Working With Charlie Chaplin: Vol. 2: Lunch Time

Lunch on location

“Most days we went to lunch at Musso and Frank’s, a nearby restaurant that is to this day one of my favorites. Charlie, Henry Bergman (who appeared in any Chaplin films), Carter de Haven, Sr. (who had been a famous actor, and was the father of Gloria de Haven), and I would travel in splendor in Charlie’s limousine. We always sat in the same corner table in the back room and had the same rather bored waiter. Almost anyone else would have been elated at the prospect of serving an artist of such eminence, but this one was onto all of Charlie’s tricks and affected to be unaffected by them. But I loved every minute of it. Charlie had certain little songs with which he would order lunch, and we learned to sing them along with him. One of them, to the tune of ‘I Want A Lassie,’ went: ‘I want a curry; a ricy, spicy curry, With a dish of chutney on the side!’ Another, to the melody of ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling,’ went: ‘An I-rish Stew, with veg-e-ta-bles…!’ All were performed with gusto. Diners who were startled by the sudden outbursts from the corner table seemed to be quickly mollified at the thought of enlivening their dinner conversations with the accounts of the luncheon entertainment. –David Raksin, “Life With Charlie Chaplin,” Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, 1983

“[Eating] his lunch of a single tomato…he could never understand why the crew needed a whole hour for lunch when he only took a couple of minutes” –Robert Lewis, Slings and Arrows, 1996

“At lunchtime, Oona would arrive on the set with a carton of cottage cheese and pineapple, or hard-boiled eggs. They would sit in his little portable dressing room nibbling away contentedly until [Robert] Aldrich called, “OK! ready for the next shot!” –Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, 1989

“Charlie Chaplin had lunch [at Musso & Frank’s] almost every day; his favorite was the boiled lamb with caper sauce.”–“Coast Grill Still Thriving,” Bridgeport Post, July 1, 1964

 Oona lunches with Charlie

“At precisely 4:00 pm…Gino [Chaplin’s butler] would appear with a silver tray containing a pot of tea, a wedge of chocolate cake, and an assortment of sweet biscuits. At this point Mr Chaplin would then absent himself from the room for five minutes. Occasionally he would remain, sitting in the armchair facing me and I would feel waves of suppressed irritation wafting over me as he tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair and dared me with his eyes to linger a moment longer than he considered necessary.” –Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin, 2001

“We always went off to the same place [for lunch], Musso & Frank’s, and Chaplin made a point of banning all talk of the script. At the end of the meal, he would make a silent sign to [Henry] Bergman, who produced the money and paid the bill. I never remember Chaplin carrying money.” –Alistair Cooke, Six Men, 1956

“At twelve o’clock on the second day, I yelled, ‘Lunch!’ The silence was terrific. You could hear the jaws drop. Nobody yells on a Chaplin set, not even Mr. Chaplin. Chuck came over, in that exquisite ballet-dancer gait of his. Pleasantly he asked me, ‘What was that, m’love?’ (Chuck called me ‘m’love’ during all the twelve weeks we worked. It’s his term for Annabella–in the picture.) So I explained. People who aren’t geniuses get hungry at noon…Chuck thought it was a wonderful idea. He couldn’t imagine why somebody hadn’t told him about it before. So for the duration of the picture, I called lunch. And now that I think of it, maybe that’s the reason the crew and other members of the cast used to insist that I come around to the set even on the days that I didn’t appear in the script!” –Martha Raye, Movieland, Feb. 1948

“Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance used to be [at Graham’s Confectionery] almost daily. At that time, Charlie was not the cultured man he is today. He was a rather bad-tempered little customer, inclined to make temperamental scenes. I remember he nearly scared one of the girl waitresses to death one day by yelling, as he pounded his hand on the table, ‘I want service! My time is money! Give me service or I’ll get out? I can’t wait around here all day!’…Charlie is a very different person, now” —Picture Play, September 1926

“Perhaps his emotional state can be best illustrated by the food he eats. One week he solemnly informs us that he is a vegetarian, that meat is bad for one, and that lettuce and fruit form the ideal food. We all become vegetarian. The next week, he looks up and says: ‘What I need is a big juicy steak. Good meat to build up the body and brain.’ The following week it becomes cantaloupe filled with ice cream. ‘Everybody is eating too much,’ he says. ‘One can work much better on light lunches.'” –Virginia Cherrill, Picturegoer magazine, Dec. 9th, 1935

Afternoon tea on the set of Sunnyside.

“When Dad was engrossed, he lost all conception of time. Lunch hour might come and go without a break, especially as no one would find the temerity to interrupt and tell him that it was twelve noon. Sometimes it would be as late as two o’clock before he would come to his senses and dismiss the company for an hour. Syd and I always took lunch with Dad in his dressing room.” –Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father Charlie Chaplin, 1960

“When we’d go on location, Sid would have his half-brother Wheeler keep an eye on the food-line. They had a special table set up for Charlie and the heads; I always sat over with the workmen and I think Charlie got a little put out about it, too. They’d break their necks; they’d do anything for me. I’d say, ‘I’m no better than they are. What the hell, I don’t have to sit over there and listen to all this and that.’ Charlie happened to see Wheeler Dryden checking on me; he had a notebook, checking on every guy as he went along taking his dinner. Charlie finally said, ‘Listen, what have they got over there to eat?’–where all the crew and everybody was eating. ‘Well, so what, what have we got here?’ You feed them over there the same that this table is eating. Regardless of what we got here, they eat the same thing. Remember that. See that you do.’ Always for the underdog.” –“Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed,” Timothy J. Lyons, ed. Film Culture, Spring 1972


  1. I love these thematic posts! I especially like the anecdote of him making sure that everyone got the same thing to eat.

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