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CHAPTER XXXII

In which I see success in my grasp; proudly consider the heights to which I have climbed; and receive an unexpected shock.

SIDNEY came in a moment later, bringing Mr. Caulfield. Like Mr. Hutchinson, like, indeed, most of the men handling the affairs of the big motion-picture corporations, Mr. Caulfield is a keen, quick-witted business man. Producing and selling moving-picture films is now a business as matter of fact as dealing in stocks and bonds; there is nothing of the theatrical manager about the men who control it.

"Well, Mr. Chaplin, your brother and I have been reaching an agreement about your contract with us," he said briskly. "We will give you a salary of ten thousand dollars a week and royalties that should double that figure." He mentioned the per cent. agreed upon, as I assented.

"More than that, we are planning to create a separate producing company, subsidiary to the Mutual, which will be its releasing company, and to call the new concern the Lone Star company you to be the lone star. The new company will build its own studios at Santa Barbara, and it will give you the finest supporting cast that money can hire." He mentioned a few of the actors he had in mind, and I agreed heartily to his suggestions. They were good actors; I knew I could do good work with them.

"That is the offer as it stands," he concluded. "Half a million dollars in salary, another half-million, probably, in royalties. That depends on the amount of film the Lone Star company turns out. We'll give you every facility for producing it; the Mutual will handle the releases. We will be ready to start work as soon as you sign the contract."

"Then," I said pleasantly, "we need only decide the amount of the bonus to be paid me for signing it."

"Frankly, Mr. Chaplin, I am not authorized to offer you a bonus," he replied. "We don't do that. And we feel that in organizing your own company, building studios, giving you such a supporting cast, we are doing all that is possible, in addition to the record-breaking salary and royalties we are willing to pay you."

"On the other hand, you must consider that I have other offers," I answered. "Frankly, also, I imagine the size of the bonus paid me will decide which company I choose. I want two hundred and fifty thousand. We both know I am worth it to any company."

It was a deadlock. The old thrill of my dealing with Carno came back to me while we talked. In the end he left, the matter still undecided.

There were many interviews after that. I still believe that it might have been possible, by holding out longer, to get that amount, but I was eager to begin work again, and besides, as Mr. Caulfield pointed out, the sooner we began releasing films the sooner the royalties would begin coming in.

In the end we compromised on a cash bonus of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and an agreement on my part to secure the company for that payment by allowing them to insure my life for half a million dollars. We made application for the insurance policy and I was examined by the insurance company's physician, so that there might be no delay in closing the arrangements with the Mutual and beginning work.

"Fit as a fiddle, sir; fit as a fiddle!" the doctor said, thumping my chest. He felt the muscles of my arms approvingly. "Outdoor life, outdoor life and exercise, they're the best medicine in the world. What is your occupation, sir, if I may ask?"

"I'm a sort of rough-and-tumble acrobat," I said. "A moving-picture actor."

"Well, bless my soul! Chaplin, of course! I didn't get the name. Yes, yes, I see the resemblance now. I'm glad to meet you, sir. That last comedy of yours when you fell into the lake " He chuckled.

In great good spirits, then, we set out for New York, where the contract was to be signed by Mr. Freuler and myself and the final details settled.

Ten years ago I had been a starving actor on the Strand, a precocious youngster with big dreams and an empty stomach. Now I was on my way to New York and a salary of five hundred and twenty thousand dollars a year. Then I had been hungry for the slightest recognition; I had schemed and posed and acted a part with every one I met, craving a glance of admiration or envy to encourage my really tremulous hopes of one day succeeding; I had deceived myself with flattery to keep up my spirits. Now my name was known wherever moving pictures were shown throughout the world; a million hearty laughs applauded me every day.

I felt that I had arrived and I was happy.

From New York I hastened to cable my mother the dazzling news my poor, pretty little mother, older now and never really strong since the terrible days when we starved together in a London garret. She can not come to America because she can not stand the sea trip, but from the first I had written her at great length about my tremendous success, and when my comedies appeared in England she went for the first time to the cinema houses, and wrote that it was good to see me again and my comedy work was splendid; she was proud of me.

We were to sign the contract in the offices of the Mutual company in New York. When we stepped into that suite of richly furnished rooms, to be ushered at once into the presence of the president of this multi-million-dollar parent corporation, I had one fleeting thought of myself, ten years before, wearily tramping the Strand from agent's office to agent's-office, the scorn of the grimiest cockney office boy.

The curious twists and turns of chance in those old days should have prepared me for, the shock I received when I met Mr. Freuler, but they had not done so. I felt so secure, so satisfied with myself and the world as I stepped into his private office.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Chaplin," lie said when Mr. Caulfield had introduced us and we were seated. "I'm afraid there will be a hitch in the paying of that bonus. The insurance company has refused to issue your policy."


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