World Tour Revisited: Charlie meets Napoleon biographer Emil Ludwig, late May 1931

Chaplin, May Reeves, & Emil Ludwig

During the early part of his holiday in the French Riviera, Charlie received a telegram from German writer Emil Ludwig. He would be in the south of France for only one day and would like to meet him. Charlie made plans for his visit.

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.

Ludwig was equally impressed by Chaplin:

He came toward me with a frank open look–a small, closely knit man who, obviously, had won through to serenity–or at least an appearance of serenity–which, earlier, had not been his. There was in him a fresh vigor and in his eyes a lively sparkle which I had not expected.

May Reeves recalled that Charlie was ill at ease during the meeting and kept nervously repeating, “Well, well, well.” She thought Ludwig seemed relieved that she could speak German with him.

During lunch, Ludwig produced a bay leaf 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.” (Afterward, when they were alone, Charlie told May: “He must have a complete herb garden in his baggage.”)

Later in the conversation, Ludwig noticed that Charlie’s mouth suddenly drooped,

…and when the same expression repeated itself later, I saw it was his mouth that truly revealed him, which united the two Chaplins–Chaplin the actor and Chaplin the man.

In his drooping, sensitive mouth, when he leaves it for a moment undisciplined, is expressed all the resignation, all the renunciation which cannot be acted unless it has been experienced.

It is not the mouth of a lover of humanity. Chaplin is a fighter, for his passion against the smug and sated rich is deeper, it seemed to me, than his compassion for the suffering poor.

Chaplin’s mouth is a tragic mouth; but it is a mouth that can bite. 

Charlie recalled that they also discussed what they considered to be the most beautiful things they 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.


“A Comedian Sees The World Part 3,” A Woman’s Home Companion, November 1933
“Emil Ludwig X-Rays Charlie Chaplin,” Liberty, August 22, 1931
May Reeves, The Intimate Charlie Chaplin, trans. & ed. by Constance Brown Kuriyama, McFarland, 2001
Gerith Von Ulm, Charlie Chaplin: King Of Tragedy, Caxton, 1940

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