Charlie’s Real Life Story

In January 1927, Chaplin filed a suit against Pictorial Review magazine to halt the publication of a series of articles by his former publicist, Jim Tully, aka the “hobo author.” His complaint asserted that the articles consisted of “statements that are false and untrue and tend to bring this plaintiff into disrepute and subject him to scorn and ridicule.”1 He also objected to the use of his name and image in the advertising for the articles. Data for the biography was compiled by Tully during his two years of employment at the Chaplin Studios. He even stated that he “took the job with this story in view. Throughout that time I gathered copious notes. I’m sure that my articles are correct.”2 Chaplin eventually lost the case.

After four years of searching, I now have all four installments of Pictorial Review series (published January-April 1927), which were called, “Charlie Chaplin: His Real Life Story.” I don’t find the articles to be overly biased or slanderous against Chaplin–no more than anything else one would have read about him at the time. Other people, such as Lita Grey, are ridiculed far worse than Chaplin in the piece. I have always been a fan of these portraits of Chaplin and Tully’s is an interesting and revealing one. Three years later, Tully wrote two articles for New Movie magazine called “The Unknown Charlie Chaplin.”3 This account is basically a highly abridged version of the Pictorial Review series.

Tully would not be as kind to Charlie in his subsequent writings nor his chapter about about him in his 1943 book, A Dozen & One. The latter I found to be downright mean-spirited at times. This was not out character for Tully, though. He was notorious in his day for raking movie stars over the coals.

Below is an excerpt from the first installment of “Charlie Chaplin: His Real Life Story” in which Tully describes his first meeting with Charlie:

I first met Chaplin about five years ago. Ex-hobo and ex-pugilist, I had just blossomed forth as an author with his first book, and an invitation had been extended to me for a diner at the great comedian was the guest of honor.4 I arrived–the cotton bulging in the shoulders of my ill-fitting suit–self-conscious and ill at ease. I faced the reception as an ordeal. …

Chaplin arrived late, dressed in evening clothes. I afterward learned that he was tardy for all appointments. Upon being introduced to me, he said , “Well, well, Jim Tully, we’re fellow vagabonds under the skin–what do you say?” Placing an arm in mine, he walked with me to the table. With fine intuition he noted my discomfiture and kept saying, “Fine, Jim, fine–fine–glad you’re here, Jim–mighty glad!”

Chaplin’s appearance surprised and pleased me. It was as if the caricature of a tramp had stepped from the pages of a funny paper and had suddenly changed into a handsome, well-dressed man. His face was remarkable–full of character and personality. His teeth were even, large, and white. His manner was gay, childish, benign, and to me full of tender consideration. His hair was slightly streaked with gray and rolled in a huge irregular wave back from his forehead. Over his face passed varying expressions–like dark, white, gray, and blue clouds racing across the sun. Even if Chaplin were unknown in the world, he would undoubtedly be a popular man at any social gathering. He is facile and pleasing, with moods that change like early March weather in his native England.

When we had seated ourselves at the table there seemed to be present all the knives and forks in the world. Chaplin was placed at the end of the table. I was close to him. Catching me looking his way as I fumbled for the right fork, he said, “Don’t look at me, Jim. I pick the wrong one every time.” Everybody laughed, and I felt easier.

Chaplin has the gift for making people love him. 

I watched him closely–the fine head and the waving hair, the large, even, white teeth, the deep lines that must have been written in the corners of his eyes at boyhood. All these I noted. And save for some awkward gestures while eating, he had the poise and the polite, nonchalant manners of a duke.

The dinner passed in a jovial manner. Everybody laughed and talked gaily but myself. Chaplin was the life and soul of the gathering. He sang. He danced and made fun of everybody. His versatility astounded me. As a final touch to his impromptu performance Chaplin suddenly started mimicking a fat local banker at the opera. “Yes, yes,” he said between snores, “go right on, Caruso–I’m listening.”

I have since met many famous entertainers at dinner, but Chaplin is king of them all. …

When the party broke up Charlie walked with me to his waiting limousine. He was almost gentle. I had never met a human so charming and kind. “We’ll meet again, Jim,” he said. “I like you.”…

Two days after the party a fine autographed picture of Charlie came to me. Upon it was written, “My fellow comrade.”

Three weeks later, while walking about Hollywood, I met him. We were both alone. A heavy mood was upon him. Being lonely, and this I came to know was a frequent state with him, he was genuinely glad to see me. 

“I’m weary of this town,” he fretted. “It drives me crazy–it’s awful–awful!”

“Yes, it’s terrible,” I returned. 

“Yes–yes,” he answered quickly.

“But you have friends here, Charlie–everything in the world–all your heart could wish for.”

“You make me laugh, Jim. I haven’t a thing–not a thing. There isn’t a person in town I want to talk to.” He paused. “None of us have much, Jim–we’re all a lot of kids afraid of the dark–and we’re glad when daylight comes. It’s no good to have fifty million people know you–when—“

“But, Charlie,” I cut in, “suppose you were me–trying to write when nobody cares a rap–“

“It would be fine, Jim–I’d like it–work is all that matters–you’ll find out as you go along. You can’t lose yourself in anything long–unless it’s something you’re creating–something out of your soul.”

The last words were said with finality–brows wrinkling. 

“There’s not much difference in any of us–more money–more bother–more people you don’t want to see–” he lifted his hand, finger pointing. “You’re going along, Jim–you’ll learn a lot of things I’ve learned. We’ve both had a lot of grief as kids–money’ll bring you just another kind of grief–that’s all.”

He walked now, with head down, body swinging nervously, oblivious of people who turned to look at Charlie Chaplin. 

A great mimic, a quick mentality. Chaplin absorbs all that is necessary for him to know. Abrupt in conversation, his wondering brain bruising itself against all abstract ideas, he yet goes straight and true to many questions which puzzle more learned men. He does not actually think his way to the answers–he feels it. 

His interests are not in art–not in work primarily–not in lands or ships at sea–but people. Behind the mask of the clown there is a defeated dramatist–a weary and sad man lost in a sea of wonder. (Pictorial Review, January 1927)


1Los Angeles Times, January 8, 1927
3New Movie, July-August 1930.
4The occasion was a party given by producer Ralph Block.


  1. Wow. Why couldn't Tully have written Treasure Island and all the other wonderful childhood books where I hung on every word, every description. He presents a theme park ride in exploring a personality. Too bad the relationship ended on a sour note. He always knew he was susceptible to being betrayed and his predictions too often came true.

  2. Congratulations on finally tracking down all the installments! Like you, I'm a big sucker for the first-hand accounts of Charlie's off-camera mannerisms and physical presence, and this looks like a good one. I know it's a lot of work and time for you to hunt these treasures down and post them for us. Thank you for sharing! I'm hoping you'll post more revealing snippets from these articles!

  3. Yes, please post some more! This would make a great new series, now that the world tour is over. I'm suffering from a bit of withdrawal now.

  4. Yay! Thank you so much for all your work typing all that up so we can share in your discoveries. I eat this stuff up, I tell you!

  5. You can read some other excerpts I've posted from the Tully articles if you click on the "Jim Tully" label, but I will certainly post more–there are some great stories in them.

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