Showing posts with label Wheeler Dryden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wheeler Dryden. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Working with Charlie Chaplin: Vol. 4

I couldn't come up with a title for this one but suffice to say you didn't want to get on Chaplin's bad side. I must admit that I did consider calling it "For Christ's Sake!" You'll see why...

[Chaplin to assistant director and half-brother, Wheeler Dryder, during production of Monsieur Verdoux] "No, no, no, shut up, you silly bastard, for Christ's sake, we cut to Annabella, you don't understand anything about motion pictures. I know what I'm doing, yeah, that's what I cut to. I have been in this business for 20--for 30 years, you don't think I am gaga? Oh, shut up...Christ... We cut to Annabella, I know goddamn well what I am doing...For Christ's sake, I have been cutting this scene in my mind for the past three years...I know exactly...then the music starts....Don't talk to me." (reminiscences of Robert Florey via "Charlie Dearest" by Brian Taves, Film Comment, April 1988)
Group shot on the set of Monsieur Verdoux, 1946:
L-R: Robert Florey, Wheeler Dryden, Henry Bergman (in front), Rollie Totheroh, and CC

After I had been working at the Manoir for a few days I ventured to ask if he ever stopped work for a cup of tea during the afternoon. He snapped back, "I don't like tea." Feeling this to be a bit lacking in consideration, I retorted equally, "Well, I do." To my surprise instead of a lordly rebuke he said quite gently, "How thoughtless, you must forgive me, Eric." He at once rang for Gino [the butler] and from that day and every day thereafter a gentle tap would be heard on the door at precisely 4:00 pm and Gino would appear with a silver tray containing a pot of tea, a wedge of chocolate cake, and an assortment of sweet biscuits. At this point Mr. Chaplin would then absent himself from the room for five minutes. Occasionally he would remain, sitting in the armchair facing me and I would feel waves of suppressed irritation wafting over me as he tapped his fingers on the arm of his chair and dared me with his eyes to linger a moment longer than he considered necessary. (Eric James, Making Music With Charlie Chaplin, 2000)
CC with longtime music associate Eric James

[Chaplin to son Sydney, who played Neville in Limelight] "For Chrissakes, come on Syd!. Get some feeling into the lines...Show a little warmth!...For Chrissakes, what's wrong with you? Get the lead out of your pants!" (Jerry Epstein, Remembering Charlie, 1989)
With Sydney in Limelight

It was on 
A Woman Of Paris. We were all in watching rushes. And he said, "Rollie, that's out of focus." And I said, "Gee, if it was out of focus, my eyes are sharp, I'd tell you." "For Christ's sake! Jesus Christ! Lousy!" he said. So I said, "Well, if you can say that is lousy, you'd better get yourself another boy." He said, "I will." "Okay." So he ran down to Mr. [Alfred] Reeves office. I went back and sat in my office. They went to lunch, and I went to lunch and came back...Word came down that we'd call it a day. [That night, Alf Reeves went came to talk to Rollie at home and made sure that he would come in the next day. Rollie said he would, and give Charlie his two weeks' notice.]The next morning I was sitting on the bench and instead of Charlie driving in through the gates where he always did, he came into his front office through the screen door and I was sitting on the bench outside. He mentioned to me to come down to him and he turned around and put his behind up in the air and he said, "Kick me in the ass, Rollie." And I did. And he said, "You know, I wanted to take that shot over anyhow." ("Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed," Timothy J. Lyons, ed., Film Culture, Spring 1972

With Rollie, 1923
He got so frustrated with Almira Sessions that he started yelling and screaming. 'Why can't you get anything straight? All you have to do is this, this and this...'" (Interview with Marilyn Nash, "Limelight" newsletter, Spring 1997)

Almira Sessions as Lena Couvais in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)

"Hello, Gardiner," he said, looking at me with those strange, deep blue, and at times, pathetic eyes. "Say, you didn't show up at 6 a.m." And then rather sharply: "You held everything up, you know." I explained to him that there had been some mistake about the call as I had not received one the night before and that I was sorry I had caused him any inconvenience, but that it really wasn't my fault. "I must have cooperation at all times from people who work for me," he answered. "If people don't show enthusiasm over their work with me, I've no use for them. And if you feel you are not going to be able to put everything you've got into this role. I can always get someone else."I felt mortified and completely tongue-tied. I pulled myself together and, as calmly as I could, that I would do everything possible to do my part to the utmost and was looking forward to being in the picture more than any other assignment I had had previously."Well, that's fine, Reggie," he said, smiling now. "Let's say no more about your being late this morning." I smiled and thanked him and he walked away over to the camera. (Reginald Gardiner, "The Pleasure of Meeting A Dictator," New York Herald Tribune, September 16, 1940)

Reggie Gardiner, left, as Schultz in The Great Dictator (1940)

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)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Color home movie footage from The Great Dictator

This behind-the-scenes footage was taken by Charlie's half-brother, Sydney, during production of The Great Dictator. This is my edit of the original 26-minute footage which can be found on both the MK2 & Criterion DVD sets of the film.

Music: "The Great Dictator", from Charlie Chaplin: Essential Film Music, Carl Davis, conductor, & "Falling Star" from Oh! That Cello by Thomas Beckmann

Don't miss:

Opening shot & .21: Charlie (in costume) behind the camera
2:30: Charlie loses his temper.
2:49: Assistant director, Wheeler Dryden, Charlie's half-brother (Dryden is also the voice of the translator, Heinrich Schtick, during Hynkel's speech)
3:02: Betty Chaplin (later Betty Chaplin Tetrick, Charlie's cousin), at left wearing a white blouse, and Syd's wife, Gypsy. They are seen again at the 5:33 mark.
4:17: Henry Bergman (Bergman is not in the film but has an uncredited role as assistant).
4:28: Charlie waves to his brother.
4:45: Syd's panning shot taken from the roof of the Chaplin Studio garage, note the Hollywood sign in the distance, the set from City Lights where Charlie assessed the nude statue (5:00), & the Chaplin studio gate (5:31).

Saturday, December 8, 2012


It is a little known fact that the drummer for Jefferson Airplane, Spencer Dryden, was Charlie Chaplin's nephew. Spencer was the son of Charlie's half-brother, Wheeler Dryden, & his wife, Alyce.  As a young boy, Spencer spent weekends with his father at the Chaplin Studios as well as Christmases at Charlie’s home in Beverly Hills. One famous story has 5-year-old Spencer reading “A Night Before Christmas” during a Chaplin family gathering.

Following the death of Wheeler Dryden in 1957, Spencer’s uncle, Syd Chaplin, wrote to his friend, R. J. Minney: “Wheeler had bought his son a car & gave him $25 every week to maintain it.  I would have helped the boy through college, but he has no other ambition than to become a drummer in a night club orchestra & I am not interested in that….” 1

The cover of Surrealistic Pillow (1967). Spencer is holding the banjo. 
Spencer was with Jefferson Airplane from 1966-1970 and played on some of their most famous recordings, including “Somebody To Love" & "White Rabbit".  The song “Lather” from 1968's Crown of Creation was written for Spencer on his 30th birthday by his former lover, Grace Slick. Spencer also played with the band at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. He kept his famous uncle a secret from his bandmates for years because he wanted to be known for his own accomplishments, not as Chaplin’s nephew.

Spencer was reportedly living in poverty the last years of his life. He died of cancer in 2005.

After Spencer left Jefferson Airplane, he played drums for the band New Riders Of the Purple Sage,
which included members of the Grateful Dead. Here he is with Jerry Garcia.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Charlie with his son Charlie, Jr. & half-brother Wheeler Dryden on the set of Limelight.  This film was quite a family affair with seven members of the Chaplin family appearing in the film, including all of Charlie's children at the time (except baby Victoria). His wife, Oona, even doubled for Claire Bloom in one brief shot.