One hundred years ago this week, Grace Kingsley visited the Chaplin Studio and saw what was going on behind the scenes of A Dog’s Life. They had been filming for five weeks and had shot 60,000 feet of film. Chaplin expected to be finished with shooting, cutting and titling within four weeks. She assured readers that he wasn’t malingering, it’s just he was a genius and “genius doesn’t work with the meter on” and he had “genius’ infinite capacity for taking infinite pains.”
The day she visited they were shooting a dance hall scene. Chaplin started putting on his make-up at 9 a.m., greeted and took pictures with some visiting soldiers and Red Cross volunteers, then he called the company over to the set. She described how he worked:
He sat down beside the two cameras that are always ranged on the action, and he shut his eyes and put his fingers in his ears. “That’s the way he visualizes an idea,” explained Brother Syd. “He sees it on the screen that way.”
Then they had a rehearsal, with Chaplin playing all the parts in turn. Kingsley was particularly impressed with the way he communicated with Granville Redmond,* who was deaf and mute: “So keen and clever a pantomimist is Charlie that he is able to both make himself understood and to understand Mr. Redmond.”
They had lunch, then after “it was discovered there was one of those awful—what Charlie calls ‘brick walls’–a dead stop, until a minor snarl in the story and its action was straightened out.” He kidded around and made everybody laugh while he waited for an idea to pop. Kingsley observed, “I think Charlie gets most of his inspirations when he is kidding.” Presently one came, and they were about to get back to filming when the Earl of Dunmore dropped in. However, he wanted to see Chaplin at work,
so Charlie hopped onto the stage, and, having at last got possession of the longed-for idea, and having escaped all visitors, he set briskly to work. Half an hour, an hour, two hours passed, with no let-up to the filming of scenes.
“He’ll be working like this until he finishes all the scenes he has in mind until 6, 7 or even 8 o’clock. And when the cutting begins, he will work all night and all day, too…Why, he’s even cut out going to Vernon to dance,” said brother Syd as if that were the last word on asceticism. “The only relaxation he allows himself is an occasional evening with a friend or an hour with his violin. His violin—that seems to rest him the most.”
Kingsley wasn’t allowed to reveal the film’s plot, but she “willingly stakes her reputation on the prophecy it will be far and away the best bet Chaplin has ever put on the market.”
When the film came out in Los Angeles on April 22nd, she didn’t get to review it, but her co-worker Antony Anderson wrote “if you want to laugh, and laugh often, laugh till you roar fit to burst, go and see A Dog’s Life at Tally’s Broadway this week. It’s a bear! The immortal Charlie has done nothing better in pictures.” So Kingsley’s reputation was safe.
Her favorite film this week was The Winding Trail, a:
good drama with comedy relief or good comedy with dramatic relief. The big crowds all day yesterday testified they liked the fare. Not for nothing did John Collins track the Wild West drama to its native lair in Hollywood. In The Winding Trail he gives you a smashing wild western, from which your eyes will not turn clockward until the last bit of film has been unfurled…While a couple of the situations are shopworn, that’s entirely compensated for by the scene in which the wreak of the former dance hall girl played by Mabel Van Buren is given a pistol by her bandit lover and told to chose which she shall kill: himself or her former lover.
It’s a lost film, so I’ll spoil it: she shoots her ex and stays with the bandit. You don’t get to see that in movies very often! Sadly, John Collins who directed such an unusual story died in the influenza epidemic later in 1918, on October 23rd.
Another downtown theater was bringing in customers with a much more notorious film:
Judging from the crowd which gathered at Clune’s Auditorium last night [March 4th], everybody is anxious to see what sort of picture actress Evelyn Nesbit is. She appeared there in Redemption, which the producers of the film and Miss Nesbit herself have carefully denied is any attempt at a revelation of her own life but which the denial has very much the same effect as if one said “This is the early circumstance of my life, these are many of the situations through which I passed, this is my son, this is the sort of work I have tried, this was the villain in my life—still don’t think for a minute I’m trying to remind you of my life history.”
Speaking from an artistic standpoint, Miss Nesbit undoubtedly has personality and tremendous acting ability. That she is self-conscious to a degree in this film is excusable on the ground of this being her first picture….Together with the fact that the heroine is who she is, Redemption may be classed as an attraction sure to draw.
Evelyn Nesbit was famous for her part in what was called the crime of the century: her husband Harry Thaw murdered Stanford White. Redemption is lost, but her story is still an attraction sure to draw: there are more books, articles and web sites about her than you can shake a stick at. She told her side in two memoirs, and served as an advisor to the fictionalized film The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing (1955).
*Granville Redmond was famous for his landscape painting, but he had coached Chaplin in silent acting and often had a part in his films, most memorably as the sculptor in City Lights.