Monday, August 14, 2017



Here are some more observations by Charlie's favorite cinematographer, Roland Totheroh. This is from an interview he did with Timothy Lyons in Film Culture in 1972. Chaplin was an undisciplined film maker, but maybe that's what went into his genius.


Roland Totheroh:
"Pretty near everything prior to The Great Dictator was ad lib. He didn't have a script at the time, didn't have a script girl or anything like that, and he never checked whether the scene wasin itsright place or that continuity was followed. The scriptwould develop as it went along. A lot of times after we saw the dailies the next morning, if it didn't warrant what he thought the expectation was, he'd put in some other sort of a sequence and work on that instead of going through with what he started out to do... In a lot of his old pictures, he'd make that separation by using titles about the time: 'next day' or 'the following day' or 'that night' - these would cover the script gaps in-between.

"He didn't want people to think that he didn't know what he was doing. He'd turn around and think overnight. 'Jesus Criminy, this is what I should have done. I didn't do it.' Now he'd dismissed all the people and had sets torn down. But, it was his own money, so what the deveil - 'Call the people.' He'd look for some excuse, something wrong, somebody else to be at fault for it; he'd have to call them down. You'd breakany company the way he'd shoot. Of course, it was his own money. But the way he shot the scene over and over he'd wear out all the actors and actresses. But he was patient with everyone who was acting. Even though, he'd confuse them by doing something so many times and so many different ways, they got so they didn't know which way they'd done it at any one time. Lydia Knott in Woman of Paris - he wore her out. Finally she said, 'Oh, Mr. Chaplin, please tell me what I'm doing wrong and what you want. I'm worn out. I don't know what to do.' He said, 'You're doing all right, it's just some little thing I want you to do.'"

Rollie worked with Charlie from 1915 until 1947. He was an "advisor" on The Great Dictator," not an easy role for him, I'm sure. Rollie died in 1967.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Man Who Shot Charlie Chaplin


If you're a fan of Charlie, then you know the name Roland Totheroh and that he was Chaplin's principal cinematographer from 1916 to 1952. He was relegated to the position of advisor for the filming of "The Great Dictator" in 1939-40. Until then, he and Charlie worked together on over 30 films.

He died in 1967.

I recently came across an interview that Totheroh did with Timothy Lyons in Film Culture (1972).
Here is an excerpt from it, where he recounts how Charlie developed his ideas.

"When Charlie was working on an idea, often he would call me in. There were always a lot of his own people around. He'd hit on a certain situation where there was something he was building on and he'd want conversation more or less. And there'd always be someone there to write things down. Every time he'd speak, 'Put it down. Don't lose it. We'll go back to that, I'll lose my train of thought.'  He'd dictate so darn many things that, unless you're pretty clever and keep them in sequence, you could lose it easy.

"But the basic idea on all his films would often change; it did on pretty near everything we took. After running with the dailies, then he'd be inspired and it would give him another idea, another thought. If not, he'd throw it out and do it from another angle. sometimes after a set had been torn down, he'd get a new idea and we'd have to reconstruct the whole set exactly as it was before so that he could reshoot some shots for a scene."

So far, I have been unable to find a biography of Roland Totheroh. If it hasn't been written, then it certainly deserves to be.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Eating Where Charlie Ate

Charlie still lives in Hollywood. At least he does at Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. That restaurant opened in 1919 and is still going strong. A very classy place, delicious meals, an incredible staff with waiters in their time-honored red jackets, managers in coats and ties. You don't see that often these days.


I had the good fortune to have dinner at Musso & Frank last week. I had been there many times before, but that was in the 1970's, 80's and 90's, when I travelled to LA a lot on business (advertising, shooting commercials). Happy to say, the restaurant has aged gracefully with not a hint of wrinkles. I had phoned for reservations and requested the booth where Chaplin used to sit. Front room, front booth, by the window. The maitre d told me someone else had already reserved it, but if they didn't show, I would get it.


We (my wife and son and I) arrived at 7:00 and were immediately shown...to the Chaplin booth. That made my evening, regardless of the meal or service. 


This was one of Charlie's favorite places. He, along with a roster of Hollywood legends, would eat there frequently: lunch, dinner, brunch. Among the famous: Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Budd Schulberg (glad they served writers there), Greta Garbo, the Warner brothers, Bogie and Bacall, Sinatra, Paulette Goddard with Charlie, and the list goes on through today: Depp, Clooney, Pitt, Hopper, etc.

I was told that the interior had not been changed, upgraded, "improved" in the almost 100 years since it opened, except for minor repairs and seat cover replacements. Here's what really hit home though. The wood around the back of the booth was the same as 1919. Not even painted or stained. Just the bare wood, worn smooth by decades of arms and hands and hats and coats being placed there during luxurious dinners and glamorous events. Which meant, when I put my hand on that wood behind where I was sitting, I was touching the same wood that Charlie had touched.

I closed my eyes, rested my hand on that worn wood, and reached deep into the past to touch Charlie. I think I did. Really. No great inspiration or idea for a new novel, but - this is a matter of faith - I knew I had touched him back in the 1920's, when he had become the most famous person in the world and still had many years and films ahead of him. Call me weird, but some things are possible, even in today's digital world.

The meal was outstanding. I had calves liver and onions, one of Charlie's favorites. I didn't have the courage to try the lamb kidneys, which was his favorite. Dedication can only take you so far. The waiters were absolutely perfect. I talked to one of the maitre d's, a fascinating guy named Bobby with a long resume' in the restaurant business, also a writer. I sent him a copy of my novel. He sent me 3 stories he's working on. He's a good writer.

They say you can't go home again. Wrong. You can. Just get the corner booth at Musso and Frank and you're home in Hollywood almost a hundred years ago.
For more about this restaurant:




Eating Where Charlie Ate

Charlie still lives in Hollywood. At least he does at Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard. That restaurant opened in 1919 and is still going strong. A very classy place, delicious meals, an incredible staff with waiters in their time-honored red jackets, managers in coats and ties. You don't see that often these days.


I had the good fortune to have dinner at Musso & Frank last week. I had been there many times before, but that was in the 1970's, 80's and 90's, when I travelled to LA a lot on business (advertising, shooting commercials). Happy to say, the restaurant has aged gracefully with not a hint of wrinkles. I had phoned for reservations and requested the booth where Chaplin used to sit. Front room, front booth, by the window. The maitre d told me someone else had already reserved it, but if they didn't show, I would get it.


We (my wife and son and I) arrived at 7:00 and were immediately shown...to the Chaplin booth. That made my evening, regardless of the meal or service. 


This was one of Charlie's favorite places. He, along with a roster of Hollywood legends, would eat there frequently: lunch, dinner, brunch. Among the famous: Doug Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Budd Schulberg (glad they served writers there), Greta Garbo, the Warner brothers, Bogie and Bacall, Sinatra, Paulette Goddard with Charlie, and the list goes on through today: Depp, Clooney, Pitt, Hopper, etc.

I was told that the interior had not been changed, upgraded, "improved" in the almost 100 years since it opened, except for minor repairs and seat cover replacements. Here's what really hit home though. The wood around the back of the booth was the same as 1919. Not even painted or stained. Just the bare wood, worn smooth by decades of arms and hands and hats and coats being placed there during luxurious dinners and glamorous events. Which meant, when I put my hand on that wood behind where I was sitting, I was touching the same wood that Charlie had touched.

I closed my eyes, rested my hand on that worn wood, and reached deep into the past to touch Charlie. I think I did. Really. No great inspiration or idea for a new novel, but - this is a matter of faith - I knew I had touched him back in the 1920's, when he had become the most famous person in the world and still had many years and films ahead of him. Call me weird, but some things are possible, even in today's digital world.

The meal was outstanding. I had calves liver and onions, one of Charlie's favorites. I didn't have the courage to try the lamb kidneys, which was his favorite. Dedication can only take you so far. The waiters were absolutely perfect. I talked to one of the maitre d's, a fascinating guy named Bobby with a long resume' in the restaurant business, also a writer. I sent him a copy of my novel. He sent me 3 stories he's working on. He's a good writer.

They say you can't go home again. Wrong. You can. Just get the corner booth at Musso and Frank and you're home in Hollywood almost a hundred years ago.

For more about the restaurant and its legacy:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Geraldine Chaplin honored at the Chicago Film Festival




Charlie's daughter arrived at Essanay Studios, where her dad made one of his earliest films ("His New Job") for Essanay a hundred years ago. Here's a link to some info and photos on this special event.
Geraldine at Chicago Film Fest

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

A living connection to Chaplin's 1921 "The Kid"

An 8 x 10 manila envelope arrived in the mail last week. It was from an internet acquaintance named Steve Cox, who lives in Burbank, California. Steve and I have been in contact for a couple of years now, on matters that include Charlie, The Wizard of Oz and Margaret Hamilton, the Three Stooges, and other important issues of yesteryear. Here's a link to his "Oz" book. Munchkins of Oz

He had told me he was sending me "something pertaining to Chaplin," but gave no hint.

I opened the envelope. This is what was enclosed. A photo collage Steve put together. A signature, in blue ink, was by someone I had never heard of. Silas Hathaway. But I had seen Silas, in Charlie's "The Kid." Silas was the little baby that Charlie finds in an alley, thus beginning one of the most touching and entertaining movies Chaplin ever made, and his first feature-length film. 

Silas Hathaway, as of this writing, is still alive, living in the Los Angeles area. He is 97 years old but in failing health. Steve met him last year and had him sign this for me. 

Silas was born in 1919, the year Charlie began shooting "The Kid." Steve says he obviously has no recollection of the filming. But he did have his original work release card issued by the Chaplin studio for his one month work in 1919. Chaplin released the film in 1921 to great acclaim. And what happened to Silas? I have no idea. He may have been a one-hit wonder. But the wonder of it all is the connection that exists to this day between "The Kid" and the little baby in Chaplin's lap.

Thanks, Steve.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Charlie, Mickey and Walt

The idea of putting Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney in the same sentence never seemed like a possibility. Then I picked up my copy of Neal Gabler's impressive biography of Disney last week (signed, no less... by Neal, not Walt). That's where I discovered the connection between these three icons.  



The following is lifted directly from Gabler's 2006 book. 

“…Maurice Sendak found an ‘anarchy’ and ‘greediness’ in Mickey’s grin, the ‘gleeful beam of a sexual freedom,’ and said that when he designed his own Wild Things for the book Where the Wild Things Are, he based his drawings on this lascivious Mickey.

“That lasciviousness tied Mickey Mouse to another motion picture icon: Charlie Chaplin. Nearly every analysis of the early Mickey invoked Chaplin and cited the correspondences between the two - their leering aggressiveness, their impertinence, their sense of abandon, and especially what film historian Terry Ramsay at the time called ‘the cosmic victory of the underdog, the might of the meek’ that they
shared. Walt himself was certainly aware of the similarities because he had consciously used Chaplin, whom he once called ‘the greatest of them all,’ as a model. In devising Mickey Mouse, he said, ‘We wanted something appealing, and we thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin - a little fellow trying to do the best he could.’ Ben Sharpsteen said that Walt was constantly screening Chaplin films trying to pinpoint Chaplin’s basic appeal, and another animator, Ward Kimball, recalled that Walt was ‘always showing us how Chaplin did a certain thing.’ ‘He just could’t get him out of his system,’ Dick Hummer said of Walt’s obsession with Chaplin. ‘Walt kept the feeling of this little droll kind of pathetic little character who was always being picked on. But cleverly coming out on top anyway.’ When Edward Steichen photographed Walt for Vanity Fair, Walt sent him a sketch of Mickey impersonating Chaplin.


“But if Walt Disney had thought of Mickey Mouse as an animated surrogate for Charlie Chaplin, Mickey’s other father, Ub Iwerks, had thought of him in very different terms - as Douglas Fairbanks. ‘He was the superhero of his day,’ Iwerks said of Fairbanks, ‘always winning, gallant and swashbuckling.’ As for Mickey, ‘He was never intended to be a sissy. He was always an adventurous character… I had him do naturally the sort of thing Doug Fairbanks would do.’ Thus Mickey Mouse was born between two conceptions - between Chaplin and Fairbanks, between the scamp and the adventurer, between sympathy and vicariousness, between self-power itself. From the first he was an unstable creation, often veering from one pole to another, on one cartoon to the next.

“…..Mickey Mouse is in thrall to his own abilities of imaginative transformation. Whether he is turning an auto into an airplane or a cow into a xylophone, Mickey, like Chaplin and like Walt Disney himself, is always in the process of reimagining reality, and this is his primal, vicarious connection to the audience - the source of his power. He sees and hears things others don’t. He make the world his.”

Chaplin returned the admiration in the years ahead. In 1933, when Disney’s “Three Little Pigs” was released to great admiration, the Hollywood Writers Club honored Walt. “Chaplin, who rarely performed in public, climbed onto a small stage and did a pantomime in Walt’s honor.”


In 1936, Disney was negotiating a new distribution deal with United Artists, of which Chaplin was a founding partner. Chaplin said, “I don’t want to make any money on Walt, and anything I can ever do for him I will gladly perform.” However the deal fell through and the Disneys departed for RKO. 

One note of irony here about animator Ub Iwerks comparing Mickey to Doug Fairbanks: Charlie and Doug were close friends. In fact, Charlie often said that Doug Fairbanks was his only true friend in Hollywood. It took Ub and Walt and Mickey to keep these two friends together forever.