The Bank: A bank janitor develops romantic designs on a secretary
A Woman: An eager suitor cross-dresses to deceive a disapproving father
Work: A paperhanger's assistant wreaks havoc on a stately mansion
The Champion: A pet bulldog helps his master go for broke in the boxing ring
His New Job: A prop man at a movie studio is given a chance to act
By the Sea: A bathing resort provides the backdrop for a series of comic adventures
A Night Out: A pair of friends go on a bender, spreading pandemonium in their path
The Tramp: An admirer of a farmer's daughter is thwarted by a rival
In the Park: A couple of star-crossed lovers receive help from a kindly Cupid
A Jitney Elopement: A Romeo rescues his sweetheart from an arranged marriage
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About the Author
Robert Keene Thompson (1885–1937) was a Hollywood screenwriter whose career spanned the silent and sound eras. His credits include the Jack Benny film Artists and Models as well as scripts for movies starring Clara Bow, Gary Cooper, Burns & Allen, and other stars.
Read an Excerpt
The Charlie Chaplin Book
Ten Stories Adapted from Classic Shorts
By Robert Keene Thompson
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Charlie Chaplin as a Man
EVERY now and then there appears on the passing stage of life a personality that recolors individual existence and creates an epoch in the history of the times. Sometimes this force touches the serious problems of life, sometimes it merely entertains. But always it is a vital, living spark that sets ablaze some answering chord in the human breast and sweeps the public off its feet. In lighter vein has come Charlie Chaplin, the most popular comedian in the United States to-day. With pantomime and personality he has captivated the nation.
When the people of this country were frantically searching about for some soothing counterforce against the war depression, public gaze became focused on Chaplin, who immediately sprang into public favor as the greatest entertainer of the time. A glance at the twenty-inch shoes, the little mustache, the limber cane — and the war sinks into oblivion.
A slight-figured little Englishman, disproving for all time the traditional accusation that England lacks humor, trots meekly over the water to America in a vaudeville troupe, is put into motion-picture comedies, and, in one year from that time, carries a million or so people to Laugh-land and back.
Chaplin's success means more than a mere personal triumph. A new standard of photo-play pantomime has been established. Other screen comedians are racing madly to catch up to his mark — and all of them vainly.
His fun is not ordinarily produced by mere situations, either. The plot, as a rule, is merely a vehicle for the whimsical action of the comedian.
His plots are interpreted as they have never been portrayed before. It is not so much what he does as how he does it. You or I could propose to fair Emmaline and not get a smile. Chaplin proposes, and the theater rocks. He reverently kisses the hem of her gown, kneeling at her feet. Utter subjection marks his action.
It is love — hopeless love, for she does not care for him. The theater is sobered. Here is a real drama, even tragedy. Tears come to the eyes, for the whimsical little man is troubled. His lip quivers. Costello could do no better. And then — zip! Behold the comedian again. He sighs, arises, still holding her skirt. The corners of his mouth still droop. He stares with unseeing eyes to the floor. He brings the hem of the skirt again to his face, and carefully, deliberately, and unconcernedly wipes his mouth with it.
The tension breaks. The spectators roar with merriment, and that is real genius. The little man has carried the audience along with him; he has played with their hearts. That is one of the virtues of Chaplin's work — his ability to deepen the comedy and give it contrast.
It is impossible to make a psychological analysis of Chaplin's power. He can tell you of situations, timeliness of action and concentration, but he cannot explain why people laugh.
The world wonders why scientific men probe into the question scientifically and construct a train of theoretical reasons why we laugh. And about that time a new comedy is released which smashes these theories to bits.
Here is something Chaplin has recently stated about his comedy:
"Comedy is a really serious study, but one must not take it seriously. That sounds like a paradox, doesn't it? But it isn't. It is a hard study to learn characters. To make comedy successful there must be an ease, a spontaneity in the action that must not be associated with seriousness. I lay out my plot and study my character thoroughly. I follow him for miles and I go to see him at his work when I know that he doesn't know he is under observation.
"With the plot in my mind, I go before the camera without the slightest notion of what I am going to do. I try to lose myself. I am the character I am representing, and I try to act just as I previously thought that character would act under the same circumstances.
"While the character is working, one has very little time to think. He must act on the spur of the moment. In one hundred feet or less of film there is not time to hesitate. I figure out all of the details beforehand, and thus I get the necessary spontaneity, without which a film looks stilted.
"Naturalness is the greatest requisite of comedy. It must be real and true to life. I believe in realism absolutely. Real things appeal to the people far more quickly than the grotesque. My comedy is actual life, with the slightest twist or exaggeration to bring out what it might be under certain circumstances.
"People want the truth. In the human heart there is a love of truth, and they want this in comedy, too. Spontaneous acting hits the truth nine times out of ten where studied work misses it just as often. There is a time and place for everything. Even in slapstick comedy there is an art. If one hits another at the psychological moment, it is funny. If he does it a moment too early or too late, it misses the mark. And there must be a reason to produce a laugh: To do an unexpected trick, which the audience sees as a logical sequence brings down the house. It is always the little things that bring the laughs."
Chaplin is twenty-five years of age. It wasn't so many years ago that he trotted — barefoot — around the dusty streets of a London suburb, with other children. There are still many of the old citizens of that community who could tell of the slight-figured youngster who climbed out of the oblivion of childhood when he was five years old by appearing on the stage of a London theater.
His parents were both theatrical. Tutored and encouraged by them, he eagerly took up the study, at home, of pantomime, and had become quite a clog dancer when the night of his appearance in a London theater came. The audience literally went wild over him. The second he lifted his feet to the rhythm of the baton and clumped out that first professional dance, the lure of "the boards" was in his heart. That night the seed of his genius was given its first watering. The cheers and applause of the audience, the glare of the footlights, the responsive sound of his feet on the boards, gave birth to the lure.
After that night he went back to school a different boy. His whole dream of the future had been changed. His first appearance on the stage put a resolution in him to return again, and, that time, to stay. He studied in a half-hearted manner, for his whole brain revolved around his career-to-be. He rehearsed in the school yard. All was mimicry. He imitated the schoolteacher, the minister, and the old justice who hobbled by the school every morning. The children forgot their games, to watch him. The teacher, at first provoked and then amused, peered through the window at recess at him. He was intensely in earnest. He turned his acts without the break of a smile.
It was several years later that he received an offer to appear in "Rags and Riches." Originally an American production, this play had been adapted to suit the English fancy. Chaplin took a minor part, and succeeded wonderfully well. He remained until the season closed, and then became possessed of the idea that he wanted to play in heavier parts. He felt that he would be more interested in serious comedy than in the "clownish play," but when he told his parents this, they only laughed at him. He was to be a pantomimist, and nothing else.
Once more he went to school, this time to the Hern Boys' College, near London. After two years more of restless study, he went back to the stage, and this time to remain. Charles Frohman wanted him to play Billy with William Gillette in "Sherlock Holmes." In this role he was given greater latitude to try his originality, and he succeeded so well that he remained for a long time. His work as Billy was not without its serious angles. Comedy was merely intermittent. He liked this.
And then the decisive step into pure pantomime came when he entered vaudeville in London. He says about this:
"It was an accident — my drifting into comedy. Fred Karno was gathering together a bunch of English talent to play 'A Night in an English Music Hall.' This was an altogether new idea in vaudeville. The leading part was supposed to be a drunk — a gentleman drunk — who sits in the box and freely and loudly criticizes the various acts he sees and otherwise takes his own methods of enjoying what he has paid for."
Chaplin took that job, and that night he jumped farther toward the goal of success than he ever had done before. This part was just what his talent needed to develop it. He was a mere boy, and he "put it over." He worked hard to perfect himself in the part, and searched all of London for drunks. When he found odd types, he followed and studied them for hours, absorbing the characteristics of a whisky-soaked brain and body.
This same practice of seeking the truth in perfecting his parts is still a mania with Chaplin. To-day, in film work, he spends the greater part of his time studying types of the characters he is to portray. This is a conscientious search for realism.
After playing in England for a long time, the company decided to go to America. Over this, Chaplin rejoiced. He had always desired to go to America, and now he could go with a future all laid out for him.
The United States liked both "A Night in an English Music Hall" and Chaplin. Americans liked him so well that he was snapped up by film producers in no time. He wouldn't give in at first, for he had never thought of acting for the camera, and wanted to deliberate over it. Finally he consented, and appeared in his first picture.
The studio lights certainly fertilized Chaplin's budding genius. His ability produced unprecedented pantomime and spontaneity. Gradually he deepened his work, and, as he thus bared his new action and funny little movements, the public became wildly understanding and enthusiastic.
Motion-picture fans spread the good word of a new personality in comedy. Here was an entirely different sort of comedy. This man was different. Boys and girls would go home and tell their parents how good the show was. "Well, how do you mean he was funny?" the mothers asked. They couldn't explain. They laughed, and that was the only reason they could give.
Chaplin soon had the weather outrivaled as a conversation topic. The boys and girls sauntering home from school tried to imitate his walk. Out of this grew song and dance. Women at the clubs discussed him. Business men over their lunches laughed at some recollection of his latest stunt. The newspapers began writing about him. Magazines clamored for his pictures. Caricatures were made of him for the newspapers, and serious-minded business men at the office tried to mimic him. School children hurried from their studies in a frenzy of eagerness to get to the nearest Chaplin theater. The billboards and fences were covered with posters.
The country was Chaplin mad!
Every one talked Chaplin. Picture-show exhibitors fought for rights to his films. In every town and hamlet and in every corner of every large city "Chaplin To-night" signs were hung out.
Among the children, both of the rich sections and of the slums, an imitation of Chaplin is considered humorous. To be "Chaplinesque" is to be witty. To crunch about in a pair of run-over shoes and squint an eye is the proper form of entertainment in élite circles. One who can recite at a dinner table the description of the latest Chaplin picture and recite it so Chaplin is visualized, is a good entertainer.
To be able to produce something which will make the masses laugh — that is real achievement. Chaplin sends his humor out in two- thousandfoot lots through the country the only way in which one man can simultaneously bring joy to millions.
The first Essanay-Chaplin comedy, "His New Job," shall always be a classic in the mind of Essanay employees. Chaplin stood out on the center of the floor and executed a clog dance. He danced for about five minutes while the other players gazed at him — puzzled. Some laughed. Others frowned. Then he woke up and chuckled.
"All right, boys," he shouted; "shoot your set! I'm all ready. A little pep all around — a little pep, please!"
Chaplin then went through a few other queer steps, and then stood to one side and sized up the situation. He examined the set and the actors. He instructed them in the sense of the first scene — in a rapid- fire voice to which all nervously and tensely listened.
Chaplin is hard to work with, because he is not easily understood. He thinks faster than others. But, then, he is appreciative, and praises audibly when praise is justified. Chaplin always has a superb cast because he rapidly eliminates poor support.
He is a worker. "Pantomime is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration" with Chaplin, adapting the late Elbert Hubbard's definition of genius. He is on the floor all day, with his coat off between scenes, and even helping to move the scenery about. Chaplin is very earnest in his work. He seldom smiles. He demands in a soft voice, but there is cold steel behind it.
"Comedy is a funny thing," said Chaplin. "It is a thing which has developed up to a certain point, retrograded, and come back to that point again. It has never progressed beyond that point. We think it has developed all through the ages. We get this illusion of development from its fluctuations, its characteristics as it has been preferred by the various generations and nationalities. The comedy that amuses the world to-day is identical with that which brought laughter to the Babylonians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Every age of history is eaten up by the egotism of men. Every age thinks that the world has reached the highest point of the development in itself. That is because the man of this age sees himself as the center of the picture.
"I have a theory that comedy increases in refinement in inverse proportion to the refinement of the world in which it appears. I mean that the more intellectual the world is, the more boisterous will be the successful comedy of that world.
"A barbarian has very little sense of humor. What he has is very delicate. Horseplay would not be successful with him. He wants something that is a little out of the ordinary. The poor misshapen jester of the Middle Ages was a most indifferent comedian, according to our idea of humor. He played on words and mimicked a courtier, or a general, or a woman who happened to be out of favor at court. His witty sayings were puns. He voiced great truths while in an attitude that his hearers fondly believed was funny, and he passed as a humorist. He was the end man in the world's minstrel show. His interlocutor was a condescending baron or king. Then, hitting a man on the head with a mallet was not funny. That was everyday stuff, and the jester used it only when his originality gave out. The situation at that time was nothing. The epigram was the thing, did one desire to cause a laugh."
The human side of Chaplin is never evident. The friends about him are subjected to his personality, and, thus feeling this mysterious absence of personal ego, stare and wonder. Has he ever had a love affair? Is he sentimental? What sort of books does he read? Is he Socialist — or what?
Such questions arise as one gazes at the little Englishman, and yet we'll never see the bottom of his heart. When we ask, he says:
"What difference does it make whether I eat mustard with ice cream or put sugar in beer, except on the screen?"
This collection of narratives is the fiction version of Charlie Chaplin's best pictures, and has been written with the view of giving the reader something unusual, still maintaining all the humor of the films.
On the following pages, ten of these photo plays which gained for Charlie Chaplin the reputation he is enjoying as being the funniest of funny men, are offered in the form of ten separate and complete short stories, with all the life, comedy, and action of the pictures on which they are based.CHAPTER 2
CHARLIE CHAPLIN came walking briskly along the street. There was something different about his appearance. His shabby shoes, baggy trousers, and well-worn derby were the same. Likewise, his frayed necktie "rode" his collar fore and aft as usual, and his little, closely buttoned coat had not been replaced by a new and better-fitting garment. In point of costume, there was no change whatever in his outward aspect.
But this was a different Charlie, none the less. You could see that at a glance. Walking on his heels, with his toes turned out at right angles, his feet came down on the pavement with a new precision, for all that they still appeared to be suffering from an aggravated case of corns, spring halt, spavin — all the ailments to which the pedal extremities of man or animal are heir.
Excerpted from The Charlie Chaplin Book by Robert Keene Thompson. Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsCharlie Chaplin as a Man, 1,
The Bank, 8,
A Woman, 24,
The Champion, 51,
His New Job, 60,
By the Sea, 71,
A Night Out, 81,
The Tramp, 98,
In the Park, 109,
A Jitney Elopement, 121,