A day with Charlie at his new studio

Chaplin with Grace Kingsley and Gale on the employment office set of A Dog’s Life.

In January 1918, journalist Grace Kingsley, along with Los Angeles Times cartoonist “Gale” (aka Edmund Waller “Ted” Gale) visited Chaplin at his new Hollywood studio. The three had met before. In August 1916, Kingsley interviewed Chaplin at the Lone Star Studio, where his Mutual films were made. That interview, published in the LA Times,1 also featured cartoons by Gale. Chaplin was comfortable with Kingsley and seemed to open up to her in a way he seldom did with reporters. I’ve accompanied this post with real photos of the visit as well as Gale’s drawings which depict Charlie not only as actor, director, and interviewee, but also as an anchor during the “stormy days” of war.

All quotes and cartoons below are from “Charlie Chaplin Begins Work In His New Studio,” by Grace Kingsley, Los Angeles Times, January 20th, 1918.2

Gale’s observations of Chaplin

After giving his guests a tour of his studio (“I think I could like this place if I didn’t work here,” he says), Chaplin answered questions about his future film plans. He tells Kingsley that his pictures henceforth will contain more character study and more story…

“And how will the public like that,” inquires Charlie anxiously with his puzzled, quizzical little frown.

“What’s your first story?” we ask.  “All about a dog!” grins Charlie pointing to a scrap of a mongrel that has crawled to his feet and is licking his hands….That’s all we found out about the picture except that it has an employment bureau in it.3

Posing with a mirror. Kingsley is on the right.

Kingsley goes on to describe watching Chaplin rehearse the cast:

Just here in trooped a motley bunch of actors, and Charlie went to work. 

“And now,” said Chaplin after an hour’s hard rehearsal of the gang, “and now I think a little rehearsal will do us good.” 

That’s characteristic of the patience and hard work of the comedian, who really leads a double life–that of both actor and director. For Charlie Chaplin, the comedian with the Midas touch of comedy which has the power to turn the meanest “prop” into golden laughter, works like a whirlwind and notes every detail of both makeup and action on the part of his actors, and goes through every smallest part himself to show them. Why, he even dresses them sometimes when they don’t get on their make-ups to suit him. 

The only prop in this scene, which was held in an employment agency, was a box filled with sawdust, the purpose of which was obvious. But Charlie didn’t let the frayed-out-old-actory person use it for that. “Just flick your cigarette ashes in it–so” he prompted, and then he went through the part in a manner that showed him the artist he is, for the part was only a bit, yet you smiled and you laughed  and cried at the same time he did it. 

“This isn’t a rehearse–this is the original hearse,” exclaimed one of the actors as he stepped out of the strenuous scene, mopping his brow. 

Charlie’s comedy seems entirely spontaneous–that’s its wonderful charm. But beneath it all he has the mathematics of merriment, the logarithms of laughter, at his fingers’ ends. 

Gale sketches Chaplin’s interview with Kingsley

The result:

1“Beneath The Mask: Witty, Wistful, Serious Is The Real Charlie Chaplin,” by Grace Kingsley, Los Angeles Times, August 20th, 1916
2Kingsley’s 1918 article is also quoted in my piece from January 19th about Chaplin’s new studio. Click here.
3The film is A Dog’s Life, released April 14th, 1918.

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