Sir Charles Chaplin

  1. Conrad Veidt, Jew Süss (US: Power), 1934.      Chaplin announced Leon Feuchtwangler’s novel about Jewish persecutionin 18th Century Germany as his first talkie in 1930. (You want another surprise? In 1935,French realisateur Jean Renoir prepared a scenario for Chaplin and Garbo as Napoleon and Josephine).
  2. Alan Young, Androcles and Lion, 1951.    Gabriel Pascal was the favourite UK producer-director of Irish dramatist George Bernard Shaw – filming Pygmalion, 1939, Major Barbara, 1941, Caesar and Cleopatra, 194), and now Androcles, the first to escape to Hollywood, where Howard Hughes joined the party. However, it took so long to happen that GBS (just Bernard Shaw in the credits) died before shooting started. On February 9, HC Potter began directing James Donald, opposite James Simmons (in their US debuts) and George Sanders as Emperor Antoninus Caesar. After a few days, everything stopped. For seven months! Because Hughes could not find his Androcles, going from the sublime Chaplin to José Ferrer and Barry Fitzgerald to the ridiculous Eddie Bracken… before borrowing Young from Paramount. Then, Hughes quit.   And Pascal took over again.
  3. Buster Keaton, Film,  1964.      Irish  playwright Samuel Beckett had ached  to work with the baby-faced silent clown, Harry Langdon. He died, however, before Beckett could even finish his sole  film script (silent, but for  a “sssh!”), let alone set about trying to make it. Chaplin was impossible to contact, Zero Mostel proved unavailable. Jack MacGowran, the finest  performer of Beckett’s plays, was too busy. Finally, almost begrudgingly, Beckett suggested  Keaton. The two icons never got on (Buster  having turned down Sam’s Waiting For Godot on Broadway), but director Alan Schneider (who says Sam was the true director) said Keaton was totally professional: patient, imperturbable, relaxed…  indefatigable, if not exactly loquacious. He played O. The other  character was the  actual camera, E – E and O, Eye and Object. No wonder  US critic Andrew Sarris called it  pretentious garbage.

  4. John Huston, The Biblein the Beginning, 1965.
    Who else but John Huston  had  the cojones to try and direct Chaplin?  Charlie admitted his fascination for Noah. “But I’ve never been directed by anyone else.” And he used that as his excuse.  “So I can’t do it!” “Why not direct the sequence yourself?” suggested  the canny Huston. “He was tempted and toyed with the idea for several weeks,” recalled Huston in his 1980 auobiography.  “I thought we had him, but…  He couldn’t conceive of being in someone else’s picture.” First reserve Alec Guinness was over-booked and ultimately, realising any Noah  would require a familiarity with animals, Huston decided to play the leader of the lost Ark – in his frieze of episodes from Genesis 1-22, He had, by sheer happenstance, already grown the beard. And, as befits a director, he was also the voice of God.  So he was  God talking to Noah and Noah talking to God.  Madness. No wonder Time magazine famously compared the result to being swallowed by a whale. 


<<  Flashback

A late morning in 1974… Time to pop out for a sandwich. Leaving my office in the Warner Bros building, I strolled up Wardour Street (London’s Film Row).  Then, I noticed a group of people heading in my direction. Two or three guys and some old geezer  in glasses, scarf, hat  and  a wheel-chair.  As we approached each other, I suddenly realised who he was.  I held up my hand to indicate: Stop!  I then shook hands with the old gentleman and found myselt far too tongue-tied to say little more than a most heart-felt…  Thank  you!  (He kindly said the same). And that,  brothers and sisters… that  was Charlie Chaplin, that was!  

But what if I’d gone out for my sarnie half-an-hour earlier.  Or later. Yet people insist  there’s no such thing as coincidence…




 Birth year: 1889Death year: 1977Other name: Casting Calls:  3