Chaplin’s Visitor: Week of March 29th, 1919

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Charlie Chaplin, Marcel Dupuys, Peter Kyne

One hundred years ago this week, the war’s effects were still being felt. Kingsley told the story of a visitor to Charlie Chaplin’s studio who’d suffered more than most, Marcel Dupuys:

the fourteen-year-old French lad who went into action at Chateau Thierry and Pont a Mousson. His mother passed on in 1911 and his father fell in the battle at Verdun.

The authorities placed him in an orphan asylum where restlessness and discontent soon mastered him. One day he ran away, and finally reached the front trenches where he attached himself to the Seventy-Ninth French Infantry. Many stories are told of the ‘handy boy around the front line dressing stations,’ whose particular job was crawling around amongst the wounded, giving them rum. While giving cheer and stimulant to his stricken comrades he was twice wounded. As the ranks of his countrymen grew thin and scattered, the little man was separated from them, and later attached himself to an American unit, the 143rd Field Artillery. The 143rd came home on the transport “Matsonia,” in which Peter B. Kyne commanded Battery A. The soldiers of the 143rd smuggled Marcel aboard the transport, and he turned up two days later at sea, which was Christmas Day. Later he was adopted by Mr. Kyne.

It was mighty good to see Mr. Chaplin and Marcel romping over the studio grounds. The wistful little fellow of sad memories was once again the happy boy.

“Father,” said Marcel whose English is quite good, “you have been nice to me all the time. But when you bring me to play with Charlie—oh boy!—I think you are quite too wonderful.”

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Once again, Chaplin’s publicity department was very good at their job. This time (unlike the story of Charlie saving a girl from drowning), I was able to verify some of the story. Marcel Jules Dupuys was born February 21, 1904 in Dangeutin, France, so he’d just turned 15. He really did sail to America from Bordeaux on December 23, 1918, according to the ship’s manifest.

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Marcel Dupuys, Peter and Helene Kyne

Kyne wrote an expanded version of the story Kingsley was told for Sunset magazine. He explained that his experience as an army commander prepared him for the challenges of adopting a teen that was “equal proportions of angel and devil.” The stories he told about Marcel shooting birds, crashing through the glass roof of the conservatory and getting into fights with neighborhood boys were supposed to be cute, evidence that he was “one hundred and fifty per cent boy.”

By September, 1920 the Kynes had changed their minds. Kyne sent him to the Alameda County Detention Home to await deportation proceedings after Dupuys had run away from home for four days. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Marcel admitted to not always doing what was right, but he was brokenhearted that “Mr. Kyne does not want me any more.” At a hearing, Kyne blamed Helene Kyne, saying “the boy’s actions has so unnerved his wife that she was compelled to go on an extended cruise of the West Indies,” but they found a new foster mother and he left with her. This arrangement only lasted a few days and Dupuys disappeared again. He was found and arrested after he robbed Kyne’s house in Del Mar, California. His deportation hearing was held in San Diego in December, where he was found to be of “constitutional psychopathic inferiority” and was sent back to France.

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However, he didn’t stay there for long. He stowed away on the steamer Westwood and arrived in Baltimore on May 6th, 1921, only to be quickly deported again. So he signed up as a crewmember on a ship bound for Galveston, Texas and he deserted. He enlisted in the army signal corps and even managed to get himself naturalized as an American citizen on June 5, 1922. He got caught at Camp Travis and was ordered to be deported again.

That’s where his trail ends. I can’t find out if he returned to France, because their census information is only available there (it hasn’t even been indexed!). However, given his history, I wouldn’t be surprised if the minute the authorities’ backs were turned, he either escaped in the States or was on the first boat back, this time with a new name.

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This week, Kingsley saw a film that finally answered Sigmund Freud’s question:

It was a large order which the Vitagraph undertook when they strove to include in five reels of film the desires of women, as implied in the name of their latest photoplay starring Grace Darmond and which is entitled What Every Woman Wants. All the same the title is a good one and drew a lot of people to Ray’s Garden yesterday—probably the men went to find out what the women wanted, and the women went to find out what they themselves wanted.

Evidently what every woman wants is excitement.

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Darmond’s character got plenty of that, what with getting arrested for murdering her husband. Kingsley’s description of what happened next in the now lost film delivered some grade-A snark:

just at the tip end of the last reel, when you’re getting awfully nervous, the little housemaid up and confesses she killed her master because, being on probation from the reform school, he’s threatened to send her back, for no reason which can be found out, as she seems always to be a busy soul and neat and tidy into the bargain. She cries and says she didn’t even know the gun was loaded—and on her unsupported testimony the court lets her go and she walks out happily on the arm of her policeman lover, who tells her not to be a careless little thing with guns like that any more.

Oh dear. This one’s not going to get a remake. Well, they couldn’t all be classics.

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T.H. Gibson Gowland

It’s interesting who was top-billed in the publicity for an upcoming film from Universal:

T.H. Gibson Gowland, whose characterization in Maurice Tourneur’s production of White Heather is said to be as fine a bit of acting as the screen has seen, has been engaged by Universal to play a leading role in a picture called The Pinnacle, which Erich von Stroheim is directing and in which von Stroheim also plays a leading part, with Francolla Billington and Sam de Grasse featured. Gowland’s three-year-old son also appears in the picture.

Now when the film is remembered, it’s for Von Stroheim. It got a title change, becoming Blind Husbands and it was von Stroheim’s directing debut.

 

Gowland went on to star in Greed (1924) and he had a long career as a character actor. His three year old son was named Peter, and he became a glamour photographer with a six-decade long career. His web site is here.

 

“Former Protégé of Kyne Missing,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 24, 1920.

“Former Protégé of Peter B. Kyne Will be Deported,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 1921.

“French Orphan Gets Home in San Francisco,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 11, 1920.

“Marcel Bad But Will Try Again,” Observer (Montague, MI), September 7, 1922.

Peter B. Kyne, “Fathering a War Veteran,” Sunset, pp.17-19, 54-68.

“Peter B. Kyne to Send his War Orphan Back to France,” Chico Record, February 12, 1921.

“Peter B. Kyne’s Protégé Denies Being Bad Boy,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 9, 1920.

“Peter Kyne’s Ward May be Deported,” Riverside Daily Press, December 8, 1920.

“War Waif Adopted by Author Faces Deportation,” San Francisco Chronicle, September 8, 1920.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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