Alexadrov and his wife visited the Chaplins in Vevey in 1953. Charlie & Grigori had first met in Hollywood in 1930 when the latter was working as an assistant to Sergei Eisenstein.1 They had not seen each other since. Orlova had never met Chaplin and, according to Jerry Epstein, who was also a guest that evening, she was in complete awe:
All through dinner, Mrs. Alexandrov kept looking at Charlie with stars in her eyes. ‘Oh, maestro!’ she exclaimed in her thick accent. ‘You don’t know how you are loved by the Russian people.’ Charlie nodded modestly as she continued ecstatically. He didn’t like gushing.
As we adjourned to the sitting room, Mrs. Alexandrov noticed some of Charlie’s music resting on the piano. ‘Oh, maestro!’ she cried once again. ‘It would be such an honor if you would let me have a sheet of your music for the Moscow Museum.’ Charlie quickly took the music away and put it to one side. Then as we walked further into the room, she noticed some loose pages from one of his scripts, with notations on the side. She picked one up and held it close to her bosom. ‘Oh, maestro!’ she proclaimed emotionally, ‘if this could be presented to the Leningrad Museum it would be preserved forever!’
|Oona, CC, and Orlova . Charlie is holding sheet music for Limelight.|
Suddenly Charlie stormed out of the room and signaled me to follow him. As he was going up the stairs, he said, ‘Get rid of those damned Communists. They’re all the same. They’ll take everything that’s not nailed to the floor!’ And this was from a man who Americans accused of having Communist sympathies! Poor Mr. and Mrs. Alexandrov. They didn’t know what hit them. I had to drive them to the railway station and apologize that the “maestro” was suddenly taken ill.2
|L-R: Jerry Epstein, Orlova, “The Maestro,” and Oona.
Photo by Alexandrov. Source: Remembering Charlie/Epstein
It appears this visit, if it actually went as Epstein described, didn’t have a lasting effect on Chaplin’s relationship with the couple. There are photos of a subsequent visit with the Chaplins around 1960. They also sent Charlie a birthday telegram in 1956.
|Birthday telegram from the Alexadrovs, 1956. From Chaplin’s MI5 file.|
1Chaplin remembered in his autobiography that Eisenstein and Alexandrov would come to his house and “play very bad tennis on my court. At least, Alexandrov did.” They also spent time at Catalina Island. One story goes that while rowing in a boat off Catalina one day, Chaplin and Alexandrov were singing the Russian folk song, “Stenka Razin” which has the line “Volga, Volga, Mother Volga.” Chaplin jokingly suggested that he thought “Volga, Volga” would be a good title for a film. In 1937, Alexandrov directed a film with that very name, starring his wife. (www.orlovamegastar.narod.ru)
2Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, Doubleday, 1989.