Helen Keller visits the set of “Sunnyside” & laughs at Charlie’s films

Helen Keller, who was both deaf and blind, visited the Chaplin Studios in late 1918 during the filming of Sunnyside. She was able to “talk” to Charlie by reading his lips with her hands and feeling the vibration of his voice on his throat. She remembered him as being “shy, almost timid, and his lovely modesty lent a touch of romance to an occasion that might otherwise have seemed quite ordinary.” Keller & her party had dinner with Chaplin and then were screened two of his films, A Dog’s Life and Shoulder Arms. “Before he reeled off the pictures,” Keller recalled, “he let me touch his clothes, his shoes, his moustache that I might have a clearer idea of him onscreen. He sat beside me and asked me again and again if I was really interested–if I liked him and the little dog in the picture” 1 Keller’s teacher and companion, Anne Sullivan, described the scenes with sign language in the palm of Keller’s hand. “Onlookers declare that she led the laughter as the absurd situations developed and that she did not miss one of the subtle bits of comedy.” 2

L-R: Polly Thompson, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller, and Chaplin on the Sunnyside set.

Keller later remembered how well Charlie and Anne Sullivan hit it off:

Teacher was shy and restrained with all [the stars] but Charlie Chaplin. At a dinner party he would talk with no one else but she, telling her the story of his life and all his marriage problems. Finally he asked her:
“Do you think I’m disgusting?” “Yes,” she replied. “Anyone who would have so many custard pies thrown in his face is disgusting.” They soon became fast friends. 3

Keller “talks” to Charlie by feeling his lips and throat.

Helen Keller, Midstream, 1929
Moving Picture World, Dec. 21, 1918
Jean Houston,  Public Like A Frog, 1993

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