Showing posts with label Grace Kingsley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grace Kingsley. Show all posts

Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Chaplin's Funny Feet Walk Into War Comedy"

Ninety-eight years ago today, Chaplin's satire of WWI, Shoulder Arms, was released. The following is an excerpt from a June 1918 article by Grace Kingsley in which she observes Chaplin, and brother Syd, grappling with a title for the film (Charlie considered calling it "Hearts of Fate") and filming a sequence with children (which was, of course, never used). I've included illustrations from the original article, by Harry Barndollar, as well as real photos.

"Chaplin's Funny Feet Walk Into War Comedy"
by Grace Kingsley
Los Angeles Times, June 30th, 1918

"Shoulder Arms," Mr. Chaplin christened his picture the other day after wrinkling a whole hour over the problem, out at the studio, the while the comedian, Brer Sid and the rest of us drank innumerable cups of tea. All the name had to suggest was patriotism and fun, and drama and punch and a few other things like that. Of course the christening wasn't effected without a lot of skirmishing. Sid Chaplin must have his joke, for one thing.
"Call it 'The Bums Of Berlin!'" he suggested.
But Brer Charlie wasn't going to have any low-comedy names, because his bright necklace of laughter is really strung on a stout little thread of seriousness.
The Fat Comedian, who is inclined to be sentimental, suggested it be called "Hearts Of Fate."
"Hearts Of Lettuce," parodied Sid Chaplin.
Why not call It 'Charlie Carries On," suggested the Thin Heavy, which sounded reasonable, too. But the comedian took a reflective munch of his third slice of cake, and a quick gulp of tea, got up and walked into the door of a set, emerged on the other side and triumphantly announced:
"Shoulder Arms!"
"Which you must admit has punch in its sound, suggests either comedy or pathos, and altogether, like the Mother Hubbard wrapper of the senator's speech, "covers everything and touches nothing."

Charlie & Syd in Shoulder Arms

"And now, Sid," said Charlie, "tell the lady the plot."
Sid looked perplexed. "Don't I just wish you could!" laughed Charlie.
As a matter of fact, the plot always thickens slowly as Chaplin proceeds with his pictures. But he's always certain about the theme. That's the vital thing which many comedy makers overlook, according to Charlie--the theme which makes for success in comedy just as much as it does in heavy drama, he declares.
"The story is a sketchy thing," explains Charlie seriously, "really it's just a ...."
But there, we nearly told. ...
Of course, you know Charlie uses a number of children in this production. In fact, these scenes are all finished, and it is here that Charlie has achieved a fairly Barrie-esque whimsicality. But not without much hard labor were the scenes made, with the comedian directing the youngsters every minute.

A school teacher--at $2700 a day! That was Chaplin during the making of these scenes.
"And although I love those kids dearly, and though they were just as clever as they could be--well, I take back all I ever said about school teachers," grinned the comedian.
It seems they all had a great day at Venice last week with the kids taking in all the joys of the Midway under Chaplin's sole supervision, the mommers being specially requested to stay behind. One youngster got stage fright or something during the mad progress of the merry-go-round, and Chaplin had to achieve an athletic rescue; another Chaplin found at the helm of the peanut roaster, where he was trying to persuade the owner to let him run the machine; another had to be forcibly peeled like a plaster off the roller coaster after his fourth round trip; but on the whole Charlie says he thoroughly enjoyed being nursemaid for a day.

One of the youngsters fell and hurt himself a bit. "Actors don't cry," Charlie remonstrated. "Whereupon," he related, all the kids got together and speculated on what might make an actor cry. Finally one of them said, "Well, I'll bet If Charlie fell out of a balloon he'd cry." Which seemed to settle the matter. "And a funny little thing happened when a strange little boy walked up to me and told me timidly that he 'liked me better than he did any of the other Charlies.'"
"I had an awful time getting any of the children to play the Kaiser. They wouldn't even be bribed--they said It would be disloyal to the United States. Finally, how do you think I got one of the youngsters to play tho part? Well, I just told him I'd hit him awfully hard. And he said, 'Well, all right, If you'll promise to hit the Kaiser awful hard, I'll play him.'"

Charlie puts Kaiser makeup on one of the children.
There was some debate a few years ago about whether or not this child is Doug, Jr.
 I don't believe that it is. To me, he looks like the child wearing the bowler in the above photos.

Friday, January 29, 2016

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.