The Other Chaplin

Last week we discussed the way in which the predominant critical attention focused on the “Big Three” of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd has distorted the history of silent comedy and unfairly marginalized the majority of screen comedians of the era—at least we did that in a theoretical sense.  Not once in that blog did I ever actually mention one of those marginalized comedians by name, or explain what might make them interesting.

So this week we have a comedian who got his start on Karno’s stage, came to Hollywood to work for Mack Sennett, made the transition from short films to features, was one of Hollywood’s highest paid comedians, and left his mark in some of the most important and beloved classics of silent cinema.  And did I mention his name was Chaplin?

Syd Chaplin, that is.

Syd Chaplin

To the extent he is remembered today outside of nutjobs like myself, he’s thought of mostly as a supporting player in Charlie’s films.  He was certainly a tremendous asset to his famous brother, as evidenced by this clip from A Dog’s Life:

[wpvideo Q2LjQgTT]

But to focus on stuff like this devalues Syd, reduces him to an also-ran, when he was a full-fledged top-billed comedy star in his own right.

During the nineteen-teens, when Charlie was making his seminal short comedies at Essanay and Mutual, Syd was working with Mack Sennett on a series of shorts in which he played a character called “Gussle.”

Gussle, for want of a better description, was a self-conscious Chaplin-a-like.  Syd made the necessary tweaks to accommodate his heavier girth, and didn’t attempt to copy Charlie’s costume and mannerisms in the slavish way that professional Chaplin mimics did—he just took the general idea and adapted it to his own idiom.

In the end, Gussle looks like the unholy love child of Charlie Chaplin and Shemp Howard—he combines Shemp’s appearance with Charlie’s physical grace, and fuses both of their more violent traits.  Charlie’s early shorts at Keystone were often startlingly violent—and Syd’s Gussle shorts leaned heavily on the knockabout form of slapstick havoc.

[wpvideo wEBEcsRb]

Reggie Gussle–with his oil-slicked hair parted in the middle, a moustache apparently swiped off Snub Pollard’s face and stuck on upside down, a drunkard’s swagger—was consistent with the character he’d started playing on the Music Hall stage for Fred Karno, and simply ported over to films when he joined Sennett.

Now as any decently informed Chaplin buff can tell you, Charlie started his career in the English Music Halls with the Fred Karno Company.  But, and here’s the secret history that isn’t often mentioned, he was there thanks to his older brother Syd.

Actually, half brother, if we want to be technical.  But Charlie considered Syd a full and true brother, so who are we to split hairs?

Syd Chaplin

To trace the proper history of Charlie and Karno, we start with Syd—although exactly how to start with Syd is a bit of a mystery.

As it happens, where on the planet Syd was born is a question mark for historians and genealogists, who think but are not sure that he was born Sydney Hawkes, in 1885, in South Africa to a pair of traveling British actors.  A year later, mama Lily Harley divorced her hubby to pair off with Charles Chaplin.  In 1889, they had Charlie.  Papa Chaplin died, Mama Chaplin underwent a nervous breakdown and suddenly Syd and Charlie were on the streets, bereft and alone.  They were shipped off to an orphanage, and Syd had no choice but to step into the surrogate father role.

Syd was a natural entertainer, and he made pocket change as a street performer.  In 1905, this landed him a better paying gig (yup, better paying than pocket change) as a comedian with Fred Karno’s troupe.  And it was then and there that Syd started lobbying Karno to open up a slot in the cast for Syd’s younger brother Charlie.

If Syd stopped there and did nothing else, he’d have already earned a place in film history for the momentous act of introducing Charlie to the stage.

In 1914, Charlie made the leap away from Karno to join Mack Sennett’s Keystone Pictures—and within a year he was on his way to being the biggest movie star in the world.  Way to go, Syd!

Let’s jump to August 1914, where we find Charlie still awkwardly struggling to make a home for himself at Sennett’s studio.  Charlie writes letters back to Syd in England urging him to come to America and get a job at Keystone—and furthermore, to play hardball with Sennett in his salary negotiations.

You could say one good turn deserves another—Syd got Charlie a job at Karno, Charlie got Syd a job at Keystone.  But there’s more to it than that:  Charlie was at that point already scheming to leave Keystone—he needed greater creative freedom than the omnipresent Sennett would ever give him.  Charlie knew that his leverage with Sennett was as great as it would ever be, and if he was ever going to do anything with it, now’s the time, so why not use that power to maneuver his brother into a plum job?

This is indeed how it played out.  Sennett hired Syd, gave him a one year contract for his own run of top-billed solo shorts, with a better than average starting salary.  And Charlie quit to join Essanay.  Sennett was obliged to keep Syd and treat him well as a bargaining chip in his efforts to woo Charlie back.

For the Gussle shorts, Syd was paired offscreen with actor-director Charles Avery, who had started his career at Keystone as one of the original Keystone Kops.  As Sennett’s production evolved and improved, phasing out the Kops, Avery migrated behind the camera, where he directed both for Syd and for Roscoe Arbuckle.

He also worked with a varietry of stalwart Keystone veterans, such as Wesley Ruggles, seen here as a moustache-twirling villain in  A Submarine Pirate.

Wesley Ruggles

Like director Avery he started as a Keystone Kop, and he’d costar with Charlie Chaplin on later shorts—Ruggles would be a Chaplin costar during his Essanay stint, not long after his appearance here.  Skip forward in time to the talkie era and Ruggles becomes a producer and a director in his own right, helming various screwball comedies.  In 1936 Ruggles would direct Valiant is the Word for Carrie, which inspired (at least the title of) the Three Stooges farce Violent is the Word for Curly.

Another recurring costar was Phyllis Allen, usually cast as Gussle’s “love interest.”

[wpvideo w0PNBbWK]

She was a popular vaudeville star who made the leap to screen comedy in 1910.  Charlie poached her off the Sennett lot later to join him in a few of his Mutual comedies later in the decade, and on into the early 1920s, by which time she stopped making films.

And, in a blink and you’ll miss him cameo, here’s a young Harold Lloyd, buried in the deep background (he’s the kid in the farthest back of this kitchen set from A Submarine Pirate):

[wpvideo zPUd8MY0]

I’ve got some more secret history for you.  A few paragraphs ago I said that Charlie Chaplin connived to substitute Syd into his place at Keystone while he secretly planned to decamp to Essanay.  Well, Sennett did so because he was embroiled in his own conspiracy.

Sennett had forged a secret alliance with DW Griffith and Thomas Ince, between them they were the three most powerful and significant figures of American film in 1914.  This triangle of talent (nudge nudge) also roped in some bankers and movie financing types to create a megalithic media conglomerate called Triangle.  Their plan was to lock all of the major Hollywood stars into exclusive contracts with Triangle, and then go to theater chains and say, look, if you want any movies with these top marquee names in them, you have to agree to our distribution terms: namely, if you buy one you buy all.  If you want to screen any Triangle films, you have to agree to be an exclusive Triangle outlet and buy everything we send you.

It’s called “block-booking” and it’s such a controversial practice that today various governing bodies have created strictures to prevent it, but in 1915 it was a legal, if unpopular, strategy.

It was also potentially a self-destructive strategy, because it only works if you have something so attractive on offer that exhibitors will agree to accept these terms.  Because if you don’t have enough things that the exhibitors want, then you’ve just locked your own self out of competition altogether and put yourself out of business, because block-booking also means, if you don’t take one, you don’t take any.

Which meant in simple practical terms, Mack Sennett was under extraordinary pressure to get Charlie Chaplin back.  He’d hire Syd and give Syd just about anything he asked for if it gave him any better odds of getting Charlie back.

[wpvideo SRO3um7V]

Of course, it didn’t actually change his odds of getting Charlie back, but Sennett didn’t really understand that.  He, and moreso the money men at Triangle, believed Charlie’s departure was all about money.  Offer Chaplin enough cash and he’ll come back.  The fact was, Charlie was seeking something Mack Sennett could never give him: creative autonomy, but Sennett selectively remembered only Charlie’s salary demands.

When Charlie quit Keystone, he’d demanded $1000 a week, which Sennett refused.  Now, Triangle’s bankers gave Sennett explicit license to go as high as –gasp!—$3000 a week for Charlie.

Charlie did leave Essanay, but not to return to Sennett for $3,000 a week.  Instead, he went to Mutual where he got $10,000 a week plus a signing bonus of $150,000.  Maybe it was all about money after all.

Mack Sennett couldn’t compete with that kind of money, but he still had Syd—and a Chaplin is better than no Chaplin.  Keystone had been swallowed by Triangle, but Sennett wisely retained his own studio, Mack Sennett Productions, as a separate entity whose product would be distributed by Triangle.  Sennett could see where this was headed: without Charlie Chaplin, Triangle’s monopoly would fail, and Sennett made sure he’d ride it out safely, capable of distributing his comedies through other chains when and if the need arose.

By the end of Syd’s year-long contract with Sennett, it was obvious Charlie wasn’t coming back, and while the Gussle comedies had been popular enough and reasonably profitable, Sennett let Syd go.

[wpvideo mYEm8NKq]

It was by no means the end of his solo career.  However, Syd did put his solo work aside repeatedly from time to time to support his brother in whatever capacity he was needed most.  Some of the time, this meant playing alongside Charlie onscreen.  For example, in Charlie’s Soldier Arms:

[wpvideo Ed1xjIw5]

Syd also handled Charlie’s business affairs, and negotiated Charlie’s first million dollar contract in 1917.

This is how history remembers Syd—as Charlie’s shadow.  But there was that time, way back when, when Syd was a top billed movie comedian all by himself.  A top-billed comedian, with his own million dollar contract.

Syd’s solo career relaunched in large measure thanks his starring role in the 1925 Al Christie-produced feature film Charley’s Aunt.

[wpvideo 6CD1RzRB]

This led to Syd’s own million dollar contract, making big-budget features like Man on the Box, Oh What a Nurse and others for Warner Brothers.

By this point, Syd had retired the Gussle character and moved on to something new—if Gussle was a sort of Charlie Chaplin-meets-Shemp Howard hybrid, the new Syd played a Harold Lloyd-meets-Shemp figure, allowing his own fairly handsome face to be seen without funny haircuts or silly moustaches.

In 1926, Syd made The Better ‘Ole, a WWI farce distinguished by its pioneering application of new technology—the Vitaphone synchronized sound system.  This wasn’t talkie technology, mind you, but a way to synchronize music and sound effects to silent films—and a crucial transitional step towards talkies.

[wpvideo kBwF2Bmb]

As the talkie era dawned, Syd was ready for the bracing changes:

“I can see a time a coming when we shall have colored films, not only with dialogue, but third dimensions.”

Syd said this in the 1920s, mind you.

He also said,

“What is going to happen to us wretched comedians is more than I can say.  Until now people like my brother, Harold Lloyd, and myself have worked almost entirely without script, depending on the inspiration of the moment for our greatest gags.”

So, Syd realized he’d need to start thinking about writing scripts for this brave new world of talkie comedies.  Thus, in 1929, Syd was busy writing a feature based on the MUMMING BIRDS music hall sketch he and Charlie had performed on Fred Karno’s stage back in 1906.  Charlie had already raided this act for his silent film A Night at the Show, but Syd had ambitions to flesh it out to a larger canvas.

At the time, Syd was contracted to MGM, and working out of Elstree Studios in England.

And then, kablammo, suddenly Syd leaves England, and quits MGM.  The MUMMING BIRDS movie was never made—Syd never made another movie at all, silent or talkie.  He settled into a vagabond lifestyle, slumming around the world living off the mountains of cash he’d stockpiled during his brief stint of fame.

The MIssing Link

A lot of great silent comedians hit hard times with the advent of talkies.  Some weathered the change better than others, many vanished into obscurity.  But Syd’s precipitous departure from the screen is something else altogether.  It’s not that he had trouble adapting to talkies, or audiences didn’t like his voice, or his physical comedy seemed odd when weighted down by sound effects, or that the studio bosses shoehorned him into the wrong kind of material—he never even had the chance to have any of that happen, never had the chance to fail.  He was eager to embrace the new sound technology, had an idea, had a studio backer, had creative freedom, had money, he lacked for nothing—but nothing came of it.

He plummeted off the screen so completely that when Syd died in 1965, Charlie Chaplin’s kids were gobsmacked to read in the obits that their uncle had once made movies of his own.  Decades had elapsed and nobody had breathed word one about Syd’s solo career—it was if it never happened.

What gives?

Or phrased differently, the same question: what happened at Elstree in 1929 that Syd spent the rest of his life running away from?

If you’re a fan of Roscoe Arbuckle you’ve already guessed the punchline to this joke.  It was a sex scandal.

Now anytime you utter sex scandal and Roscoe Arbuckle in the same breath you need to be clear: Arbuckle didn’t do anything, and after a lot of sound and fury he was fully exonerated, but the trauma of reaching that judicial verdict deprived him of any true justice—his career was ruined.

This had more than a little to do with class politics of the 1920s.  Prior to 1914, serious and commercially viable motion picture production was largely situated in France.  Hollywood started to take over beginning in 1914, thanks in large measure to the international popularity of Mack Sennett’s wildly anarchic comedies.  The sudden economic boom in Hollywood took a lot of country bumpkins, immigrants, and other undesirables and made them rich and famous, more or less overnight.  Sennett once said that “pioneers are seldom from the nobility; there were no dukes on the Mayflower.”  These are wise words—pioneers take risks, brave new frontiers, face unfamiliar dangers—not the sort of thing you do when you’ve already got something to protect.  So the movie colony of Hollywood is populated with outcasts and misfits, finding a novel form of success.  The Chaplin boys were dirt poor in England—they come here and get million dollar contracts to make people laugh.

There was an old guard, of old money, represented in, among other things, the world of publishing.  Many of these old money types were horrified by the new money Beverly Hillbillies.  Movie stars and slapstick comedians were the rappers of the 1920s—a bunch of people whose lives and heritage knew nothing about money suddenly enriched beyond all reason, and tending to spend that money in ostentatious ways.  You want to put yourself into the mindset of the time, when you think of Roscoe Arbuckle, think of the Notorious BIG, 50 Cent, Ja-Rule and Murder Incorporated.

So from 1914 onwards, Hollywood faced a massive influx of once paupers getting rich, buying absurd houses and flashy cars, and partying hard all the time.  The old money types were offended by the boorish habits, and to continue the parallels to today there was a contingency of moralists and Bible-thumpers who were aghast at the loose morals of these Hollywood types.  These are the same self-important moralists who got the country to ban alcohol outright, so naturally they had no love lost with the hard-partying movie folk.

For a long time coming, the moralists and the old money guys in the publishing business had been looking for a way to go after Hollywood, and the Roscoe Arbuckle affair—whether trumped up for the purpose or an accidental coincidence—was practically a gift from the gods.  It ruined Arbuckle’s career and sent shock waves through the film business.  A scandal stirred up around Mabel Normand, another Mack Sennett find, nearly scotching her comedy career.  And Syd had already, in his capacity as Charlie’s business manager, helped his brother navigate his way through a few scandals attending the Little Tramp’s sexual proclivities.

Which is a long way round to saying that come 1929, Syd knew the score: sex scandals ruin movie careers and destroy comedians.  The moment he was accused of sexual improprieties, he knew he had but two choices: do everything in his power to suppress the story and quietly retire from movies—or allow himself to become the target of a hungry press and angry public and be forcibly, ignominiously retired from the movies.  Either way his life as a screen comedian was over, it was simply a question of how much privacy and dignity Syd would be able to maintain.

As Roscoe Arbuckle had himself discovered, there is a risk in playing an onscreen roué—people start to think it’s true.  And in one of Syd’s very last films, The Missing Link, made for Warner Brothers in 1927, a disgruntled dame chuffs, “It is very evident that a lady isn’t safe near you.”

As it happened, this wasn’t just Syd’s onscreen persona.  Darryl Zanuck called Syd “the greatest ladies’ man in Hollywood history—better even than Errol Flynn.”

Exactly what transpired in England is unknown—Syd did a good job of burying the facts, because that was the point after all.  His strategy of removing himself from the public eye had its intended effect of keeping the salacious details safely concealed.   To a certain extent, all we know is what we don’t know—it was alleged at the time he’d assaulted a 19 year old girl.  Perhaps people were mixing him up with his more famous brother, whose habit of robbing the cradle is the stuff of legend.  The girl in Syd’s case was no child—birth records firmly establish her age as 22 at the time of the incident—which we know because she was sufficiently aggrieved to get her case heard in a British court.

Somehow, Syd injured her breast—whatever that means, and this is as far as the facts can take us, and to speculate further is to sully the reputation of a man not here to defend himself.  Writing for The Independent, journalist Matthew Sweet put in legwork worthy of an old-school private eye, but got no further than this: the young woman took her case to court, and Syd went on the lam, more or less the rest of his life.

Syd Chaplin

In recent years what was once a vast and bustling enterprise of American Slapstick has been narrowed by our pop cultural myopia to a singular focus on the Big Three.  No longer do we have the memory or attention for the dozens of comedians who once populated the screen—and it has gotten so bad that now there’s a rambunctious competition for the honor of the fourth slot—advocates of Roscoe Arbuckle or Harry Langdon or Charley Chase all vie for their guy to be recognized as the 4th Genius.  Anything less than that is total obscurity.

Because we feel compelled to compare everybody back against the Big Three, we tend to be overly indulgent of those comics whose personas are distinct and decently original, even if they’re not as funny.  Billy West or Billie Ritchie—these guys are hilarious, and their films absolutely retain the power to hold an audience’s attention today, but they rarely get the chance because they are inescapably seen as second to the man they mimic, Charlie Chaplin.  They don’t get judged on their raw comedy merits.

This is also true of Syd, destined by that name to be always compared to his more famous brother.

That 1915 New York Times piece I quoted from earlier also had this to say about Syd: “He affects his kinsman’s mannerism, even to the moustache, but he is not so good a comedian.  Charles can kick twice as often and as hard as Syd, which means he elicits twice as many laughs.”

The Chaplin name was both boon and burden—it opened doors for him surely but kept him forever in comparison to his brother.

But what if he was called Sydney Hawkes?  What would you have thought of him then?  Would you even have read this?

0 Response The Other Chaplin
Posted By Tom S : February 25, 2012 2:27 pm

The really insane thing about the Big Three monopoly is that I get the impression that, up until the big Harold Lloyd DVD releases a few years ago, people outside of reasonably in-depth silent comedy scholarship had narrowed it down to just Chaplin and Keaton. Which, I think, is why you see so many people choosing to be on one side or the other, which has always seemed rather absurd to me.

Posted By Tom S : February 25, 2012 2:27 pm

The really insane thing about the Big Three monopoly is that I get the impression that, up until the big Harold Lloyd DVD releases a few years ago, people outside of reasonably in-depth silent comedy scholarship had narrowed it down to just Chaplin and Keaton. Which, I think, is why you see so many people choosing to be on one side or the other, which has always seemed rather absurd to me.

Posted By dukeroberts : February 25, 2012 4:58 pm

The most insane thing is that some people have never heard of any of the Big Three, much less the lesser known names like Syd. Last year, a co-worker my age saw a copy of City Lights sitting on my desk after another co-worker returned it to me. She asked, “Who is that?” I answered back, almost questioningly, “Charlie Chaplin…?” She responded, “Who is that?” I was unable to contain my disbelief. People can’t be expected to remember everybody. Baby steps, Kalat. Baby steps. You’ll learn us proper.

Posted By dukeroberts : February 25, 2012 4:58 pm

The most insane thing is that some people have never heard of any of the Big Three, much less the lesser known names like Syd. Last year, a co-worker my age saw a copy of City Lights sitting on my desk after another co-worker returned it to me. She asked, “Who is that?” I answered back, almost questioningly, “Charlie Chaplin…?” She responded, “Who is that?” I was unable to contain my disbelief. People can’t be expected to remember everybody. Baby steps, Kalat. Baby steps. You’ll learn us proper.

Posted By Tom S : February 25, 2012 6:09 pm

I dunno, I’m never shocked by people not knowing something- I mean, it’s not hard to meet people who’ve never heard of the Beatles, it’s just a matter of having different interests, really. I find it weirder when someone thinks of themselves as a fan of something, and have pursued it at least a little, and still have this tiny little peephole into everything that’s actually available from that world- and I think, in terms of scholarship and DVD availability, that’s true of just about every silent comedy fan. And it was even more true until relatively recently, I think.

I mean, Duke, you’re a Western fan- do you find it more shocking when someone’s never heard of John Wayne, or when someone who is a huge fan of John Wayne doesn’t know that some Westerns were in black and white? Because I’ve met both.

Posted By Tom S : February 25, 2012 6:09 pm

I dunno, I’m never shocked by people not knowing something- I mean, it’s not hard to meet people who’ve never heard of the Beatles, it’s just a matter of having different interests, really. I find it weirder when someone thinks of themselves as a fan of something, and have pursued it at least a little, and still have this tiny little peephole into everything that’s actually available from that world- and I think, in terms of scholarship and DVD availability, that’s true of just about every silent comedy fan. And it was even more true until relatively recently, I think.

I mean, Duke, you’re a Western fan- do you find it more shocking when someone’s never heard of John Wayne, or when someone who is a huge fan of John Wayne doesn’t know that some Westerns were in black and white? Because I’ve met both.

Posted By dukeroberts : February 26, 2012 12:09 am

Actually, I don’t recall ever speaking to someone and finding out that they didn’t know who John Wayne was. I suppose it wouldn’t surprise me too much considering the tastes of younger people. I would be somewhat shocked if that person was at least my age or older though. If they admitted they didn’t know there used to be black and white westerns I would probably call them a liar.

Who’s never heard of the Beatles?

Posted By dukeroberts : February 26, 2012 12:09 am

Actually, I don’t recall ever speaking to someone and finding out that they didn’t know who John Wayne was. I suppose it wouldn’t surprise me too much considering the tastes of younger people. I would be somewhat shocked if that person was at least my age or older though. If they admitted they didn’t know there used to be black and white westerns I would probably call them a liar.

Who’s never heard of the Beatles?

Posted By Juana Maria : February 26, 2012 12:23 am

Hola Duke Roberts and Tom S. I have of course heard of Charlie Chaplin, I wrote about him and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton awhile back on these blogs. In my opinion being a fan of them is in no way detracting from all the other fine silent comedians, they just happen to be my personal favorites. Did you know that Mario Moreno known as “Cantinflas” is called the Mexican Charlie Chaplin? My Puerto Rican friend is the one who brought him to my attention long ago. I really enjoyed him in the movie:”Around the World in 80 Days”. Oh,yes, of course I have seen John Wayne’s early films in black & white, otherwise I would never have seen over 100 of his films, would I? Oh, I just love Westerns! Hey, there were silent Westerns too! Charlie Chaplin even was in a movie called “The Gold Rush” where he gets so hungry he has to eat his boots.

Posted By Juana Maria : February 26, 2012 12:23 am

Hola Duke Roberts and Tom S. I have of course heard of Charlie Chaplin, I wrote about him and Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton awhile back on these blogs. In my opinion being a fan of them is in no way detracting from all the other fine silent comedians, they just happen to be my personal favorites. Did you know that Mario Moreno known as “Cantinflas” is called the Mexican Charlie Chaplin? My Puerto Rican friend is the one who brought him to my attention long ago. I really enjoyed him in the movie:”Around the World in 80 Days”. Oh,yes, of course I have seen John Wayne’s early films in black & white, otherwise I would never have seen over 100 of his films, would I? Oh, I just love Westerns! Hey, there were silent Westerns too! Charlie Chaplin even was in a movie called “The Gold Rush” where he gets so hungry he has to eat his boots.

Posted By DBenson : February 27, 2012 3:20 pm

Couple of notes:

– In “Charley’s Aunt” (one of several compelling reasons to own American Slapstick) a good chunk of film is spent setting up Syd as a very conventional handsome leading man (at first you don’t recognize him as all). Once he gets into the dress, he goes Keystone crazy. Found myself thinking of the sound version, where the usually understated Jack Benny similarly cut loose while impersonating a presumably demure matron.

– Charlie’s eldest son was named for Sydney. That Sydney grew up to be a conventional handsome leading man opposite Streisand and Judy Holliday on Broadway. He too stepped away from the limelight, seemingly more out of disinterest than anything else. He later told a reporter that the ideal age for retirement was 15.

– The elder Syd shot the color home movies on the set of “The Great Dictator”.

– Somewhere I read that Charlie’s own kids were not really aware their familiar Uncle Syd had a starring career of his own.

Posted By DBenson : February 27, 2012 3:20 pm

Couple of notes:

– In “Charley’s Aunt” (one of several compelling reasons to own American Slapstick) a good chunk of film is spent setting up Syd as a very conventional handsome leading man (at first you don’t recognize him as all). Once he gets into the dress, he goes Keystone crazy. Found myself thinking of the sound version, where the usually understated Jack Benny similarly cut loose while impersonating a presumably demure matron.

– Charlie’s eldest son was named for Sydney. That Sydney grew up to be a conventional handsome leading man opposite Streisand and Judy Holliday on Broadway. He too stepped away from the limelight, seemingly more out of disinterest than anything else. He later told a reporter that the ideal age for retirement was 15.

– The elder Syd shot the color home movies on the set of “The Great Dictator”.

– Somewhere I read that Charlie’s own kids were not really aware their familiar Uncle Syd had a starring career of his own.

Posted By Juana Maria : February 27, 2012 7:40 pm

I did know that Charlie Chaplin had a brother named Sydney because of watching the biopic,”Chaplin”(1992) first on PBS and later on the local FOX station. I think they both were quite handsome without their makeup. Most clowns are, isn’t that what they were, clowns to make us laugh and cry? It is sometimes said Charlie Chaplin was Jewish,he was told that in his own lifetime, but he did not refute it because of the terrible things happening to the actual Jews during the Holocaust. I have learned in an magazine article on the Roma(the”Gypsies”)that Charlie Chaplin was in fact a Gypsy.His brother would be too. They are not what people,not myself personally,conjure up when you say the word “Gypsy”. There have been and still are many talented people who are Roma(Gypsy). There was Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, Jose Greco,and Pablo Picasso, to name a few.
I remember in learning about Chaplin,in that biopic, he had a scandal involving a young woman. I don’t if it was true or not. But I can’t help remembering what his wife at one time,Paulette Goddard said that he like young girls. If my words are in any way untrue, please correct me. I do not hold the Chaplins any of them in low opinion. Malicious things are said about so many celebrites till it is hard to know what is true. I never believed those bad things about Fatty Arbuckle! Tragic. The career of Errol Flynn likewise was severely damaged by a scandal of a supposed rape, it was true either. It gave us the expression:”In like Flynn”. Which in turn gives us the title of James Coburn’s movie:”In Like Flint”. Which is a funy and silly spy film. Thank you so much for your articles. I never mean to put one silent film star above another but I have my favorites,that is all. They are preferences. I just want to state I am thankful for PBS for many reasons,but for the sake of this article, I am thankful they played that movie so I could be introduced to the talented Chaplin brothers!

Posted By Juana Maria : February 27, 2012 7:40 pm

I did know that Charlie Chaplin had a brother named Sydney because of watching the biopic,”Chaplin”(1992) first on PBS and later on the local FOX station. I think they both were quite handsome without their makeup. Most clowns are, isn’t that what they were, clowns to make us laugh and cry? It is sometimes said Charlie Chaplin was Jewish,he was told that in his own lifetime, but he did not refute it because of the terrible things happening to the actual Jews during the Holocaust. I have learned in an magazine article on the Roma(the”Gypsies”)that Charlie Chaplin was in fact a Gypsy.His brother would be too. They are not what people,not myself personally,conjure up when you say the word “Gypsy”. There have been and still are many talented people who are Roma(Gypsy). There was Yul Brynner, Rita Hayworth, Jose Greco,and Pablo Picasso, to name a few.
I remember in learning about Chaplin,in that biopic, he had a scandal involving a young woman. I don’t if it was true or not. But I can’t help remembering what his wife at one time,Paulette Goddard said that he like young girls. If my words are in any way untrue, please correct me. I do not hold the Chaplins any of them in low opinion. Malicious things are said about so many celebrites till it is hard to know what is true. I never believed those bad things about Fatty Arbuckle! Tragic. The career of Errol Flynn likewise was severely damaged by a scandal of a supposed rape, it was true either. It gave us the expression:”In like Flynn”. Which in turn gives us the title of James Coburn’s movie:”In Like Flint”. Which is a funy and silly spy film. Thank you so much for your articles. I never mean to put one silent film star above another but I have my favorites,that is all. They are preferences. I just want to state I am thankful for PBS for many reasons,but for the sake of this article, I am thankful they played that movie so I could be introduced to the talented Chaplin brothers!

Posted By Juana Maria : February 27, 2012 7:52 pm

I rambled on so in my post! Sorry, it just your article is on a subject that really interest me. I remember TCM having a documentary with Charlie Chaplin and the real Adolf Hitler. That was scary,their birthdays are only 4 days apart, Charlie Chaplin is April 16,1889 and Adolf Hitler is April 20,1889. I love history,however Hitler gives me the creeps. He was so evil! Everyone knows “The Great Dictator” is depicting Hitler and Mussolini. It is quite funny, it is sorta like “Hogan’s Heroes” but it was more timely. There is also “To Be or Not to Be”(1942) with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard and a later remake(1983)with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. I have seen both. I know that if it wasn’t for Chaplin’s satire first there wouldn’t be so many satires of the Nazis later. Oh!How about “Springtime for Hitler”? The play within the play of “The Producers”.

Posted By Juana Maria : February 27, 2012 7:52 pm

I rambled on so in my post! Sorry, it just your article is on a subject that really interest me. I remember TCM having a documentary with Charlie Chaplin and the real Adolf Hitler. That was scary,their birthdays are only 4 days apart, Charlie Chaplin is April 16,1889 and Adolf Hitler is April 20,1889. I love history,however Hitler gives me the creeps. He was so evil! Everyone knows “The Great Dictator” is depicting Hitler and Mussolini. It is quite funny, it is sorta like “Hogan’s Heroes” but it was more timely. There is also “To Be or Not to Be”(1942) with Jack Benny and Carole Lombard and a later remake(1983)with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft. I have seen both. I know that if it wasn’t for Chaplin’s satire first there wouldn’t be so many satires of the Nazis later. Oh!How about “Springtime for Hitler”? The play within the play of “The Producers”.

Posted By jennifromrollamo : February 29, 2012 12:08 am

Actually, quite a few teens of this day and age don’t know who the Beatles are. I bought a Beatles cd, the ONE, that held all of their number 1 recordings. It came out 12-13 years ago? Anyhow, I played it a lot in our van, driving around with my kids, and they all became Beatle fans, or rather, had their favorite song or two from that cd. Flashforward to last week, and our 8th grade son was disappointed in one of his classes to find out that he was the only kid who knew who Paul McCartney was!

An interesting blog to me, as I have been developing a new appreciation for silent movies, thanks to TCM airing them, and I have to admit that when I saw the title of your post, I immediately thought of Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter!

Posted By jennifromrollamo : February 29, 2012 12:08 am

Actually, quite a few teens of this day and age don’t know who the Beatles are. I bought a Beatles cd, the ONE, that held all of their number 1 recordings. It came out 12-13 years ago? Anyhow, I played it a lot in our van, driving around with my kids, and they all became Beatle fans, or rather, had their favorite song or two from that cd. Flashforward to last week, and our 8th grade son was disappointed in one of his classes to find out that he was the only kid who knew who Paul McCartney was!

An interesting blog to me, as I have been developing a new appreciation for silent movies, thanks to TCM airing them, and I have to admit that when I saw the title of your post, I immediately thought of Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie’s daughter!

Posted By dukeroberts : February 29, 2012 12:43 am

Wow, our kids are even less educated than I thought. Kids should know who Elvis and the Beatles are, for Pete’s sake. I knew who Charlie Chaplin was when I was just a little kid. What is it with these younger parents these days? When I was a kid we were exposed to the things our parents knew and/or enjoyed. Are today’s parents just so pleased to appease their kids that they stick them in front of the TV to be left alone? Are today’s kids so spoiled by their 24 hour immediate access to the awful Disney Channel/Nickelodeon garbage that they don’t even bother to get to know older things? I appreciated old music and movies as far back as I can remember. I was doing Elvis impersonations at the age of 4. He died when I was 2. I knew who John Lennon was prior to him being murdered. I weep for the future and for the future of the past. I’m just an old fogey, I guess.

Posted By dukeroberts : February 29, 2012 12:43 am

Wow, our kids are even less educated than I thought. Kids should know who Elvis and the Beatles are, for Pete’s sake. I knew who Charlie Chaplin was when I was just a little kid. What is it with these younger parents these days? When I was a kid we were exposed to the things our parents knew and/or enjoyed. Are today’s parents just so pleased to appease their kids that they stick them in front of the TV to be left alone? Are today’s kids so spoiled by their 24 hour immediate access to the awful Disney Channel/Nickelodeon garbage that they don’t even bother to get to know older things? I appreciated old music and movies as far back as I can remember. I was doing Elvis impersonations at the age of 4. He died when I was 2. I knew who John Lennon was prior to him being murdered. I weep for the future and for the future of the past. I’m just an old fogey, I guess.

Posted By Tom S : February 29, 2012 1:38 am

You do realize that people who are having kids now were born in the eighties, right? Are you particularly familiar with the pop culture of the forties, or whatever the equivalent might be?

I like the Beatles, I like Charlie Chaplin, and I have a general knowledge about the pop culture of the 20th century, but I haven’t the foggiest idea of why not knowing or caring about it represents any greater sin than not knowing more about whatever is on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel now- I think it behooves people to research what they care about, but I don’t think everyone else needs to care about the same things I do. It’s not ‘spoiling’ a kid to let them choose their own areas of interest.

Now, that doesn’t mean that any putative kids I have aren’t going to be force fed all the kids’ stuff I like- they definitely, definitely will- but that’s a parent to parent call, and endless reinforcement of the things that are canonical now does nobody any good. People were calling the Beatles garbage and people who listened to them and not Leonard Bernstein or whoever ignorant back in the sixties.

Posted By Tom S : February 29, 2012 1:38 am

You do realize that people who are having kids now were born in the eighties, right? Are you particularly familiar with the pop culture of the forties, or whatever the equivalent might be?

I like the Beatles, I like Charlie Chaplin, and I have a general knowledge about the pop culture of the 20th century, but I haven’t the foggiest idea of why not knowing or caring about it represents any greater sin than not knowing more about whatever is on Nickelodeon or the Disney Channel now- I think it behooves people to research what they care about, but I don’t think everyone else needs to care about the same things I do. It’s not ‘spoiling’ a kid to let them choose their own areas of interest.

Now, that doesn’t mean that any putative kids I have aren’t going to be force fed all the kids’ stuff I like- they definitely, definitely will- but that’s a parent to parent call, and endless reinforcement of the things that are canonical now does nobody any good. People were calling the Beatles garbage and people who listened to them and not Leonard Bernstein or whoever ignorant back in the sixties.

Posted By dukeroberts : February 29, 2012 1:58 am

So I am just an old fogey then?

Posted By dukeroberts : February 29, 2012 1:58 am

So I am just an old fogey then?

Posted By Tom S : February 29, 2012 2:37 am

Haha, maybe, but that’s not my point. I just don’t like the idea of people being attacked for not knowing pop culture stuff, it can be a really cruel form of shaming without the person doing it intending any harm.

Posted By Tom S : February 29, 2012 2:37 am

Haha, maybe, but that’s not my point. I just don’t like the idea of people being attacked for not knowing pop culture stuff, it can be a really cruel form of shaming without the person doing it intending any harm.

Posted By David Kalat : February 29, 2012 8:28 am

Duke,

This is very much what I was trying to get at in my earlier posts about nostalgia. For example, the Beatles aren’t “my” music–I came along a little later. I know of them through my parents’ interests, and through the broader culture, but when it came to passing on my own personal tastes to my kids, I exposed them to The Clash and Talking Heads. The effect was the same that Jennifromromallo noted–their peers often have no idea. But I’ve taken it as my duty to learn back from them what *they’re* listening to and watching.

It always bugged me when I was a kid that although my parents let me stay up to watch SNL, I never got to watch the musical acts. They’d decided that pop music had reached its apogee in the 60s and contemporary music of the 1980s wasn’t worth listening to, so when the musical guests came on they’d turn off the sound.

I figure I can’t sit around advocating that people broaden their horizons to enjoy entertainment from the past, or from other countries and cultures, or marginal genres–if I don’t walk the walk and broaden my own horizons at every opportunity, too.

Posted By David Kalat : February 29, 2012 8:28 am

Duke,

This is very much what I was trying to get at in my earlier posts about nostalgia. For example, the Beatles aren’t “my” music–I came along a little later. I know of them through my parents’ interests, and through the broader culture, but when it came to passing on my own personal tastes to my kids, I exposed them to The Clash and Talking Heads. The effect was the same that Jennifromromallo noted–their peers often have no idea. But I’ve taken it as my duty to learn back from them what *they’re* listening to and watching.

It always bugged me when I was a kid that although my parents let me stay up to watch SNL, I never got to watch the musical acts. They’d decided that pop music had reached its apogee in the 60s and contemporary music of the 1980s wasn’t worth listening to, so when the musical guests came on they’d turn off the sound.

I figure I can’t sit around advocating that people broaden their horizons to enjoy entertainment from the past, or from other countries and cultures, or marginal genres–if I don’t walk the walk and broaden my own horizons at every opportunity, too.

Posted By Juana Maria : March 6, 2012 6:18 pm

Duke Roberts, I don’t think you are an old fogey. I getting older all the time too. I feel a bit older and yet proud when others call me “ma’am”. Mostly folks from the Southern states do that. The people I meet who speak Spanish call me Senora or Senorita. I like that, but I prefer Juana or Juanita when they know me better. It is good manners to adress others with proper respect. I appreciate the fine writing and comments here. Muchas gracias!

Posted By Juana Maria : March 6, 2012 6:18 pm

Duke Roberts, I don’t think you are an old fogey. I getting older all the time too. I feel a bit older and yet proud when others call me “ma’am”. Mostly folks from the Southern states do that. The people I meet who speak Spanish call me Senora or Senorita. I like that, but I prefer Juana or Juanita when they know me better. It is good manners to adress others with proper respect. I appreciate the fine writing and comments here. Muchas gracias!

Leave a Reply

Current ye@r *

MovieMorlocks.com is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
See more: facebook.com/tcmtv
See more: twitter.com/tcm
3-D  Action Films  Actors  Actors' Endorsements  Actresses  animal stars  Animation  Anime  Anthology Films  Art in Movies  Australian CInema  Autobiography  Avant-Garde  Aviation  Awards  B-movies  Beer in Film  Behind the Scenes  Best of the Year lists  Biography  Biopics  Blu-Ray  Books on Film  Boxing films  British Cinema  Canadian Cinema  Character Actors  Chicago Film History  Cinematography  Classic Films  College Life on Film  Comedy  Comic Book Movies  Crime  Czech Film  Dance on Film  Digital Cinema  Directors  Disaster Films  Documentary  Drama  DVD  Early Talkies  Editing  Educational Films  European Influence on American Cinema  Experimental  Exploitation  Fairy Tales on Film  Faith or Christian-based Films  Family Films  Film Composers  Film Criticism  film festivals  Film History in Florida  Film Noir  Film Scholars  Film titles  Filmmaking Techniques  Films About Gambling  Films of the 1960s  Films of the 1980s  Food in Film  Foreign Film  French Film  Gangster films  Genre  Genre spoofs  HD & Blu-Ray  Holiday Movies  Hollywood history  Hollywood lifestyles  Horror  Horror Movies  Icons  independent film  Italian Film  Japanese Film  Korean Film  Literary Adaptations  Martial Arts  Melodramas  Method Acting  Mexican Cinema  Moguls  Monster Movies  Movie Books  Movie Costumes  movie flops  Movie locations  Movie lovers  Movie Reviewers  Movie settings  Movie Stars  Movie titles  Movies about movies  Music in Film  Musicals  Outdoor Cinema  Paranoid Thrillers  Parenting on film  Pirate movies  Polish film industry  political thrillers  Politics in Film  Pornography  Pre-Code  Producers  Race in American Film  Remakes  Revenge  Road Movies  Romance  Romantic Comedies  Satire  Scandals  Science Fiction  Screenwriters  Semi-documentaries  Serials  Short Films  Silent Film  silent films  Social Problem Film  Sports  Sports on Film  Stereotypes  Straight-to-DVD  Studio Politics  Stunts and stuntmen  Suspense thriller  Swashbucklers  TCM Classic Film Festival  TCM Underground  Television  The British in Hollywood  The Germans in Hollywood  The Hungarians in Hollywood  The Irish in Hollywood  Theaters  Thriller  Trains in movies  Underground Cinema  VOD  War film  Westerns  Women in the Film Industry  Women's Weepies