Certainly I saw cameras. But this time our charge was most successful. With a guard of porters as shock troops, we negotiated the distance between the curb and the lobby without the loss of a single button.

I felt rather smart and relieved. But, as usual, I was too previous. We ascended to the suite. There they were. The gentlemen of the press. And one lady of the press.

“Mr. Chaplin, why are you going to Europe?”

“For a vacation.”

“What do you do with your old moustaches?”

“Throw them away.”

“Do you ever expect to get married?”

“Yes.”

“What’s her name?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you a Bolshevik?”

“I am an artist. I am interested in life. Bolshevism is a new phase of life. I must be interested in it.”

“Do you want to play ‘Hamlet’?”

“Why, I don’t know—”

Again Lady Luck flew to my side. I was called to the telephone. I answered the one in my bedroom, and closed the door, and kept it closed. The Press departed. I felt like a wrung dish-rag. I looked into the mirror. I saw a Cheshire cat grinning back at me. I was still carrying the “prop” grin that I had invented for interviews. I wondered if it would be easier to hold it all the time rather than chase it into play at the sight of reporters. But some one might accuse me of imitating Doug. So I let the old face slip back to normal.

Doug came. Mary was better. She was with him. It was good to see her. The three of us went to the roof to be photographed. We were, in every conceivable pose until some one suggested that Doug should hang over the edge of the roof, holding Mary in one hand and me in the other. Pretty little thought. But that’s as far as it got. I beat Doug to the refusal by a hair.

It’s great to have friends like Doug and Mary. They understood me perfectly. They knew what the seven years’ grind had meant to my nerves. They knew just how badly I needed this vacation, how I needed to get away from studios and pictures, how I needed to get away from myself.

Doug had thought it all out and had planned that while I was in New York my vacation should be perfect. He would see that things were kept pleasant for me.

So he insisted that I should go and see his new picture, “The Three Musketeers.”

I was nettled. I didn’t want to see pictures. But I was polite. I did not refuse, though I did try to evade.

It was useless. Very seriously he wanted me to see the picture and give my honest opinion. He wanted my criticism, my suggestions.

I had to do it. I always do. I saw the picture in jerks.

Reporters were there. Their attendance was no secret.

The picture over, I suggested a few changes and several cuts which I thought would improve it.

I always do.

They listened politely and then let the picture ride the way it was.

They always do.

Fortunately, the changes I suggested were not made, and the picture is a tremendous success.

But I still have status as a critic. I am invited to a showing of Mary’s picture, “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” and asked for suggestions. They know that I’ll criticise. I always do and they are afraid of me. Though when they look at my pictures they are always kind and sympathetic and never criticise.

I told Mary her picture was too long. I told her where to cut it. Which, of course, she doesn’t do. She never does.

She and Doug listen politely and the picture stands. It always does.

Newspaper men are at the hotel. I go through the same barrage of questions. My “prop” grin does duty for fifteen minutes. I escape.

Douglas ‘phones me. He wants to be nice to me. I am on my vacation and he wants it to be a very pleasant one. So he invites me to see “The Three Musketeers” again. This time at its first showing before the public.

Before the opening of Doug’s picture we were to have dinner together, Mary and Doug, Mrs. Condé Nast and I.

I felt very embarrassed at meeting Mrs. Nast again. Somewhere there lurks in my memory a broken dinner engagement. It worried me, as I had not even written. It was so foolish not to write. I would be met probably with an “all-is-forgiven” look.

I decide that my best defence is to act vague and not speak of it. I do so and get away with it.

And she has the good taste not to mention it, so a pleasant time is had by all.

We went to the theatre in Mrs. Nast’s beautiful limousine. The crowds were gathered for several blocks on every side of the theatre.

I felt proud that I was in the movies. Though on this night, with Douglas and Mary, I felt that I was trailing in their glory. It was their night.

There are cheers—for Mary, for Doug, for me. Again I feel proud that I am in the movies. I try to look dignified. I coax up the “prop” smile and put into it real pleasure. It is a real smile. It feels good and natural.

We get out of the car and crowds swarm. Most of the “all-American” selections are there. Doug takes Mary under his wing and ploughs through as though he were doing a scene and the crowd were extras.

I took my cue from him. I took Mrs. Nast’s arm. At least I tried to take it, but she seemed to sort of drift away from me down towards Eighth Avenue, while I, for no apparent reason, backed toward Broadway. The tide changed. I was swept back toward the entrance of the theatre. I was not feeling so proud as I had been. I was still smiling at the dear public, but it had gone back to the “prop” smile.

I realised this and tried to put real pleasure into the smile again. As the grin broadened it opened new space and a policeman parked his fist in it.

I don’t like the taste of policemen’s fists. I told him so. He glared at me and pushed me for a “first down.” My hat flew toward the heavens. It has never returned to me.

I felt a draught. I heard machinery. I looked down. A woman with a pair of scissors was snipping a piece from the seat of my trousers. Another grabbed my tie and almost put an end to my suffering through strangulation. My collar was next. But they only got half of that.

My shirt was pulled out. The buttons torn from my vest. My feet trampled on. My face scratched. But I still retained the smile, “prop” one though it was. Whenever I could think of it I tried to raise it above the level of a “prop” smile and was always rewarded with a policeman’s fist. I kept insisting that I was Charlie Chaplin and that I belonged inside. It was absolutely necessary that I should see “The Three Musketeers.”

Insistence won. As though on a prearranged signal I felt myself lifted from my feet, my body inverted until my head pointed toward the centre of the lobby and my feet pointed toward an electric sign advertising the Ziegfeld Roof. Then there was a surge, and I moved forward right over the heads of the crowd through the lobby.

As I went through the door, not knowing into what, I saw a friend.

With the “prop” smile still waving, I flung back, “See you later,” and, head first, I entered the theatre and came to in a heap at the foot of a bediamonded dowager. I looked up, still carrying the “prop” smile, but my effort fell flat. There was no applause in the look she gave me.

Crestfallen, I gathered myself together, and with what dignity there was left I strode to the box that had been set aside for our party. There was Mary, as sweet and beautiful as ever; Mrs. Nast, calm and composed: Doug serene and dapper.

“Late again,” they looked.

And Mary, steely polite, enumerated my sartorial shortcomings. But I knew one of them, at least better than she did, and I hastened to the men’s room for repairs. Soap and water and a brush did wonders, but I could find no trousers, collar, or tie, and I returned clean but ragged to the box, where disapproval was being registered unanimously.

I tried to make the “prop” grin more radiant, even though I was most tired after my journey, but it didn’t go with Doug and Mary.

But I refused to let them spoil my pleasure and I saw “The Three Musketeers.”

It was a thrilling success for Doug. I felt good for him, though I was a bit envious. I wondered if the showing of “The Kid” could have meant as big a night for me.

‘Twas quite a night, this opening of the Fairbanks masterpiece, and, considering all the circumstances, I think I behaved admirably. Somehow, though, I think there is a vote of three to one against me.

  
        
          

Leave A Reply

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

*
*