Charlie was suffering from an attack of lumbago when he arrived in Marseilles. His immediate plan, according to contemporary news reports, was to return immediately to Nice and finish a scenario for a film.1
There is no mention of Marseilles in Charlie’s travel memoir, “A Comedian Sees The World,” perhaps because he wanted to forget the unpleasant events that followed his arrival.
Before Charlie and May Reeves, who had accompanied him, disembarked, the plan to break them up was already underway. Syd and his wife, Minnie, felt that Charlie’s relationship with May would ruin him financially & would create a scandal worse than the Lita Grey debacle. They felt that immediate action was needed to rescue Charlie from the clutches of the dark-eyed, Austrian dancer. Syd placed the job of breaking up Charlie & May on the shoulders of Carlyle Robinson, his press agent.
[Syd] ordered me to separate the lovers. His instructions were many and explicit…It was a gigantic undertaking. I knew that Sidney wouldn’t have attempted it for anything in the world. As for me, judging from past experience, I genuinely doubted my ability to tear Charlie from the arms of his mistress. And because I admitted as much, Sidney decided to tell me a secret which I am sure he would have preferred, in any other circumstance, to keep to himself. But for him, it was worth the risk. By telling me this secret, he hoped to arm me with an unanswerable argument which would force Charlie to break off with May. 2
Robinson met the ship that brought Charlie and May from Algiers. The moment the gangplank was lowered, he jumped onto the boat & told the two lovers they would have to disembark separately. Charlie walked out alone and May disembarked on the arm of Robinson, who told the reporters she was his secretary. Robinson’s task was far from over.
The last act of the drama had yet to be played. It was staged in a room in a Marseilles hotel–a scene I should not care to reenact. It was certainly the most disagreeable half hour I have ever spent. 3
|May & Carlyle Robinson before the Marseilles plot.|
Robinson tried every recourse possible to break up Charlie & May, but in the end had to use his trump card (a decision that would end up costing him his job). The trump card was that Syd and May had been lovers in Nice before Charlie met her. Charlie became “pale with amazement” and immediately said it was “a filthy lie.” May herself denied any involvement with Syd, but eventually agreed to leave Marseilles & go to Paris with Robinson.
Charlie asked me to go to Paris for several days and rejoin him later in Juan-les-Pins. Robinson exulted. He imagined our relationship was finished…
An hour later I was on the express train to Paris. When they came to take my bags, Charlie wept bitterly. He accompanied me to the elevator and embraced me in front of all the hotel personnel, unable to restrain his sobs. 4
Sydney was initially thrilled that the separation plot had been successful until he found out that Robinson told his secret.5, 6 But Charlie and May did not separate at all & were reunited less than a week later in the Riviera. In the end, the person who suffered the most from this unpleasant situation was Carlyle Robinson, who was eventually fired, after sixteen years of employment, for his attempt to sabotage Charlie’s love affair with the “mysterious” May.7
1May states in her memoir that Charlie was writing a gypsy film for her.
2 “The Private Life Of Charlie Chaplin” by Carlyle Robinson (I am quoting from the unedited version of the memoir that was translated by Constance Kuriyama and included in the appendix of The Intimate Charlie Chaplin by May Reeves, pub. 2001)
4 The Intimate Charlie Chaplin by May Reeves (translated by Constance Kuriyama).
5 According to Robinson, Syd became enraged when he found out that Robinson told Charlie about his affair with May. “I let him vent his rage and then reminded him that I had only carried out his orders. He resumed howling.”
6 It should be noted that Sydney “swore” to May Reeves that he had no involvement in the separation plot and that the whole thing was Robinson’s idea.
7 In the press, May was often referred to (incorrectly) as “the myterious Mary.”