When Chaplin returned from his world tour on June 16th, 1932, “his head was brimming with ideas for the screen and a renewed compassion for mankind.”1 However, Hollywood had changed during his year and a half absence. Talking films had come to stay and Chaplin was “in no mood to take up battle”2 with them.
|Chaplin at the Brown Derby two days after his arrival back in Hollywood (June 18, 1932):
L-R: Ethel Barrymore, CC, Dorothy di Frasso, Eugene Palette, and Douglas Fairbanks.
Although he had several ideas for a new picture, he didn’t begin work on them right away. One of his first priorities was to pen his travel memoir which was to be called “A Comedian Sees The World.” So determined was Woman’s Home Companion editor, Willa Roberts, to secure Chaplin’s account of his world tour, she traveled all the way to Berlin in March 1931 to meet with him in person and seal the deal. Chaplin was offered $50,000 (or $1 per word) for his account. Biographer David Robinson noted that Chaplin was “more tempted by the challenge of writing than by the fee.” This would be the first example of Charlie’s own writing to appear in print, except for an economic policy statement he released to papers on June 27, 1933 (His first travel narrative, My Trip Abroad, had been written with the assistance of journalist Monta Bell in 1921).
May Reeves, Chaplin’s lover and companion for most of the tour, recalled that he began writing the memoir during the summer of 1931 while they were in the south of France but made little progress. “He prepared to write his “Voyage Around The World’ [sic] for Ladies Home Journal [sic], for which he was paid a dollar a word. He began well in the middle, but during the entire year we spent together he never progressed beyond these few phrases:
‘I made the acquaintance of a young woman in Berlin
‘Do you love me,’ I asked.
‘Love,’ she replied. ‘That’s a big word, But I have so much sympathy for you!’3
Charlie began seriously working on the memoir in early 1932, while on the last leg of his trip, in Southeast Asia, with help from his half-brother, Sydney. He finished most of the project back in Hollywood, taking the rest of 1932 and the early part of 1933 to do so.
ACSTW4was published in five monthly installments in Woman’s Home Companion beginning in September 1933.
|Cover of the first installment of “A Comedian Sees The World,”
Woman’s Home Companion, September 1933
Chaplin retells the events of his world tour again thirty years later in My Autobiography. However there is a noticeable difference between the two. Chaplin historian Lisa Stein Haven explains:
This great disparity between the two versions of these tours supports an unstated promotional agenda for the travel narratives’ version, one that seems to include a deliberate conflation of Chaplin’s public and filmic personae…Chaplin’s narratives rely on the audience’s knowledge of the Little Tramp as traveling persona. Chaplin then exploits this characteristic of the Little Tramp by projecting a tourist persona in the narratives [“My Trip Abroad” & ACSTW] one that allows him to achieve a conflation with the Little Tramp persona that allows the books to succeed as promotional vehicles.5
This Little-Tramp-As-Tourist agenda is further promoted in the illustrations that accompany the series which depict both the real Chaplin and his screen image, the Little Tramp (above and below).
Pages from “A Comedian Sees The World,” Woman’s Home Companion, Dec. 1933 (left) and January 1934 (right).
By the time Chaplin finished the world tour he was becoming more outspoken politically and his fame made his opinions newsworthy. “I was surprised to see how seriously my views were taken,” he wrote, “Popularity had suddenly endowed my opinions with importance.”6 By the mid-1930s, his political opinions “had become integral to his star image, and his films more didactic.”7
There is one event on the world tour that David Robinson believes was the origin of Chaplin’s next film. In an after-dinner speech at Lady Astor’s Cliveden estate, early on the tour in February 1931, Chaplin “startled the guests” by launching into “a diatribe against complacent acceptance of the growth of the Machine Age.” The guests “could hardly have known that they were witnesses to the genesis of Modern Times.”8 These political assertions would be reinforced as the tour progressed through his meeting with Gandhi and witnessing the effects of the Depression on the countries he visited. By the time he returned home, these issues were heavy on his mind. One month after he finished writing “A Comedian Sees The World” in February 1933, Chaplin was ready to transform his observations and angst into comedy.
1Lisa Stein,”Chaplin Sees The World,”Modern Times DVD booklet, Criterion Collection, 2010
2David Robinson, Charlie Chaplin: His Life & Art, 1985
3May Reeves, The Intimate Charlie Chaplin, 2001. The woman Charlie describes here is probably the dancer La Jana whom he refers to only as “G” in ACSTW.
4 ACSTW = A Comedian Sees The World
5Lisa Stein, The Travel Narrative As Spin: Mitigating Charlie Chaplin’s Public Persona in My Trip Abroad & A Comedian Sees The World, Ph.D dissertation, Ohio Univ., 2005
7Lisa Stein, “Chaplin Sees The World”
8David Robinson, Charles Chaplin: His Life and Art
Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
Charles Maland, Chaplin & American Culture, 1989