Tuesday, May 2, 2017

"A genius if ever there was one."

With Baroness Ravensdale at the Chaplin Studios, Oct. 1926

One of my favorite things to read, and what I spend a great deal of time searching for, are impressions of Chaplin by people who met him or knew him. I recently came upon one such impression, an obscure one, written by Baroness Ravensdale (aka Mary Irene Curzon), who visited Hollywood in the Fall of 1926, and met Chaplin via their mutual friend, Elinor Glyn. The Baroness wrote about her Hollywood experience, including her visits with Chaplin, years later in her 1953 memoir, In Many Rhythms. Here is an excerpt:
The Hollywood rhythm, which I came to next, held a series of motions by which certain of the stars would be known a mile off. My dear friend, Elinor Glyn, opened every door for me in that fantastic, faked world, where everyone on or off the 'set' seemed to have to play a part from dawn to dusk. Charlie Chaplin, with his wife, Lita Grey, gave me a fabulous dinner party, where to my immense bewilderment all the great cinema stars, husbands and wives, sat side by side. Perhaps this was desirable, as some of the unions lasted such a short time that one forgot which was the last wife or husband seen in public. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were so regal I felt I should curtsy to them. They spoke only of royalty, of their five days in Russia and of Mussolini, and how he, Douglas Fairbanks, enthused thousands of Italians for Mussolini in a speech he made in public. All this went on whilst he and Mary held hands at the dinner-table.
 Afterwards Charlie showed us his great film, A Woman of Paris, with Edna Purviance as the star. In that film he shot one scene a hundred and one times, and went back finally to the original. When I watched him rehearsing The Circus with Harry Crocker and Merna Kennedy, I saw him shoot one small scene forty-seven times in the afternoon. He interpreted both roles again and again for those two, portraying every emotion and reaction of their pathetic little love scene that only lasted a few moments. I said to him at the end of hours that I could not see that the two actors were much improved by the forty-seventh shot, and that anyhow the audience would be no wiser about this terrific amount of work he put into producing his films. He replied that until his conscience told him a scene was as near perfection as possible, he had to go on, even to seventy times seven. That no doubt accounts for the exquisite artistry in every picture he has ever produced. ...
Wondrous parties were given for me at which Charlie Chaplin did charades, or led a follow-my-leader round the room, pursued by the dance band and a motley of film stars doing every known antic and stunt. Bebe Daniels's beach house was full of gay, carefree stars, the flowerlike Virginia Vallee, Dick Barthelmess, William Powell, Beatrice Lillie, Harry Crocker, the Harold Lloyds, the Gish sisters and many more.

Chaplin, the Baroness, and Harry Crocker
❝At Charlie Chaplin's house one day he had just returned from the set with all his makeup on – a mass of us played baseball. Never have I seen such lovely bodies in such scanty bathing dresses, rushing round the lawn. Charlie Chaplin was always a mixture of utter enchantment, brilliancy, wit and humour, suddenly becoming very argumentative and serious over the control of mind over matter, or some such profundity — a genius if ever there was one. In discussing once with Fritz Kreisler, the great violinist, Charlie Chaplin's rudeness in keeping the Duke of Connaught waiting, he said to me, 'Yes, I know, but first in life is love, then after its tragedies, laughter, and we must bow to him whatever his faults, forgiving him that.' He then added a most significant remark on Russia, There you have a wild beast over the walls, and we only fight amongst ourselves, instead of producing a united front.' His words are as true today.
Marion Davies gave me a big dinner, when all the stars afterwards had to take a name out of a hat and act the part. Lita Grey had to play Mary Pickford, Sam Goldwyn Mr. Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies Mae Murray, and Lilian Gish with Jack Gilbert, Rudolph and Mimi out of La Bohéme. Jack Gilbert had also to act Ethel Barrymore.
I was intensely amused also at Elinor Glyn's party for me; a certain word crept in in the replies, 'So-and-so is going with So-and-so.' That meant on pain of death you asked So-and-so together, and sat them together; otherwise the evening was a shambles of jealousy.
Many of these people were simple and unostentatious, in spite of their vast fortunes. Tom Mix amongst his horses, showing me his ranch, was the simple cowboy again, though he had a super green car a mile long. He and I and Charlie Chaplin had a fierce argument on Patriotism, one night. Charlie had none, Mix had it strongly. Charlie contended England had done nothing for him. America had made him. Why should he have gone back and fought for England in the First World War? He added that he would certainly have been shot in the back, running away from a trench! It was better to make people laugh and forget their tears with his films. I murmured that Fritz Kreisler had fought in Austria and been wounded in the arm — it had no effect.
--Baroness Mary Irene Curzon Ravensdale, In Many Rhythms, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1953


  1. Very interesting! This was after the studio fire? Chas seems to be dress like in that deleted restaurant sequence.

    1. Yes, that's what I'm thinking.

    2. I'm not so sure. The window of opportunity seems rather small to me. The Baroness is very clear that "Chaplin, with his wife, Lita Grey, gave me a fabulous dinner party" and that Lita was in attendance at the Marion Davies dinner. The fire was on Sept. 28, 1926, and Lita and the boys moved out on Nov. 30. The studio temporarily shut down on Dec 5 and work on The Circus didn't resume there until Sept 6, 1927. For at least some of that interim time CC was in New York exploring the possibility of finishing up production of The Circus at Cosmopolitan, the studio that Hearst owned and used for Marion's historical wardrobe dramas. I guess it is possible the photo was taken after the fire but it seems much more likely to me that it was prior.


    3. It's possible. I'm not exactly sure when the Baroness arrived in CA but she describes in detail attending the funeral of Valentino on Sept 7th, as well as the wedding of King Vidor and Eleanor Boardman around the same time. Chaplin filmed the cafe scenes between Oct 7-14. It's entirely possible she was still in CA at that time. I wouldn't be surprised if Charlie and Lita were still entertaining people and going to parties "for appearances' sake" up until Lita left at the end of Nov.