In which I realize my wildest dreams of fortune; ponder on the comedy tricks of life and conclude without reaching any conclusion.
"REFUSED to issue — impossible!" I cried, starting in my chair. With the swiftness of a knife stab I saw myself stopped at the very moment of my greatest success, fighting, struggling, hoping — and dying swiftly of some inexorable, concealed disease. Why, I had never felt better in my life!
"Yes, we received their refusal only this morning. On account of your extra-hazardous occupation they will not carry a policy for such a large sum," said Mr. Freuler. "I'm sorry, but I'm afraid it will hold matters up until we have found a company which will insure you or distributed the amount among a number of companies."
I laughed. I felt that Fate had shot her last bolt at me and missed. Extra-hazardous, of course! I had grown accustomed to the staff of nurses waiting at every large studio during thrilling scenes. I had trained myself by long practise to come comically through every dangerous mishap with as little danger of broken bones as possible. That was part of the work of being funny.
"Oh, very well," I said. "What shall we do to arrange the matter?"
It was a question which occupied our thoughts for several days. No large company would insure my life against the hazards of my comedies. We did, however, finally hit upon a way of solving the problem, and at last, worth nearly half a million dollars to the Mutual company if I died and much more if I lived, I signed the contract and received my check for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.
I did it, as was fitting, to the sound of a clicking camera, for the Mutual company, with great enterprise, filmed the event, that audiences the world over might see me in my proper person, wielding the fateful pen. It was a moment during which I should have felt a degree of emotion, that moment at which the pen point, scrawling "Charles Chaplin," made me worth another million dollars. But the click-click-click of the camera as the operator turned the crank made the whole thing unreal to me. I was careful only, to register the proper expression.
"Well — it's finished. What about your half-million now?" Sidney said affectionately when, my copy of the contract safely tucked into my breast pocket, we set off down the street together. "You'll quit, will you, with half a million? You'll never leave the moving pictures, my lad!"
"Have it your own way, old scamp," I said. "You would, anyway. Just the same I would like to write a book. I wager I could do it, with half a chance. By the way, there's another thing I'd like to do — "
Then I had all the pleasure and delight of feeling rich, of which the camera had robbed me while I signed my contract. At last I had an opportunity to repay Sidney the money part of the debt I have owed him since he came to my rescue so many times when we were boys. He could not refuse half of the bonus money which he had worked so hard to get for me, and that check for seventy-five thousand dollars gave me more pleasure than I can recall receiving from any other money I have ever handled.
So I came back to the Pacific coast to begin my work with the Mutual company. I am now an assured success in moving-picture comedy work and I am most proud of it. There is great cause for pride in keeping thousands of persons laughing. There is the satisfaction, also, of having attained, through lucky chance and accident, the goal on which I set my eyes so many years ago.
But I have no golden rule for such attainment to offer any one. I have worked — yes, to the limit of my ability — but so have many other men who have won far less reward than I. Whether you call it chance, fate or providence, to my mind the ruling of men's lives is in other hands than theirs.
If Sidney had not returned to London I might have become a thief in the London streets. If William Gillette had brought me to America I might have become a great tragic actor. If the explosion in the glass-factory had been more violent I might have been buried in a pauper's grave. Now, by a twist of public fancy, which sees great humor in my best work, and less in the best work of other men who are toiling as hard as I, I have become Charlie Chaplin, "the funniest man in America," and a millionaire.
What rules our destinies in this big comedy, the world? I do not know. I know only that it is good, whatever happens, to laugh at it.
Meantime, I am working on a new comedy. I am always working on a new comedy. I have a whole stage to myself, a stage of bare new boards that smell of turpentine in the hot sunshine, covered with dozens of sets — drawing-rooms, bedrooms, staircases, basements, roofs, fire-escapes, laundries, baker-shops, barrooms — everything.
As soon as the light is strong enough I arrive in my big automobile, falling over the steps when I get out to amuse the chauffeur. I coat my face with light brown paint, paste on my mustache, get into my floppy shoes, loop my trousers up about my waist, clog-dance a bit. Then the camera begins to click and I begin to be funny. I enjoy my comedies; they seem the funniest things on earth while I am playing them. I laugh, the other actors laugh, the director fans himself with his straw hat and laughs; the camera man chuckles aloud.
Dozens of ideas pop into my mind as I play; I play my parts each with a fresh enthusiasm, changing them, inventing, devising, accidentally producing unexpected effects, carefully working out others, enjoying every moment of it.
the light falls in
the evening I may sit a while, for coolness, in the basement set,
where the glare of the reflectors has not beat all day. Then
sometimes I think of the tricks fate has played with me since the
days I clog-danced for Mr. Hawkins, and I wonder why and what the
meaning of it all may be. But I never decide.