A Peep into the Private Office at the Chaplin Studio
The four walls within which a man spends most of his time, which are witness of his mental struggles, victories and self-communings, are part of himself, and share something of the soul of his own living personality.
The first time I visited Chaplin’s private office at his beautiful studio was in the company of Charlie himself. He had show me every detail of his model plant and concluded the round on his own private sanctum, where he writes his stories, receives his visitors, and changes for the screen, as one portion of this quiet spacious apartment is curtained off as a kind of dressing-room.
Everything in that room breathes of restfulness and quiet. The tranquil soul seeks its inspiration in sunlight and gay colours. Chaplin’s restless spirit, with its vivid enthusiasms, its eternally unappeased ideals, turns to soft grey twilights and the intimate companionship of books and music.
A man’s library is the revelation od his inmost self. Chaplin relies very largely in his comedies on the element of surprise in “ putting across ” a big laugh. It will possibly be something of a shock, however, to the more frivolous of his admirers to learn that the following works apparently go to the making of a great comedy artist; at any rate, I found them on his office table:
(1) More’s “ Utopia.”
(2) Paine’s “ Political Economy.”
(3) The Tragedies of William Shakespeare.
(4) “ The Bomb,” by Frank Harris, with the author’s dedication.
The only works on his book-shelf suggestive of any spirit approaching levity are “ Denry the Audacious,” with the personal inscription of Arnold Bennett, and Irvin Cobb’s “ Speaking of Operations.”
Chaplin is entirely a self-educated man, and two bookcases containing the “ Encyclopedia Britannica,” and well-thumbed edition of the American “ Book of Knowledge,” show how eagerly and untiringly he has pursued his eternal quest of beauty and truth.
You will notice on a table near the window his violin case with his old David Mantegna, the companion of many an hour when inspiration lies dormant and is lured into being with the sweet strains of Dvorak’s “ Humoresque ” or Tchaikovsky’s sky’s “ Chanson Triste.” Individual in all things, Chaplin is a left-handed player and strings his violin from E to G. He likes to play with muted strings; he thinks it sounds “ less harsh.”
With one exception the pictures on his walls are all photographs, mostly personal dedications of world celebrities who have visited the studio or otherwise been brought into contact with him. Nellie Melba, Queen of Song, hangs close to Mrs. Fiske, America’s Queen of Tragedy; the Earl of Dunmore rubs shoulders with Godowsky, wizard of the piano, and, a very human little touch this, amongst them all, a “ snap ” of a smiling Charlie in a disreputable old suit, photographed with a big fish he once landed on a holiday off Catalina Island.
On a stand in one corner of the room there are the huge piled up volumes of newspaper cuttings. Charlie himself rarely reads a press notice, and I think the only one of those volumes that he would ever miss is the one which contains the “ notices ” of his early successes on the vaudeville stage. On the occasion of my first visit to the studio, he unearthed it after some trouble, handling it with something like real affection. It is still preserved in the old binding with its gaudy reds and golds, the sort of album in which, as kiddies, we all used to stick scraps and transfers on a wet Saturday afternoon. It contains some highly interesting records of genius in the adolescent stage, and one can imagine with what pride the fifteen-year old boy pasted into his precious book that first glowing notice of “ Sherlock Holmes,” in which “ one of the brightest bits of acting in the play was given by Mr. Charles Chaplin who as Billy Holmes’ page boy, displayed immense creativity as well ad dramatic appreciation.”
In an alcove overlooking the studio grounds is Charlie’s modest dressing-room. There is a little white table with a mirror and every accessory just in its proper place, thought it must be owned that the general scheme looks somewhat different of an evening when Mr. Chaplin has finished the day’s work.
With its quiet subdued colour scheme, its books and his pictures, Charlie’s sanctum conveys as little of the general atmosfere of a movie comedy as the Chaplin of private life. But now that I have seen Chaplin at work, not once, but many times, I have learnt to realise that as much logical deduction and mental travail go to the creation of a true comedy as to any problem play.
But if you stand in that quiet room of his and have any aptitude for conjuring up a mental picture of a man, judging him by the things with which he likes to surround himself, you will begin to realise the influences that have made him what he is and which have given his little epics of golden laughter that immortal touch of genius which is all his own.
(The Picture Show Nov. 15, 1919)