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Charlie Chaplin’s Life in Exile

November 25, 2023
Notes
Transcript
This week, I’m rejoined by Scott Eyman, author of Charlie Chaplin Vs. America: When Art, Sex, and Politics Collided. We discussed the great silent star’s exile from America, how the press and the government conspired against Charlie Chaplin, the personal and professional perils of being prematurely anti-fascist, and why Buster Keaton seems to be more fashionable than The Tramp these days. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure to check out Scott’s book, available at all fine booksellers now. And please share it with a friend! 
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:06

    Welcome back to the full work goes to Hollywood. My name is Sunny Bunch from Culture Editor at the Bulwark And I’m very pleased to be rejoined today by Scott Eamon, who is formerly the literary critic at the Palm Beach Post, is the author or co author of seventeen books, including bestsellers, on John Wayne, which is one of my favorite biographies. We we talked about this a little bit last time, but we’re here to talk about his new book Charlie Chaplin versus America when art, sex and politics collided. Scott, thanks for being on the show today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:33

    Oh, happy to be there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:35

    Alright. So, let’s I, you know, I don’t I don’t like to ask this question, a lot, but I think it’s I think it’s an interesting one to get into here, because This is a, a topic that I think is resonant in the the the news today. Why did you want to write this particular book at this particular time?
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:55

    Well, the easy answer is it was a pandemic book. It was February of nineteen twenty. Sorry, February of of twenty twenty. Things are clearly heading south. I had just shipped off a book about Carrie Grant, and, you know, normally, I take about six to eight months off between books.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:11

    You know, I just I just lay fallow. But, the everything was closing down, especially libraries, and libraries are crucial to what I do. So I began to rummage around for something that I could do with libraries closed, which is a very short list, frankly. There’s not a lot to do. So I was looking around for something, archives that were digitized.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:36

    And the Chaplain archives were digitized. And I thought, well, that’s magnificent. I adored Charlie Sykes, and I used my entry level really into old movies as a boy. The problem was what hasn’t been written about Charlie Chaplin, you know? Because there are dozens and dozens and dozens of books about Charlie Sykes Chaplin, and I know that because I’ve read them all.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:56

    And I’ve got most of them. And, I thought, well, I’m that doesn’t really help me at all because everything’s been covered. So I sat there for a week or two, and things continue to shut down. And, clearly, it was gonna take a while. And I thought, well, and I just thought about it and thought about it and thought about it, and finally realized that really nobody had written, a deep dive into basically the seminal event of his life is banishment from United States of America in nineteen fifty two.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:24

    Which was kind of the the apogee of the, the blacklist era. And, I thought, well, and that and just to make sure I doubled and and read a couple of, David Robinson’s book and and one or two others. And I was right. Nobody had gone into any detail about it. It was just sort of presented as a fait accompli, you know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:43

    And I thought, well, there’s something there. And then I had to, basically get the approval of the chaplain State. Because basically, as I said, everything’s digitized. The entire archive is digitized. But if they approve a project, they give you the password and you’re off and running.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:00

    Basically. And they never asked for approvals of any sort. You know, it was it was here it is. Have fun. Here’s your ball.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:08

    Run with it. So that would that took me about two years. Just plowing through the archive. Looking for this, looking for that, and I found a lot more than I thought I would. A lot more than I thought I would.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:22

    And at that point, things began to open up again pro providentially. You know, the libraries open it, but I needed the Library of Congress. I needed the Academy, of course, in Los Angeles. I needed a USC, and I needed one of library, the Nixon and the Truman presidential libraries, those libraries I needed, and they all incrementally opened up just in time. As I began, closing down the chaplain archive, finishing my work in the chaplain archive.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:48

    So it was and so it was a, it it came out of, a once in a lifetime crisis, basically. If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, it never would have occurred to me to write a book Charlie Chapman in the Bulwark list.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:02

    Yeah. It it’s interesting that you mentioned that nobody’s really covered this part of his his life. And I I say that because I had always mean, like, I’m not a I am not a scholar on, early Hollywood history, silence, or anything like that, or chaplain. And I had always thought of chaplain’s exile as self imposed. I’d almost I’d heard it described that way by people, in fact, that, you know, he had he had left the country.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:26

    He went to Switzerland, And he finally came back in nineteen seventy two for to to accept the Oscar, and it was a big moment. But I I had not realized that it was it was not self imposed. This was he was not allowed back into the country.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:40

    His reentry permit was revoked by Harry Truman’s attorney general. A man named James of Grennery, for vague reasons, a week after the, and he was on the Queen Elizabeth. Heading to Europe to open limelight, his his most recent film. He was gonna open it in London. His wife, Unna, was with him and their four children.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:59

    And he was going to show Una, his his London because she’d never been, his lambeth where he grew up. And then they were going to go on a a couple months tour of Europe France and so forth, open the film, relax because he hadn’t been out of the country in twenty years. He hadn’t been out of the country since nineteen thirty two. And they were one day out of New York when he got a cable Graham that his reentry permit had been revoked. Which took him completely by surprise.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:25

    And he was thunderstruck, of course, what he didn’t know was about a week after the, revocation, the INS had a meeting in which they kind of mulled this thing over, and they came to the recognition that, if he decided to appeal the revocation, they have to let him back in because he’d never been convicted of a misdemeanor, let alone a felony. And they had absolutely nothing on him, to to to to mandate the revocation. Of the attorney general referred to, menace to womanhood. That was his quote, a menace to womanhood, a slightly Victorian Circumocution. But there it was.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:04

    That was essentially, what it was hung on. Because at this point, the FBI had been The entire security apparatus of America had been all over him since basically nineteen forty, nineteen forty one, and he’d been investigated numerous times. And they knew, a, that he was never a communist, b, that he’d never been a member of the party, c, that he’d never donated any money to the party, and and dee that he was a kind of, very singular individualist libertarian, with, vaguely socialist sympathies. But none of that is actionable. You know?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:40

    So but what he was was a completely out of step. With the, the moral, ecology of America in the post war era. And that was essentially what tripped him up. It wasn’t nineteen it wasn’t nineteen thirty four anymore.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:55

    Right. Well, let let’s talk about that a little bit because I there there is, I mean, there’s there’s some interesting stuff in in the book, which again, I did not I did not really know about about his, shall we say relationship and the the trouble that got him into. No. Absolutely. Not not just with the government with the press too, because this is we we’re gonna talk about here in a minute because that’s that’s a fascinating part of all this, but it was that was what the press focused on first was his, dalliances.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:26

    Yes. Yes. He liked young girls. He liked young girls, not exclusively. In a in a sense, I think it historically, it’s probably been over emphasized because, He had three wives.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:37

    They were, all eighteen or younger at the time of his mar the marriage to them. Even there’s a fourth, relationship that was considered to be a marriage, but wasn’t because they were never married. He was shacked up with Paula Goddard, the leading lady of modern times and the great dictator. They went through a Mexican divorce in order to imply that they actually had been married when they never had been married. She did she they just lived together.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:01

    But it was it was it was protective coloration for her because she’d lost the part of scarletta scarletta era and gone with the wind. To Vivienne Lee because she and Chaplin were were living together and their their marital status was, undetermined. Although they told the press that they were married, they never actually were. And Vivian Lee got it, which was ironic because she was presently living in sin with Lawrence Olivia at the time, but it was not generally known to the public that Vivian Lee and Lawrence Olivier were living together, without benefit of marriage. Whereas it was generally known to the public that Paula Goddard and Chaplin were living together.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:37

    Mhmm. So Goddard lost the part. Vivian Lee got the part, which was good for film history because of Vivian a better actress. But it was certainly I’m sure a tough loss for Paula Goddard. So So but but there were plenty of, age appropriate women along the way too.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:56

    Mhmm. I mentioned some of them in the book. Who women who were in their late twenties and and thirties at the time of their relationship with Chaplin. So it wasn’t that he was exclusively devoted to, to young girls. It was he was, he was a true democrat when it when it came to women.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:15

    Liberty libertarian in all issues.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:18

    Yes. That’s a that’s a good way to put it. Alright. There’s a there’s a line in your, in in your book, you’re writing, out here about modern times, and the, the, the some of the some of the great sequences in there, but here’s here’s a quote. He felt the printing press had the potential to devour him, which feels very much like foreshadowing for what is to come.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:41

    Can you could you talk a little bit about how the press, how the press kind of turned against him how they worked with Hoover Nixon, others in the, the apparatus of the federal government to to take him down.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:58

    There were three legs to this, decade long, what crucifixion is probably too strong a word. This decade long effort to demonize, chaplain. The first was the Democrat dictator, which he, started working on at the end of nineteen thirty eight. It didn’t come out until October of nineteen forty. During that entire period America was a profoundly isolationist country as was the American Congress.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:26

    The only thing that turned the isolation, around was Pearl Harbor in December of nineteen forty one. So until that, he’s swimming against the tide, not only of the movie industry, who was not exactly enthralled with making anti communist picture, anti fascist pictures, rather. He was also swimming against the conservative press, the Hurst press, the Chicago Tribune press, the Daily News, all the those conservative papers that thought, that sought to restrict Jewish immigration from Europe that sought to promulgate the view that Hitler was not our problem, that Hitler was Europe’s problem, and we didn’t have to deal with it. And, if he took, England, then we’d simply have to make a separate piece with him, and that would be the end of our trouble. Chaplain didn’t believe that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:12

    He believed the opposite. He believed what Roosevelt believed. Franklin Roosevelt believed, and he believed what Winston Churchill believed. That, Hitler was a mad dog, and you you can’t reason with a mad dog. You have to put the mad dog down.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:24

    And chaplain’s weapons were ridicule and satire. So he launched into the great dictator, into everybody’s amazement because it’s not a movie that anybody thought should be made, not the American movie industry, not the British foreign office because Neville Chamberlain was the prime minister when he started it. The American public flock to see it. The reviews were excellent, and it made a lot of money because Chapa had been right once again in that The audience had always followed him where he led. He did the the audience did not lead Chaplin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:57

    He led the audience. He led the audience into feature comedies with the kid. He led the audience into silent movies in the nineteen thirties after sound had obliterated silent movies. He still made city lights different times, which were both critical and commercial successes. The audience followed Chaplin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:15

    And they followed Chaplin once again with the great dictator, even though people like Head a hopper prophesy catastrophe, commercial and and creative catastrophe. However, it is the classic example of premature anti fascism. Which did him no favors. Then in nineteen forty two after we were involved in World War two after Pearl Harbor, He began making speeches proselytizing for the opening of a second front to aid Russia, who are our allies, again, in the fight against Hitler. This caused no end of, outrage with Jae or Uber in the FBI.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:50

    And that is when Uber and the FBI began surveilling chaplain intensively. There were agents at all of his speeches, chaplain speeches, taking down dictation about exactly what he said. Because anybody that was sympathetic to Russia was ipso facto considered to be dangerously radical. Chaplain declared over and over that he wasn’t a communist, but he was in fact sympathetic to communism because they were fighting Hitler as we were. And anything any anybody that was Hitler, and anything, any any any tactic that could bring the war to a more rapid end should be supported.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:25

    So that was why his he would his stated reasons for, supporting Stalin and and Russia in the fight against Hitler. It was at that point that the FBI got involved. It was at that point that the entire security apparatus of the country began surveilling chaplain over the next eight years from, say, nineteen forty two to nineteen fifty. His house was surveilled. His mail was opened.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:52

    His employees were all interviewed. His taxes both, corporate and personal were going over with fine tooth combs audited. And they never found a thing. Anything. He paid his taxes.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:05

    He paid more than his taxes, actually. More than his fair share. They found nothing, and they knew he was never a member of the party because my nineteen forty seven, if you remember the Hollywood ten, when they called those tenants, providers, and different Ubers, directors to Washington. And they had the FBI had the membership roster of the Los Angeles Communist Party, they knew exactly that everybody they called either was in the party by nineteen forty seven or had been and quit at some point. So this was a fait accompli.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:35

    The the whole thing was was was set up essentially, for the FBI and and the, the, communist, the former communist left walked right into it. And they knew the chaplain hadn’t been a member. As a result. But Hoover, it was a dog. It was it was a bone that Hoover would not let go of.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:56

    Every every year or two, He would jog Richard Hood, who is the head of the FBI Los Angeles office, and a very smart guy and a very well connected guy within the movie industry. Hood was close with Sissleby De Mill. Who was very conservative, and demille was his entree into what was going on in the movie industry and who was left wing and who wasn’t left wing. Because Demille had a lot of ten tendrils, throughout the industry. He was a very powerful guy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:25

    And and Demil and Chaplain were not friends, exactly. They were friendly. Mhmm. A couple times, demille Lent, chaplain is ranch, which was called Paradise, up in the wilds of the of the of the mountains above Los Angeles. When Chaplin needed a getaway, you know, because Jacqueline didn’t have a getaway.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:46

    He had a small boat, a thirty six footer, the way he would take to Catalina, but you couldn’t take a thirty six footer any further than Catalina. So they knew each other, and they were they were okay with each other. All that Demille was extremely conservative, and chaplain was not. But the on some level, they communicated. But the mill was, was Hood’s guy in, in Hollywood.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:09

    And, Hoover would jog, hood, that Chaplin wasn’t really an artist. Was he? Chaplin was really just overrated. Wasn’t he? And Hood would talk to Demil, and Demil would tell him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:20

    Well, actually Chaplin is an artist. Yes. He’s very much an artist. Yeah. Now he’s not well liked in Holly, because he was a loner.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:30

    By nature, actually, and by training. His childhood, which was catastrophic had taught him that he couldn’t, basically, depend on anybody but himself. So he never really did depend on anybody but himself until he met Una O’Neil, his last wife. It was all about he he maintained, he had his own studio on LaBRa Avenue. It’s still there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:51

    It’s now their headquarters is the Jim Hansen’s, Jim Hansen’s company. He had owned twenty five percent of United Artis. He financed his own pictures out of his own pocket. He was absolutely self contained. As a production center.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:04

    He didn’t take any studio money from anybody. Because he believed that if you took money from a studio, then you’d have to take their notes, and you’d have to and you’d have to have meetings, and you’d have to to adapt what you wanted to do with what they wanted to do, and that he would not do. He simply would not do. He was absolutely autonomous. So because of that autonomy, because of that isolation that he that kind of moat that he constructed around him self as a filmmaker.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:33

    He wasn’t particularly well liked because the studio system involved collaboration, and Chaplin didn’t collaborate. With anybody. His films were one man bands. He wrote them. He directed them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:44

    He produced them. He wrote the musical scores. He he was the star. He did everything. If he could’ve if he if he could’ve sewn the costumes, he would’ve.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:52

    So he was not people in Hollywood didn’t really understand him or get him because he didn’t want to be understood or gotten. Mhmm. That’s a long answer to a short question. Well, no.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:03

    I to the extent that and I I was I was interested to learn this in your book, the the family still owns the rights to his movies. Right? I mean, they they still control distribution and
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:13

    Everything he made from nineteen eighteen is still owned by the family. That was his He regarded his films in the way authors regard their copyrights. He owned them outright because he financed them himself. So he could own them outright. It wasn’t they weren’t owned by the studio.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:27

    He didn’t have a percentage of them, which was the most an actor could ever get. You know, or or or a director could ever get. It was a ten percent or fifteen percent or something. He owned him outright. All he did was pay UnitedRS twenty percent for distribution.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:39

    After that, he owned eighty percent of the proceeds. Do the math. That was the foundation of his money, and the money was the foundation of his independence. Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:49

    I wanna I wanna jump back, just a bit to to something you had mentioned. And I’ve talked about this before, with, Chris Yogars had him on the show to talk about his book Hollywood hates Hitler, Yeah. Which is a it’s a fascinating, little, little period in history because, you know, I think we all think now of nazis are invariably the most evil of people. They are like go to stock Hollywood villains. And that was most certainly not always the case,
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:18

    which is No. Which is go on.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:21

    Which which is just really interesting. And I think, I think a window into, how how the country, how different the country was in the late thirties, then it would be just ten years later.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:32

    Absolutely. Absolutely. No. It’s it’s hard to over emphasize. The the only, as I mentioned in the book, the only people who were even dabbling in anti fascism in in Hollywood, at the at the time that Chaplin was making the great dictator were the Warner Brothers Walter Wanger, who is an independent producer, and Charlie Chaplin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:52

    That was it. That was it. We metro didn’t metro didn’t get near it until late nineteen forty. About the same time the great dictator came out, but Chaplin’s films were a long time in gestation. It was like birthing a hippopotamus.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:04

    It took a long time because he was, OCD, and he was compulsive. And he wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, and shot and shot and shot and shot and shot and would go back and shoot all over again. I mean, the the famous sequence in modern times with the feeding machine sequence, which is, I think, the comic highlight one of his comic highlights of his career, he did four hundred takes on that. I mean, it just he went out for weeks shooting that seat. To get it exactly what he wanted it to be.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:33

    Which is not the way movies are produced then or now. Even Kubrick, I don’t think ever went four hundred tanks. You know? So he was he was he was a absolute perfectionist because he could afford to be because he didn’t care. About what it costs because it was coming out of his pocket.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:50

    Yeah. I mean, it’s, again, it’s it’s really interesting. And the the other thing that is Interesting here is the, you you have a you have a line from, Roosevelt, FDRs, assistant Harry Hopkins, who in who assured chaplain that he did not yeah. Here’s the the quote quote, you don’t have to worry about exhibitors boycotting this. Hill, hill FDR, see that this will be released, end quote, which I I, like, you know, we it’s it’s It is unusual to see that sort of, I think, friendliness between Hollywood and, filmmaker, particularly on a subject as fraught at the time as entry into World War two was.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:32

    Well, Roosevelt was fighting apathy. Roosevelt was fighting apathy, and he was fighting basically anti Semitism, which was on a scale, in America at that point that we haven’t seen until very rate very recently. And he was aware of it, and he thought that Chaplain because of his enormous popularity, which had not yet been punctured. Would, the the the the film, a satire, and Hitler would possibly, move the, the the the balance, a little bit more to to to Roosevelt’s point of view. About what needed to be done about what was going on in Europe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:15

    And it it had a great financial success and great critical success. It didn’t particularly move the needle, though. In terms of Jewish immigration or, feelings about getting involved, with Hitler. That didn’t change until Pearl Harbor.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:29

    Mhmm. The timing on the great dictator is fascinating because it really is in the worst possible spot for, for chapel. As you mentioned, he was prematurely anti fascist. Right? So he so the great dictator comes out, at a moment when DC, the the federal government is not super into or at least segments of it are not super into pushing for War, the public is very, as you say, apathetic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:57

    They don’t they don’t necessarily wanna get into it either, but it’s also at a time when, the actual communists in Hollywood were not super into it either because the, because at the time, right, that the Soviet Nazi pact is still in effect, and it’s still in effect until June of nineteen forty one, which kind of leaves him in no man’s land.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:18

    He was in no man’s land. He was he was a voice in the wilderness at this point. In terms of the industry, and because the the the left wing was not a hundred percent behind this picture either, for all the obvious reasons. But Chaplin, as I said, he was a majority of one. If he decided to make a movie, he was gonna make a movie, even if god himself came down, the heavens and said, this is a really bad idea.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:41

    He would go ahead and make it anyway. For one thing he didn’t believe in, he was basically an atheist. He didn’t broadcast but he was an atheist. I found that in in the archives. He And the audience that always follow him, there’s a wonderful story, one of my favorite anecdotes in the book, but Stan Laurel told.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:01

    Stan Laurel was his uh-uh, understudy in English Vaudeville. And Chaplin was strange even then. He didn’t interact well, really well with the other performers. He wasn’t mating, you know, he didn’t go out. He was rarely, you know, go out for drinks or anything like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:18

    He kept to himself. And he would be and he wouldn’t show up until a few minutes before curtin. And it’d be five minutes before curtin and Charlie Sykes Nadia. And he was the star of the show. Start leading comic.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:29

    Where’s Charlie Charlie? Charlie Sykes not here. Jeez. It’s three minutes. Stan, put on your makeup.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:35

    So Stan would put on his makeup and Chaathlon comes soldering in, like, ninety seconds or two minutes before curtain and slap on the makeup and take his position in the curtain and rise, and he would slaughter the audience every time. And Laurel really got angry because he on rare he when he rarely got on stage, And two, Chaplin never flubbed a performance. And what I take this anecdote the me the the deeper meaning of this anecdote is Chaplin always knew that he could control the audience that he that he that he wouldn’t fail as a professional. He had enormous confidence in himself as a working comedian and his ability to control the audience and take the audience where he wanted them to go. That’s that’s a that self confidence never left him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:21

    That self and this is he’s twenty one years old at this point, twenty one, twenty two years old. This is a very young man. With a with a with a a childhood of of crushing poverty and in in in a punishment behind him and and and mental illness on the part of his his mother and alcoholism on the part of his father, where he got this surety. I don’t know. Because with his background, he’d think he’d be not wanting to sh that the success would be crucial to And he wouldn’t wanna do anything to endanger it, and there’d be a certain insecurity.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:53

    No. There was no insecurity as a working professional. He had zero insecurities that were professional. His security was, social. He was insecure in groups.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:03

    He was insecure with strangers. And with strangers, he would do what a lot of comedians do if I don’t know if you know any comedians, but they tend to be funny. They do bits. They they entertain people that they don’t really know as a means of seducing them, of real make making them relax around you, you know? They perform, you know, in essence.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:24

    Chaplin would do that. Chaplin would do that. If he didn’t know the people, if he wasn’t comfortable with people, he would perform. He would do he would play both a bullfighter and the bull. He had all these set party set pieces that he would bring out, as a means of of relaxing himself and making him feel more comfortable and more in control, much more in control.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:45

    If he knew you, but there were very few people that he let in. There were very people that he was in emotionally intimate with, emotionally. Sexual sexually was one thing. Emotionally was another.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:57

    Yeah. It’s it’s it’s interesting that you mentioned him leading, the audience, which, you know, obviously feels right. You just the record speaks for itself, but he but he was, he what he did have a lot of respect for the audience’s understanding of what worked and what didn’t. I also found really interesting because you know, a lot of the times you hear artists talk about, well, I, you know, if the audience doesn’t get it, that’s on them. If, you know, my my art is is what it is and, you know, perhaps it’s ahead of its time or, you know, perhaps the audience is just too dumb.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:29

    But there’s there’s, there’s quote here when you I I forget who he was talking to, but he says, you know, I’m I’m terrifically influenced by the public. I have a profound respect for that. They don’t know why they don’t like something. But it’s our business to know why, which is a I I I find I find refreshingly kind of candid in terms of, how how the art of filmmaking works, which works on a more emotional, resonance, which is another thing he
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:57

    No. He said there’s another point of the, an it’s a continuation of that same thought later on in the book. Where it says, if a film doesn’t work, that’s on me. If a film doesn’t reach the audience, that’s on me. And the guy, he’s talking to says, well, what about fit what about novels?
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:14

    He said it’s different. Nobles novels are are aimed at the intellect. Movies are aimed at the emotions. And if I fail to engage the audience’s emotions, that’s on me. And he absolutely understood the transaction.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:27

    He understood what the audience wanted. He understood what it was his responsibility to give them. You know, in return for their for their dollars. They were supposed to be moved. If they weren’t moved, it was on him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:40

    Yeah. Yeah. Let’s let’s talk, just a a little bit about, I mean, about the actual mechanics of him being excluded from the country. I mean, it is it’s the heart of the book. We haven’t really discussed it that much.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:54

    But what so what exactly how was he kept out, I guess, is the best way to put this? I mean, he he was
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:01

    not a citizen. He was a he was a resident alien. Had never taken out citizenship because he didn’t believe in, and nationalism and patriotism. He thought it was the, the the nazism was the logical, gross extension of nationalism and that the seeds of that kind of, of, radical nationalism were present in every country, not just Germany. And he he felt the same way about England.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:27

    A friend of his named Max Eastman said, what people didn’t understand about Charlie. He said is that he was born in England and made his fame and fortune in America, and he never became a citizen of America. If the reverse had been the case, if he’d been born in America and made his fame in fortune in England, he wouldn’t have become a citizen in England, either. He simply didn’t believe in that kind of thing. He was a resident alien in America.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:50

    So he whenever he left the country, he had to, you know, fill out, a reentry permit. For the for the ins, which was always, you know, a rubber stamp kind of thing, except in nineteen fifty two. Because by nineteen fifty two, basically, he had this the premature anti fascism, the great dictator, he had a paternity suit in nineteen forty two forty three. And he took a blood test because he knew he was innocent of, fathering the child. The blood test proved he was not the father.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:21

    And the jury found against him anyway because because it the blood test was not dispositive in California at that point from their four or five years. So a jury could overturn the results of a blood test, if the Joe chose, and they so chose. So he appealed the verdict. The appeal was turned down. So for the next eighteen years, he had to pay child board for a child that was not his.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:42

    Well, you can imagine how thrilled he was about that. But the fact that he had been involved with a twenty she was twenty two or twenty three, a woman named Joan Berry. At the time, for about a year. And the fact that he and it it blew up into a paternity suit, even though he was innocent of the fathering the child, certainly turned a lot of, I guess middle America would be a way of putting it against him. As the paternity suit was getting underway, he married Un O’Neil, the daughter of Eugene O’Neil to play.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:13

    Right? She was eighteen. He was fifty three, I believe. Which seem to offer confirmation of the worst things that were being written and and and communicated about him in the in the popular press that they were married for the rest of his life very happily and had eight children together was irrelevant, was was proved relevant in retrospect, but at the time, it seemed outrageous. So, and when Macrainery, the attorney general revoked his reentry permit, He referred to a menace to womanhood.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:46

    The Japanese was a menace to womanhood. So I can’t prove it, because McGraderie never really noted anything in his diary, or his daily, his daily notebook about what he was doing. But I think it was, Charlie Sykes sex life that actually pulled the trigger, and and resulted in his banishment, not his politics. But anyway, he was a a day out of New York and he got the notice that his reentry permit was revoked. And at that point, he was a man without a country.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:17

    He was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and he couldn’t return to America. He could’ve, but he didn’t know that. You know, because as I mentioned, the INS had a meeting a week after the revocation, and they said we’re gonna have to let him back in if he comes back in. But chaplain was livid. As the letters and communications in the book, proof.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:37

    He didn’t say any of that publicly. I might add. All that was private, written to friends like, Clifford Odets, and, James AG among others. But he was livid because he felt he’d been badly used, and he felt, he’d been unfairly pilloried by the press, certainly. And by the Truman Administration, certainly.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:02

    But he had a real problem in that everything he owned, his his money, his stocks, his bonds, his film library, which was the most valuable thing he owned. His studio, his real estate, was all in California, and he couldn’t come back. Or you thought he couldn’t come back. Luckily, his wife was a citizen, and they couldn’t keep her out. So she came back and liquidated everything.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:22

    His brother Sydney who, was the unheralded hero of Charlie’s life, really, is older by two years than Charlie, also proved to be a complete loyalist and took the his best care of his brother in those difficult circumstances since anybody could have. And helped liquidate his assets. But then he had the the problem of where to live. What am I gonna do with the rest of my life? Because he’s at this point, he’s sixty three years old.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:50

    When he’s kicked out of the country. And he figured he had ten more years, you know, realistically. He was gonna he lived to be eighty eight but at the time when you’re sixty three in nineteen fifty two, you don’t think you’re gonna live to be almost ninety years old. So his brother suggested the south of France because that’s Sydney lived. He lived in nice.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:11

    And then Sydney suggested, Switzerland. For tax reasons because Sydney was, had a fetish about not paying taxes. Well, among these other fetishes, I might add. And Chaplin thought about it. And I what Chaplin obviously needed was to lower the volume, to lower the temperature.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:33

    To be able to relax without being, having to worry about the lunacy that was being printed about them on a weekly basis. And Switzerland, of course, is is, also is tax advantages, but also it’s very quiet. Really quiet. So he bought a manor house in Switzerland for a hundred thousand dollars and lived there the rest of his life with his family. And the work and his films promptly deteriorated.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:00

    Now did his films deteriorate because he was getting old? Or did his film deteriorate because he was completely out of the mainstream? And out of that positive abrasion that you get if you live in a major metropolis like Madrid or Los Angeles or New York, where you where the world assaults you with news and and and various things. You’re you’re attuned to it, and it effects your, you know, your overall sense of alertness and and and the quality of your work. And Chaplin had always been connected to his time.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:33

    If you look at, the kid or, or, or, or modern times, it’s certainly the great dictator almost they’re all connected to what’s going on in the larger world. They’re not just he’s not red skeleton making funny faces, you know. He’s actually connected to the real world in a profound way. And his last two films, don’t particularly work. There he’s also he’s getting older, but he’s also you can see him kind of losing the narrative.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:03

    You know? He’s not plugged in in the same way that he was twenty years earlier with modern times of the great dictator. He’s simply not. And I think Switzerland had something to do with that. On the one hand, it was absolutely necessary for him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:17

    It gave him a peace and quiet and, a relaxation that he never could have had otherwise. But it did cost him a lot in terms of the quality of his work.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:25

    Yeah. But I I wanna talk a little bit about the critical appraisal reappraisal, specifically, in regard to, his the the the actor and and director he is most frequently paired with which is Buster Keaton. So in, early on in the book, you mentioned, you write that most modern critics prefer the apolitical, slightly autistic comic character of Buster Keaton, to Chaplin, who is doing who is doing something slightly different, And I’m I’m curious, to get your take on why you think that is. I mean, I I it’s it’s something I’ve noticed as well, and it it it it’s weirdly I’m, I’m gonna go off on a slight tangent here. It’s weirdly almost pegged to a lot of the action stuff that we see now, like the John Wick movies, that sort of thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:14

    People talk about those movies as Buster Keaton style, you know, affects, choreographed extravaganzas, and chaplain is not mentioned in the same sort of way. Why is that? Why why has chaplain faded a little bit? Do you think?
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:30

    Well, I say I think I say in the book that he’s popular, but no longer fashionable. Mhmm. That way. And I think that’s true. I think that’s true.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:37

    And if the book does something to to to to reconnect him with a larger audience. I mean, even if you show a picture of the tramp to almost anybody today, they’ll say that’s Charlie Sykes. Which is remarkable if you think about it because he stopped playing the tramp in nineteen thirty six. So we’re we’re eighty years on, you know? But people still understand that that’s Charlie Chaplin.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:57

    Okay. So, well, for one thing, he’s emotional. And beginning in, I would say, to take the long view of humor of of American humor beginning in the fifties with comics like Mort saw stand up where stand up essentially replace replaces visual comedy, and becomes the leading edge of comedy as opposed to film comedy. Comedy becomes much more I don’t know if intellectual is the word, but certainly much less emotional, much more observational, much more bitter, much more cynical. And Charlie Chapman didn’t have a cynical bone in his body.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:33

    He was very overtly, Victorian in many respects. Not personally, not sexually in per in his personal life, but he was very Victorian in terms of his work in terms of the way he presented the world. He didn’t He didn’t, he didn’t condemn, people. He didn’t laugh at people. There there’s a wonderful my favorites one of my favorite moments in city, in modern times.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:59

    We open with the factory, and the workers drooping into the factory, and the production line’s getting up. And they start to, you know, try to keep up giving it’s getting faster and faster and faster. And then we cut to the president of the corporation, and he’s doing the Jigsaw puzzle on his desk. Mhmm. You know,
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:15

    and I’ve
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:16

    always thought Now that’s profound. He’s not being portrayed as some vicious iron boot heel grinding, you know, his heel into the throat of the working man. He’s just indifferent. He’s got his own problems. He’s got his own worries.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:30

    He’s and he takes an antacid tablet, you know? He’s it’s not that people are evil. They just have a limited bandwidth for other human beings outside of their immediate circle. And I think he’s absolutely right. You know, it it it it but he understood these things intuitively.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:49

    Intuitively. Keaton is much more of a a and chaplain’s a romantic. All is a romantic, and he’s very emotional. Keyton is not emotional, and he’s not particularly romantic at all. There’s that wonderful moment in the general when he’s he’s he he that he’s cleaning out the cab of the of the locomotive, and, the girl holds up a little twig, you know, because they’re trying to build up the fire.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:16

    She holds up a little twig like this, and he throws the twig away grabs her by the neck of thralls her, and then he kisses her. You know? That’s as emotional as Keaton gets. That moment is as emotional as mustard Keaton ever gets. The whole point of Keaton is his lack of emotion.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:31

    The whole point of Chaplin is the emotion.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:33

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:33

    So there are hundred and eighty degrees from each They really are. Although they liked each other, and they worked, Keaton hired Keaton to work with him in limelight.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:42

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:42

    So, clearly, he respected him as a professional, as a fellow comp comedian. But they’re completely antithetical in terms of their approach. And in terms of their outlook, and in terms of their, of the effects they wanted to get. Now Keaton’s a better architect of space, I would say. I love Keaton’s camera.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:01

    I love his framing, you know. But I gotta be honest with you. I seldom laugh at Buster Keaton. I laugh at Chapman a lot. I seldom laugh at Buster Keaton.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:10

    There’s something chilly about Keaton. And I think it’s that autistic thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:16

    Mhmm. Mhmm. If you
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:17

    ever seen Keaton’s go west, the cow, breathe. That’s his deepest emotion in movies is the is the feeling he has for that cow.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:25

    You know, because he doesn’t wanna see it slaughter
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:28

    he follows all the way to Los Angeles from Kansas to Los Angeles or Oklahoma wherever where the film starts, to Los Angeles, to the city. And that’s the deepest emotional bond, Keaton has. Is with that cow in the movie. He wants his locomotive back. He wants the cow back.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:42

    He wants to see the cow live, you know. That would never occur to Chaplin. To build a movie about a relationship with a cow. He’ll build a movie around a relationship with a blind girl. He’ll build a movie about the relationship with a small child.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:58

    You know? That he will do. He’ll build a movie around the relationship with a girl who commits suicide. Tries to commit suicide and limelight. Those are that there’s a hundred eighty degree difference in the their core structure of how they make a movie.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:13

    And what they’re building the the bricks they’re building using to build the movie. So because of the move the movement of hue of American humor, from what k what Chapman was doing to what stand ups, like mort saul were doing in the fifties and sixties, which had a huge influence. And continue to because every stand up you see today is like March Saul’s illegitimate child. Yeah. You know, they’re caught they’re doing they’re doing political humor, they’re doing humor about sex.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:43

    Chaplin didn’t Chaplin simply wasn’t a particularly verbally funny person. He was visually funny, but you can’t I can’t think of too many hilarious lines the chaplain gets off verbally. He didn’t think in those terms. He thought visually. So it’s a quantum switch in in in in American humor, that continues today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:03

    So for the for all those reasons, also Keaton is dry. Chaplains moist. It’s very dry. Very dry. He’s like a dry martini.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:13

    Bone dry martini. Yeah. You know?
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:15

    Well, let me let me ask then. I just one last question here on the subject, is is this why the great dictator remains I I would argue the great dictator is probably his his best loved movie now. Right? That is that is the movie now that if you are try if you want to introduce a modern audience to, chaplain, you you send them to go see the great dictator. And then if they like that, you you go on beyond that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:41

    But is is that why is the intellectual nature of that film, why it, still resonates. You know, people say like, oh, he’s making fun of Hitler and mussolini. This is a thing I can grab onto and still, you know, recognize seventy years later, eighty years later, I get what is going on here. I get what he is critiquing. As opposed to some of the other, again, more, as you say, emotional, but, you know, not less intellectual work.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:12

    Mhmm. Yeah. Also, I think I’ll also, I think there’s a certain skit quality to the some of the stuff in great dictator. You know, it’s almost there there’s th things that could be lifted up and done on Saturday night live. You know?
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:26

    And he had to figure out a way. Okay. I’m doing this. The the the the the these these bits, basically. Based on Hitler’s ranting and and in done in double talk, German, you know, Echt German double talk, and Jack Okey doing, this bombastic parody of bombastic mussolini.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:44

    So there’s there’s an element where a a modern audience sees this as a as Skit you know, a series of interconnected skits. And I think that’s one reason. And also because, I mean, let’s face it, the subject of of authoritarianism has not grown less pervasive in the twenty first century. It’s grown and grown more pervasive. So it’s more the film is more relevant to a modern audience than city lights is.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:10

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:11

    So there’s that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:13

    No. That that that makes sense. That was pretty much everything I wanted to ask. If I I always like to close these interviews by asking if there’s anything I should have asked. If you think there’s something folks should know about, Charlie Sykes Chaplin or your book or, just, the world in general.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:26

    What what should I, have asked that I did not?
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:29

    You always ask great questions, sir. You always ask great I have no I have no I’m just glad the book has had because the book became The book became more relevant as we got closer to publication because of the world around us, you know, where you s where where you can see things happening and feel things happening. And I was thinking, I wonder if everybody’s gonna notice because it, you know, I started working on the book at the beginning of twenty twenty, there was only one topic and it was COVID, really.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:00

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:01

    And and everything else was subsidiary. To to COVID. And with the subsist, the with with COVID kind of becoming less of an issue, politics have become more of an issue. And and it seems to me that, that what happened to Chaplain, has been echoed in the in in well, woody Allen’s career, certainly. And and not that woody woody Allen got kicked out of the country, but he was rendered, or to combat.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:34

    You know, he could no longer work here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:36

    Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:39

    I still can’t get my head around that. Of course, if you made better movies, it might not have been so good. I mean, there’s that too.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:46

    Yeah. You
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:46

    know, it’s like a shooting rough drafts all the time. But but the film be the the the I what happened to Charlie Sykes to me, which kind of was subsumed in the seventies when he had his big comeback and came back to America and got his Oscar. And was greeted with this roaring ovation because Hollywood said, we fucked up. Because when he got kicked out of the country, only three people said anything. Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:11

    Publicly, three people in Hollywood. Sam Goldland, William Wiler, and Carrie Grant. That’s it. Everybody else had their head down. They weren’t gonna get involved.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:21

    So they made amends twenty years later. Little too little too late, but, okay, whatever. But it seems to me that what happened to Chaplin and the and what chaplin put on film is only more relevant in the twenty first century than it was even fifty years ago. You know? And I didn’t see that coming.
  • Speaker 2
    0:47:41

    I didn’t see that coming four years ago when I started, we’re almost four years ago when I started working in the book. I really didn’t. So that’s just that’s just the lay of the land shifting over over over time.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:53

    Yeah. Again, the name of the book is a Charlie Sykes versus America when art art, sex, and politics collided, author is Scott. I’m and thank you again for being on the show. I really appreciate it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:48:04

    Thank you, Sunny. Anytime.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:06

    And my name, again, to Sunny Voncheim, the culture editor at the Bulwark, and we will be back next week with another episode of the Bulwark goes to Hollywood. See you guys then.