Q: Odd that Charlie Chaplin sends his daughters to a convent. It certainly can’t be said that he has any sympathy with the Church. And why on earth does he send you to a convent?
Geraldine Chaplin: “For the discipline. My father’s fanatical about discipline. Besides I was so wild, when I was ten, that I don’t know what would have happened if the nuns hadn’t brought me up. They were strict, the nuns, as strict as father, but they were so gentle too. And then the nuns gave me something I didn’t have, they gave me religion. You see, we Chaplin kids were never baptized into any religion. That’s the way father wanted and wants it. We’d never heard any talk of God, we’d never heard a prayer and…well, now I’ll tell you a very silly, a very odd thing.
The first day I went into class, all the girls were standing up praying. I didn’t know about praying, you see, and so I thought they were reciting a lesson. But the second day they stood up again and recited the same lesson again, so I thought, that’s odd, didn’t they say the same lesson yesterday? I turned to one of the girls and asked her: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We’re praying,’ she said. ‘Praying?’ I said. ‘Yes, praying,’ she said. “Praying to whom?” I said. ‘Praying to God,’ she said. ‘God who?’ I said.
Well, the girl looked at me in amazement and didn’t say any more. So then, when the lesson was over, I went to the nuns and asked who God was: was he the head of the school? The nuns said yes, God was also the head of the school. So then I asked the nuns if I could meet this head of the school and the nuns replied that this head of the school was very good and was taking care of me. If I spoke to Him, He would listen and… well, it was like a fairy tale only more beautiful, and I believed it…”
Q: Is it really true that until you were ten you’d never heard religion spoken of?
Chaplin: “No. Never….my father says he’d have liked to be religious, that it would have been a great help to him, but he just can’t be. If he could, he says, he’d put more trust in people. My father is a man with no illusions, and we all grew up without any illusions - except for the early years, when we thought it was Father Christmas who brought us cookies. But by now even the youngest of the children know the cookies come from mother and father, that there is no such person as Father Christmas.”
-1965, published in The Limelighters (Oriana Fallaci, 1967) (photo via)
Charlie Chaplin & Edna Purviance in The Immigrant (1917, dir. Charlie Chaplin)
Geraldine Chaplin on the set of Doctor Zhivago (1965, dir. David Lean) (via)
Geraldine Chaplin: I shall get married, certainly. Everyone in the Chaplin household gets married. But I don’t know when, I don’t know to whom. You see…for anyone like me who has witnessed a love as great and incredible as the love that has bound, binds, my father (Charlie Chaplin) and mother (Oona O’Neill)…well, you feel crushed by the fear of never finding one like it. You search for it, a love as great as the love of your father and mother, and you know very well you’ll never find it, because miracles like that only happen once in a hundred, two hundred, years. And so you feel jealous, unhappy.
You think: I’ll never have what my father and mother have had, such a miracle, such luck. My father’s had such luck in his life! He’s also had griefs, troubles, humiliations, but in the end everything turned out all right for him, everything! And he’s had fame, respect, riches, love, everything! Even love! Everything! And a child, once he’s grown up, compares himself with him…and thinks things will never turn out as well for him, he’ll never be as good…as lucky…he’ll never have so much love…
Q: I’m going to ask, and I beg you to answer me sincerely because, I believe, it’s a very important question. A question that, obviously, concerns your father. This, Geraldine: are you afraid of him?
Chaplin: Certainly I’m afraid of my father… Certainly. Very, very afraid. And not only because he’s so unbending, so difficult, so strict. Not only because he always turns out to be right in the end, whatever he says or does. But because… because… how can I put it… I feel this constant reproof, this constant comparison, because I feel I’m in his shadow all the time, all the time, like all of us….yes, I feel that only when I’m no longer in his shadow, when I’m no longer afraid of him, that only then will I be able to do something myself.
-1965, published in The Limelighters (Michael Joseph, 1967)
Another excerpt from this interview previously posted here.
A wonderful blooper reel featuring footage of Chaplin flubbing his “lines”, pranking his co-stars, & cracking up mid-scene during the making of his late 1910’s-early 1920’s films (most of this footage via the excellent documentary The Unknown Chaplin)
Woody Allen as Charlie Chaplin (photo by Irving Penn, 1972 (via)
“People have trouble with conceptual comic ideas. I come up with one like a giant breast (in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, a marauding 15-foot-tall breast terrorizes the population until Allen’s character lures it into a two-story-high bra) and they have trouble with it. They find it hard to say, ‘My God, what a funny concept that is, an enormous breast. It’s so ridiculous.’ They laugh joke by joke within it. So I feel discouraged in terms of presenting funny conceptual notions.
Actually, I have a conceptual notion that I get a machine that projects me into a work of fiction because I’m in love with Anna Karenina or something, and I have an affair with her there, and finally she comes to New York and I stash her in a hotel room in town and cheat on my wife with her. I’ve been toying with that idea in different forms - that my wife is involved with J. Alfred Prufrock and I go to find her, or this guy has a machine that will project me into Anna Karenina, for instance, or Madame Bovary because I’m in love with her and it goes wrong and projects me into a French grammar book by mistake and there are no humans but only verbs and other parts of speech.*
The problem with doing it is you say the concept in one line and it’s funny, but to show the concept you ultimately have to proceed joke by joke. You wind up still having to do a million jokes. It’s not that the audience says, ‘Oh, my God, how funny this idea is, to be in Anna Karenina.’ They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re there. Now what? What’s the joke?’
-Woody Allen, 1974.
*The finished story, The Kugelmass Episode, can be read here.
Excerpted from mid-1960’s letter from Brooks to a friend:
“The BBC interview, which ran 50 minutes, was pretty good, although the kid who interviewed me was a screaming pansy. Happily, we did not discuss [Charlie] Chaplin. That such a barren little man could have produced such a monumental collection of work is beyond belief.
I have been so busy defending him over the last decades that I had forgotten, until I read his book, how very vulgar and cheap he was…His character becomes more Dorian Gray-ish—his films becoming more wonderful as he devolves into something frightful, vapid, and crass. Another fine example of the missing link between genius and humanity!!”
Cary Grant as Charlie Chaplin (photo by Bert Stern, via LIFE Magazine, Dec. 23rd, 1963)
“[Chaplin] has given great pleasure to millions of people, and I hope he returns to Hollywood. Personally, I don’t think he is a Communist, but whatever his political affiliations, they are secondary to the fact that he is a great entertainer. We should not go off the deep end.”
-Grant at a 1952 press conference, after the State Department revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit to the U.S. due to suspicions he was a Communist