Showing posts with label Lillian Ross. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lillian Ross. Show all posts

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Moments With Chaplin

Lillian Ross, a longtime writer for the New Yorker magazine, met Charlie and Oona at a Hollywood party in 1948.* She remained a close family friend until Charlie's death in 1977. The following is an excerpt from her book Moments With Chaplin (1978):
Some of the moments I remember from Vevey had the atmosphere of something staged, real though they were. 
Charlie Chaplin heading for the tennis court, wearing white flannel trousers and a tennis shirt with a collar--a white cable knit sweater dashingly slung over his back, the sleeves tied in front. 
Charlie Chaplin playing tennis, racquet in his left hand, running for every ball, not liking to lose, and showing his dissatisfaction every time he lost a point, giving his all to the game, in total concentration, and never, never losing track of the score....
Charlie Chaplin sharing a bowl of peanuts  with three-year-old Annette. Chaplin's face would be down over the bowl, and he would be glaring in top performance, leaving no doubt as to who would get the last peanut. 

Charlie Chaplin in a long terry-cloth robe, his pure-white hair disheveled, leading a visitor at eight o'clock on a late-summer morning down his lawn to his swimming pool, all the white looking whiter in contrast to the shadows cast by the trees on the smooth green lawn.
Charlie Chaplin at the pool, saying, "I go up and down the pool once then out. I keep the water warm. It's not easy to go from a warm bed into a cold pool. I like it as long as it's warm."
Poolside at the Manoir.
L-R: Rex Harrison, CC (in white robe), Jerry Epstein, and Kay Kendall.
 Charlie Chaplin sitting in front of a big fire in the fireplace of his living room for a quick drink before dinner.  Gin-and-tonic usually. "I look forward to that one drink at night," he would say....
Charlie Chaplin comforting Victoria, at the age of eleven, after she had seen "Limelight" for the first time. ("I couldn't help crying at the end, when you died," Victoria said to her father. "Oh, my dear," Chaplin said, on the verge of tears himself. "Oh, my dear. That's sweet. So sweet.")
With the author.
 Charlie Chaplin at the piano in his living room, playing music he had composed for his pictures, humming along with his own playing, while his face expressed every emotion experienced by everybody in each picture, and simultaneously talking: "I can't play anybody's music but my own. I never took a lesson. I never even saw a piano up close until I was twenty-one. As soon as I touched the piano, I could play. The same with the violin."
Charlie Chaplin, at five o'clock in the morning, heading quietly for his study, to work alone on his autobiography, as he did every morning (In 1962, on an afternoon in early September, I sat with him on his terrace as he read parts of his book manuscript to me, the tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses a bit down on his nose, his reading dramatic to the point of melodrama, his devotion to his subject unself-conscious and complete. "I use Fowler's 'The King's English' as my guide," he told me during a breather. "I do all my own editing. I'm very particular. I like to see a clean page, with no erasures. I'm entirely self-taught.")

*Ross is still alive and in 2008 interviewed Charlie's grandson, James Thiérrée. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Charlie & Oona at a train stop in Chicago on their way to New York City, January, 1950.  Chaplin was traveling to NY to audition leading ladies for his upcoming film, Limelight.

Lillian Ross of the New Yorker, who was also a friend of the Chaplins, spent some time with Charlie during this visit & wrote an interesting little article about it here.  Her observations of Chaplin are always fascinating.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Charlie & Food

  • Charlie and I lived together, sharing the same room, for more than two years, and many's the time we cooked our dinners in our room. I fried the chops, while Charlie sat close to the door playing his mandolin to keep the landlady from hearing the sizzling of the meat over the gas--which was put there for lighting purposes only and not with any idea of cooking!  --Stan Laurel, Film Weekly, Sept. 1929. Reprinted in Peter Haining's Charlie Chaplin: A Centennial Celebration
  • Perhaps his emotional state can be best illustrated by the food he eats. One week he solemnly informs us that he is a vegetarian, that meat is bad for one, and that lettuce and fruit form the ideal food. We all become vegetarian. The next week, he looks up and says: "What I need is a big juicy steak. Good meat to build up the body and brain." The following week it becomes cantaloupe filled with ice cream. "Everybody is eating too much," he says. "One can work much better on light lunches." His favorite dish I remember to be banana nut ice cream. --Virginia Cherrill, Picturegoer magazine, Dec. 9th, 1935. 
  • Every Tuesday at the Manoir was the cook's day off, and my mother used to take over the kitchen. She is surprisingly good over a cookstove. Tuesday was the day when she cooked for my father all his favorite dishes. None of the five star Cordon Bleu routine, but things he must have had, or wished he'd had, as a kid in South London...tripe and onions, steak and kidney pie, and stews with dumplings in them. But his craziest food fad is for a thing called Almond Joy. They're an American chocolate bar with an almond on top of them. The Swiss, with a swinging chocolate industry, don't encourage outsiders, and you can't buy Almond Joy there or in England. So any visitor he has coming in from the States loads up with candies for the old man. --Michael Chaplin, I Couldn't Smoke The Grass On My Father's Lawn, 1966.

  • Most days we went to lunch at Musso and Frank's, a nearby restaurant that is to this day one of my favorites. Charlie, Henry Bergman (who appeared in any Chaplin films), Carter de Haven, Sr. (who had been a famous actor, and was the father of Gloria de Haven), and I would travel in splendor in Charlie's limousine. We always sat in the same corner table in the back room and had the same rather bored waiter. Almost anyone else would have been elated at the prospect of serving an artist of such eminence, but this one was onto all of Charlie's tricks and affected to be unaffected by them. But I loved every minute of it.  Charlie had certain little songs with which he would order lunch, and we learned to sing them along with him. One of them, to the tune of "I Want A Lassie," went: "I want a curry; a ricy, spicy curry, With a dish of chutney on the side!" Another, to the melody of "Irish Eyes Are Smiling," went: "An I-rish Stew, with veg-e-ta-bles...!" All were performed with gusto. Diners who were startled by the sudden outbursts from the corner table seemed to be quickly mollified at the thought of enlivening their dinner conversations with the accounts of the luncheon entertainment. --David Raksin, "Life With Charlie Chaplin," Quarterly Journal Of The Library Of Congress, 1983
  • The Chaplins ate outdoors as often as possible, on a large terrace overlooking a long expanse of lawn, and the mountains in the distance. Wild strawberries with heavy cream provided an occasion for a kind of dramatic production by Chaplin. He would choose the best-looking ones and present them, one at a time, to Oona, to himself, to a guest, and to each of his children--in that order. At the close of one such production, he shared a confidence with me. "Every once in a while," he said, "the old lady and I get out the caviar and champagne. And we don't invite anybody else. We sit here gorging ourselves. Just the two of us." --Lillian Ross, Moments With Chaplin, 1980

  • Charles Chaplin likes stewed tripe and hates whiskey. He does like good wines, and drinks cocktails when the occasion seems to require it. Before prohibition, he always had a well-stocked cellar, never drank much himself, and always was a perfect host alcoholically. Since prohibition came, the same is true. Besides stewed tripe, he likes lamb stew. Those are two of his three favorite dishes. He dislikes seasoning, never uses sauces or violent condiments and doesn't care for highly spiced dishes. The one exception is curry, the hotter the better. That's his third favorite dish. He is utterly inconsistent about eating. Sometimes he will go for twenty-four hours or longer without taking a morsel. Then he'll eat four or five meals within the next day. He goes on diets but never keeps them up. He went rabidly on a raw vegetable diet for several days. "Look at animals," he said, "they eat raw vegetables and are healthy. The elephant is the biggest and strongest animal; he eats only vegetables." That night, Charlie ate two beefsteaks, rare.
  • His cook will work for a day or two to prepare an epicurean meal for him. Charlie sits down and it is served. He doesn't like the looks or aroma of something before him. So he leaves the table and goes to a cheap lunch counter and eats ham and eggs. He likes to eat at drug store lunch counters. His favorite restaurant is Henry's. The proprietor is his assistant director. When he is served something he likes very much, he takes as many as five helpings. It makes him violently ill. --Harry Lang, "No Talkies For Charlie," Photoplay, May 1930
  • I went to Chaplin’s house. And they served dinner in the living room, and I remember they served chicken, loose chicken. And there was a bowl in the middle so you could help yourself. And the plate was quite large, and it was like a soup, but not quite—it was wonderful looking. And Charlie gets a spoon, slurp, both hands, the bread, slurp, and I’m going, "Oh my God! Uuuh!" And I’m going, "I don’t believe this!" ‘cause I’m very proper, and Oona was so proper, but you know, I figured she knows what to do, I’ll just follow what she does, just consider everything normal and keep on going. And it was the funniest thing, because it was such a shock! I’d never seen anybody schlurp it in and chew with an open mouth and with everything going at once. And laughing and talking and everything, and I’m going, "Oh my God!" --Interview with Marilyn Nash, Limelight magazine, Spring 1997
  • Looking across to the little boats bobbing gently by the quayside at Avalon, I was startled by a deferential cough and turned to see Chaplin standing over me. He had come up from below as lightly as a grasshopper and was standing there in an attitude of a butler awaiting orders, head cocked expectantly, a napkin over the left forearm, his hand poised in a kindly step-this-way freeze. It was the silent movie call to breakfast and we went below. I have seen only one other man dispatch a meal with such speed. But whereas Adlai Stevenson, belying his general reputation for delicacy shovelled the stuff in with hands as pudgy as baseball mitts, Chaplin disposed of eggs and bacon and a wad of pancakes almost as  a display of sleight of hand. One of the permanent pleasures of being with him was to watch the grace and deftness with which he performed all physical movements, from pouring syrup to swerving like a matador just out of the line of an oncoming truck. --Alistaire Cooke, Six Men, 1956
  • He was a great entertainer. It was always nice to go out with him. He'd do these amazing things with fish in the restaurant too. He'd always ask for a trout that's boiled alive. It's sort of twisted into a funny position and he would take the trout and look at it and say, "Oh, Emma, darling!" And kiss the trout on the lips, and suck out its eyes. We'd all be screaming. "Oh, daddy! Oh, how can you! It's so horrible." He'd ask for the wine, taste it, spit it out and the say, "Wonderful." He loved an audience and we, his kids, were a fantastic audience for him. --Geraldine Chaplin, Variety, April 2003.
  • Chaplin conveys the stigma he felt, as a "nondescript of the slums" and underlines the depth of their destitution, by citing simply the absence of a home-cooked dinner on Sunday. "Even the poorest of children sat down to a roast that night," he reports, a ritual that distinguished one poor class from the beggar-class, "and we were that...The shame of it —especially on Sunday!" But they just couldn't afford it. On the other side of the same coin, something they could afford that Chaplin loved, was bread and dripping. This was fried bread sopped in beef juice: that was what impoverished English families ate when they couldn't buy anything else to eat. It was what was left from other foods: bread was used to sop up juice and melted fat from some meat that had been cooked and eaten, often long before. It was a staple of the poor. The night they returned from his father's funeral, this was all there was to eat--they even had to sell a little oil stove in order to buy bread. His association with it is pleasant: "There were times when I would stay home, and Mother would make tea and fry bread in beef dripping, which I relished...."
  • His wealth is not just protection, it is his revenge for the stinging humiliations he endured as a nobody. But his greatness? He continually returned to the term, "clown," "nothing but a clown," until I asked him directly whether he had any idea of what it was that linked him to the millions of people who felt so close to him, who loved his "tramp" who worshipped him as something more than an actor, as something more personal than a showman. His whole answer, in strong, decisive terms, was: "Yes. Bread and dripping." --Peter Steffens, "Charlie Chaplin: The Victorian Tramp," Ramparts, March 1965

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas with Charlie: Vol. 11

Excerpt from Moments With Chaplin by Lillian Ross:
The Chaplins were faithful with their Christmas cards, which always included a conventional family photograph of one kind or another, usually taken in their living room or on the lawn in front of their house. The children would be lined up in order of age. In the photographs, Chaplin didn't kid around; he always looked strictly the head of the family. There is just a hint of a departure from that role in the Christmas photograph taken in 1964, the year "My Autobiography" was published. It shows the clan reading the book, three members holding copies of the British edition and each of the others holding an edition published in a different country (Two-year-old Christopher, bare-legged with white socks and black patent leather shoes, has "Chaplin: Mit Liv.") Chaplin in this photograph wears an expression of fake, overdone concentration.
The next year, the family is shown standing ankle-deep in snow, with everybody wearing a parka and ski pants--everybody except Chaplin himself, who has on a dark double-breasted overcoat, a dark suit, a white shirt, a dark necktie, and a black fedora. He is standing straight, head up, grinning proudly, hands in his overcoat pockets.

 The 1968 card bears the inscription, in Oona's handwriting, "25th Wedding Anniversary," and it shows the family, gathered on and around the living room sofa, everybody, including Chaplin, looking self-conscious, giving the obligatory anniversary smile.
The photograph for Christmas, 1976, shows Chaplin and Oona seated in a golf cart, useful for getting around large lawns, and surrounded by their children and, by then, grandchildren. 
The Christmas card for 1977 arrived just before Christmas Day, which was the day Charlie Chaplin died. The photograph is of Charlie Chaplin alone, and taken on April 16, 1977, his last birthday--his eighty-eighth. He is sitting in a chair and is wearing a dark suit over a baby-blue cashmere sweater. The white collar of his shirt comes down over the sweater, and there is a white handkerchief in the breast pocket of his jacket. His white hair is sparser but still full and is combed neatly from a side part. His left hand is raised--a bit of the blue sweater showing at the wrist--and is held in midair to a position over his heart, in the classic gesture of the actor.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cooking with Charlie

Onscreen, Charlie cooks his boot with all the finesse and care of a five-star chef. But believe it or not, he also enjoyed cooking in real life, and with the same meticulousness that he put into to his films.

Here Lillian Ross and Eric James share their remembrances of "Charlie the chef":
"A number of moments from Chaplin's life remained fixed in my memory. There was a moment in 1950 when I found Chaplin and Oona in their kitchen fussing over a leg of lamb that they were roasting, while a couple of small children stood by watching. Food was always important to Chaplin, because, he used to explain, he had been so often deprived of it when he was a child. On this day, he was in charge of the oven, a chef's big white apron tied around his waist, a big spoon in his left hand, and he was giving the lamb his full concentration, with a Charlie Chaplin pursing of the lips, a Charlie Chaplin frown, a Charlie Chaplin raising of the spoon at his wide-eyed, frozen onlookers, to keep them at their distance.
'It's done now,' he reported, rather nervously. 'It's just right. Tender and succulent.'
 'Charlie did the basting while I fed the baby,' his wife said.
'I baste and baste,' Chaplin said to me, with authority.
'Baste and baste and baste.'" (Lillian Ross, Moments With Chaplin)

Eric James was Charlie's musical associate from 1956 to 1976. He was no stranger to Charlie's mood swings and bad temper. During one particular session, tempers flared and things quickly went downhill. Charlie eventually slammed down the lid on the piano, called off work for the day, and stormed out of the room.  Eric was sure his days working for Charlie Chaplin were over. But after about ten or fifteen minutes, Charlie opened the door and with "the wistful smile of the 'little fellow'" asked, "Have you ever eaten a barbecue steak?" Taken aback, Eric replied the he had not. "Well, you are going to tonight," said Charlie.
"At 6:00 p.m. the butler entered the salon to ask what I would like to drink and I was shortly joined afterward by Mrs. Chaplin. We both sat by the roaring fire enjoying our aperitifs when it occurred to me that Mr. Chaplin was late in joining us for his predinner gin and tonic. I asked Oona if she knew what had happened to delay him. She grinned and said, "Take a look out of the window." I got up and was quite unprepared for the sight that met my eyes. There, on a spot close to the staff quarters, stood a large portable barbecue they had brought from their home in California. Mr. Chaplin was garbed in a very heavy Crombie overcoat with its collar turned up to meet the rim of the black Homburg that had been pulled down well over his ears. He was gently turning the steaks and large jacket potatoes in between bouts of foot stamping and hand slapping, which, because of the extreme cold of this November evening, was so necessary in spite of the heat from the barbecue fire.

I felt deeply concerned that he should be exposed to such conditions and asked Mrs. Chaplin if I could go and help him. Mrs. Chaplin immediately replied, 'No, Eric, don't go outside. Just leave him alone. This is his way of saying he's sorry for being such a pig to you today.' I was deeply touched and felt that however difficult or unreasonable he would undoubtedly be in the future, this indication of a real and sensitive human being lurking within would help me to weather the storms and accept that this was part of the job. 
I might add that the meal was excellent. I have never had a better one and when at the end of it I was told that all the family would find it agreeable if from thence on I referred to them by their first names, I felt that I had really arrived. It had been a bittersweet day but it was the beginning of our long and mainly happy association. (Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin)

On that note, I'd like to wish everyone in the U.S a Happy Thanksgiving. I hope it's full good food and good cheer. --Jess

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Random Excerpt

Charlie & Oona arriving in New York, September 1952

From Moments With Chaplin by Lillian Ross (1980):
When the Chaplins arrived in New York [in 1952], they checked into the Sherry-Netherland, and Oona called me to ask if I wanted to go walking with Charlie around the city. "I can't go," Oona said. "He walked me for four hours in Chicago. I've got blisters on both heels."

The next morning at eleven, I went to pick Chaplin up at their suite.

"Walking around the city is a ritual with me...I love to walk all over New York. It's a bloody ritual with me."

Chaplin was dressed for the walk in an oxford-gray, double-breasted suit, a white shirt with a black satin necktie, and gray socks and well-shined black shoes. His hair, pure white even then, was long, curling up at the back of his neck. His eyebrows, too, were pure white. His cheeks were pink. He was smiling, and was eager to get going.

Out on the sidewalk, Chaplin took a deep breathe. "I like this kind of day for walking in the city, " he said. "A sultry, Indian-summer September day. But do you know the best time for walking in the city? Two AM. It's the best time. The city is chaste. Virginal. Two AM in the winter is the best, with everything looking frosty. The tops of the automobiles. Shiny. All those colors." He took another deep breath. "It's really hot today," he said. "Thank God I left my vest off."


"Seems as if I'd been here forever", Chaplin said to me as we continued our walk down Fifth Avenue. "You come along this avenue and you meet the world. In Hollywood, you walk for miles and you don't meet a single friend. Sometimes when I have a whole day here I walk the whole day. I just go along, and I discover places. I discovered Sweet's, the famous fish place, all by myself. Down near the Battery. To me, that's the romantic part of New York. Especially on Sunday. It's so quiet. So chaste. So clean. Nobody's around. You take any business center, there's something very romantic about it when it's inactive. So I went walking down to the Battery by myself and saw this place with all the limousines parked outside. Dowagers stepping out of the limousines. Very respectable gentlemen. So I said to myself, 'This must be very good.' And I went in there and had myself a load of clams. I love clams. I used to go to Grand Central--to the Oyster Bar. I'd get a dozen clams, and all you'd want besides is the lemon. You'd get a dozen clams for eighty cents."

We walked along in silence for a few moments. Chaplin looked with interest at the other pedestrians.

"Every time I walk, I get a terrific exhilaration, " he said. "Each new day is a day of promise. There are always parts of the city to explore. Always parts you haven't seen."


Chaplin clasped his hands behind his back as we passed the Scribner Bookstore. "I used to haunt the secondhand bookshops in those days," he said. "I was pretty lonesome. It was the most terrible lonesomeness. I've ever felt, that first year in New York. Anyway, the day I got off the boat in New York, I planted myself right in the middle of Broadway. I didn't know how to function at all. I had taken a streetcar, and I got off at Times Square. There were all those old brownstones, rooming houses, where English people looked for digs, all along there. I took a little back room, for three bucks a week. There used to be a saloon near where the Paramount Theatre is now. I later stayed in a room above the saloon. I was terribly ill there. I couldn't get out of bed. They used to have a magnificent free lunch. God, in those days! What an array! The pigs' knuckles! Ham sandwiches! Sauerkraut! Hot dogs! All free! Let's go over that way. To where the American Music Hall used to be. I played there with the Fred Karno troupe for six weeks in 1911. Near the corner of Eighth Avenue, on Forty-second Street. I like to go look at it. But let's not go on Forty-seventh or Forty-eighth Street. They're very sad streets.
"The American Music Hall used to have two theaters in it," he said. "You'd take an elevator and go up and play to another audience. Don't tell me there's a bank there now. That would be horrifying. No, the Anco Theater. That's it. 'The Thrill Film Theater, Robin Hood--The Half Breed.' he read from the marquee. "My God! How the whole place gets lost, doesn't it? Let's go up to the next corner. I'm a little cloudy about this, but I know the Eltinge Theater was around here, too. Julian Eltinge was a great vaudeville star. A female impersonator."
An old woman in a torn dress was standing in from the of New Amsterdam Theater selling pretzels from a battered baby stroller. "I don't think the old girl would know whether this is where Ziegfeld had his 'Follies,' or whether it had a roof garden," Chaplin said. He stopped walking. He looked puzzled, a bit hurt.
An elderly man with a pale, freckled face, who was bald except for reddish hair at the base of his skull, came along and stopped beside us..."Visiting your old haunts, Charlie?" the man said.

"Why, yes," Chaplin said. "Yes. Yes, I am."

"I used to come in as a kid, fifteen years old", the man said. "They were the good old days."
"Wasn't this where Ziegfeld had his 'Follies'?" Chaplin asked. "And didn't it have a roof garden?"
"You're right," the man said. "And it still does have a roof garden." 
"You see, I was right, wasn't I?" Chaplin said to me.  
"What are you doing now, Charlie?" the man asked.

"I'm still in the movies, " Chaplin said. "At least, I think I am." Charlie gave us a laugh....