World Tour Revisited: Singapore, March 27th, 1932

The Chaplin brothers arrive in Singapore

Our next port is Singapore, meaning in the Malay language, the City of Lions. Near Singapore the scenery is fantastically beautiful. Trees grow out of the ocean like the designs on blue willow china plates.1

A small crowd of about 200 awaited the arrival of Charlie and his half-brother, Sydney. This was not the mob scene Chaplin was used to: “The crowds were not as demonstrative here as they were in Ceylon,” Charlie wrote, “but then Singapore in two degrees off the equator and I don’t blame them. Nevertheless, there was a medium crowd and I was cheered, photographed, and interviewed.”2

A reporter from the Straits Times explained the modest size of the crowd:

Asiatics are not demonstrative. They are not in the habit of mobbing cinema stars, even when the star is none other than Charles Chaplin, whose name is better known than that of any other man in the world, whose pictures are as familiar in China, Japan and India as they are in England…Singapore’s cinema-goers did not turn out in force to greet Chaplin, they know of him, they crowd the cinemas to see his pictures, but they did not feel particularly interested in seeing him in the flesh. 3

Malayan Saturday Post, April 2, 1932

The reporters were nervous about approaching Chaplin for an interview for they had heard that “the screen’s greatest star is not always approachable and sometimes does not welcome reporters.” These doubts were quickly laid to rest: “he was courtesy in itself and ready to give the newspaper men all the help they needed.” “Certainly,” Chaplin said. “Let us go in and you can all interview me together.”4

Chaplin told them that this was his first visit to the Orient and he was “enjoying it tremendously.” But he felt that it was time to get back to Hollywood. “Yes, it is time I got back. I have been away on a whole year’s holiday, the first holiday I have had since I started in pictures twenty years ago. Of course, I am going to make more pictures. Will my next be silent or talkie? That I cannot say. As regards myself, I think the public prefer me in my own medium. No, I cannot tell you yet what the subject will be or the title.”

“It has been said that you are going to make a serious picture,” suggested one interviewer.

“All my pictures are serious,” replied Mr. Chaplin smilingly. “Perhaps it will deal with the world crisis.”5

Chaplin was impressed to hear that City Lights was well-received in Singapore. “Is that really so?” he said. “I should never have believed it. And they liked City Lights you say? I am glad to hear that. You see a picture with just a musical accompaniment can be shown anywhere. That is the beauty of it. There are no national barriers to the silent picture.”

Chaplin briefly discussed his immediate plans: “My brother and I are leaving for Java tomorrow and hope to visit Bali. We shall return here and catch the N.Y.K. boat to China and Japan. In two months’ time I shall be in Hollywood and back at work.”6

In My Autobiography, Chaplin said his outstanding memory of Singapore “is of the Chinese actors who performed at the New World Amusement Park, children who were extraordinarily gifted and well read, for their plays consisted of many Chinese classics by the great Chinese poets.”

Autographed photo of Charlie and Syd in Singapore

Syd described their stay in Singapore with his usual humor: “Drive around Singapore–should be called ‘Stinkapore.’ Visited natives’ quarters. Guide would keep taking us to parks and municipal buildings…We visited Hindu temple and saw worshipping ceremonies. We were especially shown the golden horse with the swinging and detachable phallus.* Drive to Seaview Hotel. We are the only customers. They switch off the lights after serving us drinks because it is midnight–and so, we drink in the dark.”7

Next up: Java on March 30th. Don’t miss Syd’s description of the Dutch delicacy, rijsttafel. Plus a rarely-seen video.

Where was Charlie one year earlier?


1Chaplin, “A Comedian Sees The World,” 1933
3The Straits Times, March 28, 1932
7Syd Chaplin T.S./Lisa Stein Haven

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