Christmas With Charlie, Vol. 12

Last year, I began a series called “Christmas With Charlie” in which I presented stories from family & friends (or Charlie himself) about the Christmas holidays. I thought I would continue the series this year, and in keeping with tradition, I will kick off the festivities with Charlie’s famous “orange story.” This was an incident from Charlie’s impoverished childhood that affected him for the rest of his life. His son, Michael, remembered that his father, who would notoriously become depressed and morose around the holidays, would complain: “If I got an orange as a child at Christmas, I’d be lucky.” Last December, I posted Charlie’s version of the story from “A Comedian Sees The World.” This year’s version is from an interview with Charlie by Benjamin de Casseres that appeared in the New York Times on December 12th, 1920. The story is basically the same except Charlie changed the orange to an apple:

As part of my childhood was passed in a London orphanage. When Christmas time came around a big table was spread, and on it were laid little presents–tin watches, bags of candy, picture books, and other trivial things–for the inmates.

On this particular Christmas I was seven years old. We all formed in line, and long before it was my turn to reach the table and select what I wanted I had picked out with my eye a big, fat red apple for my present. It was the biggest apple I had ever seen outside of a picture book. 

My eye and stomach got bigger and bigger as I approached that apple.

When the line had moved up so that I was fifth from the table a housekeeper, or somebody in authority, pounced on me, pushed me out of line and took me back to my room with the brutal words. “No Christmas present for you this year, Charlie–you keep the other boys awake by telling pirate stories.”

I have always found that red apple of happiness just within reach of my hand when some invisible presence or force drags me away just as I am about to grab it.

–“The Hamlet-Like Nature of Charlie Chaplin” by Benjamin de Casseres, New York Times Book Review & Magazine, December 12th, 1920)

1 Comment

  1. Oh, Charlie. This one always gets me. Being the mother of a highly sensitive eight-year-old, I can imagine how devastating this would have been to him. Jessica, do you remember the email exchange we had about the differing explanations out there about why Charlie was denied the orange? Joyce Milton said that it was because he'd had an accident in his bed but didn't cite a source, so you questioned that. In Peter Haining's The Legend of Charlie Chaplin, there's a reminiscence from Mary Pickford that mentions the "orange story," too, and Mary says, "Poor little fellow, he had made a mistake in bed the night before." Perhaps that was Milton's' uncited source? In another version I've seen (though I can't remember where), he'd forgotten to make his bed. I don't mean to overly fixate on whether he wet his bed, but I do find it interesting that privately, to a friend, Charlie may have told one version, but in his public presentation of the event he turned it into something else–such a frequent habit of his. I have to admit I find it more credible that he was denied the orange for a bedwetting incident than "telling pirate stories," and if that was the reason, it would have made the incident all the more humiliating and traumatic for the little tyke, bless him. Carrie

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