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The Religious Affiliation of
influential director and actor
Charlie Chaplin was born to actor/musician parents. For most of his life he didn't really practice any religion aside from theater and film. Bowman records that Chaplin received his name "at the font", so he was apparently baptized into the Church of England as an infant. During some years while Chaplin was a child his mother brought him to weekly Anglican church services. As an adult, Chaplin's background was clearly Christian, but he was not actively religious in a traditional sense.
Chaplin only saw his father twice until the age of seven. The man left him and his mother about a year after Charlie was born. During Chaplin's earliest years his mother was a singer and performer. Then her voice gave out, her stage career ended, and she began actively attending Church of England (Anglican) services. At the age of seven Chaplin's mother deemed insane, sent to Cane Hill lunatic asylum, and the court sent Charlie and his brother to live with his father, who had by then stopped all payments of child support. From: Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, Simon and Schuster: New York, NY (1964), page 22:
When the fates deal in human destiny, they heed neither pity nor justice. Thus they dealt with Mother. She never regained her voice... our circumstances turned from bad to worse. Although Mother was careful and had saved a little money, that very soon vanished... from three comfortable rooms we moved to two, then into one, our belongings dwindling and the neighborhoods into which we moved growing progressively drabber.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 24-26:
She turned to religion, in the hope, I suppose, that it would restore her voice. She regularly attended Christ Church in the Westminster Bridge Road, and every Sunday I was made to sit through Bach's organ music and to listen with aching impatience to the Reverend F. B. Meyer's fervent and dramatic voice echoing down the nave like shuffling feet. His orations must have been appealing, for occasionally I would catch Mother quietly wiping away a tear, which slightly embarrassed me.
Well do I remember Holy Communion on one hot summer's day, and the cool silver containing delicious grape juice that passed along the congregation--and Mother's gentle restraining hand when I drank too much of it. And how relieved I was when the Reverend closed the Bible, for it meant that the sermons would soon end and they would start prayers and the final hymn.
Since Mother had joined the church she seldom saw her theatrical friends. That world had evaporated, had become only a memory. They interim of one year seemed a lifetime of travail. Now we existed in cheerless twilight; jobs ere hard to find and Mother, untutored in everything but the stage, was further handicapped... Occasionally she obtained work nursing, but such employment was rare and of short duration... she was expert with her needle and able to earn a few shillings dressmaking or members of the church. it was barely enough to support the three of us [Charlie, his brother Sydney, and their mother]. Because of Father's drinking, his theatrical engagements became irregular, as did his payments of ten shillings a week.
I remember an evening in our one room in the basement at Oakley Street. I lay in bed recovering from a fever. Sydney had gone out to night school and Mother and I were alone. It was late afternoon, and she sat with her back to the window reading, acing and explaining in her inimitable way the New Testament and Christ's love and pity for the poor and for little children. Perhaps her emotion was due to my illness, but she gave the most luminous and appealing interpretation of Christ that I have ever heard or seen. She spoke of His tolerant understanding; of the woman who had sinned and who was to be stoned by the mob, and of His words to them: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Charlie Chaplin lived with his father only a short time before his mother was released from the lunatic asylum and then picked up Charlie and his brother, to live with her once again. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 40:
The read until dusk, stopping only to light the lamp, then told of the faith that Jesus inspired in the sick, that they had only to touch the hem of His garment to be healed.
She told of the hate and jealousy of the High Priests and Pharisees, and described Jesus and His arrest and His calm dignity before Pontius Pilate, who, washing his hands, said, (this she acted out histrionically): "I find no fault with this man." She told how they stripped and scourged Him and, placing a crown of thorns on His head, mocked and spat at Him, saying: "Hail, King of the Jews."
As she continued tears welled up in her eyes. She told of Simon helping to carry Christ's cross and the appealing look of gratitude Jesus gave him; she told of Barabbas, the repentant, dying with Him on a cross and asking forgiveness, and of Jesus saying: "Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise." And from the cross looking down at His mother, saying: "Woman, behold thy son." And in His last agony crying out: "My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" And we both wept.
"Don't you see," said Mother, "how human He was; like all of us. He too suffered doubt."
Mother had so carried me away that I wanted to die that very night and meet Jesus. But Mother was not so enthusiastic. "Jesus wants you to live first and fulfill your destiny here," she said. In that dark room in the basement at Oakley Street, Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest and richest themes: love, pity and humanity.
...As we sank further into poverty I would, in my childish ignorance, reproach her [his mother] for not going back to the stage. She would smile and say that that life was false and artificial, and that in such a world one could so easily forget God. Yet whenever she talked of the theatre she would forget herself and again get carried away with enthusiasm...
Winter was approaching and Sydney ran out of clothes, so Mother made him a coat from her old velvet jacket. It had red and black striped sleeves, pleated in the shoulders, which Mother did her best to get rid of, but with little success. Sydney wept when he was made to wear it... The boys called him "Joseph and his coat of many colors."
[page 26]...One day... Sydney came bursting into the darkened room... exclaiming, "I've found a purse!"... Mother opened it and saw seven golden sovereigns. Our joy was hysterical. The purse contained no address, thank God, so Mother's religious scruples were little exercised. Although a pale case of thought was given to the owner's misfortune, it was, however, quickly dispelled by Mother's belief that God had sent it as a blessing from Heaven.
Mother's health was excellent and the thought that she had been ill never entered our heads.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 44-45:
How we lived through this period I have not the remotest idea. Nonetheless, I remember no undue hardships or insoluble problems. Father's payments of ten shillings a week were almost regular, and, of course, Mother took up her needlework again and renewed her contact with the church.
Father knew Mrs. Jackson, who ran the [theatre] troupe, and convinced Mother that it would be a good start for me to make a career on the stage and at the same time help her economically: I would get board and lodging and Mother would get half a crown a week. She was dubious at first until she met Mr. Jackson and his family, then she accepted.. Mr. Jackson... was a devout Roman Catholic, and after his first wife died had consulted his children about marrying again. His second wife was a little older than himself, and he would piously tell us how he came to marry her. He had advertised for a wife in one of the newspapers and had received over three hundred letters. After praying for guidance he had opened only one, and that was from Mrs. Jackson. She too had been a schoolteacher and, as if in answer to his prayer, was also a Catholic...
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 57-60:
Every Sunday, everyone attended Catholic church but me. Being the only Protestant, I was lonely, so occasionally I went with them. Had it not been for deference to Mother's religious scruples, I could easily have been won over to Catholicism, for I liked the mysticism of it and the little homemade altars with plaster Virgin Marys adorned with flowers and lighted candles which the boys put up in a corner of the bedroom, and to which they would genuflect every time they passed.
Before Father died, Mother moved from Pownall Terrace and rented a room at the house of Mrs. Taylor, a friend of Mother's, a church member and devoted Christian. She was a short, square-framed woman in her middle fifties, with a square jaw and a sallow, wrinkled face. While watching her in church I discovered she had false teeth. They would drop from her upper gums onto her tongue while she sang--the effect was hypnotic.
Chaplin returned to England after working for many years in the U.S. From: Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 268:
She had an emphatic manner and abundant energy. She had taken Mother under her Christian wing and had rented her a front room, at a very reasonable rate, on the second floor of her large house... Her husband, a facsimile of Dickens' Mr. Pickwick, was a precision-ruler maker... Mrs. Taylor's one desire was to convert her husband, who, according to her Christian scruples, was a sinner. Her daughter... would have been attractive but for her hauteur and objectionable manner. Like her father, she never attended church. But Mrs. Taylor never gave up hope of converting them both. The daughter was the apple of her mother's eye--but not of my mother's eye.
One afternoon... I heard an altercation below between Mother and Miss Taylor [Mrs. Taylor's daughter]. Mrs. Taylor was out. I do not know how it started, but they were both shouting loudly at each other... Mother was leaning over the banister: "Who do you think you are? Lady Sh--?"
"Oh!" shouted the daughter. "That's nice language coming from a Christian!"
"Don't worry," said Mother quickly. "It's in the Bible, my dear: Deuteronomy, twenty-eighth chapter, thirty-seventh verse, only there's another word for it. However, sh-- will suit you."
After that, we moved back to Pownall Terrace.
...One day [Charlie's mother] came home from the hospital indignant over what the Reverend John McNeil, Evangelist, had said when he paid Father a visit: "Well, Charlie, when I look at you, I can only think of the old proverb: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap."
"Nice words to console a dying man," said Mother. A few days later Father was dead.
[page 60] ...Mother was amazed when I came home in the evening with more than five shillings for an afternoon's work. One day she bumped into me as I came out of a pub, and that put an end to my flower-selling; that her boy was peddling flowers in barrooms offended her Christian scruples. "Drink killed your father, and money from such a source will only bring us bad luck," she said. However, she kept the proceeds, though she never allowed me to sell flowers again.
The taxi turned a corner, and at last, Kennington Road! There it was. Incredible! Nothing had changed. There was Christ Church [the Anglican church Chaplin attended with his mother while growing up] at the corner of Westminster Bridge Road. There was the Tankard at the corner of Brook Street.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 346:
There is a strong sense of frankness and sincerity about the English clergy that is a reflection of England at its best. It is men like Dr. Hewlett Johnson and Canon Collins and many other prelates that give vitality to the English Church.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 458-459:
Will Durrant, author and philosopher, was also in Hollywood lecturing at U.C.L.A. He was an old friend and occasionally dined at our house. They were amusing evenings. Will, an enthusiast who needed no stimulant to intoxicate himself but life itself, once asked me: "What is your conception of beauty?" I said I thought it was an omnipresence of death and loveliness, a smiling sadness that we discern in nature and all things, a mystic communion that the poet feels--an expression of it can be a dustbin with a shaft of sunlight across it, or it can be a rose in the gutter. El Greco saw it in our Saviour on the Cross.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 286-289:
...[Another] night I listened to Clare Luce's oracular preachments. [Luce was a playwright who became a U.S. Congresswoman and ambassador.] Of course the subject turned to religion (she had recently joined the Catholic Church), and in the melee of discussion I said, "One is not required to wear the imprint of Christianity on one's forehead; it is manifest in both saint and sinner alike; the spirit of the Holy Ghost is in everything." That night we parted with a slight feeling of estrangement.
When I returned to Hollywood [from England], I dropped by to see Mother... "Well, what do you think of your son and all this nonsense?" I said whimsically.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 19:
"It's wonderful, but wouldn't you rather by yourself than live in this theatrical world of unreality?"
"You should talk," I laughed. "You're responsible for this unreality."
She paused. "If only you had put your talent in the service of the Lord--think of the thousands of souls you could have saved."
I smiled. "I might have saved souls but not money."
[page 289]...How strange that her [Chaplin's mother] life should end here, in the environs of Hollywood, with all its absurd values... Then a flood of memories surged in upon me of her lifelong struggle, her suffering, her courage and her tragic, wasted life . . . and I wept.
It was an hour before I could recover and leave the room... I was asked if I wanted Mother cremated. Such a thought horrified me! No, I preferred her buried in the green earth, where she still lies, in Hollywood Cemetary.
I do not know if I have given a portrait worthy of Mother. But I do know that she carried her burden cheerfully. Kindness and sympathy were her outstanding virtues. Although religious, she loved sinners and always identified herself with them. Not an atom of vulgarity was in her nature... And in spite of the squalor in which we were forced to live [when Chaplin was young], she had kept Sydney and me off the streets and made us feel we were not the ordinary product of poverty, but unique and distinguished.
Grandma was half gypsy [Roma]. This fact was the skeleton in our family cupboard. Nevertheless, Grandma bragged that her family always paid ground rent. Her maiden name was Smith. I remember her as a bright little old lady who always greeted me effusively with baby talk. She died before I was six. She was separated from Grandpa, for what reason neither grandparent would tell. But according to Aunt Kate there was a domestic triangle in which Grandpa surprised Grandma with a lover.
From: Charles Chaplin, Jr., with N. and M. Rau, My Father, Charlie Chaplin, Random House: New York, NY (1960), pages 7-8:
To gauge the morals of our family by commonplace standards would be as erroneous as putting a thermometer in boiling water. With such genetic attributes, two pretty cobbler's daughters quickly left home and gravitated to the stage.
My father [Charlie Chaplin] was born April 16, 1889, at 3 Parnell Terrace, Kennington Road, London... Both my father's parents were British subjects. My grandfather was a mixture of French and Irish--the Chaplin name is of French origin. My grandmother [Charlie Chaplin's father] had Gypsy blood--French or Spanish--inherited from her mother. My father has always been inordinately proud of that wild Romany blood.
Although apparently never active in the Anglican, Episcopal or any other denomination, Chaplin apparently did receive a traditional Anglican baptism as an infant. From: W. Dodgson Bowman, Charlie Chaplin: His Life and Art, The John Day Company: New York, NY (1931), page 11:
Both my grandparents [Charlie Chaplin's parents] were rather well known in the London music halls of the day. My grandfather was a ballad singer with a baritone voice that was pleasing enough to win him bookings in New York. My father's mother, Hannah Chaplin, who went on the stage at an early age under the name of Lily Harley, sang and played the piano, was for a while a member of a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe that toured England, and acted out arts in the little skits where were so popular on the music-hall programs...
The children of theatrical people usually lead a life subject to constant change. My father's was made even more insecure by Grandfather Chaplin's addiction to alcohol, which kept him from providing adequately for his family. He died in his thirties of an illness which had been brought on by his drinking.
Almost from the first my father had a bleak childhood. He was often cold and hungry... He and Uncle Sydney were placed in an orphanage by their mother because it was impossible to provide for them at home any longer. He had been failed by his father and now his mother was failing him too, or so it must have seemed to a small boy of five.
There was never enough to eat at the orphanage, never enough to wear... To add to his loneliness, Dad's mother seldom visited him during those two years of his stay in the orphanage. But when he was seven she came to take him home again.
Charles Spencer Chaplin--to give him the names he received at the font--was born in Kennington, London, on April 16, 1889. There has been much debate as to Chaplin's origin. Some writers assert that he has gipsy [sic] blood in his veins. The writer of a book on Travels in Spain was greatly struck by the number of men he met in that country who seemed to be counterparts of Charlie, and wondered if his mimic gifts were inherited from dons or grandees.
Charles Chaplin, Jr. -- in many places in his book My Father, Charlie Chaplin -- describes how his father regularly celebrated Christmas and Easter with his family, but always in a mostly secular way.
These are but idle speculations. The surnames Chaplin and Caplin are occupative and are from the middle English and Old French Capeline, meaning a mailed hood. The original owners of these names were probably makers of this kind of defensive armor and descendants of French settlers in England.
What we know definitely is that Charlie's parents were English. His father also bore the name of Charles Chaplin, and in the eighties of the last century was a great favorite of the public that took its pleasures in the London music halls. He was also well known on the legitimate stage. His versatility was remarkable. He is said to have played every kind of character known to the English stage... Charlie's mother, Mrs. Hannah Chaplin, also had considerable talent as a musician, and took leading parts in the stock companies that performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas and other popular musical plays.
From: Lita Grey Chaplin with Morton Cooper, My Life with Chaplin: An Intimate Memoir, Bernard Geis Associates: Brattleboro, Vermont (1966), pages 160-161:
Although Charlie [Chaplin] had no use for most religious festivals, he could get quite sentimental about the Christmas season. At Christmas in 1924--with our baby due in about four and a half months--he made preparations, through [his servant] Kono, for a tree, dinner in the afternoon, and a gift for Mama and one for me. When I asked Charlie if my grandparents might come for dinner, he looked at my sharply, as if I'd asked the impossible, but answered, "Very well, if they'd like to--and as long as it's understood there's to be no religious folderol and none of those insufferable carols."
Charlie Chaplin divorced his second wife (Lita Grey). Chaplin, who was not Catholic, had not allowed his two children by Lita to be baptized into the Catholic Church, but after the divorce Lita Grey had them baptized. Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 38-39:
...When we sat down at the table, Charlie began paying extravagant court to Grandma, who was overwhelmed. He carved the turkey himself, with precision and skill, and then, when everyone was served and just before we began to eat, he befuddled me thoroughly by inquiring, "Would someone like to say grace? I think it would be fitting." Grandpa obliged.
...at the time of the divorce everything seemed equably settled and properly adjusted. Our father's reputation had only been dented, after all, and he went back to work on The Circus with renewed energy...
Charlie Chaplin's third wife was Paulette Goddard. Goddard's parents were both from Utah, and many published sources state that Paulette's mother was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Actually, Paulette's mother was an Episcopalian native of Utah, and her father was Jewish. Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, page 54:
We were now living as quietly at our great-grandmother's home in Beverly Hills as before we had lived in our father's house. On January 24, 1928, five months after the divorce, Mother, who had been baptized a Catholic herself, had both Syd and me christened at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. Father hadn't wanted this while we lived with him. He believed that children should be free to pick their own religion when they were old enough. But now all that life was gone, and we were starting from the beginning again. Everything was as if life on the hill had never been.
...a compensation came into our lives that was pleasurably to affect all our boyhood. Paulette Goddard! She was number five or so in the list of leading ladies my father's wizardry had raised to prominence throughout the years. Edna Purviance, Georgia Hale, Merna Kennedy, Virginia Cherrill, they had all glowed for a spell under his tutelage. Paulette was the only one of them who remained as well known after she left my father.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 179-180:
I don't know how many ideas my father mulled over in his long search for a [film] story for Paulette [Goddard, his wife], but I do recall some interesting details about one of them. It came to him by way of a curious little item which someone clipped from a newspaper and mailed him. The item concerned an edict by Adolph Hitler banning Chaplin films from Germany because Dad looked so much like him.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, page 192:
Something clicked in my father's mind when he read it. In the Little Tramp getup, with the silly mustache, he plainly did resemble Hitler. And when he looked further he saw other points of similarity between himself and the German dictator. They had been born in the same year, in the same month, just four days apart, and both had known extreme poverty in their childhood. But their destinies were poles apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of Hitler without a shudder, half of horror, half of fascination.
"Just think," he would say uneasily, "he's the madman, I'm the comic. But it could have been the other way around." And he couldn't resist concluding with the quote, "There but for the grace of God go I."
Up at Pebble Beach he [Charlie Chaplin] had isolated himself from newspapers and radio, and when he came back and saw what was happening in the world he was shocked. Hitler, his double, was spreading monstrous tentacles beyond the bounds of Germany, and within Germany there were terrible persecutions of the Jews. Suddenly Dad saw a purpose for his comedy beyond the mere art of making people laugh. It could also, through the medium of satire, waken people to the horror of dictatorship. It became his mission to hold up the mirror of ridicule to his alter ego, the mad Hitler, and show him for what he was--an evil buffoon. Dad put aside the script he had worked on so laboriously for the past six months and once more flung himself into the Hitler idea, which he was then calling The Dictator [and later was titled The Great Dictator, starring Chaplin and Paulette Goddard].
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, page 202:
That December of 1938, Dad finished the script of The Great Dictator. All the characters were clearly defined in it now. The female lead, that of the winsome Jewish girl, had been written around Paulette. Dad was to play both Hitler and the little Jewish barber.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 239-240:
Dad felt a special concern about The Great Dictator, for it was different in kind from any of his other pictures. Always with them he had hoped for two things, to make people laugh and to make money. But with The Great Dictator, there was something else involved: it had become imperative to him to get across his outcry against the hell of war and the evils of oppression. For the first time I heard my father speak seriously of prayer in connection with a picture.
Famed sculptor and writer Clare Sheridan was rumored to been one of Chaplin's many lovers, before her conversion to Catholicism. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 289-291:
"I'm praying, son, that this picture will have a good message and maybe help mankind a bit," he said to my suddenly one day. But he wouldn't have been my father if he hadn't added in a humorous aside, "I'm also praying it will be a big hit, because I've spent a lot of money on it."
Dad was vague about who it was to whom he addressed his prayer. I never heard him speak of God as a personal power or conjecture about what comes after death. He never even mentioned death as far as I can recall. He wasn't one to adopt an organized religion, and he didn't care for ritualistic services, though he openly and ardently admired the architecture of churches and synagogues. He never forced his own beliefs on Syd and me, though occasionally he would speak of them to us.
"I'm not an atheist," I can remember him saying on more than one occasion. "I'm definitely an agnostic. Some scientists say that if the world were to stop revolving we'd all disintegrate. But the world keeps on going. Something must be holding us all in place--some Supreme Force. But what it is I couldn't tell you."
Dad's opinion of this Supreme Force varied with his moods. Sometimes, reading the headlines of the bloody battles raging in Europe, he would shake his head and say, "It must be Something very vicious that permits people to kill one another in this way."
Sometimes in the solitude of seashore or mountain he would speak of the Supreme Force almost tenderly, as of Something sublimely beautiful, mirroring itself so eloquently in rushing waves or snowdrifts, solemn rocks and ancient trees.
It was to this Something that he addressed his prayers for the success of The Great Dictator.
When Clare Sheridan, the sculptress, who created a sensation with her book From Mayfair to Moscow, came to Hollywood, Sam Goldwyn gave a dinner for her and I was invited. Clare, tall and good-looking, was the niece of Winston Churchill... Dicky [Clare's son] died at the age of nineteen, a sad and terrible blow from which she never recovered. She became a Catholic and lived for a while in a convent, turning to religion, I suppose as a solace.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 395-397:
I once saw on a tombstone in the South of France a photograph of a smiling young girl of fourteen, and engraved below, one word: "Pourquoi?" [Why?] In such bewilderment of grief it is futile to seek an answer. It only leads to false moralizing and torment--yet it does not mean that there is no answer. I cannot believe that our existence is meaningless or accidental, as some scientists would tell us. Life and death are to resolute, too implacable, to be accidental.
The ways of life and death--genius cut down in its prime, world upheavals, holocausts and catastrophes--may seem futile and meaningless. But the fact that these things have happened are demonstrable of a resolute, fixed purpose beyond the comprehension of our three-dimensional minds.
There are philosophers who postulate that all is matter in some form of action, and that in all existence nothing can be added or taken away. If matter is action, it must be governed by the law of cause and effect. If I accept this, then every action is preordained. If so, is not the scratching of my nose predestined as much as a shooting star? The cat walks round the house, the leaf falls from the tree, the child stumbles. Are not these actions traceable back into infinity? Are not they predestined and continuous into eternity? We know the immediate cause of the fallen leaf, the child stumbling, but we cannot trace its beginning or its end.
I am not religious in the dogmatic sense. My views are similar to those of Macaulay, who wrote to the effect that the same religious arguments were debated in the sixteenth century with the same philosophical astuteness as they are today; and in spite of accumulated knowledge and scientific progress, no philosopher, past or present, has contributed any further illuminating facts on the matter.
I neither believe nor disbelieve anything. That which can be imagined is as much an approximation to the truth as that which can be proved by mathematics. One cannot always approach truth through reason; it confines us to a geometric cast of thought that calls for logic and credibility. We see the dead in our dreams and accept them as living, knowing at the same time they were dead. And although this dream mind is without reason, has it not its own credibility? There are things beyond reason. How can we comprehend a thousand-billionth part of a second? Yet it must exist, according to our system of mathematics.
As I grow older I am becoming more preoccupied with faith. We live by it more than we think and achieve by it more than we realize. I believe that faith is a precursor of all our ideas. Without faith, there never could have evolved hypothesis, theory, science or mathematics. I believe that faith is an extension of the mind. It is the key that negates the impossible. To deny faith is to refute oneself and the spirit that generates all our creative forces.
My faith is in the unknown, in all that we do not understand by reason; I believe that what is beyond our comprehension is a simple fact in other dimensions, and that in the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good.
I remember [Vladimir] Horowitz, the pianist... Just before the war [World War II] I dined at his house with his wife, the daughter of Toscanini. Rachmaninoff and Barbirolli were there... It was an intimate dinner, just five of us.
In 1943, seventeen years after their bitter divorce, Charlie Chaplin spoke again with his second wife. From: Lita Grey Chaplin, My Life with Chaplin, pages 313-314:
It seems that each time art is discussed I have a different explanation of it. Why not? That evening I said that art was an additional emotion applied to skillful technique. Someone brought the topic round to religion and I confessed I was not a believer. Rachmaninoff quickly interposed: "But how can you have art without religion?"
I was stumped for a moment. "I don't think we are talking about the same thing," I said. "My concept of religion is a belief in a dogma--that art is a feeling more than a belief."
"So is religion," he answered. After that I shut up.
While dining at my house, Igor Stravinsky suggested we should do a film together. I invented a story. It should be surrealistic, I said--a decadent night club with tables around the dance floor, at each table, greed, at another, hypocrisy, at another, ruthlessness. The floor show is the passion play, and while the crucifixion of the Saviour is going on, groups at each table watch it indifferently, some ordering meals, others talking business, others showing little interest. The mob, the High Priests and the Pharisees are shaking their fists up at the Cross, shouting: "If Thou be the Son of God come down and save Thyself." At a nearby table a group of businessmen are talking excitedly about a big deal. One draws nervously on his cigarette, looking up at the Saviour and blowing his smoke absent-mindedly in His direction.
At another table a businessman and his wife sit studying the menu. She looks up, then nervously moves her chair back from the floor. "I can't understand why people come here," she says uncomfortably. "It's depressing."
"It's good entertainment," says the businessman. "The place was bankrupt until they put on this show. Now they are out of the red."
"I think its sacrilegious," says his wife.
"It does a lot of good," says the man. "People who have never been inside a church come here and get the story of Christianity."
And the show progresses, a drunk, being under the influence of alcohol, is on a different plane; he is seated alone and begins to weep and shout loudly: "Look, they're crucifying Him! And nobody cares!" He staggers to his feet and stretches his arms appealingly toward the Cross. The wife of a minister sitting nearby complains to the headwaiter, and the drunk is escorted out of the place still weeping and remonstrating, "Look, nobody cares! A fine lot of Christians you are!"
"You see," I told Stravinsky, "they throw him out because he is upsetting the show." I explained that putting a passion play on the dance floor of a night club was to show how cynical and conventional the world has become in professing Christianity.
The maestro's face became very grave. "But that's sacrilegious!" he said.
I was rather astonished and a little embarrassed. "Is it?" I said. "I never intended it to be. I thought it was a criticism of the world's attitude toward Christianity--perhaps, having made up the story as I went along, I haven't made that very clear." And so the subject was dropped. But several weeks later, Stravinsky wrote, wanting to know if I still considered the idea of our doing a film together. However, my enthusiasm had cooled off and I became interested in making a film of my own.
I told him [Charlie Chaplin] everything that had happened to me [after the divorce], the collapse, the constant melancholia and depressions. I told him how hard I had tried to find myself all these years, in and out of show business, searching for approval, for identity. I spoke as simply as possible, trying not to white, trying not to sound absurd.
Chaplin was reportedly a client of celebrity astrologer Carroll Righter. From: Stefan Kanfer, Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Alfred A. Knopf: New York (2003), page 202:
...then, never taking his eyes off the road, he spoke as I'd never heard him speak before.
"Does it help to know that we all look for these things, for love, for identity, for true evaluation? It doesn't come easily. Some of us never find it."
"Identity? You've always had that."
He shook his head. "I've been looking for it all my life. If I ever do find it, it will be because of Oona." [Chaplin's fourth wife, who stayed with him until he died in 1977]
"Why were you always such a mystery to me, Charlie?" I asked. "Why couldn't we every really reach each other?"
"Because I didn't understand myself," he said. "All I knew was that I was always afraid of people, afraid to be hurt. I couldn't ever quite believe that anyone could love me. I was sensitive about being a small man with an oversized head and such small hands and feet. I never understood women. When they got too close I conquered them, but I couldn't love them for long because I was convinced they couldn't love me. Fantastic, isn't it? But there's the secret story of the self-assured Charlie Chaplin."
He paused, as though reviewing our brief years together, so long before. "Lita, if it's any possible consolation, I'll tell you that even when I was at my most abominable, I knew I was disappointing you terribly, and I was wretched with it. I excused myself by saying my work was my whole life and I had to guard it with my life, but of course that's poppycock. I was simply determined to hold back from giving of myself. That was my pattern with you, and Mildred, and Paulette. If there were a God I'd pray to Him to not let me repeat this dreary pattern with Oona. I protected myself by hurting you, by driving you to leave me. Does it help to say I'm sorry? I doubt it?"
...the lectures of Carroll Righter. The man who called himself "the Gregarious Aquarius" had risen to the status of Astrologer to the Stars. Among his clients were Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Susan Hayward, and Charlie Chaplin. Dahl was especially impressed; she attended many of "Righter's "zodiac parties," given for his favorites. The fete he gave for her had a Leo theme, complete with lion. The big cat was so drugged he fell into the swimming pool and had to be hauled out, but no one saw this as an embarrassment. Righter was much too important to be mocked. It was common knowledge that he had told Hayward the best time to sign a film contract was exactly 2:47 a.m. She set her alarm for 2:45 so that she could obey his instructions. Like the others, she agreed with the astrologer's self-appraisal: "They need me here. Just like they need a doctor."
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 321:
Dr. Reynolds... asked Einstein if he believed in ghosts. Einstein confessed he had never seen one, and added, "When twelve other persons have witnessed the same phenomenon at the same time, then I might believe."
Dozens of Atheist websites have latched onto Charlie Chaplin and have classified him as an atheist, always doing so on the basis of a quote that appears in Manual of a Perfect Atheist, by Mexican writer Rius. That book claims that Chaplin said: "By simple common sense I don't believe in God, in none." It is possible that Chaplin said this; it is also possible that this is a misquote. Chaplin's biographies make it clear that Chaplin was not an active adherent of any traditional religious group, but the classification of Chaplin as an atheist runs counter to Chaplin's own repeated claims that he was not an atheist, but was agnostic. Given what Chaplin himself wrote in his autobiography, published when he was 75 years old, and what his family members wrote about him, it calling Chaplin an atheist seems untenable.
At that time psychic phenomena were rife and ectoplasm loomed over Hollywood like smog, especially in the homes of the movie stars, where spiritualist meetings and demonstrations of levitation and psychic phenomena took place. I did not attend these affairs, but Fanny Brice, the celebrated comedienne, swore that at a spiritualist meeting she had seen a table rise and float about the room. I asked the professor if he had ever witnessed such phenomena. He smiled blandly and shook his head.
From: Mail.Jewish Mailing List, Volume 26 Number 40, produced: 6 May 1997 (URL: http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v26/mj_v26i40.html#CMD):
From: Harry Chaim Mehlman [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Chaplin made his anti-Hitler movie The Great Dictator before Americans were fully aware of the extent of what Hitler was doing in Europe. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 405:
Date: Wed, 7 May 1997
Subject: Is Charlie Chaplin Jewish?
According to all his biographies (some of which trace his lineage back to the Huguenots - French Protestants), Chaplin was not Jewish. His older half-brother Sydney probably had a Jewish father. No-one is absolutely sure, since the man never married Chaplin's mother. (No doubt he did not believe in intermarriage...) That seems to be the sum total of Chaplin's Jewish family connection. Charlie's father was Charles Chaplin Sr.
Many people mistakenly thought Chaplin was Jewish, especially after "The Great Dictator" and his other public defenses of the Jews. It is well known that Chaplin identified strongly with the Jewish people. During World War II he stopped denying he was Jewish, since he felt that to do that was "playing into the hands of anti-semites". Presumably he meant that denial implied shame.
A young New York scion asked me in a benign way why I was so anti-Nazi. I said because they were anti-people. "Of course," he said, as though making a sudden discovery, "you're a Jew, aren't you?"
At one time an atheist website (http://www.gr8st8.com/main_pages/atheists.htm, viewed 1 October 2003) listed Chaplin as a "Jewish actor" and an atheist. All available published biographies, autobiographies and academic sources indicate that Chaplin was not Jewish, nor did he identify himself as an atheist.
"One doesn't have to be a Jew to be anti-Nazi," I answered. "All one has to be is a normal decent human being." And so the subject was dropped.
While still a young comedian just starting out in London, Chaplin tried out some Jewish humor, but soon gave up on it. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 96-97:
At the time Jewish comedians were all the rage in London, so I thought I would hide my youth under my whiskers... I had obtained a trial week without pay at the Forester's Music Hall, which was a small theatre situated off the Mile End Road in the center of the Jewish quarter... my comedy was most anti-Semitic, and my jokes were not only old ones but very poor, like my Jewish accent. Moreover, I was not funny.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 71-72:
After the first couple of jokes the audience started throwing coins and orange peels and stamping their feet and booing. At first I was not conscious of what was going on. Then the horror if it filtered into my mind. I began to hurry and talk faster as the jeers, the razzberries [sic] and the throwing of coins and orange peels increased. When I came off the stage, I did not wait to hear the verdict from the management; I went straight to the dressing room... let the theatre and never returned...
My father [Charlie Chaplin] usually slept in the far bed... I recall the pulp detective magazines that were always stacked by his bed. My father might read Spengler and Schopenhauer and Kant for edification, but for sheer relaxation he chose murder mysteries...
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, page 196:
In the drawer of the night stand beside his bed, my father kept a thirty-eight caliber automatic, with its bullets. He would sometimes show it to Syd and me, though we never saw him fire it.
"I practice with it," he would tell us. "I'm not a bad marksman." I could tell by the way he handled it that it gave him as much a sense of security as the samurai sword downstairs gave me.
Among the fiction writers, Dad's favorites were Charles Dickens and Maupassant, perhaps because of the peculiar combination of the humorous and the macabre in their works. He also liked Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. The philosophers he read included Nietzsche, Emerson, Robert Ingersoll (whom he got through when he was seventeen), Schopenhauer and Spengler. I remember how one day when I was older my father took down a volume of Schopenhauer and handed it to me.
Bowman, pages 100-101:
"You ought to read him, son," he said. "You don't need to take him too seriously, though--especially what he says about women. He's bitter, a great pessimist, but he's amusing."
Dad was fascinated by Spengler's Decline of the West. He set great store by the writings of Aldous Huxley and Will Durrant, both of whom were visitors at his home.
One of the best examples of this more matured style is "The Pilgrim." In this comedy, which was first produced in 1922, Charlie introduces himself to the public as a convict who has just escaped from prison, and is wearing prison garb. This he is anxious to exchange for something less revealing and conspicuous. He steals the clothes of a clergyman who is enjoying a swim, and hastily dresses himself in them. Then as he is hurrying along the road he encounters an elderly couple, who take him for a clergyman and wish him to marry them.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 337-340:
This is very awkward, but worse troubles follow. The people of a neighboring town are expecting the visit of an eminent minister who is to preach a special sermon in their church. When Charlie arrives there, the inhabitants at once assume that he is the preacher they expect. He tries in vain to shuffle out of the predicament. At last he finds himself in the pulpit facing a large congregation, waiting to hear a sermon.
Charlie preaches. It must have been an extraordinary sermon, judging by its effect on the congregation. Some look horrified, others surprised, while the young people present are obviously amused. In the picture we see Charlie telling the Biblical story of the combat between David and Goliath. This is one of the most marvelous pieces of pantomimic acting Charlie ever achieved. So expressive are his movements and gestures that we can follow every incident of the narrative without the use of words.
This is the culminating triumph of the play, and a fine example of Chaplin's genius in pantomimic art.
Other people put the question... "Is your father [Charlie Chaplin] really a Communist?"... I used to go into long, heated explanations about why he wasn't. But if you meet enough people and try to answer everyone, you spend the rest of you life explaining things. Now I have a different approach.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, pages 210-211:
"Look, I think that's really a silly question," I tell them. "Why don't you look up the facts and figure it out for yourself. But if you want a short, straightforward answer, I'll tell you myself right now--he's not and he never was."
[page 338] How did my father ever come to be considered a Communist, or even a fellow traveler? This is the second chief irony of his long career, just as getting labeled an immoral philanderer was the first...
[page 339] He [Charlie Chaplin] always felt that the degradation of the very poor is the cruelest of all suffering. I remember how horrified he was by the wretched poverty he saw in India... and how admiringly he spoke of Mahatma Gandhi, who joined with the outcasts when he could have lived a very comfortable life. Gandhi, he said, was not only one of the most brilliant men he'd ever met, but one of the most godlike as well...
[page 340] Outside these convictions my father's "politics" are extremely catholic. He will go through the various world systems, picking out the high points in each. On the one hand he used to praise Hitler's early concern for the common man and his interest in public works. On the other he approved of the way the Russians kept their artists from the front lines and generously subsidized them. It was only after the war that he realized the Communists, while carefully nurturing the physical welfare of their creative geniuses, were forcing them to direct their talents to propaganda purposes... From the Far East he borrowed the peaceful mysticism of Buddhism to add to his potpourri, and his attachment to England has always been warm and sentimental.
It was time, he [Charlie Chaplin] could see, to have a stab at sex education with his sons. I remember the day when he first broached the subject to us. The sun was setting and we were walking around Dad's estate, all three of us looking at nature in general. Dad always seems to wax most expansive at sunset... And so he chose that hour to talk of sex to Syd and me. First he spoke poetically of the flowers and how they grow. From the flowers he passed on to the birds, and then the animal world. And finally he was describing how it was with human beings, how we one and all without exception had come into the world. He told us that in the female body the male cell meets the female and from this mysterious union a new life is conceived.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, page 208:
"There's some Force that causes it," he said. "Who can tell what that Force is? But it's beautiful and mysterious."
Dad never did get around to telling us just how the male cell gets an opportunity to meet the female cell. He seemed relieved when we assured him we had learned all those details from Mr. Mourat.
A well-known lady novelist, hearing I was writing my autobiography, said: "I hope you have the courage to tell the truth." I thought she meant politically, but she was referring to my sex life. I suppose a dissertation on one's libido is expected in an autobiography, although I do not know why. To me it contributes little to the understanding or revealing of character. Unlike Freud, I do not believe sex is the most important element in the complexity of behavior. Cold, hunger and the shame of poverty are more likely to affect one's psychology.
Charles Chaplin, Jr., My Father, Charlie Chaplin, page 76:
Like everybody's else my sex life went in cycles... But it was not the all-absorbing interest in my life. I had creative interests which were just as absorbing. However, in this book I do not intend to give a blow-by-blow description of a sex bout: I find them inartistic, clinical and unpoetic.
He [Charlie Chaplin] seldom entertained [had guests over to his home] in the days before his marriage to Paulette. And he always had tea and crumpets with marmalade served every Sunday afternoon at four. Tea and crumpets, the symbol of solid English comfort and security, was a little ritual with my father.
Notes from Chaplin's first U.S. tour. Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 129-134:
"It's four o'clock, boys," he would religiously inform us on the week ends we spent with him. "Time for tea and crumpets as it's done in England just at this hour."
...Dad couldn't have found better servants to fulfill his almost impossible dream of how a good house should be run than his small Japanese staff of three... I guess there never were any servants like those Japanese servants of his; they seemed to have an almost intuitive rapport with him.
Actually, there is a rapport between my father and the whole Japanese race. They understand and love his pantomime, which has so much in common with the tradition of their own Kabuki theater. My father, or his part, fell in love with the Kabuki style of acting, with its stress on pantomime, from the first time he saw a Japanese troupe performing in this country. He liked the Japanese on another score. They were perfectionists at heart, and perfectionism down to the slightest detail is my father's passion. If he ever showed any snobbery it was in this field. He wouldn't put up with an inefficient worker. [More pages describing these Japanese servants in detail.]
We finished our first tour in Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormons, which made me think of Moses leading the children of Israel. It is a gaping wide city that seems to waver in the heat of the sun like a mirage, with wide streets that only a people who had traversed vast plains would conceive. Like the Mormons, the city is aloof and austere--and so was the audience...
From: Lita Grey Chaplin, My Life with Chaplin, page 39:
[page 130] I felt sad as we drew near to the end of our second tour. There were three weeks more: San Francisco, San Diego, then Salt Lake City and back to England... In Salt Lake City, the newspapers were full of holdups and bank robberies. Customers in night clubs and cafes were being lined up against the wall and robbed by masked bandits with stockings over their faces. There were three robberies in one night and they were terrorizing the whole city. [On pages 130 to 131 Chaplin recounts how in a saloon after his show in Salt Lake City he met the actual robbers who were responsible for the crime spree in Salt Lake: They were fellow Englishmen, and they greeted Chaplin warmly and had a drink with them. Chaplin kept the confidence of his fellow countrymen, although.]
...Then he spoke confidentially, bringing his face close to my ear. "See those two guys?" h whispered, referring to his friends. "That's my outfit, two dumb clucks--no brains but plenty o' guts."
I put a finger to my lips cautiously, indicating that he might be overheard.
"We're O.K., brother, we're shipping out tonight." He continued, "Listen, we're limeys, ain't we--from the old smoke? I seen you at the Islington Empire many a time, falling in and out of that box." He grimaced. "That's a tough racket, brother."
As he grew more confidential, he wanted to make a lifelong friend of me and to know my address in New York. "I'll drop you a line just for old times' sake," he said. Fortunately, I never heard from him again.
[page 134]...As much as I liked New York, I also looked forward to the West, to greeting again those acquaintances whom I now looked up as warm friends... MacAbee, the Scottish mine-owner of Salt Lake City...
Charlie Chaplin did go into hibernation right after The Kid, but not to concentrate on his next movie... Mildred Harris [Chaplin's first wife] sued him for divorce.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 241-242:
...Mildred was charging him with mental cruelty, and her attorneys were not only demanding temporary alimony for her and trying to prevent him from disposing of his assets, but they were seeking an order as well for a division of community property. He had fled to Utah in the dead of night with the negative of The Kid under his arm, aware if the picture were to remain in California, half of the profits from its eventual distribution would legally be his wife's, under the community property law. By fleeing, he could escape his own state's power to attach his assets--and the most significant asset at the time was the negative of The Kid.
My lawyer was surprised--"there's something in the wind," he said--and there was. I had been having disagreements with First National over The Kid... Lawsuits were threatened. Legally they had little chance and they knew it. Therefore, they decided to operate through Mildred [Chaplin's first wife, who he was divorcing at the time that The Kid was in post-production] and try to attach The Kid.
Charlie Chaplin, My Autobiography, pages 245-246:
As I had not finished cutting the film, my instinct told me to cut it in another state. So I set out for Salt Lake City with a staff of two and over 400,000 feet of film, which consisted of five hundred rolls. We stayed at the Hotel Utah. In one of the bedrooms we laid out the film, using every piece of furniture--ledges, commodes and drawers--to put the rolls of film in. It being against the law to have anything dangerously inflammable in a hotel, we had to go about it secretly. Under these circumstances we continued cutting the picture. We had over two thousand takes to sort out, and, although they were numbered, one would occasionally get lost and we would be hours searching for it on the bed, under the bed, in the bathroom, until we found it. With such heartbreaking handicaps and without the proper facilities, by some miracle we finished the cutting.
And now I had the terrifying ordeal of previewing it before an audience. I had only seen it with a small cutting machine, through which a picture no larger than a postcard was projected onto a towel. I was thankful that I had seen the rushes at my studio on a normal-size screen, but now I had a depressing feeling that fifteen months' work had been done in the dark.
Nobody had seen the picture except the studio staff. After running it a number of times on the cutting machine, nothing looked as funny or as interesting as we had imagined. We could only reassure ourselves by believing that our first enthusiasm had grown stale.
We decided t give it the acid test and arranged to show it at the local movie theatre without an announcement. It was a large theatre and three-quarters filled. In desperation I sat and waited for the film to come on. This particular audience seemed out of sympathy with anything I might present them. I began to doubt my own judgment as to what an audience would like and react to in comedy. Perhaps I had made a mistake. Perhaps the whole enterprise would misfire and the audience would look upon it with bewilderment. Then the sickening thought came to me that a comedian can at times be so wrong in his ideas about comedy.
Suddenly my stomach jumped up into my throat as a slide appeared on the screen: "Charlie Chaplin in his latest picture, The Kid.' A scream of delight went up from the audience and scattered applause. Paradoxically enough, this worried me: they might be expecting too much and be disappointed.
The first scenes were exposition, slow and solemn, and threw me into an agony of suspense. A mother deserts her baby by leaving it in a limousine, the car is stolen and the thieves eventually leave the baby near an ash can. Then I appeared--the tramp. There was a laughter that accumulated and increased. They saw the joke! From then on I could do no wrong. I discovered the baby and adopted it. They laughed at an improvised a hammock made out of an old sacking and yelled when I fed the child out of a tea pot with a nipple on the spout, and screamed when I cut a hole through the seat of an old cane chair, placing it over a chamber-pot--in fact they laughed hysterically throughout the picture.
Now that we had had a showing of the picture, we felt that the cutting was complete, and so we packed up and left Salt Lake City for the East.
And now the gentlemen of First National came to me, metaphorically, with their hats in their hands. Said one of the vice-presidents, Mr. Gordon, a large owner of theatres in the Eastern states: "You want a million and a half dollars and we haven't even seen the picture." I confessed they had something there, so a showing was arranged... Since the preview in Salt Lake City I had become a little more confident, but before the showing was half through the confidence had collapsed: where the picture had got screams at the preview, there were only one or two sniggers. When it was over and the lights went up, there was a momentary silence. Then they began to stretch and blink and talk about other matters... Eventually I snapped: "Well, what's the verdict, gentlemen?"...
He hesitated, then grinned. "Charlie, we're here to buy it, not to say how much we like it." [First National bought distribution rights for $1.5 million, with a deal that gave Chaplin 50% of profits after that initial investment of $1.5 million was recouped. After five years complete rights reverted back to Chaplin. The Kid was a big hit nationwide.]
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