From “Life With Charlie Chaplin” by David Raksin (Chaplin’s musical assistant on Modern Times)
Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, Summer 1983:
I loved to egg Charlie on, to provoke him into an improvisation–which was not too hard to do. And I especially enjoyed his fluent way with the argot of London costermongers, in which certain words are made to substitute for others with which they rhyme.1 I was listening to Charlie kidding with Alf Reeves one morning, and he said, “Oh, I’m all right, by my Obson’s is givin’ me trouble. I musta got me daisies wet.” Charlie liked to have me ask what all of that meant, but by then I had already learned from him that Obson’s was cockney for Hobson’s Choice (a play), and hence stood in for “voice.” In the same way daisies stood for “daisy roots,” and meant “foots.” Another time he said to Mr. Reeves, “I can hardly keep the minces open.” (For “mince pies” rhymes with “eyes.”) And, “Can’t wait till I get home and lay the barnet [“barnet fair” equals “hair”] on the titwillow [“pillow] and go bo-peep [“to sleep”].” He also had a favorite, very rude poem that began, “While sittin’ one day by the Anna Maria [“fire”], a-toastin’ me plates o’ meat [“feet”], I ‘eard a knock on the Rory O’Moore [“door”] which made me old raspberry beat [“raspberry tart” equals “heart”].” 2
On a more sober note–too sober, as it turned out–my old friend, Oscar Levant, who was a member of the circle with which I ran in my spare time, told me one day that Arnold Schoenberg, with whom he was studying, was eager to meet Chaplin. I spoke to Charlie at once, and it was arranged for Schoenberg to visit the studio a few days later. The great composer appeared with Mrs. Schoenberg for the meeting. I greeted them at the gate and took them into the projection room, where I introduced them to Charlie. In no time at all it was evident that the conversation which ensued was headed for a stalemate. Schoenberg, with his strong sense of his own eminence and his intellectual rigor, seemed baffled by the disparity between Chaplin’s preeminent position as a film artist and his casual urbanity. It was disconcerting for Schoenberg to find that the cinematic genius he admired so much did not affect the serious demeanor which is in some cultures perquisite of greatness. And although Charlie was on his best gracious-host behavior, the feeling soon grew awkward and painful, and it was with a sense of relief that I saw the visit end….After the Schoenbergs left, Charlie said to me, “You were curiously chaste…?” I tried to explain that the irreverent schoolboy was, finally, somewhat awed, but gave up in embarrassment.
L-R: CC, Mrs. Schoenberg, Arnold Schoenberg, David Raksin
1 In Charlie Chaplin: The Forgotten Years, Geraldine Chaplin remembered how her father and Uncle Syd would speak in Cockney slang during Syd’s visits to Vevey. “No one would understand them,” she said.
2 I would love to hear the rest of this poem!