Working With Charlie Chaplin, Vol. 3: THE GREAT DICTATOR

Today is the 75th anniversary of the New York premiere of Chaplin’s first talkie.

PAULETTE GODDARD (Hannah): “I am proudest of my role in The [Great] Dictator–both politically and emotionally. I am not playing a character–it’s really me. Charlie wrote that part for me. The girl is quaint, she’s a rebel. She is fearless. She’s the only one who fights and talks back to the storm troopers.” (Boston Globe, October 13, 1940)

REGINALD GARDINER (Schultz): “Making that picture was a unique experience. Chaplin’s studio on North La Brea is like Charlie’s own private kingdom, where he is absolute boss and where nothing matters except this one picture. You can’t help but be stimulated…And it’s amazing to watch Chaplin on the set. One minute he is the white-haired genius, bursting with ideas, giving orders about the lighting and the set, planning everything ahead of time with extraordinary care, and the the next minute the camera will start to grind and he will suddenly become the wistful Little Tramp.” (San Francisco Chronicle, November 29, 1940)

DAN JAMES (Asst. Director): “Charlie admired [Hitler’s] acting. He really did. Of course, he had in himself some of the qualities that Hitler had. He dominated his world. And Chaplin’s world was not a democracy either. He was the dictator of all those things.” (David Robinson, Charlie Chaplin: His Life and Art, 1985)

Asst. directors Dan James (in striped shirt) and Wheeler Dryden

TED TETRICK (costumes): When we were making fittings, Charlie never wore a moustache. When we had a final fitting for the uniform in the spaghetti-throwing scene, the people from Western Costume remarked on how much he looked like Hitler. Charlie spun around and said, “Hitler looks like me!”’ (Charlie Chaplin Archives, Paul Duncan, ed., Taschen, 2015)

JACK OAKIE (Napaloni): “He used to give me a lot of scenes. After each one he’d grin like a kid. ‘Oakie,’ he’d say, ‘I don’t know why I’m so good to you.’ I’d say, ‘Listen, you little rascal, you just do for me what you did for Jackie Coogan.’ …”I figure being in this picture with Chaplin is gonna get your Uncle Jack about ten years of nice fat work. It’s that good.” (Screenland, Nov. 1940)

FRANCESCA SANTORO (Aggie): “I suppose one scene was taking longer to prepare than usual. All of a sudden, Mr. Chaplin, who was directing from the outside, in makeup and costume (He was wearing what I recall as being a green plaid vest), came inside the ghetto. He started dancing a jig, just to entertain the cast, and keep them from getting more restless than usual. Since I was on the barrel, I remember he had his back to us, and he was facing the cameras. I don’t know if they ever shot any of that in film, but a still remains. I like to think that the cameras were moving. We were all clapping our hands. It was very funny, and it was also very kind of him to break up any restlessness the cast might have had.” (Francesca Santoro, 2015)

Santoro is behind Paulette, second from left.

And for fun:

WHEELER DRYDEN (Asst. Director): The following are notes from the shooting schedules for The Great Dictator:

“Some people think that this schedule isn’t subject to change. Some people also believe in Santa Claus.” (December 9, 1940)

“Will the person who took the quart jar of alcohol from the prop room please return it. Clem Widrig has no place to keep his teeth.” (December 16, 1940, Widrig was property master on the film) (source: The Great Dictator DVD, Image Entertainment, 2000)


  1. This is great – love the collection of memories. I remember reading somewhere (god knows which book) that Chaplin didn't treat Reginald Gardner well during the filming of "Dictator". Gardner's quote kind of bears that out.

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