Mary Pickford was Charlie and Oona’s guest at the premiere which took place at the Broadway Theater. Charlie remembered that Mary, holding on to his hand, pushed her way through the packed lobby and propelled herself to the microphone:
In the midst of the shoving and pushing, said Mary: “Two thousand years ago Christ was born, and tonight…” She got no further, for, still holding on to my hand, she was yanked away from the mike by a sudden push from the crowd–I have often wondered since what was coming next.
There was an uneasy atmosphere in the theater that night. A feeling that the audience had come to prove something. The moment the film started, instead of the the eager anticipation and the happy stir of the past that had greeted my films, there was nervous applause scattered with a few hisses. I loathe to admit it but those few hisses hurt more than all the antagonism of the press.
Charlie got up long before the film was finished and paced in the lobby until it was over.
Afterward, at a party at “21,” Charlie, “surrounded by ill-wishers,” quickly downed two drinks at once, which was rare for him. Robert Lewis, who played Verdoux’s friend, Maurice Botello, remembered that “other celebrities there didn’t even mention the picture. They simply took over the party.”
After supper, entertainers got up and performed their numbers. While Ethel Merman sang, Lewis watched Louella Parsons “dressed in black, sitting in a corner, her disapproving eyes glued on Chaplin. She looked like some predator waiting for him to do or say something that might be used against him in her column.” Finally, in a desperate attempt to recapture his own party, Charlie got up and performed his bullfight pantomime where he plays both the matador and the bull. Although it was executed brilliantly, it wasn’t enough to get much response from the crowd. Charlie once told Lewis about a recurrent nightmare he had had all his life where he would be performing in front of a large crowd and no one would be laughing. “Now his nightmare had become a reality.”
Oona had left the party early, so Lewis and Donald Ogden Stewart escorted a tipsy & “genuinely shaken” Charlie back to his hotel. “Don and I helped Charlie undress. In his shorts, sitting on the side of his bed, the twentieth century’s mighty performing artist sniffled like a little boy. ‘They couldn’t take it, could they?’ he kept repeating, ‘I kicked them in the balls, didn’t I? I hit them where it hurt.'”
Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
Robert Lewis, Slings & Arrows: Theater In My Life, 1996