Showing posts with label Merna Kennedy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Merna Kennedy. Show all posts

Friday, October 31, 2014

The bench photos

Located at the end of a row of offices near the studio screening room, this bench was a popular spot for photos at the Chaplin Studio.

The building straight ahead is a corner of the studio laboratory. I believe the studio entrance gate is around the corner
 from the bench, between the screening room and the lab.

A few photos of Chaplin and others with the bench:

Chaplin posing with an airmail package, 1927

Posing with Kono, 1927
 (taken at the same time as the "airmail" photos above)

With Harry d'Arrast, 1923
With Chuck Reisner (left) and Konrad Bercovici, c.1924
With ballerina Anna Pavlova, 1922
Betty Morrissey (left) and Merna Kennedy, c. 1926

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"Merna Approves Charlie"

In honor of Merna Kennedy, who was born on this day in 1908.

Excerpt from "Merna Approves Charlie" by Katherine Lipke, Los Angeles Times, May 16th, 1926:
Merna Kennedy--17--with radiant red hair and green eyes. Lita Grey Chaplin's chum is now Charlie Chaplin's leading lady in "The Circus." 
A girl, boyish and nonchalant--yet constantly flushing with an undercurrent of feminine feeling. She would probably just as soon call Charlie Chaplin "You egg" during a scene as not. Yet she is breathless in her admiration for his direction and technique. 
When Charlie Chaplin chose Merna Kennedy from her place as comedienne in "All For You,"1 everyone was surprised. Everyone but Merna! To the rest she was just a little girl with a charming smile, vivid hair and dancing feet. 
But Merna to herself is a girl who has been handed many things by life and who is growing to expect many things. This opportunity with Chaplin is splendid but a girl to whom no one ever said "No," who has never met disappointment, how can she judge how great an opportunity it is....
But Merna, with her gay bubbles of enthusiasm, with her eyes untouched by any problem, just stammers prettily that Charlie is such fun--that it is great to work with him--she has never been so happy--she wants to be in pictures always--and then repeats that Charlie is such fun.
She is full of stories about him. How he is constantly impersonating some one or other, many times herself. How at the end of some such impromptu entertainment she gets up and mimics Charlie while directing, revealing all the funny mannerisms of which he is unconscious. And Charlie at the end laughs and protests that he can't look as bad as that. 
She explains how he grew brutal the other day on the set and told her many unpleasant things about herself. She hesitated between anger and tears, and when tears won out he rushed her to the camera and she discovered that this lachrymose display was what he had been working for.2
She tells of Charlie Chaplin--the playboy, who takes Lita, Merna and Harry Crocker (also in "The Circus") to the beach to plan out the picture and then they all go swimming instead and come back tired and laughing, with the picture still in the background. 
These are not things about Charlie Chaplin which have impressed his new leading lady. His laughter and his companionability. She talks constantly of Lita and Charlie as if the comedian, like Lita and herself, were 17 in years and inclination. 
When Charlie planned a test for her for “The Circus" she wasn't excited or  self-conscious.
It was something to get over with before signing the contract. It did not occur to her that she might not be the right screen type. 
Charlie grew saucily impertinent with her while the camera was grinding out the test. She snapped back at him with flippant good humor without self-consciousness. Something to be done and she was doing it. Not a crisis to be feared! Life has never introduced Merna Kennedy to a crisis. 

1All For You was a musical comedy in which Merna had a leading dance role. At the suggestion of his wife, and Merna's close friend, Lita Grey, Chaplin attended a performance at Mason Opera House in Los Angeles. (Screenland, July 1926). He was impressed with her but nothing was said to Merna until some time after that when the musical's run in Los Angeles was complete & she was offered a contract to go on tour with the show. Her mother asked Chaplin if he thought she should do it. He said, "no," that if Merna could pass a screen test he would give her an opportunity. Chaplin also changed the spelling of her name from Myrna to Merna. (San Bernadino County Sun, March 3, 1926)

2Chaplin used the same technique on Claire Bloom for the emotional "I'm walking" scene in Limelight (1952).

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chaplin & Napoleon

                                                    Chaplin in costume as Napoleon, c.1930

Chaplin had a life-long fascination with Napoleon Bonaparte and for many years considered making a film about him. When he was looking for a dramatic vehicle to launch Edna Purviance's career, one of his first thoughts was to star her as Josephine to his Napoleon. Edna was not the first of Chaplin's female friends/companions to be offered the role of the Little Corporal's wife. Among them were Lita Grey (in private, Chaplin referred to her as "My Empress Josephine"),1 Raquel Meller, Merna Kennedy, Estelle Taylor,2 and May Reeves.

Merna Kennedy wearing a Napoleon-style hat (the same one Harry Crocker is wearing below)
in a photo taken at the Chaplin Studios.
Lita Grey posing in Napoleonic jewels at an exhibition in New York City, 1932.
During her marriage to Chaplin, they attended a fancy dress party as Napoleon and Josephine.
Click here to see a photo.

During the summer of 1934, Chaplin embarked on a screenplay for the Napoleon film with with his new friend, Alistair Cooke. Many months were spent on the script, which would be based on Napoleon's experiences in St. Helena, until Chaplin suddenly declared "it's a beautiful idea, for someone else."3

                                                                  With Harry Crocker

Below is a home movie of Chaplin as Napoleon that was filmed by Alistair Cooke aboard Chaplin's yacht, Panacea, during the summer of 1933. Alistair Cooke describes the film in his book, Six Men:
Chaplin suddenly asked me to take some photographs, both still and in motion, of himself as Napoleon. He pulled his hair down into a ropy forelock, slipped one hand into his breast pocket, and slumped into a wistful emperor. He started to talk to himself, tossing in strange names to me--Bertrand, Montholon--and then took umbrage, flung an accusing finger at me and, having transformed his dreamy eyes into icicles, delivered a tirade against the British treatment of him on "the little island." His face was now a hewn rock of defiance. I still have it on film, and it's a chilling thing to see. 

For a more in-depth look at the Napoleon project and how it eventually morphed (somewhat) into The Great Dictator, click here to watch a 20-minute visual essay by Chaplin archivist Cecilia Cenciarelli entitled "Chaplin's Napoleon."


1Lita Grey Chaplin, My Life With Chaplin

2Movie Classic, November 1932. Additional note: Chaplin was romantically linked to Taylor during the early part of 1924. There were even rumors of an engagement, but Taylor nipped that in the bud: "No, I couldn't take that kind of punishment. I will pick my own persimmons. Charlie isn't one of them." (Adela Rogers St Johns, Love, Laughter, and Tears

3Alistair Cooke, Six Men

Monday, January 6, 2014

THE CIRCUS, released January 6th, 1928

Charlie, running from the cops, finds himself in the middle of a circus performance and unknowingly becomes the hit of the show. He falls for Merna, the equestrienne, but she only has eyes for Rex, the tightrope walker.

The fact that this film (originally titled The Clown) was ever completed is a feat in itself. It was fraught with complications and problems from the very beginning--the circus tent was damaged from high winds, a studio fire destroyed sets and props, and the circus wagons used in the final scene were stolen by college students for a bonfire (they were later retrieved). However, the biggest problem was Charlie’s divorce from his then-wife, Lita Grey, which delayed release of the film for nearly a year.

Chaplin ponders the fire-ravaged set of The Circus.

Nevertheless, watching the movie, you would never know there were so many problems behind the scenes.  Charlie considered doing a movie with a circus theme as early as 1920.  Apparently, the idea for the tightrope scene with the monkeys came to him in a dream. Henry Bergman, Chaplin’s longtime co-star and friend, credits himself for teaching Charlie and Harry Crocker how to “walk the rope."  In many of the behind-the-scenes stills of the tightrope scene, Charlie is actually on the rope, suspended a few feet above a board that is out of camera range.

Charlie’s leading lady, Merna Kennedy, was a childhood friend of Chaplin’s wife Lita Grey, who suggested her for the role. To her surprise (& I’m sure to Merna’s as well), Charlie gave her the part. Merna was evidently one of the “five prominent moving picture women” mentioned in Lita’s divorce complaint, that Chaplin gloated about having affairs with during their marriage.

Merna Kennedy

Charlie spent the next 40 years trying to forget The Circus and it only gets a brief mention in his autobiography.  In 1968, Charlie finally decided to go back to the film and re-release it with his own musical score. He even wrote a theme song: “Swing Little Girl”.  Even though a singer had already been engaged to sing the song, Eric James, Chaplin’s musical collaborator,  decided that no one sang it better than 79-year-old Charlie.

At at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, Chaplin was presented with a special award for "Versatility and Genius in Writing, Acting, Directing and Producing" The Circus.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Merna Kennedy (September 7, 1908 - December 20, 1944)

I'm sorry this is a day late.

Merna on the set of The Circus.

Merna was the childhood friend of Chaplin’s second wife Lita Grey. It was Lita who suggested her for the role of the equestrienne in The Circus, not only because she was pretty, but because she had the developed legs of a dancer. Merna made several more films after The Circus, but retired in 1934 when she married choreographer/director Busby Berkeley (the marriage only lasted a year). She died of a heart attack in 1944, shortly after her second marriage to Forrest Brayton, she was only 35.

Eating an egg on the lawn of the Chaplin Studios.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Charlie with the cast of André Charlot's Revue of 1926

Charlie and Merna Kennedy (in costume for The Circus) pose with the cast.
With Wyn Clare (left) and Effie Atherton.  Another photo where Charlie is in costume but without a mustache (at least to my eyes).