Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Song

September brings, along with the end of summer, a wistful sense of time passing; a desire, almost a need, to look back and remember other summers, comforting days of promise now tinged with a sweet sadness.

So I turn to a September issue of Woman's Home Companion from 1933. Charlie wrote an article called "A Comedian Sees the World." (This was part 1. I haven't been able to find the October issue for part 2.) I like the freshness of Chaplin's recollections here, which came 30 years before he would write his autobiography. Here he talks about the impact stardom and living in L.A. had on him, and of his need to return to London. He also recalls his first glimpse of a young woman who would become the idealized love he carried with him all his life.

As Charlie wrote it:
"In the past twenty years I have made seven trips from Los Angeles to New York and one memorable visit to Europe. These excursion were for business reasons only and were without the sword of Damocles above my head. No wonder, when living in Los Angeles for twenty years, that in the interim of work, I became an easy victim to sentimental lapses. Hence all my troubles.

"The disillusion of love, fame and fortune left me somewhat apathetic. There seemed nothing to turn to outside of my work, and that, after twenty years, was becoming irksome. I needed emotional stimulus."

Here he is, at the age of 44, one of the most famous and beloved men in the world, rich beyond dreams, and yet.....

"I am tired of love and people and like all egocentrics I turn to myself. I want to live in my youth again, to capture the moods and sensations of childhood, so remote from me now - so unreal - almost like a dream. I need to turn back time, to venture into the blurred past and bring it into focus.

"Thrilled with this adventure I buy maps of London and here in my California home I retrace road lines, bringing back memories of places that affected me as a boy."

He writes about scenes from his childhood - high factory walls, bridges, the orphan asylum, cold bleak days on the playground. "I want to stand in the midst of them before it's too late." Then he takes us back to his youth when he was "nineteen earning a sporadic living as a vaudeville sketch artist.... In those days life was lonely."

"We were playing a suburban theater. I was standing in the wings waiting my turn to go on. A troupe of girls was dancing. One of them slipped and the rest smiled. One especially, a brunette with big brown laughing eyes. She turned to the wings and caught my gaze. Never had I beheld such beauty. I was enthralled. She was conscious of my admiration for her smile became a look of embarrassment.

"When she came off to change, however, she asked me to mind her wrap. It had a perfume of lavender. I have liked this perfume ever since. When they had finished she came for it.

"'Thank you,' she said and we both stood smiling, but the moment was interrupted by the manager of the troupe. 

"'Come on, girls, we're late.' They were working in another theater. She turned to pick up her things. 'Let me help you,' I exclaimed taking her make-up box and opening the exit door. 'See you tomorrow night,' she said eagerly.

"I could only nod, not trusting myself to speak. As she was leaving through the outer door she looked back over her shoulder 'Don't forget,' she said shyly.

"'I won't forget,' I replied.

So ends that scene in the article. But it was the beginning of Charlie's lifelong infatuation with Hetty Kelly.

"I went through the youthful misery of unrequited love. Later she left with the troupe for the Continent and I lost sight of her for two years, but the next time we met it was in a curious way."

I'll save that "curious" meeting for another time. He goes on for several more paragraphs about Hetty, his feelings about her, and what eventually became of her. The attraction he felt for her was so pervasive, he still felt the need to revisit it in this article 25 years after their meeting. 

September takes us back, whoever we are, to revisit those friends and times we've never left behind. 


  1. Gerry, this is a marvelous anecdote, made all the more beautiful because it's true. Your love for all things Chaplin has never been clearer. Now if only the Musical can live up to this promise. See you there.


  2. Is writing is as good as his movies! Charming piece, hope your find part 2.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I always enjoy reading Chaplin's own words about his travels, films, exploits. There is a lot of material out there.

  4. I am currently working on the next post, to be pulled from the same magazine. Thank you for your comments.