Sir Charles Spencer ChaplinKBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen persona, “The Tramp“, and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death in 1977, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.
Chaplin’s childhood in London was one of poverty and hardship, as his father was absent and his mother struggled financially, and he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum. Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19, he was signed to the prestigious Fred Karno company, which took him to America. He was scouted for the film industry and began appearing in 1914 for Keystone Studios. He soon developed the Tramp persona and formed a large fan base. He directed his own films and continued to hone his craft as he moved to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National corporations. By 1918, he was one of the best-known figures in the world.
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. His first feature-length film was The Kid (1921), followed by A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928). He initially refused to move to sound films in the 1930s, instead producing City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. He became increasingly political, and his first sound film was The Great Dictator, (1940) which satirised Adolf Hitler. The 1940s were a decade marked with controversy for Chaplin, and his popularity declined rapidly. He was accused of communist sympathies, and some members of the press and public found his involvement in a paternity suit, and marriages to much younger women, scandalous. An FBI investigation was opened, and Chaplin was forced to leave the United States and settle in Switzerland. He abandoned the Tramp in his later films, which include Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York (1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).
Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture. His films are characterized by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp’s struggles against adversity. Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements. He received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century” in 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work. He continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked on lists of the greatest films of all time.
James Abbe deserves his place in the hall of fame of great photographers for the two important strands of his career: as portraitist to the glittering stars of the 1920’s world of theater and film, and as a pioneer American Photojournalist observing firsthand the dramatically changing European cultural and political situation in his various travels throughout the late 1920s and 1930s.
Abbe was lured to the limelight of the east and west coast film studios of America and the theater stages of New York, London and Paris. In each place, he managed to encapsulate the illusions of performance into still visions of enchantment.
The first film star Abbe photographed was Marguerite Clark. Although now more or less forgotten, Clark was one of the highest-paid and most popular stars of her day. The New York Times ranked his as one of “the big four”, her fame rivaled that of Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., all of whom Abbe also captured.
Perhaps his most enduring relationship in the film world was with the Gish sisters. Lillian Gish is thought to be the greatest dramatic actress of the silent era, and her sister Dorothy, capable of a wide range of acting styles, was one of the greatest comediennes of the time.
Abbe visited Hollywood in 1920 and 1922 where he took portraits of Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin, and also directed a film for Mack Sennett. After working for seven months on location in Italy with Ronald Colman – Lillian Gish film ‘The White Sister“(1923), Abbe made his base in Paris. His main reputation as a theater photographer preceded him and soon he was gravitating towards the best in French theatre and revue, including the Dolly Sisters, and Mistinguette, introducing them to a worldwide audience through his picture syndication.
Abbe soon became one of the leading celebrity photographers of the 1920s and is best known for these iconic portraits of both cinema and stage. He quickly established an international reputation, appearing in Vanity Fair, Ladies Home Journal,Vogue,British Tatler, French Vu, and many other publications.
Throughout the 1920s, Abbe made regular trips back and forth between London, Paris, and London to photograph theatre and film-making activities. He also traveled to Spain, Germany, Russian, the USA, and Mexico as a correspondent.
A reviewer from Variety wrote, “The resultant chaos and several new stunts will be bound to bring the laughter, and the star’s display of agility and acrobatics approaches some of the Douglas Fairbanks pranks. Chaplin has always been throwing things in his films, but when he ‘eases’ a cook stove out of the window onto the head of his adversary on the street below, that pleasant little bouquet adds a new act to his repertory. Easy Street certainly has some rough work in it–maybe a bit rougher than the others–but it is the kind of stuff that Chaplin fans love. In fact, few who see Easy Street will fail to be furnished with hearty laughter.”
“Full of Old Hollywood glamour and true details about the pair’s historic careers . . . a captivating ode to a legendary bond.”—Real Simple
It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.
In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.
But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.
With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era—its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.
“A boffo production . . . Inspiration is a rare and unexpected gift in a book filled with the fluff of Hollywood, but Benjamin provides it with The Girls in the Picture.”—NPR
“Profoundly resonant, The Girls in the Picture is at its core, an empowering and fascinating tale of sisterhood.”—Bryce Dallas Howard
“Benjamin immerses readers in the whirlwind excitement of Mary’s and Frances’ lives while portraying a rarely seen character, an early woman screenwriter, and deftly explores the complexities of female friendship.”—Booklist
“The heady, infectious energy of the fledgling film industry in Los Angeles is convincingly conveyed—and the loving but competitive friendship between these two women on the rise in a man’s world is a powerful source of both tension and relatability.”—Publishers Weekly
“Profoundly resonant, The Girls in the Picture is at its core, an empowering and fascinating tale of sisterhood. . . . Deeply affecting . . . This book isn’t just timely, it’s necessary!”—Bryce Dallas Howard
“Melanie Benjamin, known for her living, breathing portraits of famous figures, takes on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the friendship between icons Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. As riveting as the latest blockbuster, this is a star-studded story of female friendships, creative sparks about to ignite, and the power of women. Dazzling.”—Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World
“Set at the dawn of Hollywood, The Girls in the Picture explores the friendship between renowned starlet Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. With the artistry for which she has become renowned, Melanie Benjamin has simultaneously created an insightful tale of the relationship between writer and muse and a breathtaking view into Hollywood’s most glittering era.”—Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale
October 15 – Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, a satirical comedy starring him, is released.
November 13 – World premiere of Walt Disney’s Fantasia, the first film to be released in a multi-channel sound format (see Fantasound). The film also marked the first use of the click track while recording the soundtrack, overdubbing of orchestral parts, simultaneous multitrack recording and is cited as a key chapter in the conception and development of the multi-channel surround system.
By the end of 1914, Charlie Chaplin had become the most popular actor in films, and reporters were clamoring for interviews with the comedy sensation. But no reporter had more access than Fred Goodwins. A British actor who joined Chaplin’s stock company in early 1915, Goodwins began writing short accounts of life at the studio and submitting them to periodicals. In February 1916 the British magazine Red Letter published the first of what became a series of thirty-seven of Goodwins’s articles. Written in breezy prose and reproduced here for the first time, the articles cover a two-year period during which Chaplin’s popularity and creativity reached new heights. Only one copy of the complete series is known to exist, and its recent rediscovery marks a significant find for anyone who has ever been touched by Chaplin’s artistry.
‘Charlie Chaplin’s Red Letter Days: At Work with the Comic Genius’ is a vivid account of the ebb and flow of life at the Chaplin studio. Goodwins was an astute observer who deepens our understanding of Chaplin’s artistry and sheds new light on his personality. He also provides charming and revealing portraits of Chaplin’s unsung collaborators, such as his beloved co-star Edna Purviance, his burly nemesis Eric Campbell, and the other familiar faces that populate his films. Goodwins depicts Chaplin in the white heat of artistic creation, an indefatigable imp entertaining and inspiring the company on the set. He also describes gloomy, agonizing periods when Chaplin was paralyzed with indecision or exhaustion, or simply frustrated that it was raining and they couldn’t shoot. The shadow of WWI looms over every page, as Chaplin, a British subject, was being slammed by the British tabloid press for his controversial failure to enlist.
The articles have been exhaustively annotated to highlight their revelations by mime artist and Chaplin expert Dan Kamin, who trained Robert Downey, Jr. for his Oscar-nominated performance as Chaplin and created Johnny Depp’s physical comedy routines in Benny and Joon. Illustrated with a selection of rare images that reflect the Chaplin craze, including posters, sheet music, and magazine covers, Charlie Chaplin’s Red Letter Days provides a fascinating excursion into the private world of the iconic superstar whose films move and delight audiences to this day. It will appeal to movie buffs, comedy fans, and anyone who wants to know what really went on behind the screen.
Fred Goodwins (1891–1923) was a former New York Times London correspondent who became an actor, writer, and director during the silent film era.
Chain of Fools traces the art of slapstick comedy from its pre-cinema origins in the ancient pantomime through its silent movie heyday in the teens and twenties, then on to talkies, television, and the Internet. As in his first book, the critically acclaimed No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, author Trav S.D. mixes a wicked wit, a scholar’s curiosity, and a keen critical appreciation for laugh-makers through the ages, from classical clowns like Joseph Grimaldi to comedy kings like Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton . . . to more recent figures, from Red Skelton, Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs to Adam Sandler, Jim Carrey and Steve Carell . . . all the way down to the teenagers on YouTube whose backyard antics bring us full circle to slapstick’s beginnings. This valentine to the great clowns contains enough insights and surprises to open the eyes of even life-long comedy fans.
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Silent Film Music Composer Ben Model has this to say about the book!
“I have read a lot of books on silent comedy in film. A lot of them. “Chain of Fools” is not like any of these books, and in a refreshing way. Trav S.D. manages to combine a personal journey through the work of the various luminaries of wordless comedy with the act of also laying them chronologically end-to-end, and manages to do so in an entertaining and humorous way. As he did in his book on Vaudeville, “No Applause, Just Throw Money: the Book that Made Vaudeville Famous”, Trav traces the arc of silent comedy back further than most film historians do in their books, and follows it further into the present as well. “Chain of Fools” is not just about silent comedy itself but its place in our culture and how it’s been a consistent part of it. It’s a fun read, and accessible to both novice and seasoned historian. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (And if you’re not aware of it already, do pick up Trav S.D.’s No Applause–Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous)”
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“When I first saw the cover of the book I smiled. This was not Chaplin and Eric Campbell from “Easy Street” or something, it was Author Trav S.D.’s little joke. The principles of the cover were Billy West and Oliver Hardy, THAT introduced me properly to this wonderful book of other film comedians, some famous, some obscure. This is not a reference book, it can be read for pure joy and the author adds his opinions to these characters making them come to life again. You may consider me a fan of Trav from his first book “No Applause Just Throw Money,” for this author brings the same amount of joy and authority to enrich reader’s knowledge of the legacies of the unknown or forgotten. This is pure prose from cover to cover and it could pass for a course study…only this tome is too entertaining for dry lecture. The author has contributed something special in “Chain of Fools,” (Bearmanor Media). This is a five-star rating.” – William Cassara
Introduction Pt. I: Assumptions, Definitions, and Categories
1. Comic Structures
2. Comic Thought
3. Comic Films—Categories and Definitions Pt. II: Primitives
4. Jests, Tricks, and the First Comic Personalities
5. Mack Sennett Pt. III: Chaplin and Keaton
6. Chaplin: From Keystone to Mutual
7. Chaplin: First Nationals and Silent Features
8. Chaplin: Sound Films
9. Keaton Pt. IV: Other Silent Clowns
10. Harold Lloyd
11. Harry Langdon
12. More Fun Shops Pt. V: Sound Comedy
13. Sound and Structure
14. Ernst Lubitsch and René Clair
15. Jean Renoir
16. The Dialogue Tradition
17. The Clown Tradition
18. The Ironic Tradition
The Case for Comedy
Appendix A: Distributors of Comic Films
Appendix B: Photo Credits
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“A great book by Gerald Mast on the art of comedy, the history of comedic actors and films. This is a must read for any film major, director or filmmaker looking to work in the genre of comedy. Plus it’s just a darn good read.”