Showing posts with label The Great Dictator. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Great Dictator. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Chaplin arrives in New York for the premiere of The Great Dictator, October 12th, 1940

This was Chaplin's first visit to New York in nearly ten years. He arrived at LaGuardia Field via an American Airlines transcontinental flight--his first. He disliked the experience so much that he returned to California by train. He refused to fly again until the early 1950s.

Paulette Goddard did not accompany him to New York but arrived via Mexico, where she had been visiting artist Diego Rivera. Nor did they stay in the same hotel. Charlie took up quarters at the River House with his pal, Tim Durant, while Paulette stayed at the St. Regis. The only appearance they made together was at the film's premiere on the 15th. Following that, Paulette returned to California, and Chaplin stayed on in New York for the next four months "to play." Telling one reporter: "I'm a very tired old man badly in need of rest."

Friday, May 13, 2016

Accidents will happen...

During the filming of The Great Dictator (1940)

While filming one of the ghetto scenes with Paulette, Chaplin's left hand was caught in a slamming gate, breaking his middle finger.

"Leading lady (and Mrs. Chaplin) Paulette Goddard quickly called a car and rushed Chaplin to Hollywood Hospital, where they found themselves completely ignored by the hospital doctors & staff. After an interminable wait, Goddard approached a doctor and said that Mr. Chaplin's case needed immediate attention. The doctor looked more closely at Chaplin and his finger, then immediately apologized, stating, according to the original press book of The Great Dictator, 'When I saw you both coming in in makeup, I thought it was a couple of Hollywood jokers having a little fun at our expense.'" (Hooman Mehran, "Second Thoughts On The Great Dictator,Chaplin: The Dictator & The Tramp, BFI, 2004)

Watching the film closely, you can see Chaplin favoring his finger in certain scenes, including the one right before the gate closes, which suggests that he reshot this scene after the accident.

You can clearly see a bandage on Charlie's finger in the coin-eating scene.

And at the October 1939 funeral of Ford Sterling.

L-R: Harold Lloyd, Mack Sennett, Barney Oldfield, CC, Douglas Fairbanks, Donald Crisp and Charlie Murray.

During the filming of Easy Street (1917).

In the scene where Charlie pulls the lamppost down on the bully (Eric Campbell), the lamp's sharp metal edge cut across the bridge of his nose requiring stitches. The injury contributed to a delay in the release of the film.

During the filming of The Circus (1928).

Chaplin told journalist Egon Kisch in 1929 that he was scratched so badly by the monkeys while filming the tightrope scene that he had to be under a doctor's care for six weeks. Kisch noted that Chaplin had "two clearly visible wounds." (Egon Erwin Kisch, "I Work With Charlie Chaplin," 1929)

During the filming of The Idle Class (1921).

In his autobiography, Charlie mentions a "slight accident" with a blowtorch while filming the scene below. "The heat of it went through my asbestos pants, so we added another layer of asbestos." (My Autobiography, 1964)

Naturally, the press took this story and ran with it.

Capital Times, May 11, 1921

The "studio hospital"? Must have been next to the Chaplin Studio restaurant.
Adding that Edna "helped smother the flames" was a nice touch at the end.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Working With Charlie Chaplin, Vol. 3: THE GREAT DICTATOR

Today is the 75th anniversary of the New York premiere of Chaplin's first talkie.

PAULETTE GODDARD (Hannah): "I am proudest of my role in The [Great] Dictator--both politically and emotionally. I am not playing a character--it's really me. Charlie wrote that part for me. The girl is quaint, she's a rebel. She is fearless. She's the only one who fights and talks back to the storm troopers." (Boston Globe, October 13, 1940)

REGINALD GARDINER (Schultz): "Making that picture was a unique experience. Chaplin's studio on North La Brea is like Charlie's own private kingdom, where he is absolute boss and where nothing matters except this one picture. You can't help but be stimulated...And it's amazing to watch Chaplin on the set. One minute he is the white-haired genius, bursting with ideas, giving orders about the lighting and the set, planning everything ahead of time with extraordinary care, and the the next minute the camera will start to grind and he will suddenly become the wistful Little Tramp." (San Francisco Chronicle, November 29, 1940)

DAN JAMES (Asst. Director): "Charlie admired [Hitler's] acting. He really did. Of course, he had in himself some of the qualities that Hitler had. He dominated his world. And Chaplin's world was not a democracy either. He was the dictator of all those things." (David Robinson, Charlie Chaplin: His Life and Art, 1985)

Asst. directors Dan James (in striped shirt) and Wheeler Dryden

TED TETRICK (costumes): When we were making fittings, Charlie never wore a moustache. When we had a final fitting for the uniform in the spaghetti-throwing scene, the people from Western Costume remarked on how much he looked like Hitler. Charlie spun around and said, “Hitler looks like me!”' (Charlie Chaplin Archives, Paul Duncan, ed., Taschen, 2015)

JACK OAKIE (Napaloni): "He used to give me a lot of scenes. After each one he'd grin like a kid. 'Oakie,' he'd say, 'I don't know why I'm so good to you.' I'd say, 'Listen, you little rascal, you just do for me what you did for Jackie Coogan.' ..."I figure being in this picture with Chaplin is gonna get your Uncle Jack about ten years of nice fat work. It's that good." (Screenland, Nov. 1940)

FRANCESCA SANTORO (Aggie): "I suppose one scene was taking longer to prepare than usual. All of a sudden, Mr. Chaplin, who was directing from the outside, in makeup and costume (He was wearing what I recall as being a green plaid vest), came inside the ghetto. He started dancing a jig, just to entertain the cast, and keep them from getting more restless than usual. Since I was on the barrel, I remember he had his back to us, and he was facing the cameras. I don’t know if they ever shot any of that in film, but a still remains. I like to think that the cameras were moving. We were all clapping our hands. It was very funny, and it was also very kind of him to break up any restlessness the cast might have had." (Francesca Santoro, 2015)

Santoro is behind Paulette, second from left.

And for fun:

WHEELER DRYDEN (Asst. Director): The following are notes from the shooting schedules for The Great Dictator:

"Some people think that this schedule isn't subject to change. Some people also believe in Santa Claus." (December 9, 1940)

"Will the person who took the quart jar of alcohol from the prop room please return it. Clem Widrig has no place to keep his teeth." (December 16, 1940, Widrig was property master on the film) (source: The Great Dictator DVD, Image Entertainment, 2000)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Press conference for THE GREAT DICTATOR, Waldorf Astoria, New York, October 13th, 1940

A dapper little gray-haired man with singularly expressive hands and shoulders and small, beautifully shod feet sat diffidently on the edge of his chair yesterday at the Waldorf, enchanting the press with tales of The Great Dictator.1
When Chaplin first entered the room his "quick blue eyes had an apprehensive look as if he were trying to remember what he must and mustn't say." But he relaxed once he realized the reporters were a sympathetic audience. "He let go a little and his fingers stopped playing with the nail heads on the edge of his chair...His feet grew quiet and his smile more spontaneous and only the beads of perspiration that still rolled down behind his ears were left to mark this experience an ordeal."2

"Making a comedy is the most lugubrious work there is," Chaplin said. "I've been at it almost constantly for two years now, and feel the need for both physical and mental relaxation. He told them that he had several film plans in mind but that he would like to spend the next three months vacationing, mostly in New York, and catching up with the changes that have come over New York since his last prolonged stay ten years before.3

The reason The Great Dictator was shrouded in secrecy was simply "to protect myself," he explained. "I closed the studio and kept the story secret because I didn't want to risk having someone else come out with my stuff ahead of me. That's happened before, even in Hollywood," he said with a smile.

Chaplin said there had been no protests from German or Italian officials. "We've had some crank letters--a few," he said.4

"My picture is a plea for humanity against barbarism. I think a little kindness and humanity are still the most important things in a technical world."5

Waldorf-Astoria, Oct. 13, 1940.
United Artists executive, Maurice Silverstone, is on Chaplin's right. 

"There is pathos and great comedy in all human suffering and tragedy," he asserted. "The secret lies in how you approach it. It must be done with discretion and good taste." Thus he explained how The Gold Rush was based on the tragic trek of the Donner Party in 1846.

Chaplin told the reporters that he believes man's chief asset has always been his ability to laugh, even under tragic circumstances. "It would be a sad moment if we couldn't laugh now," he continued. "I believe there is more promise and sign of victory if we in America can laugh about them (the Nazis). I've always felt that the nation which can laugh is the nearest to being sane."6


1New York PM Daily, October 14, 1940
3New York Times, October 14, 1940.
4ibid. Chaplin described the crank letters years later in his autobiography: "Some threatened to throw stink bombs in the theatre and shoot up the screen where ever it would be shown. Others threatened to create riots." 
5New York Sun, October 14, 1940
6New York Times, Oct. 14, 1940

Friday, September 4, 2015

"Little Pitchers Have Big Ears": An Insider's View of The Great Dictator by Francesca Santoro

Francesca was five-years-old when she was chosen to play "Aggie" in Charlie Chaplin's film, The Great Dictator (1940). She is best remembered for the line: "Not yet, he's polishing a bald man's head." Here, for the first time, are Francesca's detailed memories of the filming and of "Mr. Chaplin." Even though she was young, she was evidently quite aware of her surroundings (hence the phrase she uses below "Little Pitchers Have Big Ears.") I want to express to her my sincere thanks for taking the time to share her rare and fascinating story with me and for giving me the opportunity to be the first to share it with you.


1. How did I come to be in the film?

My mother, who seems to have had cinematic aspirations for me, taught me the entire Balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet at the age of 2. I can still recite it. She brought me from where we lived in Oakland to Hollywood (I had been on the radio—Death Valley Days—singing Brahm’s lullaby in German, of all things—in San Francisco). My father was the Sports Editor of the Los Angeles Examiner. I remember acting in several stage plays (The Constant Nymph; Ibsen’s, A Doll’s House) in Hollywood at the El Capitan Theatre. I later discovered that I had been in a Laurel & Hardy film, of which I have absolutely no memory.1 My memories of later films are negligible, and not terribly pleasant.

I’m not certain how my mother found out about Mr. Chaplin’s film, but I do remember being dressed in an orange/brown striped cotton sun-suit patterned with tiny flowers (that translates into a very innocent one-pieced striped pinafore top with longish shorts, of the same material) and sandals. My mother always parted my hair in the center, braided it, and put it into a crown on my head with two little curled ends as you can see from the picture. She also put a very large cartwheel hat with similar autumn colors on my head.

I remember standing in an anteroom at the Chaplin Studios (which, on the outside, looked like an old English half-timbered mansion) with perhaps ten other children. And someone, the casting director, I imagine, saying, “Will the little girl in the big hat please step forward?” I remember them asking me to take off my hat. I suppose they asked me questions, but I don’t remember.

2. Broken memories: I remember being in a large office, and someone saying that I was ‘natural,’ and that they wanted to keep me that way. I remember someone saying that he wanted ’natural’, not an actress.

3. Mr. Chaplin had engaged a little girl, the same age, or perhaps a year older, who’d come to the set with her mother. She was to be my special companion and playmate on the set when my scenes were not being shot (Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name, but she was very sweet; she had brown hair and a spattering of freckles on her face). We had a tutor; and the nurse, whom you see in the picture of me playing ball with Mr. Chaplin, had to be on the set whenever we were. My time between takes was very pleasant because of this little girl. I don’t believe that she had any actual role in the film, other than to keep me company during 'school hours'. I do remember someone, Mr Chaplin, I think, saying that he didn’t want me playing with the extras (That sounds rather snobby to my grownup ears, but I think it had to do with keeping me ‘natural’.)

4. I was told that I was Aggie, Hannah’s—Paulette Goddard’s—‘niece’. Emma Dunne, who seemed elderly to my five-year old self, was my mother. I remember spending lots of time standing around between takes in the ghetto, holding her hand. I also remember sitting for quite some time with Paulette Goddard on the bench in the ghetto. We were having a lovely conversation and laughing together, she was like a playmate (Perhaps this was my screen test. I don’t remember ever taking one.). She was always so nice and friendly to me, as was everybody. 

5. There were two ‘Ghettos', an indoor ghetto and an outdoor ghetto. The indoor ghetto, in a huge soundstage (or it looked huge to me), consisted of the courtyard [no gates; the cameras and lights were outside what would have been the wall/gate facing us]. It had a balcony that ran around the courtyard, and stairs. Looking out towards the lights and cameras, the entrance to the barbershop was located just beyond a door, backstage right. Taking into account my age, I remember the barber shop being very realistic. I thought of it as a real place. Then there was the outdoor ghetto (more about it later), which was a street with shop fronts on a back lot.

6. My impressions of working in the indoor ghetto, where most of the scenes I was in took place. Lots of standing around, while lights were being adjusted. Mr. Chaplin would direct from the outside by the cameras, and then, depending on the scene, he'd come inside, in costume. 

Vivid impressions; I remember being lifted up and set onto a barrel behind Paulette Goddard, who’s sitting on a bench. This was a scene in which all the inhabitants of the ghetto were celebrating something. I remember the stormtroopers (who looked comic in their red pants—which we were told photographed better than grey) standing outside the scene, by the cameras watching as our scenes were being shot—they had just done a scene elsewhere else on the soundstage, in which they had been singing a catchy song, which has stuck in my mind, and seemed very funny at the time. I have never forgotten either the words or the tune: “We’re Aryans; We’re Aryans; We’re Ary-Ary-Ary-Ary Aryans!” (Quite bold satire, when one thinks of it!)

I suppose one scene was taking longer to prepare than usual. All of a sudden, Mr Chaplin, who was directing from the outside, in makeup and costume (He was wearing what I recall as being a green plaid vest), came inside the ghetto. He started dancing a jig, just to entertain the cast, and keep them from getting more restless than usual. Since I was on the barrel, I remember he had his back to us, and he was facing the cameras. I don’t know if they ever shot any of that in film, but a still remains. I like to think that the cameras were moving. We were all clapping our hands. It was very funny, and it was also very kind of him to break up any restlessness the cast might have had.

I’m sitting on the large barrel behind Hannah—Paulette Goddard, at left.
Mr. Chaplin improvised a jig to entertain us!

6a. Another ghetto memory (Little pitchers have big ears!) was of a red-haired woman wearing a fringed flowered scarf over her shoulders. Between takes, she made some remark to Mr. Chaplin, calling him “Charlie.” I remember him looking at her coldly, and saying quietly but firmly, “Mr. Chaplin.” He must have wanted to preserve the distance between director and cast.

7. As for my scenes that are left in the film. You’ll see me washing my doll under the porch, and the one closeup, after Hannah says, “Aggie, go and see if he’s ready yet.” I recall running across the balcony, down the stairs, and going to the door of the barber shop. Then you will notice, that my line, “Not yet, he’s polishing a bald man’s head!” is said from behind the door. There is a story attached to that.

Note Aggie in the background washing her doll.

7a. Disaster! We were shooting those scenes over and over, and Mr. Chaplin was so funny, as was the man in the barber chair. They had me giggling during rehearsals (I think they must have been improvising in order to make the situation real for me). The scenes were shot on a Friday, I believe, and were going to be resumed after the weekend on Monday. Meanwhile, at home, I was playing with my friends (We lived close to the studios on Formosa Avenue, which used to have beautiful Victorian houses, but is now all ugly apartments). Some of my playmates began chasing me—it might have been a game of tag. At any rate, I was looking over my right shoulder and I ran smack into a tall palm tree with a very rough surface; the left side of my face, I recall, was all scratched and bruised. My mother put brown iodine on it. I remember screaming from the sting of the iodine.

We went back to the studio on Monday. I remember the uproar. Someone saying to my mother, couldn’t you have used white iodine? I remember great discussions about whether they could put makeup on my face. I remember someone else saying, perhaps we should have her knocked about by a stormtrooper. I also remember protracted discussions about how long it would take the wounds to heal and the question of shooting around me. It was pretty intense. I have a feeling they were furious with my mother for not watching me like a hawk. No one made me feel bad, though, but I was pretty miserable with my face banged up.

I’ll never forget what happened next.  Mr. Chaplin sent everyone home for the day, I remember having lunch, and sitting with my playmate and the nurse somewhere in the outdoor set, and all of a sudden, Mr. Chaplin appeared, from behind a wall, dressed in his costume as the Little Tramp, with cane, moustache, baggy trousers, and bowler hat. He then spent at least an hour entertaining me, making me (and my friend) laugh with his classic Little Tramp routine—the funny walk with his toes turned out—all in pantomime. It was wonderful, and I think it was a very kind thing to do, to make a little girl, who had had an accident that had upset the shooting schedule, laugh!

At any rate, that is why my actual line, “He’s polishing a bald man’s head." is said from behind the door. It must have been one of the many takes they had done the weekend before (I remember doing the scene from both inside and outside the barbershop). I believe that more must have been planned for me, or they wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of hiring me a playmate to be my constant companion on the set.

8. The story behind the picture,  where I am playing ball with Mr. Chaplin, comes at a later time. I recall being called back to the set some weeks/months later. My wounds had healed. The scene, which took place in the outdoor ghetto street, was explained to me, before it was shot, as follows: The Jewish Barber has been substituted for the dictator. The false dictator has sent out the message that everyone should ‘live and let live’. To prepare for the scene, Mr. Chaplin, not in costume, was trying to teach me to play catch. No one knew that I was nearsighted, and I could not see the ball to catch it. In the photo, besides Mr Sydney Chaplin, whom I also remember as being a kind man, is the nurse who had to be on the set whenever I was, and I think the man sitting on the barrel was the publicity director, but I am not certain.

"Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the ball to catch it! Mr. Chaplin was very patient!”
At left is Francesca's nurse. Henry Bergman is seated behind Francesca.
Standing at right is Sydney Chaplin.

The scenario for the scene: A stormtrooper, who has heard the barber/false dictator’s message, happens to be passing the ghetto in the street. Aggie is bouncing the ball against the ghetto wall. The ball bounces into the street. Aggie runs into the street; a black car comes racing out of nowhere, and is about to hit the child, but the passing stormtrooper, who has heard the ‘dictator’s’ new message on the radio, grabs Aggie in the nick of time, and the car doesn’t hit her.

Now the way the scene was actually shot, and how it was shot, should be of interest to film historians.  I remember it vividly: It was all done in reverse (I hope I get it in the right order). The automobile, which was on a sort of train track, moved slowly backwards. At the same time: 1) The giant stormtrooper lifted me up from the sidewalk by the shoulders, whirled me towards the center of the street and then carried me into the middle of the street where he put me down; 2) I put the ball down carefully onto the ground; 3) Then, empty-handed, I backed slowly towards the curb. I was told that when the film was reversed and sped up, the ball, which I had been bouncing against the ghetto wall, would bounce into the street, just as the car was ‘careening’ out of nowhere; I would run into the street; the passing stormtrooper would pull me out, almost from under the car’s wheels. I remember doing many takes for the scene, so that the timing would be right.

9. As for what happened to the scene, I can only surmise in retrospect. Hitler had annexed Austria, and continued on his insane course for world domination. Mr Chaplin had to change the ending rather suddenly. My 'big scene’, which might have once important to the plot, ended up on the cutting room floor. The photograph is the only memory of the scene, the rehearsal of which went on for some time.

10. One more Chaplin memory. When the film had been finished. Mr. Chaplin invited me and my mother; the little girl who had been my companion and her mother, to tea at what I thought might be Sydney Chaplin’s house. There were two older English children there, a girl named Primrose, and a boy named Robin. I thought they might be Mr Sydney Chaplin’s children. It was my first experience of tea being served with milk, from a proper teapot, in proper flowered bone china cups and saucers. Since my role in the film ended up being so peripheral, I think it was a very kind gesture of Mr Chaplin to think of thanking me with a tea party after the film had wrapped up.2

11. As for Jack Oakie, a lovely funny man! I’m not sure when I first met him, but I certainly knew who he was, and that he had been in the Dictator, by the time I was in that ghastly film, Little Men. I’m not sure if I had seen The Great Dictator by that time. I believe my parents took me to see it, and I remember laughing at his Mussolini, or Napoloni.

Francesca and Jack Oakie in Little Men (1940).
"So much for ‘natural’. Bleached blonde hair, every 10 days—Sheer hell!"

11a. About Wheeler Dryden, only the name “Mr. Dryden”—a large office—and excitement about baby “Spencer”3 are floating around in the recesses of my memories from that time. 

12. I suppose that my parents had told me about the Little Tramp, but I can’t recall ever seeing actual silent films until I was much older, but I’ll never forget Mr. Chaplin appearing in the costume just to make me laugh when I was feeling bad. I don’t think I had ever actually heard previously about Charlie Chaplin. I was just taken to the studio, and the film became part of my life, as did the war, even before we were actually in it in 1941. I think the film made me conscious of the war (My mother used to take me to newsreels on Hollywood Blvd, which was a very different place in those days.).

13. As for what it was like being such a classic film. In retrospect, it is an honour to have played even such a small role. At the time it was simply part of ‘normality' in what seemed an inexplicable but fascinating world.  I remember a sense of intense drama, as we’d sit around the radio listening to broadcasts of the ever-darkening news, with Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt encouraging us not to be afraid. I remember looking at maps and watching Germany, which looked to me like a purple amoeba, growing bigger and bigger as it absorbed Czechoslovakia and the rest (And the thing that made me feel safe, as a small child, was the pink of the British Empire, which stretched across the map of the world). This was before Japan got us into the war. The actual sense of being a part of history, both reel and real, did not come into my consciousness until much later, after I grew up, became an ancient historian, and began to put my life into perspective. 

Me and the dreaded palm trees, before the crash. I’m playing with a globe of the world.

Just to give you an idea how much Charlie Chaplin was a part our culture during wartime, I’ll leave you the rhyme to which we used to skip rope (I turned the rope, because I couldn’t see the rope, to skip, either):
Charlie Chaplin went to France
To teach the ladies how to dance:
First the heel and then the toe
And then the splits and around you go.
Salute to the captain,
Bow to the Queen
And turn your back
On the Nazi submarine!

Dr. Francesca Santoro, 82, has a PhD in Ancient History and Archaeology. She is a retired professor and continues to teach in a private school in California. She is a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, Italy, where she lived for a number of years, and she is a published author of two scholarly books on ancient Roman rhetoric. Besides ancient history, her hobbies include writing and the study of foreign languages. Because of her scholarly focus upon ancient Greek and Roman political discourse, she takes an intense interest in British politics. She has five children and five grandchildren.


1The film was Saps At Sea (1940). Watch here. Francesca's part begins @ 11:44 and lasts for about a minute.
2This tea party took place at the home of Chaplin's half-brother and assistant director, Wheeler Dryden, who lived at 1226 Gardner St. in West Hollywood. Primrose and Robin were the children of British journalist and playwright, R. J. Minney, who penned a biography of Chaplin in 1954 called The Immortal Tramp. In October 1940, Minney sent his wife and kids to live with the Drydens for protection during the war.
3Spencer Dryden (April 7, 1938 – January 11, 2005) was the son of Wheeler Dryden. Read more about him here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Chaplin's Music Man

In this great article by Jim Lochner, Meredith Willson describes working with Chaplin on the Oscar-nominated score for The Great Dictator:
“He would have been great at anything—music, law, ballet dancing, or painting—house, sign, or portrait. I got the screen credit for The Great Dictator music score, but the best parts of it were all Charlie’s ideas.” --Meredith Willson

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Meredith Willson on Charlie's "twiddeldy bits"

“The themes we use, excepting for a bit of Wagner and Brahms interpolation, are about half Mr. Chaplin’s and half mine, with my development and orchestration. And it’s uncanny how right he always is when technically he isn’t a musician and can’t read a note of music. In scoring the picture we’d run it through, then in this place or that one he’d sing a few notes; something he’d call a ‘twiddeldy bit,’ and it would unerringly work out to be exactly what the sequence needed.” --Photoplay, December 1940
Willson was Musical Director for The Great Dictator (1940) which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score. But he is best remembered for composing the hit musical The Music Man. 

Willson & CC at the Chaplin Studios.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Chaplin & pal Tim Durant at Ciro’s following a private screening of THE GREAT DICTATOR in L.A., Oct. 1940

This press photo, from my collection, has a printed caption attached to the back that reads:
Following a private showing of The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin entertained a party of friends at Ciro's. Charlie and Tim Durant stagged it, even though Gene Tierney and Pat Morison were also unattached. Paulette Goddard was on the high seas, headed for New York [for the premiere of The Great Dictator] via the Panama Canal. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

With Fannie Brice at the Trocadero, c. 1938

An early version of The Great Dictator script included a wife for Hynkel, a role intended for Brice. The following scene suggests that it may have encountered serious problems with the Breen office and other censorship groups (I think it would have been brilliant, though!):
SCENE: Mrs. Hinkle alone - boredom and sex starvation with Freudian fruit symbols. Enter Hinkle from speech. She’s mad at him—orders him about. He’s preoccupied with matters of State.
MRS: I’m a woman. I need affection, and all you think about is the State! THE STATE! What kind of state do you think I’m in?
HINKLE: You’ve made me come to myself. I’m not getting any younger. Sometimes I wonder. (good old melo)
MRS: Life is so short and these moments are so rare…Remember, Hinkle, I did everything for you. I even had an operation…on my nose. If you don’t pay more attention to me I’ll tell the whole world I’m Jewish!
FANNY: [sic] And I’m not so sure you aren’t Jewish, too. We’re having gefüllte fish for dinner. 
HINKLE: Quiet! Quiet!
FANNY: Last night I dreamt about blimps.
HINKLE: Blimps?
FANNY: Yes, I dreamt we captured Paris in a big blimp and we went right through the Arc de Triomphe. And then I dreamed about a city all full of Washington monuments.
(She presses grapes in his mouth, plays with a banana)
(David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life & Art)

Friday, January 23, 2015

RIP Jack Oakie (January 23, 1978)

Oakie and Chaplin on the set of The Great Dictator.

Oakie describes below being approached for a role in The Great Dictator by Syd Chaplin when both men were returning to America from Europe aboard the Ile de France:

"Charlie's working on an idea for a picture about Hitler," Sid said. And in afterthought I remember that he used to look me over as if her were trying to guess my weight. Never dreaming that he would ever send for me, because I wasn't German and felt sure there was nothing in a Hitler picture that I could play. I cheerfully joked about the idea.
"Sounds good to me, Sid. After all, Hitler's been trying to imitate Charlie wearing his mustache."1
So when Charlie did send word that he wanted to speak to me I could hardly believe it. I began guessing that perhaps with my rotund build he was considering me for a character like Goering.
"Oakie," he said, "I've been watching you, and I hear you have a reputation for being a wise-cracker. How would you like to be in a picture about Hitler?"
"What would I play, Charlie?" I asked.
"No! Oakie, I want you to play Mussolini," he said.
"Mussolini!" I couldn't believe it. "Charlie, you must be kidding."
"No, Oakie, I'm not kidding. I want you to play Mussolini."
"Charlie, I'm Scotch-Irish," I protested, almost talking myself out of the job.  "You want an Italian to play Mussolini."
"What's so funny about an Italian playing Mussolini?" he asked.
"Charlie," I said as fast as I could, "I'm your man!"
"Good, good," he said. He could see how thrilled I was. "Good!" he said again and meekly raised his left palm, Nazi fashion, and saluted me. He kept his elbow tucked into his waist and held his hand below shoulder level. It was the sheepish salutation he used all through the picture. (Jack Oakie, "When Your Boss Is Charlie Chaplin," Saturday Evening Post, April 1978)

 With Paulette Goddard & CC at the New York premiere of The Great Dictator.
Chaplin is giving a Hynkel salute to the crowd.

1A different version of the story of Syd recommending Jack for the role is told in an article in the Los Angeles Times from September 1940. In that version, they are talking at a Hollywood party when Syd asks Jack: "Stick out your jaw again that way, will you?...I want you to come around and see Charlie tomorrow, I've got an idea." (Stein, Syd Chaplin)

Friday, January 16, 2015

The skylight fall from THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940)

Above: The barber crashes through a skylight and is eventually apprehended by the stormtroopers. Watch the stunt here.

Chaplin actually fell through the skylight in this scene--a 15-foot fall. The "glass" was made from boiled sugar & water. He filmed the stunt in one take.

Below: Production sketches show how the fall was done. These sketches, by art director Russ Spencer, appeared in the December 1940 issue of Photoplay.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chaplin, a filmmaker with courage

With all the hubbub surrounding the recent decision by Sony Pictures to pull the premier of The Interview, a film satirizing North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, due to threats by anonymous hackers, let's recall a time when Hollywood still had (I'm sorry to say it) balls.

During the filming of The Great Dictator, Chaplin's 1940 satire of Adolph Hitler, he received death threats and crank letters: "Some threatened to throw stink bombs in the theatre and shoot up the screen where ever it would be shown. Others threatened to create riots."1 But Chaplin never once considered canceling the film. He believed his film had a message and that his voice should be heard. As a comedian, Chaplin believed his only weapon against evil was humor. "I'm the clown," Chaplin told the New York Times in 1940, "and what can I do that is more effective than to laugh at these fellows who are putting humanity to the goose-step; who, as I say in one of my first captions, are kicking humanity around?....If there is one thing I know it is that power can always be made ridiculous. The bigger that fellow gets the harder my laughter will hit him." 2

Author & theater owner George R.R. Martin summed up the canceling of The Interview nicely in a recent blog post

"The level of corporate cowardice here astonishes me. It's a good thing these guys weren't around when Charlie Chaplin made The Great Dictator. If Kim Jong-Un scares them, Adolf Hitler would have had them shitting in their smallclothes."


1Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964
2Robert Van Gelder, "Chaplin Draws A Keen Weapon," New York Times, September 8, 1940

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Advertising tie-ins featuring The Great Dictator

Top photo: The Great Dictator: Chaplin Project Notebook N. 1
Bottom photo: Showman's Trade Review, May 17, 1941

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Chaplin rehearses a scene for THE GREAT DICTATOR

Source: Syd Chaplin: A Biography by Lisa K. Stein

Sydney Chaplin is standing at far right. Sydney, who had been absent from Hollywood since 1927, came to work for Charlie on the set of The Great Dictator. Although he was never given a title or had any real authority, it was Sydney who suggested Jack Oakie for the role of Benzino Napaloni.

Another note: most of the signs in the ghetto scenes are in the international language Esperanto. Read more about Esperanto & The Great Dictator here.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Pickfair home movie, 1929

From the documentary Unknown Chaplin (1983), narrated by James Mason.

Charlie is supposedly wearing one of Mary Pickford's dresses from Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm. The film also pinpoints the origin of Hynkel's dance with the globe in The Great Dictator.