Day By Day: 1936

Wednesday, February 12th: Charlie and Paulette attend the Hollywood premiere of Modern Times at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.

Grauman’s Chinese on opening night

After three days of torrential downpours, the skies cleared over Hollywood just in time for the gala premiere of Chaplin’s long-awaited new film.

“The red carpet was stretched for famous feet (some are already imprinted in concrete in the forecourt) all the regalia of cameras, flashlights, sun arcs, microphone announcers functioned out front for the benefit of the sidewalk spectators too long deprived of “premeer” glamour. Despite the rainy season, at its height, the boulevard for blocks was jammed with cheering throngs in slickers and under umbrellas.” 1 

Cover of Grauman’s program

Chaplin, attired in tails, looked “radiant,” his “gray hair sparkling in the spotlight,” while Paulette Goddard, at the opening of her first major film, “caused gasps of admiration with her gown done entirely in bands of white fringe over heavy white crepe and the latest thing in white fox capes.” 2

Unprecedented for him, Chaplin gave a short speech before the film was shown. On stage, he nervously touched the microphone and said: “This thing confuses me.” He then introduced Paulette and asked for the then-newcomer “your sympathetic interest.” Chaplin admitted to the audience that he was more nervous than ever in his career and while he felt Modern Times was his best picture, he never knew what the public would say. Nevertheless, he felt he had reached a “milestone.”

Chaplin then explained that he was encouraged to attend the premiere and make an uncharacteristic speech by Greek theater owner Charles Skouras who had told him that for the $5.50 admission price he should give the people what they want and make a personal appearance. He then spoke with a Greek accent and impersonated Skouras talking to him. Paulette climaxed the story by stepping into the footlights and announcing “It’s all Greek to me.”4

A slew of celebrities attended the opening, including Chaplin’s guests: Constance Collier, King Vidor, and his girlfriend, Betty Hill.

L-R: Constance Collier, Paulette, her mother Alta, CC

Also in attendance were: Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg, Marlene Dietrich, Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson, Ernst Lubitsch, Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford (though not together), Lupe Velez, Bette Davis, Warren William, Harold Lloyd, Amelia Earhart, Cecil B. DeMille, and Groucho Marx, who humorously remarked: “I came here to see another comedian who doesn’t talk.”5

Douglas Fairbanks

1Mayme Ober Peak, Boston Globe, Feb. 20, 1936
2Washington Post, Feb. 17, 1936; Los Angeles Times, Feb. 16th, 1936
3Washington Post, Feb. 17, 1936; Boston Globe, February 20, 1936
4Motion Picture Daily, February 14, 1936
5Washington Post, Feb. 17, 1936

For past installments of my “Day By Day: 1936” series, where I document one year of Chaplin’s life, click here. Coming soon, Charlie and Paulette embark on their 4-month trip to the Far East.

1 Comment

  1. Paulette always looks so squeaky clean, like she just got out of the shower. She hadn't received the jewelry set yet I see. I have mant of those 3 and 4 piece boxed sets from the 40s. Mine are Belgium cut crystal. Some are Eisehower glass. Fancy.

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