Day By Day: 1936

Monday, March 9th: Shanghai.

Arriving in Shanghai

When the SS President Coolidge pulled into the dock (from Japan) at 1:00 pm, a large group of reporters were lined up along the riverfront waiting to get on board.

At a little after 2:00, the press was allowed to embark and immediately requested a passenger list. Chaplin’s name was absent, but Paulette’s name was at the top, with no cabin number. After searching the ship, the Chaplin party was found leaning against the railing taking in the Shanghai skyline. Some reporters were surprised to find Charlie without his Tramp attire, but instead wearing “gray tweed casual pants, a silk shirt, gray brocade tie, a beige herringbone jacket and brown shoes. His hair was gray, obviously making no attempt to disguise his age. was described as being in “blooming youth, with full, tender lips,” wearing “a brown coat and brown hat, carrying a spray of flowers. Standing beside Chaplin, she seemed like an innocent child, smiling brightly.” In addition to the couple were Miss Goddard’s mother, and the United Artists studio’s Shanghai representative, a Mr. Kress. Another reporter wrote that Chaplin looked “as I expected, a man of 40-some years, with the white hair of a middle-aged gentleman,” and “a small body with short ears,” but he moved normally, “not at all in the quick, short steps of his little tramp character.” This reporter described “Mrs. Chaplin” (i.e. Goddard) as a “vivacious, 20-something woman, very fashionably dressed.”

Chaplin became overwhelmed by the reporters’ questions and Mr. Kress intervened and announced that there would be a press conference at the Cathay Hotel (where Chaplin was staying) that evening at 6:30.

The Chaplin party then proceeded to take a yacht to shore. They went to the Cathay Hotel first, the manager of which was British, and had prepared for them a “5th floor, Class A suite, decorated in a purely English style.”

The group later took a two hour tour of the city. Then attended a welcoming party at the International Hotel hosted by the popular Chinese actress Hue Die (aka Butterfly Wu), who had met Chaplin in 1930 when she came to America as part of Peking Opera legend, Mei Lanfang’s, U.S. tour. When Chaplin met her again on this visit, he said, “I still haven’t seen any of your movies, but my next time in Shanghai that will be the first thing I do.”

Charlie and Paulette with Butterfly Wu.

But of all the people at the reception, it was Mei Lanfang who captured Chaplin’s attention. He approached Mei, put his arm around him, and said jokingly, “I remember when we met six years ago in Los Angeles, we both had dark hair. As you see, my hair is half white now, but I don’t see any gray in yours, is this fair?” Mei returned the joke, saying, “That’s because you work harder than I do: you write, direct and act in all your movies, and that turns one gray. I wish you’d take better care of yourself.”

After a short exchange of pleasantries, Chaplin’s hosts escorted him to tea reception at an international art exhibit going on at the hotel at that time. Chaplin had little time to appreciate the exhibit and spent most of the time signing autographs. He also posed for pictures and volunteered to “have some pictures taken of me with some of these beautiful young ladies.” He repeatedly praised the beauty of the women in attendance, saying “Chinese girls are very cute, I like China.”

Album photos of Chaplin with Mei Lanfang (top) and at tea reception. See enlargements here.

As promised, there was a press conference at 6:30. The major topic among the journalists was Chaplin’s marital status. Were he and Paulette married? Were they getting married? Were they on their honeymoon? etc. Chaplin cleverly dodged the questions and took advantage of Paulette’s absence at the gathering by saying,”Interesting question, but you’d have to ask her about that.”

He was pressed by reporters to offer his opinion on Chinese films. Chaplin hesitated for a bit, and finally replied “I saw a Chinese silent film that was very tragic, but that was long ago. As for Chinese movies today, I couldn’t make an adequate comment.”

Mei Lanfang asked Chaplin what he wanted to do in Shanghai and the guest of honor said he wanted to see the Peking Opera. Mei was not performing that night but he escorted the Chaplin party to see another star, Ma Lianliang, performing “Famen Temple” at the New Everbright Theater. Chaplin was seated next to Qu Guanliang, an employee of a travel agency who interpreted opera for visitors, and who noted, “Chaplin’s appreciation for the Peking Opera was not like that of a layman, but more that of a knowledgeable fan.”

Chaplin’s schedule originally had him staying at the theater for only 15 minutes but he became so engrossed in the performance (and Paulette in the costumes) that they stayed for the entire performance. Afterward they went backstage and met with the cast.

CC congratulates Ma Lianliang.

After about a half hour backstage, the Chaplin party was now ready to go. When Qu, their guide and interpreter, asked where they wanted to go next, Paulette at first hesitated, saying “I don’t know,” but then added as an afterthought that when she was preparing to come to the Far East she remembered Douglas Fairbanks had visited here and asked him what was fun to do in Shanghai. He told her the city was great for dancing, so they went directly to the Paramount Dance Hall, and danced the rest of the night away, before returning to the SS Coolidge for their 9:00am departure for Hong Kong.

Dancing with Paulette at the Paramount.

Stay tuned for more in Day By Day: 1936.

Source: Charlie Chaplin: One Night in Shanghai


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