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In which I see myself as others see me; learn many surprising things about myself from divers sources; and see a bright future ahead.
"Well, have it your way, old top!" he said. "What will you do when you get your half million?"
"Do? I'll quit. I'll be satisfied," I said. "You can't keep 'em coming forever, and I don't expect it. I'll give them the best I have as long as I can, and then — curtains! But I wager we keep out of the Actor's Home, what?"
Sid laughed again. "There's money in the movies, Charlie," he said. "Half a million? You wait a year. Your popularity hasn't begun."
He was right. In a world where so many people are troubled and unhappy, where women lead such dreary lives as my mother did when I was a boy, where men spend their days in hard unwilling toil and children starve as I starved in the London slums, laughter is precious. People want to laugh; they long to forget themselves for half an hour in the hearty joy of it. Every night on a hundred thousand motion-picture screens my floppy shoes and tricky cane and eloquent mustache were making people laugh, and they remembered them and came to laugh again. Suddenly, almost overnight, Charlie Chaplin became a fad, a craze.
My first idea of it came one night when I was returning from a hard day's work at the studio. It had been a hot day; I had worked thirteen hours in a mask of grease paint under the blazing heat of the Southern California sun intensified by a dozen huge reflectors before the inexorable click-click-click of the camera, driven by the necessity of finishing the reel while the light lasted. My exuberance of spirit had waned by noon; by four o'clock I was driving myself by sheer will-power, doggedly, determinedly being funny. At seven we finished the reel. At nine we had got the film in shape in the negative room, and I had nothing to do till next morning but get my ideas together for a new comedy.
I was slumped in a heap in the tonneau of the director's car hurrying to my hotel and thinking that the American system of built-in baths had its advantages, when we ran up to a crowd that almost stopped street traffic. The sidewalk was jammed for half a block; men were standing up in automobiles to get a better view of whatever was happening. My chauffeur stopped.
"What's the row?" I asked one of the men in the crowd.
"Charlie Chaplin's in there!" he said excitedly, jumping on the running-board and craning his neck to look over the heads of the men in front of him.
"Really?" I said. I stood up and looked. There in front of a moving-picture theater was Charlie Chaplin, sure enough — shoes, baggy trousers, mustache and all. The chap was walking up and down as well as he could in the jam of people, twirling his cane and tripping over his shoes. Policemen were trying to clear the sidewalk, but the crowd was mad for a glimpse of him, I stood there looking at him with indescribable emotions.
"That's funny," I said after a minute. The man on the running-board had only half heard me.
"Funny? I should say he is! He's the funniest man in America!" he said. "They say he gets a hundred dollars a day and only works when he's stewed."
"Well, well! Really!" I said.
"I guess that's right, too," he went on. "He acts like it on the screen, don't he? Say, have you seen his latest picture? Man, it's a knockout! When he fell into that sewer —! They faked the sewer, of course, but say —! I like to of fell out of my seat!"
We had not faked the sewer. It was a thoroughly real sewer. But I drove on to my hotel without explaining. The whole situation was too complex.
Within a week half the motion-picture houses in Los Angeles had the only original and genuine Charlie Chaplin parading up and down before them. I grew so accustomed to meeting myself on the street that I started in surprise every time I looked into a mirror without my make-up. Overnight, too, a thousand little figures of Charlie Chaplin in plaster sprang up and crowded the shop windows. I could not buy a tooth-brush without reaching over a counter packed with myself to do it.
It was odd, walking up and down the streets, eating in cafes, hearing Charlie Chaplin talked about, seeing Charlie Chaplin on every hand and never being recognized as Charlie Chaplin. I had a feeling that all the world was cross-eyed, or that I was a disembodied spirit. But that did not last long. A plague of reporters descended on the studios soon, like whatever it was that fell upon Egypt. Then the world seemed more topsy-turvy than ever, for here I was, an actor, dodging reporters!
Not that I have any dislike of reporters. Indeed, in the old days I asked nothing better than to get one to listen to me and often planned for days to capture one's attention. But that's another of life's little jokes. A man who tries hard enough for anything will always get it — after he has stopped wanting it.
I had to turn out the film, hundreds of feet of it every week, and it must be made while the light lasted. The gambling fever had spent itself in the picture business; directors were beginning to count costs. To stop my company half an hour meant a waste of several hundred dollars. And every morning half a dozen reporters waited for me to give them "Just a few minutes, Mr. Chaplin!"
I took to dodging in and out of the studio like a hunted man. Did I stop to give a harried and unwary opinion upon something I knew nothing whatever about, next Sunday I beheld with staring eyes a full-page story on my early life, told in the first person. At last, in the pressure of getting out two new comedies in a hurry, I escaped interviews for nearly three weeks. We were working overtime; it was late in the fall, when the weather was uncertain and the light bad. We would start at five in the morning to get to our "location" in the country by sunrise, only to have the morning foggy. Then we hurried back to the studio to work under artificial light, and the afternoon was sunny. It was a hard nerve-racking three weeks and our tempers were not improved when, at the end of the last day, we tried out the negative as usual and found the camera had leaked light and ruined nearly a reel of film.
Hurrying off the stage to get a quick supper, so that I could return and make up as much lost time as possible that night, I encountered on the studio steps a thin young man in a derby, who did not recognize me.
"Say, is it true Chaplin's crazy?" he asked.
"Crazy?" I said.
"Yes. He hasn't released a. film for over a month and I can't get hold of him here. They say he's raving crazy, confined in an asylum."
"He is not," I said. Then the humor of the thing struck me. "He isn't violent yet," I said, "but he may be, any minute."
Half an hour later two morning papers telephoned the director for confirmation of the report, which he denied emphatically and profanely. No story appeared in the papers, but I have since been solemnly told by a hundred people who "have it straight" that Chaplin is, or has been, confined in the California Hospital for the Insane.
Behind all this flurry of comment and conjecture I was working, working hard, turning out the best film I could devise, with my mind always on the problem of getting that deep, hearty chuckle from the audience. I did not always get it, but I did get laughs. And my contract with the Keystone company was running out; I saw still brighter prospects ahead.