Lady Deterding2 was staying at the Crillon. She had arranged to give a party one evening. We were to have Russian music, caviar, vodka, and champagne. It was a very grand affair. The whole of Paris society was there, including princes, barons, counts, dukes, lords, earls, and misters.
The dinner was a grand success. As it progressed, the Russian musicians would sing a toast to each guest, who, with a full glass of champagne, would drink it down to the chorus.
I might mention I am not a sincere drinker, but I was told that two gentlemen of the party had conspired to get me drunk. They had bribed the musicians to repeatedly toast me during dinner. This meant that I would have to empty a full tumbler of champagne each time. Before dinner I found the waiter who would be serving me and so I bribed him to substitute ginger ale for champagne.
Nobody was aware of the deception and so I drank about nine large glasses of ginger ale. The conspirators were greatly impressed with my capacity, but I also conspired. I insisted that if I drink to all these toasts, they—the conspirators—must drink with me. So after the ninth glass, the conspirators were no more.
This is Wednesday evening and I am to leave with the Duke of Westminster for Normandy to hunt wild boar. I go to his hotel to arrange about the journey. I meet Sem,3 the renowned caricaturist, there. He is a friend of the duke’s. It is unfortunate that he cannot speak English. So I have to be contented with translation.
He is very small in stature being several inches shorter than myself. I learned he had already been on one of these hunting expeditions and when I inquired if he were coming with us this time, he quickly shook his head and positively affirmed the negative. I did not get the significance of his refusal at the time. Only after my own harrowing experience did I appreciate his resolute stand.
We left Paris that evening and dined on the train, arriving that night in Normandy. From the station we had about two hours’ drive to the duke’s chateau, a house of about sixteen rooms, simply furnished, old-fashioned but comfortable. It was a bitter cold drive there, but we were shown into a nice warm room with a cheery fire burning and a table spread invitingly with all sorts of victuals. There were appetizing cold cuts and long-necked bottles and so we supped.
Afterward we sat around the fire with our whiskies and sodas and discussed the prospects of the morrow.
“I have never been on an expedition of this nature before,” I said.
“Of course you can ride,” said the duke.
“In a way,” I replied hesitatingly. “But I haven’t ridden in ten years. In fact, I’ve done practically no riding at all.”
I thought I detected concern in the glance of His Grace. “But,” I continued reassuringly, “I have never fallen off—yet.” And I laughed, perhaps a little too heartily.
The duke explained to me the method of hunting. “We first send out men who find the tracks of the boar. Usually they lead to a forest where he’s hiding, and from there the hunt begins. The hounds are put upon the scent and we proceed to track him down. You will have a knife—a sort of spear—which you will use to thrust at the animal if it’s your luck to corner him.”
“Quite so,” I said feebly.
“You get off your horse for this purpose. But be careful not to dismount until the boar is securely pinned down by the dogs.”
“I understand,” I muttered.
“The boar is very ferocious—in fact, most dangerous. If the dogs haven’t a secure hold on him, he’s liable to get up and attack you.”
“Oh, yeah?” I gulped.
“I’ve known them to attack a horse,” he said. “But there, I’m talking too much. Tomorrow we may not see one and then you’ll be disappointed.”
“Oh, not at all,” I said airily.
“However, let’s find the tracks of the boar and do the talking after.”
“Quite right,” I put in. “Don’t let’s spear our boars before they’re tracked.”
And so we retired, agreeing to be up at six the following morning.
In spite of the comfort of my bed, I didn’t sleep a wink all night. Many problems were running through my mind—what would happen if I were confronted with the boar? However, my greatest concern was whether I could stay on the horse. The more I thought of this, the less I liked the animal. I could never understand man’s sentimental attachment to the beast. I’d remember every accident I” ever had with him.
I had hired a horse in Oldham where the roads were paved in cobblestones. I remember galloping down the main street until he slipped and I went sprawling, and how the horse regained himself and I was left dangling by the stirrup, his hind hoofs just missing my head. How the streetcars stopped and the women screamed until I was eventually rescued. These thoughts kept me tossing throughout the night.
By morning I was a complete wreck. My bones ached and my eyes smarted from lack of sleep. My brain felt like a piece of lead in a vacuum, a sort of top-heavy feeling. However, I was thankful to be over the torture of that restless night. On coming downstairs, I was informed that the boar’s tracks had been found.
The duke was dressed in huntsman style, a red coat and a hard, plush jockey cap. I felt a little de trop, not having the correct costume. I had hurriedly bought riding breeches and boots, but no coat or helmet. However, the duke provided me with a rig-out. I wore Sem’s little red coat, which made my breathing difficult, and one of the duke’s helmets, also his waistcoat.
I might mention the duke is a man about six feet three and thickset in proportion, and so his waistcoat hung to the level of my knees. In reaching for a match from the pocket, I looked as though I were pulling up my socks. And the duke’s gloves were so large I found I could close my fist inside without disturbing the fingers. The tightness of Sem’s coat seemed to give the waistcoat a ballet-skirt effect. It stuck out in folds.
Being thus adorned we stepped out into the morning air. And what air! I began to appreciate the size of the waistcoat. It made a good protection for my knees. However, we bundled into automobiles and sped forty miles away4 to where the tracks had been found. It was here we were to meet dogs, horses, and other guests who had been invited to the fray. On occasions like this, things never run smoothly. Someone will always miss the way and keep the rest waiting, and that’s what happened to us.
We were johnny-on-the-spot, but the horses and dogs hadn’t arrived. Nevertheless, the first ten minutes we were in good humor, but when another ten went by, there were a few disgruntled remarks and complaints of the cold weather. After forty minutes there was real concern. Where are those d——horses and dogs?
At last they arrive. Also, the horses and the whole countryside changed from a peaceful atmosphere to a noisy bedlam. Dogs are barking and excitable Frenchmen appear with horns wrapped around their chests.
I noticed one man in particular, his face all scarred up. “What on earth happened to that poor chap?” I asked.
“One of the horses stepped on him,” someone answered.
Just then the duke came up. “Come along with me and I’ll put you on Flossie. She’s a quiet old nag.”
“Oh yes,” I said anxiously, “she can’t be too quiet for me.”
“Here you are,” he said pointing to the beast.
At that moment, Flossie suddenly reared up on her hind legs, cavorted and pranced around, then sidled towards me as though desiring to sweep me off the road. But I was too quick for her. I was behind one of the cars in a jiffy.
“That’s strange,” said the duke. “Evidently she hasn’t been exercised.”
“And so she’s doing it now!” I replied.
“Don’t worry,” he laughed. “We can fix you up a little better than that.”
“A ‘little!’” I thought. I noticed the qualifying adjective. Thereupon another horse was produced. I must say he was better mannered than Flossie. After being bunked up or bundled up, as it were, I proceeded to adjust my trappings. I had never ridden before with so much paraphernalia—spears; whips, gloves, reins had to be managed. I had quite a problem fixing the reins between the duke’s gloves.
Reporters and cameramen have also arrived and I am photographed. Now that I am in the saddle, I feel agreeably confident. I see the reporters eying me admiringly—at least I think so. I feel very debonair. I have a desire to impress them that I’ve done this thing before. I glance discreetly at my waistcoat. Even that falls gracefully about the horse. If I can only make a good start, says I to myself, everything will be “jake.”
The animal, not having moved since I mounted, was busy nibbling the tops of some bushes, so with a jerk and a “giddap,” I attempted to move him. But he paid no attention.
Knowing the eyes of the reporters were on me, I affected an air of indifference as though I’d changed my mind. The duke’s secretary pranced up to my side.
“Now this is the idea,” he said. “Follow the hounds or the direction of the bugle call. Then you won’t go wrong. Stick close to me and you’ll be all right.”
“I shall do my level best,” I said sincerely.
And so we were ready, the duke leading the way. We started quietly down the lane in lazy fashion. I was really beginning to enjoy it all. The glory of the morning sun and the aromatic smell of the earth made me feel attune with nature, man, and beast. I turned to the secretary. “Of course,” I said, jokingly, “we go faster than this.”
“Oh, yes, when the bugle sounds,” he laughed.
His remark left me with a tinge of suspense—in fact a growing anxiety. At that moment we were coming to a shady part of the lane with gorgeous oaks on all sides when something went, “Tata ta tah, tata ta tah.”
The next I remember was swallowing the horse’s ear. He had been quick on the uptake at the sound of the bugle call and was off to a flying start. I found I had suddenly embraced him around the neck. I could hear someone yell, “Hey, stop! You’ve dropped your hat and whip!”
But that didn’t worry me. I was concerned with what would drop next. We swung around the trees and ducked branches. Oh, yes, we were off the road and galloping through a forest. In the blur of it all, I saw a fence ahead of me. Fortunately, the horse must have seen it too, for he stopped, but not abruptly enough to extricate him from my caressing arms. So I hung on. But we didn’t stop long. Before I could say “Jack Robinson,” he turned and was off again.
In that short time I discovered I was an expert rider. By some miracle I managed to get back into the saddle, doing many things at once—controlling my balance, ducking branches, and at the same time trying to catch the stirrups with my feet, and I succeeded in doing all three of them.
Eventually we came upon the secretary, with a dash and a pivot pulling up crosswise in front of him. “I wouldn’t ride too hard if I were you,” he said.
“Tell that to the horse,” I replied.
I was handed my hat and whip, and arranging my cravat, went off in hot pursuit again; or at least the horse did. We went bouncing and jolting in one direction and then another. By now I was able to follow the secretary. We would bound up a hill, then stop, look, and listen. How I would love those pauses. How sweet and restful they were, just looking and listening. It was the one moment I could gather myself together.
“Did you hear anything?” the secretary would ask earnestly.
Feigning deep concern and striving to look intelligent, I would answer, “I don’t think so.”
But the infernal horn would blow or the dogs would bark and with great enthusiasm we were off again.
This sort of thing kept up for hours.
At the beginning of the meet I met a charming French lady. She had evidently followed the hounds all her life. She had that bronzed complexion—a regular daughter of the outdoors. She rode sidesaddle and exceedingly well, and for the last two hours of the hunt we kept, somewhat together. At first I thought it considerate of her, but after an hour it became irritating.
She was always behind and I never had an opportunity to rest. Every time I looked back, she would remark, “Il est très gentil, n’est-ce pas?”
“Oh, oui, absolutely,” I would smile sickly.
Now I cannot sit upright. I half-slide over to one side of the saddle, embracing it with the calf of my leg, thus relieving my spine. At intervals I change to the other side.
At this juncture the duke came riding up. “It looks pretty bad,” he said. “I’m afraid we’re out of luck today.”
I must have looked sick or something, for he exclaimed, “Look here, old man, you look tired. Don’t overdo it. You’d better take my car and go home.”
I needed no further encouragement, so went down to the road to find it. When I arrived, a reporter was there with his camera. I must put on a front, I thought.
So, affecting a jaunty air, I threw my leg over the saddle and jumped to the ground. My knees gave way immediately and refused to regain themselves. Eventually I staggered onto my feet. Through riding, the muscles of my back had stretched so that I had no control over them. I would straighten up only to flop over again. Good heavens! I thought, I must have curvature of the spine! By superhuman effort I staggered to the limousine in time to sit on the running board and there I was interviewed.
“Did you enjoy the hunt, Mr. Chaplin?” was the first remark.
“And how!” I answered.
“Did you see a boar?” was the next question.
I could have made a wisecrack as I looked at him, but I wearily shook my head. However, the chauffeur came to the rescue and drove me home.
That evening we stood around the fire—at least I did—discussing the happenings of the day.
“We were just unlucky,” they said, “but it’s all a part of the game.”
“If it’s a game,” I thought, “I prefer tiddledywinks.”
My one concern was Paris and a Turkish bath, so after dinner I left for the city, and I might mention it was four in the morning before I emerged from the manipulations of a masseur.
On reflection, it seems I’m a little unappreciative to my host for his kind and generous hospitality. Perhaps there is caricature in my narrative. If so, it is only in a spirit of fun.
I am not going to bore you with all the minor happenings and social affairs that occurred during my stay in Paris. There were dinner dances, theaters, cabarets, and excursions of all kinds.
My next move was to the south of France to visit my brother, who had been living there for the last six months. I was to be the guest of Frank J. Gould in Nice,5 so after nine days in Paris, I arrived in the south of France, the playground of the fashionable world.
Nice is a night’s journey from Paris, and you arrive on the Côte d’Azur, “the blue coast,” about noon, getting your first glimpse of the Mediterranean. It is a pity the railroads are so near the sea. They spoil the coastline. I am a little disappointed with my first glimpse of the country. It seems so congested with its houses on top of one another, so different from the open spaces of the coastline of California.
My friend Frank Gould and his wife6 met me at the station, along with my brother Syd7 and his family. I shall not go into the details of the welcome I received from the crowd. Nevertheless, Frank Gould was considerably moved by the demonstration.
“It must make you very happy to be so admired,” he remarked.
But after lunch he went with me to buy some tennis rackets, and as we walked along, crowds started gathering until we stopped the traffic. People were pushing and shouting, “Hooray, Charlie!” They became so dense and demonstrative that we could hardly move on our way.
I could see Frank getting quite worried and when we eventually arrived home, he declared, “I wouldn’t be you for ten million dollars.”
In the afternoon we went to the Municipal Casino for tea. This is a magnificent building decorated in very good style with large dance floors and baccarat rooms. It is reputed to be the largest in the world. Hundreds of people gather there for tea dances and excellent music is provided.
Quite a number of Americans live on the Riviera. I was surprised to hear how bitterly they renounced the States.
“No place to live,” they went on, “with their prohibition and Blue Laws and all the don’ts of organized puritanisms. Give us France. There is no humbug. Politics have to suit the people here, but in America the people have to suit politics.”
This kind of vitriolic criticism I would hear on all sides and in most cases from Americans. Europeans admit to the genius of the American people, their contributions to science, and their enterprise, but as a country to live in, they shake their heads.
It took me some time before I began to like the south of France. The casino life I found dull and silly, but one could meet nice people who had very attractive homes, and they would entertain in a delightful way. I later discovered there were many lives to live there—the social, the intellectual, and the Bohemian, and, of course, the “casinian.”8
I am beginning to like Nice. Each morning I get a nice workout at tennis and in the evenings there are friends and parties to keep me happy and well amused. One day I was present at a delightful luncheon, and met many of my friends. Elsa Maxwell,9 Sir Philip Sassoon, Sir Oswald Mosley,10 one of the most promising young men in English politics in spite of his momentary defeat.
Dear Elsa! I haven’t seen her in years. She is delightful company. With songs of her own composition, she can amuse for hours. She has a special genius. She has taken society as her mode of expression and made an art of it.
That afternoon Sir Philip Sassoon and I went to the house of His Highness, the Duke of Connaught,11 for tea. The duke is a grand old gentleman past eighty, with a pleasant genial manner. His house is a small simple one surrounded by beautiful flowers and situated in Cap-Ferrat. The duke carries a marked resemblance to his ancestors, the Georges of England. There is no mistaking his lineage. We sat down to a simple cup of tea, about six of us in number. His innate politeness and marked consideration for his guests revealed the charm of his personality. He spoke of going to the opening of my picture. So after a pleasant chat, we made our departure.
At the presentation of my picture in Monte Carlo, I was to be a guest of the Prince of Monaco,12 the prince and his government having a financial interest in the theater where the picture was to be shown. It was arranged that I would dine with the prince and later be his guest at the theater. But on arriving that evening, I was informed by the Monacan government that the prince was not dining with us as several urgent affairs had arisen and he would be detained, but that he would join us later at the theater, and to compensate me for my disappointment, I would have the pleasure of dining with the whole of his ministry instead. Outside of the British consul, not one of them spoke any English, so I struggled through dinner, looking sweetly idiotic at everybody.
We finished dinner early, but were informed that we were to wait and not go to the theater until ten o’clock as my picture would not go on until then. I suggested to the British consul that we might go earlier, but he remarked that we could hardly take the matter out of their hands as we were their guests and they had charge of the whole affair.
At last word came through that we could leave for the theater. When we arrived, the Prince of Monaco and his daughter were already in the box. It was apparent there had been some sort of misunderstanding. However, after the performance I had the pleasure of being congratulated by the Duke of Connaught, who expressed himself as having enjoyed the picture.
But later I learned that a section of the British press had printed a story imputing that I had kept the Duke of Connaught waiting for hours at the theater, and that I had aroused the indignation of the audience by not showing up until ten o’clock. As I have explained, I was the guest of the Monacan government both for dinner and the theater, they having scheduled the whole program for the evening.
Another story which emanated from that section of the British press declared that I had refused a royal command to perform before the King of England. This also is untrue, I having received only a telegram from a “Mr. Black,” who requested me to appear at a vaudeville benefit which was termed “a command performance” because Their Majesties would be present. This was not a royal command. It was the “command” of Mr. Black, who has no official position with the royal household whatsoever.
Mrs. Gould has arranged a most thrilling lunch at the Municipal Casino and some of the most famous names in art and literature will be present—Maeterlinck, Marchand, Domergue, and many others. There was something incongruous about the lunch and these illustrious gentlemen and the background of the casino. Nevertheless, after a cocktail they loosened up and adjusted themselves to the environment.
Maeterlinck’s manner is quiet and reserved. He has beautiful silver hair and well-defined features. He is a combination of philosopher and child. On first meeting him I got the impression that he was sullen and moody, but as lunch went on he became jocose. It was very difficult to converse because neither of us could speak the other’s language. Conversation is impossible when it has to be repeated and so we all developed into a light and frivolous mood.
Maeterlinck is drawing funny pictures on the bill of fare, which I’ve asked him to sign, and making humorous comments with a sobriety of manner as though quoting some beautiful passage from his work. I am fascinated as I watch him. In this casino—Maeterlinck, the disciple of beauty, the essayist, and philosopher, who wrote those beautiful words, “There comes a moment in life when moral beauty seems more urgent, more penetrating, than intellectual beauty; when all that the mind has treasured must be bathed in the greatness of soul, lest it perish in the sandy desert, forlorn as the river that seeks in vain for the sea.”
He has finished drawing on the bill of fare and smilingly hands it to me.
I have received a telegram from Emil Ludwig.13 He is on his way to America and will be in the south of France for a day only. I’ve arranged a program for his stay. We are to lunch at the Palm Beach Casino, a beautiful location opposite the island of Sainte Marguerite upon which stands the historical prison reputed to be the place where The Man in the Iron Mask was incarcerated.
Ludwig has a likeness to Byron—the same high, lofty brow and well-formed chin, with a full, sensitive mouth almost feminine—a man in his early forties. Upon meeting him, I was impressed by his eager, youthful spirit.
During lunch he produced a bay leaf and presented me with it, saying, “It was a custom of the ancient Greeks to bestow a laurel leaf upon those whom they admired, and so I want you to keep this as a token of my esteem.”
We also discussed what we considered some of the most beautiful things we had seen in life. I related the action of Helen Wills playing tennis, also a moving picture from a news weekly of a man plowing the fields of Flanders after the war. The tragic stoop of his back, the determination and courage as he furrowed into the soil, the indomitable spirit and will to build up over the wreckage.
Ludwig gave a beautiful description of the glow of a red sun setting on the beach in Florida, an automobile rolling along at twelve miles an hour, and a girl in a bathing suit reclining on the running board, her toe lightly trailing over the smooth surface of the sand, leaving a thin line as she rode along.
In speaking of his little boy, he said, “I have a great deal to live up to. I am looked upon as God in his eyes. The little chap has heard that his father is an author and writes books, and he is bewildered to think they are written in so many languages. He therefore believes that nothing is impossible for Father to do.”
Speaking of books, I told him that in my life I had read very little compared to the average man of intelligence. One reason- I was a very slow reader, and therefore very choosy in my selection of literature. I suppose the foundation of my literary education would take in the Bible, Shakespeare, Plutarch’s Lives of the Great, Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson, with a few philosophers thrown in such as Nietzsche, Emerson, Schopenhauer, and Robert Ingersoll, the latter the first to arouse my interest in philosophy. Emerson and Nietzsche followed.14 Ingersoll happened around the age of seventeen, quite late in life, I thought. I have but a superficial knowledge of the other classics. Ludwig, on the other hand, has read everything from the early Greeks to the most modern writers of our day.
We agreed that one has very little time to read nowadays and that the novel will eventually pass out, due to the demands of modern life. I asked if the rumor were correct that he was going to do a biography of Edison, Ford, and Rockefeller. He denied this, saying that he was tired of biographies and that he had reverted back to his old love, writing for the theater. He told me he had been an actor before he became an author.
In discussing Jesus and the different conceptions various authors had written of him, he asked me which story I liked best.
“The one that was the most beautiful to me,” I replied, “was The Last Thirty Days of Christ written by Sadakichi Hartmann.15 In his conception, Christ was both the mystic and philosopher, a lone figure, misunderstood even by his disciples.”
Ludwig went on to say, “There are many interpretations, but the key to His nature was not in His genius, but in His human heart. This, more than His philosophy, is important.”
In the evening we dined at a quiet restaurant. We got onto the subject of luck, how a little accident will change the course of your whole life.
“If it hadn’t been for Mack Sennett missing a date with a friend one night, I might have been raising hogs in Arkansas now,” I told him. “Sennett has often told of the incident. He had missed an appointment with a friend of his, and so wandered into the American Music Hall, where I was playing. He afterward remarked that if ever he had a company of his own, he would engage me.
“It was only two or three years later that he was part owner of the famous Keystone Film Company. I was a member of a pantomimic troupe working the vaudeville theaters throughout America. I had had indifferent success, and was so discouraged that I made up my mind to become a farmer. A member of the company and I were going into partnership in this enterprise. We were saving our money to buy land in Arkansas and raise pigs. I bought books and studied hogs’ diseases, when a telegram came and threw a monkey wrench into the whole works.
“We were playing somewhere in the ‘smalls’ of Philadelphia. The wire read: ‘Are you the man who played the drunk at the American Music Hall three years ago? If so, will you get in touch with Kessel and Bauman, Longacre Building, New York?’
“I hadn’t the faintest idea who Kessel and Bauman were. Perhaps it was a firm of lawyers and some rich relative of mine had died and left me a fortune. I was a little let down when I discovered it was a motion picture concern; nevertheless, I was elated.
“Mr. Kessel informed me that Mack Sennett had instructed him to get in touch with me. I remember how well I played my cards at that interview with Charlie Kessel; how I boosted my salary. I was getting seventy-five dollars a week at that time. I assured Kessel that my only interest in motion pictures was the consideration of my health. The work would be in the open air and the outdoor life appealed to me. It was for this reason only that I would consider pictures. Of course, I went on, I got two hundred and fifty dollars a week in vaudeville, but on account of the nature of the work, I would make a sacrifice. We eventually compromised for one hundred and fifty dollars, and I left the office firm in the belief that I was an embezzler.
“My one anxiety now was to justify my salary. On my arrival in Los Angeles to fill my contract, I went to a theater, and seated in front of me was Mack Sennett, and I made myself known to him. He was quite shocked that I looked so young, for it was the first time he’d seen me without my make-up.
“‘Are you sure you’re the man I saw play in the American Music Hall?’
“‘Of course,’ I replied, but he seemed to doubt me.
“However, he told me to come to the studio in the morning.
“When I arrived there, I was so nervous and shy I stood outside contemplating whether or not to go in, but my courage failed me and I returned to the hotel. For three mornings I did this. On the fourth, Mr. Sennett telephoned me asking what had happened, so that day I steeled myself for the ordeal.
“For a week I wandered around the studio watching the companies at work. Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling were the stars and they were very kind to me. Occasionally I would meet Mack Sennett crossing the lot in a preoccupied manner. Sometimes he would notice me and I would smile weakly. Somehow I had a feeling that now I’d arrived, I wasn’t wanted. Perhaps he was disappointed in my youthful appearance. I was convinced he felt he’d made a bad bargain.
“The most frightening thing of all was the fact that the great Ford Sterling was only getting fifty dollars a week more than I, and other members of the company three dollars a day who I thought were very good actors. All this gave me a great deal of anxiety.
“At last I was put to work. The picture was called Making a Living and I played the part of a reporter, but for this I didn’t dress in my familiar screen make-up. The set was the interior of a newspaper office where I was to apply for a job. In those days, nobody worked by script, but made it up as they went along. When I started, the whole studio came over to our set to watch the new comedian.
“The director stood musing, thinking of business which would get a laugh. I offered a suggestion which was accepted. I remember the awful moment when the cameras were prepared and I stood in back of the scenery, ready to make an entrance.
“The piece of business I suggested got a laugh from the onlookers. This encouraged me and I made other suggestions, but in doing so I aroused the ire of the director. In my anxiety I suppose I wanted to do too much.
“Comedy stories in those days were only an excuse for a chase, but I wanted to stand still and be funny. They argued, ‘That takes up too much footage.’
“I had many set-tos with the director on the subject. I would argue that anyone could chase or push over an apple cart, and that it wasn’t necessary to pay a man my salary for doing such things. I was reported to Mack Sennett as being difficult to handle. After that picture I was laid off for a week and I became anxious about my job.
“But again I was put to work. A hotel set was built for Mabel Normand’s picture and I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby flat, and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression.
“My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view.
“I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. ‘He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.’
“He was quite a success with the members of the studio, but the public hadn’t seen him yet. After that bit in Mabel’s picture, I was given another director. But they all went to Mr. Sennett complaining I was difficult to handle. Four pictures were made in that character when the matter was brought to a head.
“‘You’d better do what you’re told or quit,’ said Mr. Sennett.
“I little realized how close I came to being cashiered. I afterward found out that he intended dismissing me that day, but later that evening the atmosphere changed for some mysterious reason. Mr. Sennett came into my dressing room.
“‘Look here, Charlie,’ he said, ‘you don’t want to raise the antagonism of all the directors. They like your work, and they like you personally, and whatever they tell you is for your own good.’
“I couldn’t understand this sudden change of attitude, but Mack told me later that that evening he had received a telegram from the New York office of Kessel and Bauman telling him to hurry and make more pictures with ‘the fellow with the big feet and baggy pants’ as there was an increased demand for them.
“That evening I asked him to let me direct myself in a picture.
“‘Yes, but who’s going to pay for the negative if you spoil it?’
“‘I will,’ I said and pleaded with him to give me a chance.
“He eventually acquiesced, so I immediately corralled a few Keystone cops, a nursemaid, and a soldier, and with a few bricks and comedy ammunition, went off into the park to make my first picture.
“When it was finished, Mack saw it run off in the projection room. Occasionally he would laugh and when it was over, he said, ‘When are you going to start another one?’
“From then on I was established as my own director.”
I was encouraged by Mr. Ludwig to relate many anecdotes of my early career and it was his fault that I monopolized so much of the time. It was two o’clock in the morning before we left the restaurant and said good-bye, he having to leave the Riviera for Cherbourg, where he was to embark for America.
H. G. Wells16 was staying near Grasse and invited me to spend a few days with him. He was just completing his book, The Work, Wealth, and Happiness of Mankind—a colossal undertaking upon which he had been working three years.
“What are you going to do after it’s finished?” I asked.
“Start on another one.”
“Good heavens! I should imagine you’d want to get away from work for a while and do something else.”
H. G. laughed mischievously. “What else is there to do?”
Discussing my pictures, he said he would like to see me return to the shorter comedy subjects. “You set yourself a difficult task, adhering to plot and theme so much. Who remembers the plots of Dickens’s books—Pickwick Papers, for instance? It was their incidents and characterizations that made the appeal. Personally I would like to see you oftener on the screen in those two-reel pictures, which had so much spontaneity.”
We arranged to visit Grasse, the beautiful city with the atmosphere of the twelfth century. It is picturesquely situated on the hills sixteen hundred feet above the Mediterranean.
Grasse is celebrated for the manufacture of perfumery, and H. G. and I planned to go over some of the factories. I’ve heard somewhere that the preparation of attar of roses requires the crushing of four million flowers to obtain a pound of essence, which costs approximately five hundred dollars.
We intended viewing the monuments of the city and the cathedral. However, as we were climbing the narrow streets, my garter broke. This made it necessary for us to go to the shopping center to buy a new pair.
As we wended our way, H. G. extolling the beauties of the city, he was unconscious of the people who began to crowd in the doorways of the stores. They seemed to come from nowhere, and before we knew it, we were like the Pied Piper of Hamelin.
It was no use. Normal conversation was impossible. H. G. became alarmed. “I think you’d better walk by yourself,” he suggested, “and I’ll meet you at the car later.”
“Oh, no,” I insisted. “You’re going to see it through.”
We took refuge in the shop for a while, but eventually had to brave the storm, marching through alleys with the throngs at the back of us.
To visit the perfume factories or the cathedral now was impossible. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to put it off until you’ve grown a beard,” he said and so we made our way back to the automobile and escaped.
Not all our excursions were like this. We made several others and had charming times.
I suppose it is bromidic to say that H. G. Wells is a vitally interesting companion. During my visit to Europe, I had occasion to enjoy many wonderful evenings with him, and whatever subject was discussed, he was most entertaining. He has that gift of making clear the most abstract of sciences. I remember one evening discussing the fourth dimension—how lucidly he defined the principles of relativity.
He told an amusing story of how, as a young man before he ever had any fame as an author, he wrote a paper that touched on that subject and submitted it to several editors. His only response came from Frank Harris, the famous editor of The Fortnightly Review, who told him that he’d read his paper and wished to see him.
H. G. said he procured a silk hat, which he carefully brushed for the occasion. When he was shown into the office, he placed it on the editor’s desk. He said Frank Harris’s brusque manner almost petrified him.
“‘Your article interests me,’ said Frank, ‘but how on earth do you expect the public to understand it? Go and write something we can publish.’
“During the interview,” H. G. went on, “Frank would occasionally pound the desk and the silk hat would jump nearer to the edge of it. I reached to save it as discreetly as I could when Frank remarked, ‘Where on earth did you get that hat?’ I left the office humiliated, resolved never to wear the thing again.”
During the rest of my sojourn in the south of France, I met many celebrities, men of both national and international reputation. M. Bailby, then publisher of L’Intransigeant, gave a lunch at his beautiful house in Biot. Among the guests were Princess Murat, Baron and Baroness de Rothschild, and Madame and M. Berthelot. The house is exquisitely done in modern style.
Before leaving for Algiers, I had the pleasure of dining with Paul Morand,17 the author of that delightful book, New York, and many other works. He too has a charming modern house near Monte Carlo.
If my vocation were that of a writer and space would permit, I should like to elaborate on the great personalities I met during my holiday. Owing to the blur and excitement of meeting so many eminent people all at once, it was difficult to absorb much of their personalities. For more than their impressions affecting me, I can modestly—or immodestly—say I was more concerned in effecting the right impression on them. ’Twas ever thus—the creed of an actor. Nevertheless, in reading over this manuscript I find it most revealing—the eternal “I, I, I”—and what happened to me.
There is something romantic about the name Algeria. It stimulates my imagination. I can visualize wild Saracenic tribes adorned in flowing colored togas.
I have a profound respect for their mode of living. They have the true meaning of life—these children of Omar Khayyam—with their camels and dates, so different from us victims of industry.
Owing to the mildness of the climate, Algiers has become a favorite resort for those seeking to escape the rigors of a European winter. As we approach its port, the city with its dazzling white terraces, its myriads of windows reflecting the glow of the African sun against a green hilly background gives one the impression of a cluster of pearls set in an emerald frame.
With all his Omar Khayyam philosophy, the Arab is an enthusiastic film fan, for when we arrived, thousands were lined along the road all the way to the hotel.
The modern part of the city is little different from any town in France. But for a great number of natives in their Arab costumes, one could as well be in Spain or any French town along the Mediterranean coast. The Arab part, however, is more colorful.
I made an excursion through that section. You leave your automobile at the bottom of a hill and take an Arab guide, who conducts you through the narrow winding streets. Here life is picturesque. You will see artisans working at their trades in the same primitive way they did centuries ago. As we passed through the streets, peering into strange hovels and dark alcoves, we would occasionally turn into an open square—a sort of rampart—overlooking the city and the sea.
Algeria has many points of historical interest, among which is the tomb, Kubr-er-Rumia, reputed to be the burial place of Cleopatra Selene, the daughter of the famous Cleopatra and Mark Antony. Unfortunately, I didn’t go there. It was bad enough walking the streets with the throngs that followed. On one occasion while shopping, the crowd became so riotous they smashed in the window of a store and the police had to be called.
During my stay in Algeria I intended to make several trips through North Africa, but, unfortunately, the season was at an end and the hotels were closed for the summer months.
On my return from Algeria18 I stayed in the south of France for a while and visited the late Frank Harris,19 who was then living in Nice.
I have been an admirer of Frank’s for many years and read almost every book he has written. To my mind, his biography of Oscar Wilde is one of the greatest in English and will rate on a par with Boswell’s Life of Johnson. It is a chronicle of the Gay Nineties—the period of Whistler, Beardsley, Rossetti, Meredith, Swinburne, Browning, Ruskin, Pacer, and hosts of others who were the center of arts and letters of that time.
Poor Frank has been so criticized for his recently published autobiography, My Life and Loves, bur nevertheless one will always remember him for his masterpieces such as The Man Shakespeare, Unpath’d Waters, The Bomb, and Montes the Matador.
The first time I met Frank was in 1920. I went with a friend of mine, Haldemann Julius, to hear him lecture. I remember my surprise on hearing his resonant voice. In appearance he looked somewhat like the Kaiser did before the war. He had tremendous magnetism and assurance on the platform.
We afterward went to his house for supper where I met his beautiful Titian-haired wife. We sat talking into the small hours. Frank was a wonderful conversationalist. He told a story of Bismarck, who had been verbally attacked in the Reichstag by a member of his own party. Frank imitated the great statesman addressing the assembly.
“I respect an enemy,” said Bismarck, pointing to a socialist, then turning to his attacker, “but I despise a traitor.”
All this Frank acted in German.
At his house in Nice we dined quietly. He told me he was touched by the courtesy of the American immigration officials during his last trip to America. He was given the freedom of the port and treated with every civility.
“This was a surprise after the way they treated me during the war. Nevertheless, I am at that age when courtesies of this nature move me deeply.”
Talking of personal experiences, I said, “Do you realize that a public man or celebrity seldom gets a normal reaction from people? They are either over-interested or will assume an attitude toward you.”
I told him the following story, which happened to me a few years ago and which illustrated what I meant:
One evening during the preparation of a picture, I was walking the streets of Los Angeles. The day had been disappointing. Ideas were not coming, and feeling depressed, I decided to go downtown and lose myself in the atmosphere of some small lunch counter and dine alone. On this particular evening I had on an old suit of clothes and a week’s growth of beard and in appearance looked like a bill poster out of a job.
As I walked along Main Street, I noticed a young girl, modestly attired, evidently a factory worker, with rather a wistful face. She was not pretty, but there was something in her manner—a whimsy, a sadness—that intrigued me.
Being depressed and disappointed with the events of the day, how refreshing, I thought, to get away from my work and to talk to someone who had no notion of it. How nice if I could make the acquaintance of this girl. Yet I daren’t. It would be misunderstood.
As we walked along, I noticed she was eating some candies. Accidentally she dropped the bag but, as luck would have it, she picked it up before I had a chance to do so. She noticed my attempt and smiled.
“Too late,” she said.
“That’s always my luck,” I answered and that started the conversation.
“Where are you going?” I inquired and she told me she was waiting to pick up her girlfriend whom she was to meet outside the Owl Drug Store at seven-thirty.
“Then do you mind if I keep you company till she arrives?” I asked.
“Not at all,” she said.
I could tell that she didn’t know me. Here was an adventure. Her indifference was a little disturbing. But it was so natural and honest that it challenged my vanity. I found myself wanting to make an impression, not as Charlie Chaplin, but as a personality for my actual self.
“Do you live in Los Angeles?” I asked as we strolled along.
“Yes, but my real home is in the east.”
“Oh, I’ve been there,” I said boastfully. “As a matter of fact, I’ve just returned from a trip around the world.”
“Oh, yes?” she said mechanically.
“Yes, I’ve traveled everywhere.”
She dismissed my attempts to impress her by announcing it must be seven-thirty and she must meet her friend.
“Tell me,” I said as we made our way to the drugstore, “why did you pick me up?”
“I don’t know. I had nothing to do for half an hour.”
“But why especially me?” I insisted. “You could have picked someone else.”
“Oh, I don’t know—I thought you looked nice.”
“How can I look nice? I need a shave.”
“Do you? I never noticed it.”
“Tell me,” I insisted, “do you really think I’m nice?”
“Why of course. Otherwise I wouldn’t have spoken to you.”
This was the first time she really showed interest. Then after a pause, she exclaimed, “Say, you’re funny. Who are you anyway, and where do you work?”
For some unknown reason, I told her my name was Gale and that I was a professor of English in Hollywood High School. A cloud came over her face and I felt that my occupation had not met with her approval.
We arrived at the corner of the drug store where she was to meet her friend. A thin, poorly dressed girl with aquiline features approached us and I was introduced in a perfunctory way.
“This is Mr. Gale,” said my companion. The newcomer merely nodded a quick “How do you do,” then dismissed me abruptly and became engrossed in her friend.
For two blocks they were absorbed in conversation and I felt like an unnecessary appendage. Eventually they became conscious of my presence and turning to me politely, my companion remarked to her friend, “Mr. Gale is a professor of English.”
The friend looked bewildered.
Now I thought I’d have fun. I’d surround myself with an air of mystery. So I talked of my travels and bragged of the famous people I knew—my friend Charlie Schwab, the Vanderbilts and Astors whose names I flipped off in a most casual way.
I told them I had several cars, including a Rolls Royce, but I rarely used them as I preferred to walk for the exercise. The effect was amusing. They would occasionally glance at each other with a look of bored resignation. It was evident that I was tolerated as a hopeless liar.
Later I announced that I was hungry and would like dinner. I told them that in spite of all the big hotels, I occasionally went to Childs’ as I enjoyed the buckwheat cakes there.
My friends smiled superciliously. “Very well, then we shall leave you.”
“But won’t you dine with me?”
“I should like to, but there are two of us.”
“I should be charmed to have you both.”
She turned to her companion inquiringly, then to me and said, “Look here, we’ll walk with you as far as the restaurant. Then we’ll leave. You can’t take two of us to dinner. It isn’t fair.”
I was touched by her consideration. We stood for a moment outside Childs’.
“Please won’t you both dine with me?” I implored.
“Well of course if you feel that way about it, we’d like to.”
As we were about to enter, I hesitated.
“If I’m taking two ladies to dinner, I’m not going to Childs’. I think the Biltmore would be much nicer,” I said, referring to one of the best hotels in the city.
My companions winked at each other. “That’s quite all right. We’re not going to call your bluff. Childs’ is good enough for us.”
But I was resolute. “Oh, no,” I insisted, “let’s go to the Biltmore.” And before they could remonstrate, I led them off by the arm.
From then on they were completely baffled. For the first time I had made an impression. But I still carried on my braggadocio. This time they listened politely.
My appearance was not prepossessing, but as we passed through the hotel lobby, several bellboys recognized me and bowed respectfully, the head waiter also, without mentioning my name.
I began to put on airs to impress my friends. I was most fastidious about the selection of my table and imperious with the waiters. I ordered all the expensive dishes I could think of from duck á la presse to crêpes Suzette and others that required cuisinal finishing touches at the table. Every culinary piece of machinery was in operation.
Now their attitude changed. The thin one lost her personality and sat dumb and frightened, but my companion made an effort at “literary” conversation.
“Do you know Percy Hammond, the dramatic critic of The Tribune?” she asked.
I answered in the negative. Eventually the conversation got around to motion pictures and the friend suddenly awakened from her stupor and scrutinizing me, remarked, “Do you know your face is familiar, but I can’t think where I’ve seen it. It’s been worrying me all evening and now I know who you look like. It’s Charlie Chaplin!”
“I hope not!” I answered quickly. “He’s not a very imposing figure.”
“Oh, I don’t mean on the screen, but just around the eyes.”
“As long as it isn’t around the feet,” I rejoined. “What do you think of him anyway?”
“Not much,” she answered. “I don’t care for comedy. I prefer the serious things.”
At that moment a waiter came up. “I’m sorry, Mr. Chaplin, but we have no fresh asparagus.”
“You—Charlie Chaplin!” said the thin girl, astonished.
I nodded mischievously and she started to giggle.
“I’m so tickled to death you aren’t an English professor.”
And I’m proud to say that their manner changed immediately to warm friendliness.
Afterward I asked them what they thought of my bragging. My friend said of course she didn’t believe a word of it, but that when we came to the hotel, she was baffled. All sorts of ideas were running through her mind.
“I thought you might be a spy or a detective, and then I gave up and accepted the fact that you might be what you said you were—an English professor.”
After dinner we went to a movie and I saw them home.
“Mr. Chaplin,” said my friend, “this has been the most wonderful evening of my life and I shall always remember it.”
There was something wistful about it all when we said good-bye.
“You should write,” was Frank’s comment after I finished the story.
I was flattered by his remark, especially coming from one I admired so much. He little realized what an insidious seed he had planted in the soil of my literary desire.
“You’re touching a vulnerable spot that’s everybody’s weakness,” I said. “I’d like to write, but grammar would cramp my style.”
“Grammar nonsense,” said Frank. “Who has the authority to say what’s grammatically correct? Colloquialisms come into usage and are accepted. Ambiguity is the only fault in a sentence.”
“Quite true,” I said. “There are many grammatical phrases ambiguous as far as I’m concerned. For example, in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King—‘His honor rooted in dishonor stood, And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.’ That and some of the phraseology of our congressional records are beyond me.
“So many people are snobbish about grammar,” I continued. “They think it’s a sign of good breeding. Shakespeare and others had no qualms about using ungrammatical sentences, and many of them are vividly expressive and euphonious, such as Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’—‘Be thou me, impetuous one.’ How unmusical ‘I’ would sound in that sentence. Then in Julius Caesar—‘The clock hath stricken three.’ Also the line from As You Like It—‘Rosalind lacks then the love which teacheth thee that thou and I am one.’ The last line may not be grammatical, but I like it. ‘Thou and I am one’ vividly expresses the oneness of two persons.”
“You carrying on like this and you tell me you haven’t a flair for writing!” exclaimed Frank.
“I’m just doing my stuff to see if I could get away with it,” I said jokingly.
That evening was the last I saw of him, for six months later he died. He was a great man in the literary world, although very much maligned. He made enemies, but also many friends. He championed the cause of the underdog and fought for those principles he believed in. He may have written frankly, but he wrote well and I feel sure his works will live after him.