First Impressions

Photo by Albert Witzel, c. 1922

“I met a rather handsome man with almost jet-black hair and brown eyes [sic] which looked at me with a seriousness I should scarcely connect with a comedian. In fact, although I have seen him in comedies many times on the screen, I should not have known him.” –Victor Eubank, “The Funniest Man On The Screen”, Motion Picture, March 1915

“He was just an ordinary fellow in his twenties–twenty-five, I learned later–rather short and slight of build; but the thing that impressed me most was his smiling, friendly features. At once I ceased wondering why they called him Charlie.” –Mary E. Porter, “Charlie Chaplin, Cheerful Comedian”, Picture-Play, April 24th, 1915

“Charlie Chaplin off the films is a charming young man…His smile is the thing about him which commands attention. If there could be a such thing as a smile with a man instead of a man with a smile, Charlie Chaplin’s smile is it. One sees the smile before one sees Chaplin…He has a soft pleasant voice, with a strong English accent, and while he talks that really remarkable smile is flashing off and on, winning your heart–if it hasn’t been won already. The smile is aided and abetted in its work by two side partners in the way of eyes–blue eyes with a twinkle and a crinkle. There are little humor lines raying out from the corners of the eyes, and, once you come to study the matter, you find that really the eyes smile as much as the mouth.” –Miriam Teichner, “Charlie Chaplin: A Tragedian Would Be”, The Globe &  Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 19, 1916

“He is a little dark-haired, boyish looking man, with a quiet, decidedly English voice. Very easy and interested and unforced his manner was, and for the most part, though at times a trace of nervous timidity would creep in. He hadn’t a scrap of affectation. In the dim light from the fireplace he looked about twenty years old, but later, when I met him in the daylight, I saw that his hair is threaded with gray. But his face is as smooth and healthily ruddy as a schoolboy’s.” –Walter Vogdes, “Charlie Chaplin: Rather A Quiet Little Guy Who Takes His Pantomime Art Seriously”, New York Tribune Sunday, Dec. 30th, 1917

“A frail figure, small footed, and with hands as exquisite as those of Madame la Marquise. A mass of brindled-gray hair above a face of high color and nervous features. In conversation the pale hands flash and flutter and the eyes twinkle; the body sways and swings, and the head darts birdlike back and forth, in time with the soft chanting voice. His personality is as volatile as his lithe and resilient figure. He has something of Hans Andersen, of Ariel, touched with rumors of far-off fairyland tears. But something more than pathos is here. Almost, I would say, he is a tragic figure.” –Thomas Burke, “The Tragic Comedian”, The Outlook, January 18, 1922

“Far away from the din and glare of the make-believe stage, I have come to know the real Charlie Chaplin, a far more interesting personality than the movie star. He does not wear a moustache; his features are well cut; large eyes; large head, too, and excellently shaped; lips astonishingly mobile and well formed; a very handsome face, and a handsome, slight figure, with tiny hands and feet.” –Frank Harris, “Charlie Chaplin and A Visit To Sing-Sing”, Pearson’s Weekly, April 1922

“There isn’t a fraction of pose about him, and if one gains his confidence he will open his heart with the frankness of a child. But shyness largely rules, and, while he has no difficulty at all in facing the eye of the camera, facing an interviewer primed with questions is another proposition entirely.” –Mordaunt Hall, “Shy Charlie Chaplin Opens His Heart”, New York Times, August 9th, 1925

“Mr. Chaplin’s hair is slightly flecked with grey. His face is smooth and vivacious, a mask full-lipped and ruddy golden as that of a faun in bacchanal of Rubens. The bright blue eyes cloud and sparkle incessantly, and the soft voice shoots out words, accompanied by gestures of the hands of an incomparable expressiveness, the listener becomes aware that Mr. Chaplin enjoys the more fruity elements of the English language with the gusto of Mr. Wells’s Mr. Polly. Indeed, in Wellsian phrase, “juiciness” seems characteristic of Mr. Chaplin.” –Robert Nichols, Future Of The Cinema: Mr. Charles Chaplin, Times [London], Sept. 3, 1925

“Charles Chaplin is small, slender, and graceful. His rather long curly hair has suddenly turned gray. His beautiful grayish-blue eyes move incessantly, and he often squints humorously. His mouth is almost always smiling. But the noblest and finest things about him are his two hands. They look like the hands of a young man except for the fact that veins have traced mysterious patterns upon them. He wore a discreet grayish suit of the pepper-and-salt variety, and his collar had black lines stitched in it.” –Arnold Hollreigel, “Charles Chaplin At Home”, The Living Age, July 1928

“Charlie, a little thinner, a little older than I had left him the year before, sat down on the edge of the pool and, taking his shoes off, began to wiggle his small, beautiful, feminine feet in the cool water.” –Konrad Bercovici, “A Day With Charlie Chaplin”, Harper’s, December 1928

“Chaplin’s eyes are a blue so darkly shadowed that they are almost purple. They are sad eyes; from them pity and bitterness look out upon the world.” –Waldo Frank, “Charles Chaplin: A Portrait”, Scribner’s, September 1929

“The man we see is not the same Charlie Chaplin that appears in the films. He is fresh from his work, to be sure, but he has not actually been playing. He hasn’t got his battered little derby, his bamboo cane, or his black moustache. Furthermore, his shoes are not so amusing or so ridiculous as they appear to be in the films. They shuffle as he walks and they are dirty and a little too big for him, but they are regular shoes. Their cosmic significance is due entirely to the art of their possessor, who now takes us…into the projection room. At once the shoes become inconspicuous and their wearer seems only a little flat-footed. He puts on a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, for he is so far-sighted that he cannot even write his name without them. –Egon Erwin Kisch, “I Work With Charlie Chaplin”, The Living Age, Oct. 15, 1929

“He smiled his bright smile. When the smile is directed at you it doesn’t seem automatic. It seems friendly, slightly self-deprecatory, and utterly confidential. When you sit to one side and watch it bestowed upon someone else, the lips look mechanically creased, and the eyes seem absent, almost unseeing. The smile is a masterpiece made for one person at a time.” –Robert Van Gelder, “Chaplin Draws A Keen Weapon”, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 8, 1940

“His brown flannel trousers were not particularly well creased, his tan sport shirt and yellow sleeveless sweater were most informal, his pre-maturely gray hair making him, as always, a distinctive figure. There is nothing whatever in his appearance or manner to remind you of the character and personality we call Charlie Chaplin; nothing save the whimsical almost shy way he has of smiling; that fleeting indescribable manner of lips lifting at the corners.” –Dixie Willson, “Chaplin Talks”, Photoplay, Dec. 1940

“He was dancing, laughing and being the greatest pantomimist I had ever seen. White hair, honest blue eyes, a laugh more eloquent than any prose. Young in a way that few youths have ever been. Old with a rare dignity. I watched this man who dares to be simple, as fascinated and amused as the first time I saw him in the movies. He talks and thinks pictorially, knowing every second how he looks and not caring what he says. To listen is to lose everything. He uses words for the same purpose as a magician. He plays tennis with his left hand and writes with his right.” –Al Hirschfeld, “A Man With Both Feet In The Clouds”, New York Times, July 26, 1942

“It’s not every day that you meet, for the first time, someone, for whose work you have an intense admiration, in the nude! But, there in front of me, still in soft focus and heavily gauzed by steam, stood one of the great artists of our time, wearing, as I was, nothing but a loin-cloth. My own hands are not large, but the hand I now clasped seemed to evaporate into mine. Having only seen him in his screen make-up, I was not prepared for his distinguished good looks, but I think it was more the extraordinary mobility of feature than the features themselves that struck me. Watching Chaplin’s face was like looking at a fascinating ballet or rather—for ballet implies something planned or formal—a spontaneous improvised dance.” –Anthony Asquith, “Days With Charlie Chaplin”, Cine-Technician, Nov.-Dec. 1952

“I like to think I would have been arrested anywhere by the face: features evenly sculptured into a sensuous whole, strong and handsome beyond any guess you might have made by mentally stripping away the black half-moon eyebrows and the comic moustache.…So seeing Chaplin for the first time was a more curious pleasure than having the screen image of any other star confirmed in the flesh.” –Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

Charlie’s eyes are of the very darkest blue, the color that the camera likes best. They are “honest” and “unflinching” eyes, set deeply in a noble brow, and when he lies to people because he does not like them or their questions, they make him very persuasive. –-Max Eastman, Great Companions, 1959

“He looked marvelous. Vigorous, groomed, genial, in a beautiful, dark-blue, satiny housejacket, his skin freckled and youthful, his step bouncy, he came striding towards us smiling broadly, his blue eyes large and free, phrases of welcome bubbling around his grin. He gave me an immediate sense of strength, I would even say of massiveness, that startled me. In contrast, his hands, outstretched in greeting, were small, his fingers very sensitive. But the impression of power was unexpected.” –Peter Steffens, “Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp”, Ramparts, March 1965

“His physical presence revealed an exquisiteness the screen could not reflect. Small, perfectly made, meticulously dressed, with his fine grey hair and ivory skin and white teeth, he was as clean as a pearl and glowed all over.” –Louise Brooks, “Charlie Chaplin Remembered”, Film Culture, Spring, 1966

“The Chaplins were conspicuous in their simplicity, their absence of props, the lack of preoccupation with fashion. With his small hands and feet and ample middle, Charlie looks the same no matter what he wears; padded, a silhouette forsaken for the love of vanilla ice cream.” –Candace Bergen, “I Thought They Might Hiss,” Life, April 21, 1972


  1. What an exquisite post, Jess! You couldn't have picked a more fitting photo to illustrate it, either. I enjoyed this so much.I know some of those essays have been re-published in compilations, but I wish that someone would cull all of the periodical literature on Chaplin (especially the things that were written contemporaneously with his movie-making career) and put it into a book (or series of books)!

  2. Kudos Jessica! An awesome and excellent post. I wonder if someone could major in Chaplin. Like write your thesis on him and actually get a degree. I think you could get an honorary degree! Cheers!

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