Chaplin’s “last message to America”

Chaplin photographed by Richard Avedon on September 13th, 1952, his last day in the U.S.

Avedon described the session in an interview with the New York Times in 1991:

On the day before Charlie Chaplin left the United States for what turned out to be exile in Europe, he telephoned the photographer Richard Avedon. Not believing it was Chaplin, Mr. Avedon told the caller, “This is President Roosevelt,” and hung up.

For months, Mr. Avedon had been writing to the actor asking for a sitting, drawing no response. But in his next call on that day in 1952, Mr. Chaplin was convincing, and a meeting was set.

Mr. Avedon recalled that when Chaplin arrived at the studio, he told himself: “This is Charlie Chaplin! There is a Charlie Chaplin!”

Mr. Avedon sent all his helpers out of the studio. The two worked alone. “I was a wreck,” he said. “I did the pictures as simply as I could.”

“Are you finished?” Mr. Chaplin asked. “I could do something for you.” He bent down, concealing his face, and put a finger on each side of his head. He came up with a violently grotesque expression, then turned it into a smile.

“This was his last message to America,” Mr. Avedon said. “The sitter offered the photographer this gift that arrives once in a lifetime.”

–NYT, September 15th, 1991

An alternate, less commonly-seen, pose from the session.

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