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Monday, November 12, 2012

Helen Keller: Vaudeville Star

Helen Keller: Vaudeville Star

In 1919 Helen Keller was 39 years old and an international celebrity, but she was having trouble paying the bills. So she took her act on the road.


Born in Alabama in 1880, Helen Keller was a cheerful, bright baby who was just beginning to learn to talk. Then, at 19 months old, she contracted a high fever that left her blind, deaf, and unable to speak. All of a sudden, Helen's normal development stopped and she became a "wild child" -she ate with her hands, threw food, and broke things. The Keller's relatives urged her affluent parents to send the little girl to an asylum, which was a too-common destination for blind-deaf people in those days. But Mrs. Keller knew that inside her angry daughter was an intelligent girl trying desperately to communicate.

So when Helen was six years old, her parents brought her to the famous inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who was trying to find a way to cure deafness. Bell was unable to help Helen but recommended the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. The school's headmaster decide that Helen needed constant home care and sent a 20-year-old teacher named Annie Sullivan, a recent graduate of the school, who was herself partially blind. Sullivan had no experience with deaf-blind students, but after a rough start, she had a major breakthrough when she got Helen to understand the connection between actual water and the letters "w-a-t-e-r," which Sullivan spelled using sign language in Helen's hand.


After that, a whole new world opened up for Keller. Under Sullivan's tutelage, she excelled at reading and writing, and in 1904 she became the first deaf-blind person in history to graduate from college. Keller had been famous since childhood thanks to a series of article written about her by the headmaster at Perkins, but her celebrity skyrocketed after her first book, The Story of My Life, was published when she was 22 years old. Keller then became an advocate for the deaf-blind, as well as a political activist -touting socialism, worker's rights, and pacifism. But she was most famous for simply being Helen Keller.


Starting in Keller's teenage years, vaudeville promoters came calling. At Sullivan's urging, Keller always politely declined, explaining that she made her living writing books and giving formal lectures -not by appearing in front of rowdy crowds who paid a nickel each to gawk at (and heckle) jugglers, comedians, and singers, not to mention "freak" acts such as the dog-faced boy or Siamese twins. Even though vaudeville shows were advertised as "family entertainment," audiences could get out of hand.

But in 1919 Keller convinced Sullivan to let her take the job. The pros just outweighed the cons. For one, Keller's two previous books hadn't sold well, and the money she was making on the Chautauqua adult-education lecture circuit wasn't enough to sustain her. And because they had to travel to a new town for each lecture, the daily schedule was becoming too hectic for Sullivan, whose eyesight and health were growing worse. Doing vaudeville shows would allow them to stay in the same town for a week at a time, rather than traveling nearly every day.

Another factor that led Keller to vaudeville: She disapproved of the way Hollywood had told her story in a 1919 silent movie based on her life called Deliverance, in which she and Sullivan appeared as themselves at the end. The film glossed over a lot of details about her life, and completely avoided her political views. Vaudeville would give Keller a chance to set the record straight.

And finally, Keller was a people person, and she knew that vaudeville would be a great way to educate the masses about the struggles of the disabled. So against her family's wishes, she signed on to the Orpheum vaudeville circuit.


bKeller knew that her decision to become a vaudeville performer was risky. How would the crowds treat her -like a freak, or as a respected speaker?  There were, in essence, two Helen Kellers. "The sweet myth, the canonical one, portrays her as an angel upon earth, saved from the savagery of darkness and silence," wrote Keller biographer Walter Kendrick. But the real Keller was not so angelic -she was a fiery, middle-aged woman who espoused radical left-wing ideals and spoke out against the United States' involvement in World War I, which most Americans supported. With vaudeville, Keller's ambitious goal was to put on an entertaining, educational act without compromising her ideals.

The public, in turn, wanted to see for themselves whether Keller could actually do all the things for which she was credited. Because deaf-blind people were often institutionalized, most people assumed they were "retarded." Indeed, rumors had persisted for years that Keller was not the writer she was made out to be, that she really didn't master five languages, and that her books were ghostwritten frauds. Furthermore, her critics charged, Keller was incapable of having sophisticated political opinions -Sullivan and her husband, John Macy, were using Keller to espouse their Marxist views. Keller was ready to prove that she did her own thinking.

The first shows were scheduled for early 1920 at the Palace Theater in New York City, one of vaudeville's premier venues. The playbill advertised:
Blind, deaf, and formerly DUMB, Helen Keller presents a remarkable portrayal of the triumph of her life over the greatest obstacles that ever confronted a human being!

Billed as "The Star of Happiness," the 20-minute act began with the curtain rising to reveal Sullivan sitting in a drawing room. As Mendelssohn's "Spring Song" played, Sullivan spent the first few minutes chronicling Keller's rise from a sightless, soundless childhood to a prosperous adulthood (basically the same story later made famous by William Gibson's 1959 play The Miracle Worker). Then Sullivan led Keller onto the stage. Keller sat at a piano and exclaimed loudly, "It is very beautiful!" For the audience, this was a surprise. Despite what the poster said, Keller was rumored to be mute.  But Keller proved that she could indeed talk, albeit very poorly -only her inner circle could understand what she said, so Sullivan was always there to translate. Said one audience member after hearing Keller recite the Lord's Prayer: "Her voice was the loneliest sound in the world."
But the performances were by no means somber affairs. Keller smiled throughout as Sullivan told stories about her, including one about her lifetime friendship with Samuel Clemens, who once said after a meeting with Keller, "Blindness is an exciting business. If you don't believe it, get up some dark night on the wrong side of your bed when the house is on fire and try to find the door." The crowd laughed at the jokes, and watched intently as Keller demonstrated how she could "hear" a human voice: She placed her hand on Sullivan's face -the first finger resting on the mouth, the second finger beside the bridge of the nose, and the thumb resting on the throat. Keller could then feel the vibrations created by the voice and understand Sullivan's words.


The most popular part of the act came at the end when Keller took questions from the audience as Sullivan translated. This gave Keller a chance to show off her quick wit …and to push her socialist views (which were actually better received on the vaudeville stage than they were on the conservative Chautauqua circuit). A few recorded exchanges:
Q: How old are you?
A: Between 16 and 60.

Q: What do think is the most important question before the country today?
A: How to get a drink. [Prohibition had recently banned the sale of alcohol.]

Q: Do you believe all political prisoners should be released?
A: Certainly. They opposed the war on the grounds that it was commercial war. Now everyone with a grain of sense says it was. Their crime is, they said it first.

Q: Does talking tire you?
A: Did you ever hear of a woman who tired of talking?

Audiences loved "The Star of Happiness." And so did the critics. The New York Times wrote, "Keller has conquered again, and the Monday afternoon audience at the Palace, one of the most critical and cynical in the world, was hers." Everywhere Keller and Sullivan went throughout the United States and Canada, crowds greeted them warmly. "At first it seemed strange to find ourselves on a program with dancers, acrobats, and trained animals," Keller later wrote. "But the very difference between ourselves and the other actors gave novelty and interest to our work." Keller and Sullivan were paid in the top tier for vaudevillians -$2,000 per week.

After a show in Syracuse, New York, Keller wrote in a letter to her mother: "The audience was interested in me, they were so silent, paying the closest attention. Indeed, some days there wasn't a clap and yet we knew they were deeply interested. After a while, they found their tongue and asked more questions than we could answer." Other times, Keller wasn't as pleased with the crowds: "Although I love the people, they appear so superficial. They are peculiar in that you must say a good thing in your first sentence, or they won't listen, much less laugh. Still, they have shown us such friendliness. I'm grateful to them."


bKeller quite the vaudeville circuit in 1924 when Sullivan's sight and overall health became too poor for her to continue. Besides, Keller had bigger plans. Now under the care of Sullivan's secretary, Polly Thompson, she amped up her advocacy. That same year she became a spokesperson for the American Foundation for the Blind and was already a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. She then began traveling the world to advocate for people who faced discrimination or any other blows that life dealt them. During World War II, she visited disabled veterans to demonstrate -through her mere presence- that they could still accomplish great things. In 1948 she toured the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki just three years after the atomic bombs were dropped. In all, Keller traveled to 39 countries and met with every president from Grover Cleveland in 1888 to to Lyndon Johnson, who awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964.

By the time Keller died peacefully in her sleep in 1968, her stint in vaudeville was a mere blip in her 87 years, but she remembered it with fondness. "I found the world of vaudeville much more amusing than the world I always lived in. I like to feel the warm pulse of human life pulsing round and round me."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Presidents in Movies

Which American president has been portrayed on film the most? Slate combed through IMDb to provide this list, which only counts actors playing the role of a president -no cameos or archival footage. However, several presidents are played as they were at a time before reaching the White House. Washington and Lincoln are no surprises, but George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been characters in way more films than you'd expect in the short amount of time since their inaugurations!

12 Things You Might Not Know About Wyatt Earp

One of my all-time favorite films is Tombstone (1993), the greatest Western ever made -in my opinion (and with all due respect to the great John Wayne, who I love and am a major fan of). Tombstone being my favorite Western, I developed an interest in the film's central character, Wyatt Earp. I have recently read my first proper biographies of Earp, and man, this guy just blows my socks off! What a fascinating, bigger-than-life character, right out of a great Western novel. I have read hundreds and hundreds of biographies and autobiographies of men and women of every possible stripe, but this guy is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible characters I have ever read about.

Okay, let me tell you twelve things you may not have known about that legendary lawman from the Old West, Mr. Wyatt Earp.

1. Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (yep, that's his full name) ran away from home several times and tried to enlist in the Union Army in the Civil War. He was unsuccessful and was sent back home every time, as he was only 13 years old.

2. He loved ice cream. He wasn't a hard drinker. In fact, he wasn't a drinker at all. No, the great Wyatt Earp, as macho as they come, never let liquor touch his lips. But he did have a vice: his love of ice cream. Every day in Tombstone, he would stop into the local ice cream parlor and indulge in a scoop.v

3. He was arrested for horse theft along with two other men. Wyatt and the other men were accused of stealing two horses (each worth $100) and jailed. Instead of waiting for his trial, Wyatt broke out of jail and escaped through the jail roof.

4. He never was hit or injured during a gun fight. No, not in any gunfight he was ever involved in, which contributed to his legend.

5. He once accidentally shot himself (actually his coat). Although Wyatt was never hit by the bullet of an opponent, once, his single-action revolver fell out of his holster while he was leaning back in a chair and discharged. Embarrassingly, the discharged bullet went through his coat and out the ceiling.

b6. He loved hookers and prostitutes. Wyatt may not have been a drinker, but he loved the ladies (ladies of the evening, that is). In one year (1872) Wyatt was arrested three times for "keeping and being found in a house of ill-repute."

Wyatt was listed as living in a brothel with Jane Haspiel in February of 1872. It is not known whether he was a pimp, an enforcer, or a bouncer in the establishment. Later, in 1876, when his brother James opened a brothel in Dodge City, Wyatt went along with him.

7. He was once fined for slapping a prostitute. Wyatt was fined the sum of $1.00 for slapping a muscular prostitute named Frankie Bell. Frankie had "heaped epithets" on Wyatt and he got upset and slapped her. Frankie spent the night in jail and was fined $20 (Wyatt's $1 fine was the legal minimum).

8. His second wife was probably an ex-prostitute. Wyatt's common-law wife, Celia Anne "Matty" Blaylock, who Wyatt lived with until 1881, was reputedly an ex-hooker.

9. He loved Dick Naylor. Wyatt's favorite horse, a racehorse, was named Dick Naylor.

10. He was put on trial for murder. After Wyatt's signature moment, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, he was tried for murder, along with his best pal, Doc Holliday. If convicted, the two would have been hanged. Fortunately for Wyatt and his legend, he and Doc were both acquitted.

v11. He was a pal of John Wayne. In Wyatt's later years, he lived in Los Angeles and was a technical advisor on several silent cowboy films. He befriended a young actor named Marion Morrison (who later changed his name to John Wayne) and regaled the young thespian with tales of the Old West. Enthralled, the young Duke used to fetch Wyatt cups of coffee. Wayne later claimed his portrayals of cowboys and Western lawmen were based on these conversations with Wyatt Earp.
12. His last words were enigmatic. According to his wife of 47 years, Wyatt's last words, just before he died in January of 1929 were "Suppose, suppose…" Wyatt's wife, friends, and biographers all have only made guesses at what he was about to say to complete his though before he passed away.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Shulamith Firestone, Feminist Writer, Dies at 67

Shulamith Firestone, Feminist Writer, Dies at 67

Shulamith Firestone, a widely quoted feminist writer who published her arresting first book, “The Dialectic of Sex,” at 25, only to withdraw from public life soon afterward, was found dead on Tuesday in her apartment in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. She was 67.
Michael Hardy
Shulamith Firestone in about 1970, the year “The Dialectic of Sex” was published.

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Ms. Firestone apparently died of natural causes, her sister Laya Firestone Seghi said.
Subtitled “The Case for Feminist Revolution,” “The Dialectic of Sex” was published by William Morrow & Company in 1970. In it, Ms. Firestone extended Marxist theories of class oppression to offer a radical analysis of the oppression of women, arguing that sexual inequity springs from the onus of childbearing, which devolves on women by pure biological happenstance.
“Just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself,” Ms. Firestone wrote, “so the end goal of feminist revolution must be ... not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally.”
In the utopian future Ms. Firestone envisioned, reproduction would be utterly divorced from sex: conception would be accomplished through artificial insemination, with gestation taking place outside the body in an artificial womb. While some critics found her proposals visionary, others deemed them quixotic at best.
Reviewing “The Dialectic of Sex” in The New York Times, John Leonard wrote, “A sharp and often brilliant mind is at work here.” But, he added, “Miss Firestone is preposterous in asserting that ‘men can’t love.’ ”
The book, which was translated into several languages, hurtled Ms. Firestone into the front ranks of second-wave feminists, alongside women like Betty Friedan, Kate Millett and Germaine Greer. It remains widely taught in college women’s-studies courses.
A painter by training, Ms. Firestone never anticipated a high-profile career as a writer; she had come to writing through preparing manifestoes for several feminist organizations she had helped found.
The crush of attention, positive and negative, that her book engendered soon proved unbearable, her sister said. In the years that followed, Ms. Firestone retreated into a quiet, largely solitary life of painting and writing, though she published little.
Her only other book, “Airless Spaces,” was issued in 1998 by the experimental publisher Semiotext(e). A memoir-in-stories that employs fictional forms to recount real-life events, it describes Ms. Firestone’s hospitalization with schizophrenia, which by the 1980s had overtaken her.
The second of six children of Orthodox Jewish parents, Shulamith Bath Shmuel Ben Ari Feuerstein was born in Ottawa on Jan. 7, 1945, and reared in Kansas City, Mo., and St. Louis.
The family Americanized its surname to Firestone when Shulamith was a child; Ms. Firestone pronounced her first name shoo-LAH-mith but was familiarly known as Shuley or Shulie.
After attending Washington University in St. Louis, Ms. Firestone earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1967. Around that time she helped found the Westside Group, a Chicago feminist organization, before moving to New York.
There, she was a founder of three feminist organizations — New York Radical Women, the Redstockings and New York Radical Feminists — begun as alternatives to mainstream groups like the National Organization for Women.
Ms. Firestone came to renewed attention in 1997 with the release of “Shulie,” an independent film by Elisabeth Subrin. Ms. Subrin’s 37-minute film is a shot-for-shot remake of an earlier, little-seen documentary, also titled “Shulie,” made in 1967 by four male graduate students at Northwestern University.
The 1967 film, part of a documentary series on the younger generation, profiles Ms. Firestone, then an unknown art student, as she paints, talks about her life as a young woman and undergoes a grueling review of her work by a panel of male professors.
In the 1997 remake, conceived as a backward look at a social landscape that seemed to have changed strikingly little in 30 years, Ms. Firestone is portrayed by an actress, Kim Soss. Her dialogue is uttered verbatim from the original documentary.
Ms. Subrin’s film, which was shown at the New York Film Festival, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Biennial and elsewhere, was well received by critics. But it distressed Ms. Firestone, who said she was upset that she had not been consulted in the course of its creation, her sister said this week.
In an interview on Thursday, Ms. Subrin said that she had sent Ms. Firestone a rough cut of her film through an intermediary. The intermediary later told her, she said, that Ms. Firestone “could appreciate it as a labor of love, but she hated the original film and didn’t see how my film was different.”
Besides her sister Laya, Ms. Firestone is survived by her mother, Kate Firestone Shiftan; two brothers, Ezra and Nechemia; and another sister, Miriam Tirzah Firestone.
In “Airless Spaces,” Ms. Firestone writes of life after hospitalization, on psychiatric medication. The account is in the third person, but the story is her own:
“She had been reading Dante’s ‘Inferno’ when first she went into the hospital, she remembered, and at quite a good clip too, but when she came out she couldn’t even get down a fashion rag. ... That left getting through the blank days as comfortably as possible, trying not to sink under the boredom and total loss of hope.”
The story continues: “She was lucid, yes, at what price. She sometimes recognized on the faces of others joy and ambition and other emotions she could recall having had once, long ago. But her life was ruined, and she had no salvage plan.”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alfred Eisenstaedt (December 6, 1898[1] – August 24, 1995) was a German-born American photographer and photojournalist. He is best known for his photograph of the V-J Day celebration [2] and for his candid photographs, frequently made using a 35mm Leica camera.

Early life

Eisenstaedt was born in Dirschau (Tczew) in West Prussia, Imperial Germany in 1898. His family moved to Berlin in 1906. Eisenstaedt was fascinated by photography from his youth and began taking pictures at age 14 when he was given his first camera, an Eastman Kodak Folding Camera with roll film. Eisenstaedt served in the German Army's artillery during World War I, and was wounded in 1918. While working as a belt and button salesman in the 1920s in Weimar Germany, Eisenstaedt began taking photographs as a freelancer for the Pacific and Atlantic Photos' Berlin office in 1928. The office was taken over by Associated Press in 1931.

Professional photographer

Eisenstaedt successfully became a full-time photographer in 1929. Four years later he photographed a meeting between Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Italy. Other notable, early pictures by Eisenstaedt include his depiction of a waiter at the ice rink of the Grand Hotel in St. Moritz in 1932 and Joseph Goebbels at the League of Nations in Geneva in 1933. Although initially friendly, Goebbels scowled for the photograph when he learned that Eisenstaedt was Jewish.[3]
Because of oppression in Hitler's Nazi Germany, Eisenstaedt emigrated to the United States in 1935 where he lived in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York, for the rest of his life.[4] He worked as a staff photographer for Life magazine from 1936 to 1972. His photos of news events and celebrities, such as Dagmar, Sophia Loren and Ernest Hemingway, appeared on 90 Life covers.[2] Eisenstaedt was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1989 by President George Bush in a ceremony on the White House lawn.[5]

Martha's Vineyard

Alfred Eisenstaedt photographing the Clinton family - the last photos of his life.
Eisenstaedt, known as "Eisie" to his close friends, enjoyed his annual August vacations on the island of Martha's Vineyard for 50 years. During these summers, he would conduct photographic experiments, working with different lenses, filters, and prisms in natural light. Eisenstaedt was fond of Martha's Vineyard's photogenic lighthouses, and was the focus of lighthouse fundraisers organized by Vineyard Environmental Research, Institute (VERI).
Eisenstaedt's last photographs were of President Bill Clinton with wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, in August 1993, at the Granary Gallery in West Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard.[citation needed]
Eisenstaedt died in his bed at midnight at his beloved Menemsha Inn cottage known as the "Pilot House" at age 96.[2]

Notable Eisenstaedt photos

V–J day in Times Square

Eisenstaedt's most famous photograph is of an American sailor kissing a young woman on August 14, 1945 in Times Square. (The photograph is known under various names: V–J Day in Times Square, V–Day, etc.[6]) Because Eisenstaedt was photographing rapidly changing events during the V-J Day celebrations, he stated that he didn't get a chance to obtain names and details, which has encouraged a number of mutually incompatible claims to the identity of the subjects.

Portraits of Sophia Loren

The portraits of Sophia Loren have a wonderful spark of mischievousness or, as in the more formal color portraits, a dignity and love that is brought to the picture by both sitter and photographer.

Ice Skating Waiter, St. Moritz

1932 photograph depicts a waiter at the ice rink of the Grand Hotel. "I did one smashing picture," Eisenstaedt has written, "of the skating headwaiter. To be sure the picture was sharp, I put a chair on the ice and asked the waiter to skate by it. I had a Miroflex camera and focused on the chair."

Children follow the Drum Major at the University of Michigan, 1950


Since 1999, the Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards for Magazine Photography have been administered by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.[7]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

OLD AND RARE PICTURES (musicians, politicians, inventors, etc) [] Jimi Hendrix & Mick Jagger, New York, 1969 [] The Beatles and Mohammad Ali, 1964 [] Martin Luther King Jr. and Marlon Brando (The Godfather) [] Danny DeVito and Christopher Reeve [] Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein [] Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee [] Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood [] Steve Jobs and Bill Gates [] James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor

Jimi Hendrix & Mick Jagger, New York, 1969
The Beatles and Mohammad Ali, 1964
Martin Luther King Jr. and Marlon Brando (The Godfather)
Danny DeVito and Christopher Reeve
Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein
Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee
Paul Newman and Clint Eastwood
Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Warren G. Harding, and Harvey Firestone, 1921
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates
James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor

Friday, June 1, 2012

Jack Twyman, N.B.A. Star Known for Off-Court Assist, Dies at 78

Jack Twyman, N.B.A. Star Known for Off-Court Assist, Dies at 78

Jack Twyman was a Hall of Fame basketball player who once scored 59 points in an N.B.A. game. In 1959-60 he and Wilt Chamberlain became the first players to average more than 30 points a game in a season. He went on to become an analyst for the N.B.A. game of the week on ABC and a food company executive who pocketed more than $3 million when he sold the company in 1996.
Associated Press
Maurice Stokes, left in 1962, was helped by Jack Twyman.
Associated Press
Jack Twyman in 1965.
But Twyman’s greatest fame came from simply helping out a friend. After his Cincinnati Royals teammate Maurice Stokes had a paralyzing brain injury in the final regular-season game of the 1958 season, Twyman learned he was nearly destitute.
So he became Stokes’s legal guardian. He helped him get workers’ compensation; raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for medical care, partly through organizing an annual charity game of basketball superstars; and helped him learn to communicate by blinking his eyes to denote individual letters.
And for decades Twyman pressed the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., to induct Stokes, a power forward who once grabbed 38 rebounds in a game. When the Hall of Fame finally did so, in 2004, 21 years after Twyman’s admission, Twyman accepted the award for his friend.
Twyman died in Cincinnati on Wednesday, more than 40 years after Stokes died of a heart attack. Twyman’s daughter Lisa Bessone said her father died of complications of blood cancer. He was 78.
On March 12, 1958, the Royals were playing their season finale, against the Minneapolis Lakers. Stokes went over the shoulder of an opponent and hit his head on the floor so hard that he was knocked out. In those days, teams had no trainers, much less doctors, and scant knowledge of head injuries. He continued to play.
Three days later, Stokes, who was 24, went into a coma. When he came out of it, he could not move or talk. The diagnosis was brain damage. Stokes, whose family lived in Pittsburgh, had to stay in Cincinnati to be eligible for workers’ compensation.
“Maurice was on his own,” Twyman told The New York Post in 2008. “Something had to be done and someone had to do it. I was the only one there, so I became that someone.”
Twyman always insisted that any teammate would have done the same. Others saw something special. On the occasion of Stokes’s death in 1970, the sports columnist Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote that he saw “nobility and grandeur” in Twyman’s actions, likening him to the biblical good Samaritan.
“What gives it a quality of extra warmth,” he wrote, “is the pigmentation of the two principals.” Stokes was black, Twyman white.
John Kennedy Twyman, the son of a steel company foreman, was born in Pittsburgh on May 21, 1934, and grew up playing against Stokes in summer leagues. Twyman went to the University of Cincinnati and Stokes to St. Francis College (now University) in Loretto, Pa. Their teams met in the semifinals of the 1954 National Invitation Tournament, and Twyman outscored Stokes, 27-26.
“I never let him forget about that,” Twyman told The Post.
Both were genuine stars. Stokes, at 6 feet 7 inches and 232 pounds, was the N.B.A. rookie of the year in 1956. The next year he set a league rebounding record, and he became a three-time All-Star. The Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy called him “the first great, athletic power forward.”
Twyman was a skinny 6-6 forward who in 11 seasons with the Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) was a six-time All-Star.
He shot 45 percent over his career, and when he retired in 1966 he trailed only Chamberlain in points scored, with 15,840. In their record-setting season of averaging more than 30 points a game, Chamberlain edged Twyman, 32.1 to 31.2. Twyman’s 59-point game came with the Royals against the Minneapolis Lakers on Jan. 15, 1960.
Twyman sometimes worried that his wife and family might become upset over the amount of time he devoted to Stokes over 12 years, but his daughter said in an interview that they had come to look forward to Stokes’s Sunday visits from the hospital. Twyman’s wife of 57 years, the former Carole Frey, became, with her husband, a co-trustee of the Maurice Stokes Foundation, which was set up to defray Stokes’s hospital costs but grew to help other needy N.B.A. veterans as well.
The charity basketball tournament they began at Kutsher’s Hotel in the Catskills drew stars like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and, of course, Chamberlain.
Twyman, who had an insurance business even while playing basketball, was an analyst for “The NBA on ABC” in the late 1960s and early ’70s, working with Chris Schenkel. In the moments before Game 7 of the 1970 N.B.A. championship between the Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers, Twyman saw the injured Knicks center Willis Reed limping toward the Madison Square Garden court. “I think we see Willis coming out,” he told viewers.
Reed’s appearance is credited with inspiring the Knicks to their 113-99 victory over the Lakers.
From 1972 to 1996, Twyman was chairman and chief executive of Super Food Services, a food wholesaler based in Dayton, Ohio. During the 1980s, he quintupled its earnings.
In addition to his daughter Lisa, Twyman is survived by his wife as well as a son, Jay; two other daughters, Julie Twyman Brockhoff and Michele Guttman; and 14 grandchildren.
Years after his accident, when Stokes had recovered enough finger flexibility to type, his first message was: “Dear Jack, How can I ever thank you?”
Twyman shrugged this off, saying that whenever he felt down, he “selfishly” visited the always cheerful Stokes. “He never failed to pump me up,” he said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock

April 1, 1976: Alfred Hitchcock in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. “After knighthood,” the caption read, quoting Hitchcock, ” ‘all that was left was to await death, a few vodkas hastening its advent.’ ” A note on the back of the photograph clarified who was directing the photo shoot: “The picture showing Mr. Hitchcock creeping his way through the plant in his room was his idea.” Hitchcock died the following year. Photo: Jack Manning/The New York Times
April 1, 1976: Alfred Hitchcock in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. “After knighthood,” the caption read, quoting Hitchcock, ” ‘all that was left was to await death, a few vodkas hastening its advent.’ ” A note on the back of the photograph clarified who was directing the photo shoot: “The picture showing Mr. Hitchcock creeping his way through the plant in his room was his idea.” Hitchcock died the following year. Photo: Jack Manning/The New York Times
April 1, 1976: Alfred Hitchcock in his suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. “After knighthood,” the caption read, quoting Hitchcock, ” ‘all that was left was to await death, a few vodkas hastening its advent.’ ” A note on the back of the photograph clarified who was directing the photo shoot: “The picture showing Mr. Hitchcock creeping his way through the plant in his room was his idea.” Hitchcock died the following year.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Doris Day

Doris Day will celebrate her 88th birthday on Tuesday, April 3.
Enlarge Sony Picture Archives Doris Day will celebrate her 88th birthday on Tuesday, April 3.
text size A A A
April 2, 2012
The biggest female box-office star in Hollywood history, Doris Day started singing and dancing when she was a teenager, and made her first film when she was 24. After nearly 40 movies, she walked away from that part of her life in 1968, and started rescuing and caring for animals.
Now 87, the actress lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif. Last year, she released My Heart, her first record since 1967's The Love Album. She's also the subject of a new four-DVD box set of her films — and was named TCM's star of the month for April, which means 28 of her movies will air during prime time this week on the network.
Doris Day's hits include "Sentimental Journey," "Till The End of Time" and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'."
Enlarge Sony Picture Archives Doris Day's hits include "Sentimental Journey," "Till The End of Time" and "I Got the Sun in the Mornin'."
The Making Of A Star
Day started her career as a teenage dancer in Cincinnati. She was spotted by a Paramount Pictures talent scout who wanted to fly her out to Hollywood, but a car accident on the night of her going-away party shattered her leg and her dreams of being a professional dancer. As Day recovered from her injuries, she listened to the radio and discovered she had a talent for singing.
"I had to lie down, and I was just laying down all the time, and a couple of years went by. And the bones in my right leg from the knee down were not healing," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "And that went on for a few years. ... And [then] when I started to heal, that's when I started to sing — by myself — in a beautiful club in Cincinnati at the age of 16."
The club was 18-and-up, so Day's bandleader lied to the club owners and told them that his young singer was, in fact, a legal adult.
"I kept forgetting that I wasn't two years older for years," she says. "As the years go on, and my mother said to me, 'You know what, it just occurred to me. You're not really 30. You're 28.' And I looked at her and said, 'Oh my gosh, I forgot all about that.'"
'Romance On The High Seas'
Day's singing career eventually led her to Hollywood, where she got a part in the 1948 film Romance on the High Seas, without knowing she was auditioning for the role.
"I was just out in Hollywood singing, and my manager was with me, and we were going to have lunch," she says. "And he drove out to the studio, and I knew nothing about that. We were standing around, and I said, 'What are we doing?' and he said, 'I'm arranging something.'"
Day's manager told her that a young man was auditioning for a role in a movie and she needed to help him out. That man, unbeknownst to Day, was actually the film's director.
"So I read my lines, and after that, he came up and took my hands and said, 'Darling, you were very good' and I thought, 'How funny' and said, 'Thank you so much, it was nice to meet you.' And with that, we left," she says.

Doris Day Collection

The Doris Day DVD Collection from TCM contains four of Day's movies, including 'April in Paris' and 'Starlift.' The CD collection, pictured below, features songs curated by Day herself.
With a Smile and a Song
Day was due to leave Los Angeles the following morning, but received a phone call in her hotel room. It was actor Jack Carson.
"And he said, 'Miss Day, this is Jack Carson. I know it's early in the day to be calling you, and I heard that you were leaving for New York. I want to tell you something — you are going to be in the best part, the most important part, in the movie I'm doing next. And I want you to be in it,'" she says.
Day accepted the offer and soon began working on the film. On her second day of work, she was invited into a studio to watch herself on the screen for the first time.
"I went in and I just stood there, and Jack came up to me and he put his arms around me," she says. "And he said, 'Everything is just perfect. And you're the one. And I really enjoyed it today.' And he gave me a big hug."
In the '50s and '60s, Day starred in a string of romantic comedies, but frequently played an independent working woman. In 1959's Pillow Talk, she played an independent interior designer opposite Rock Hudson. In Love Come Back, she worked in the advertising world. In Touch of Mink, with Cary Grant, she played a career woman.
"I didn't feel different in any of them," she says, "even though they were different. I loved being married, and I loved not being married but working on it. And doing what I was supposed to do and be. That's the way I worked."
Working With Animals
Day stopped making movies in 1968, in part because she wanted a quieter lifestyle than what was available in Los Angeles.
"I came out to Carmel and it was so nice, and I have so many doggies," she says. "And I thought that this would really be nice."
In 1971, Day co-founded Actors and Others for Animals, and began to take an active role in animal rescue work with the SPCA. She placed dozens of rescue dogs in people's homes and rescued many on her own. At one point, she had 30 dogs living in her house.
"It was another area of the house," she says. "There was a lovely outside place to eat, and it was so pretty and lovely with the fountain and everything. And on the other side of that was where I had the dogs. And they had a big area to run and they had a huge area to play. They were just fabulous and I kept them all."
Day currently has six dogs and four cats.
"If I come across a doggie who needs a home, that's when I take them," she says. "They're in a special area — an outdoor area — but the ceiling is all glass and they look up there and see the trees. They have two big rooms inside and then one outside. They just love it."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Charlie chaplin as "The Tramp"

TREADING WATER IN OUR MEDIA OCEAN it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the frenzy that surrounded Charlie Chaplin in his early years, when movies were all there was, and Chaplin had become, in critic Gilbert Seldes's words, "the universal symbol for laughter." In 1921, when he finally came home to London, crowds camped out for two nights to watch him drive from Waterloo station to the Ritz, and when he cruised by, they greeted him with more enthusiasm than their heroes marching home from war.

It wasn't Chaplin they cheered, of course; it was the Tramp. From his first pictures for producer Mack Sennett, who didn't credit actors, in a Los Angeles where the Times didn't take movie ads, the Tramp was an instant sensation. As Seldes remembers, he leapt to fame as a splay-foot cardboard cutout hung outside the theaters, beckoning young and old, first in America, but soon around the world.  

Chaplin-like Tramps
Chaplin look-alike contest: J.W. Sandison Collection, Whatcom Museum of History and Art

Once Charlie found the Tramp, he only played the Tramp. Why not?  Who'd have let him play anything else? This "many sided fellow," as Chaplin put it, "a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure," freed him to explore his complicated talent, and bound him to his audience. The Tramp touched his followers in a way only movie stars could when movies were new. Splashed huge on the screen, he was bigger than they were but they knew him like a brother. Their modest emotions, projected on the silver Tramp, expanded into passions deeper, subtler, and seemingly more important. Chaplin rubbed together greed and generosity, lust and love, triumph and disappointment, igniting a hotter, brighter laughter than they'd known before.  They loved the Tramp with a superhuman love.

Sennett admitted he didn't see much potential in Chaplin when he hired him. As he wrote, "Charlie revealed most of the trade skills of the music-hall people. He could fall, trip, stumble, summersault, slap, and make faces. These were stock in trade items we could use. I did not see then, and I do not know anyone who claims to have seen then, the subtleties and the pathos of the small, hard-pressed man in a dilemma which a few years later were known as the genius marks of Chaplin's art." In his first film, Making a Living, Chaplin played his music-hall persona, the burlesque dude, in the role of con man and aspiring reporter.

Shoving the newsboy isn't funny. Chaplin's Tramp is a bum who believes he's an aristocrat; Chaplin's dude is a bum conning others into believing it. There's a hint of Tramp charm when he adjusts his clothing, but Chaplin comes across as vain, mean-spirited, stiff and mannered. We root against him.

Chaplin wasn't happy, nor were Sennett or director Henry "Pathé" Lehrman. Lehrman, Sennett's top man, earned his nickname pretending to come from France. Sennett hated a picture that "drooled along" and liked Lehrman because he pushed pace and pushed his bang-bang gags to the edge and occasionally beyond. His actors, who paid the price for Lehrman's enthusiasm, called him "Mr. Suicide." In Making a Living the director also played Chaplin's straight-man competitor. 

Lehrman hated Chaplin's meandering rhythms. He hectored him about movie timing. Chaplin fought back. Sennett backed Lehrman, and suspended Chaplin for a week "to force him to follow instructions." Chaplin said he was close to quitting. His drunk act was a vaudeville staple; pictures were canned comedy.  He'd had enough of them.

Then, on January 6, 1914, three weeks after Chaplin first walked in front of Lehrman's camera, the Tramp waddled onto the hotel set for Mabel's Strange Predicament.

What wrought this miraculous transformation? How did Chaplin find such ease before the camera, such patience riding his instincts? Did he need any help? Chaplin claimed his costume was all he needed. "The moment I was dressed," he wrote, 50 years later, "the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was."

While Chaplin's stage persona was a well-known type, the Tramp was not so easily labeled. He wasn't faking wealthy, exactly, but he wasn't just dressed poor, either. "Everything a contradiction," Chaplin said, "the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large." He may have been rich at some time, or he may not. He was outside class, and outside the standard ethnic types that dominated vaudeville. He was American, the way anyone could be American, wherever they came from. We could all be the Tramp, yet he was uniquely himself. The Tramp dressed not to fit a type but to fill out a personal fantasy: formal on top, comfortable down below, self-conscious and oblivious at the same time.

Chaplin wrote that the Tramp came to him whole: "I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born." Sennett remembered otherwise: "It was a long time before he abandoned cruelty, venality, treachery, larceny, and lechery as the main characteristics of the tramp." Looking at the Tramp's early films, we have to agree with Sennett. And yet, before the Tramp was pathetic or lovable, he was wildly popular. His gentle nature let his audience enjoy his vices without hating itself. He was lecherous but not threatening, venal but not vicious, treacherous but somehow loyal.  

The contradictions that let the audience enjoy Chaplin's genius were bought with screen time. The Tramp didn't exactly drool along, but he chewed his mustache and swung his cane and second-guessed himself, and that broke Sennett's First Rule of Funny: it stopped the story. How did the Tramp, a secondary character at that, appear in the first frame of Mabel's Strange Predicament and then take 30 seconds to sit down? Chaplin claimed he invented the Tramp alone, but someone had to let him eat up film. Lehrman wouldn't stand for it. Who freed up Chaplin to be the Tramp? Was it Sennett, who had just suspended him for such shenanigans?

Mabel Normand Photoplay
Was Sennett even there? He was producing, not directing, and had three pictures going at the same time. Fifty years later Sennett claimed that Chester Conklin, who was there, said that when the actors were laughing at Charlie, "we didn't notice that the Old Man had come down from the tower and was standing in the rear. All of a sudden we heard him. 'Chaplin, you do exactly what you're doing now in your next picture. Remember to do it in that get-up. Otherwise, England is beckoning.'" The words Sennett puts in Conklin's mouth say exactly what he'd like us all, himself included, to believe.

Chaplin remembered a different scenario. In his version, all three pictures were being cranked on the same stage. Chaplin ambled out in his street clothes, and he wrote, Sennett was "looking into a hotel lobby, biting the end of a cigar. 'We need some gags here,' he said, then turned to me. 'Put on a comedy make-up. Anything will do.'" Chaplin returned as the Tramp. "The secret of Mack Sennett's success was his enthusiasm. He was a great audience and laughed genuinely at what he thought funny. He stood and giggled until his body began to shake." Then Chaplin explained his character in detail, for 10 minutes or more, "keeping Sennett in continuous chuckles. 'All right,' he said, 'get on the set and see what you can do there.'"

Chaplin's story honors Sennett, perhaps, but it also confirms Chaplin's version of creating the Tramp whole, as a single stroke of genius. But Chaplin's version ignores the fact that the character he plays in the picture is essential to the story, not simply an add-on in the first scene. He couldn't have just ambled into the story, because there was no story without him.

Mabel and Mack
Mabel Normand and Mack Sennett

These two eyewitness accounts, sharpened by novelistic detail (the voice from behind, the chomped cigar) can't both be true. Sennett's account is hearsay, so perhaps Chaplin deserves precedence, but if Chaplin's account were true, wouldn't Sennett have told it himself? Sennett says he wasn't there until the Tramp showed up. Wouldn't he want to take credit for ordering Chaplin into the scene?  What if they both have it wrong? How did the volcanic, dictatorial Mack Sennett let pesky, supercilious (and by all reports, foul-smelling) Chaplin, coming off a week's suspension for bloody-mindedness, violate his First Rule of Funny?

Chaplin hinted at Sennett's doubts when he wrote, "It was a long scene that ran seventy-five feet. Later Mr. Sennett and Mr. Lehrman debated whether to let it run its full length, as the average comedy scene rarely ran over ten." But Lehrman had nothing to do with Mabel's Strange Predicament. If someone fought Sennett over Chaplin's screen time, it wasn't Mr. Suicide, and if Sennett was fighting, it wasn't because he wanted more time for Chaplin, but less.
Mabel on the set.
Mabel Normand on the set, 1919

Only one person on the Keystone lot could shout down Mack Sennett, and her name was on the title of the picture, the little lady with the big plume who walks out on Chaplin. Mabel Normand was Sennett's meal ticket and his perpetual fiancée. Sennett's Keystone didn't credit actors, because they might want more money, but Sennett hung Normand's name on her pictures, because Mabel on a picture brought in crowds. She started as a Gibson girl in her early teens, pushing Coke. She met Sennett when he was a failed opera singer making comedies at Biograph for tomb-faced D.W. Griffith. Sennett took her to Los Angeles, and made her immensely popular. She made him a fortune.

Normand was an inventor of the movie star, the first woman allowed to be both sexy and funny. She was a high diver, a bareback rider, a race car driver, and a flapper a decade before flappers. Photoplay called her "a kiss that explodes in a laugh, cherry bonbons in a clown's cap, sharing a cream puff with your best girl, a slap from a perfumed hand, the sugar in the Keystone grapefruit." By the time the man who would become the Tramp walked onto her set, Normand had worked on sets for four years, and made over a hundred pictures. She was 22.  

Shouldn't we credit the director, the one who decided to shoot 75 feet, for the success of the Tramp? Keystone didn't have writers in those days, but did the director of Mabel's Strange Predicament unleash the Tramp? Doesn't Sergio Leone deserve some credit for Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name? Doesn't the director dictate tempo and decide who gets the camera's attention? Isn't the director's job to seek out the hidden talents of his actors and make sure they end up on screen? Doesn't a good director jump on a happy accident like the Tramp and ride it with a prayer of gratitude?

What Sennett and Chaplin both neglect to mention in their memoirs is that Mabel Normand was among the very first stars to direct their own films, and Normand directed Mabel's Strange Predicament. Perhaps in the intervening decades they forgot. It was certainly in their interest to forget. Why diminish their own roles in creating the miracle of the Tramp? Normand remembered it differently; she recalled Sennett's fury after seeing Chaplin's performance, screaming that Lehrman "had hooked himself up with a dead one." Normand said she begged him to give Charlie another chance.

Sennett acknowledges her effect on Chaplin:

After Mabel saw what Charlie could do in his new costume and tramp character, she changed her mind about 'that Englisher.' She not only wanted to work with him but wanted to help him. Charlie knew nothing about screen acting. He did not know how to behave in front of a camera, or why he was directed to move left to right in order to match a scene shot the day before. He was baffled by instructions to react to someone off camera — someone who would be inserted in the next day's shooting. Mabel patiently explained these and other simple techniques to Charlie, who had rebelled when Pathé Lehrman gave him orders.

I submit that Normand did a good deal more. As director and star (and the second most powerful person on the Keystone lot) she shaped Mabel's Strange Predicament. She saw Chaplin's potential and worked to bring it out. Chaplin said he was surrounded by rough and tumble types, admited he was anxious and found Normand reassuring. He called it a "unique atmosphere of beauty and the beast." Isn't it reasonable to believe that Normand, his director and acting partner, loosened up Charlie? That she gave him confidence in his own rhythms, and when she saw what she had, she knew he was the key to making her picture work, and let him run on at unprecedented length? He was a secondary character, but she built the picture around him. Normand the star stepped back and let the Tramp take over. Here she plays with Chaplin in the key scene of the picture, the predicament scene, when she's locked out of her room wearing only her pajamas, and the Tramp happens along. Notice how she plays to his tempo, and gives him the scene:  
Normand was known for a subtle comic style that isn't on display here. She vamps along, buying time for Chaplin to wring his contradictions, from surprising to calming her, to seeing they're alone, to eyeballing her, to coming on to her, to chasing her tail. Sennett characters didn't have time for such transitions, just as they didn't take 30 seconds to sit down in a hotel lobby. I submit that Normand the director won Charlie's confidence and drew this out of him, and that Mabel Normand the star sacrificed her scene for the good of the picture.

Then Normand the director protected what she had in the can. In his first picture, Lehrman cut away from Chaplin whenever he could, so he could snip out what he saw as dead time, returning only for what he saw as action. These were the 10-foot scenes Chaplin talked about. Normand guards Chaplin's rhythms and lets him breathe. Given Sennett's obsession with pace, it is likely he had words with her during dailies. When they edited the picture, it is likely he wanted to chop up Chaplin as Lehrman had done. If so, Normand the director fought him on that, and made sure Chaplin's pregnant pauses stayed in the picture. Could Sennett have denied his director, his fiancé, his biggest star?

Unless you've made a movie, it's to hard to conceive how difficult it is to read your own picture before an audience sees it. This was as true for Star Wars and Casablanca as it was for Howard the Duck and Ishtar. In fact, as William Goldman put it, nobody knows. Alan Pakula said he could write the good review and the  bad review, but which is the audience writing? Once an audience sees the picture, all comes clear. Once audiences saw Mabel's Strange Predicament and loved their Tramp, Normand's insights became obvious and her strength of conviction just good sense. But that doesn't diminish the courage or vision it required before the fact.

When Chaplin became the Tramp on Normand's watch, he also learned to be a movie actor. As Sennett put it, Normand, "the greatest motion-picture comedienne of any day, was as deft in pantomime as Chaplin was... She worked in slapstick, but her stage business and her gestures were subtle, not broad." Normand, the first movie star actress who wasn't stage trained, hadn't been taught the comic conventions of the theater, or to project to the back of the house. She had a movie-bred patience for living in the moment. She was a movie star because while she was beautiful, she let you see inside, and people liked what they saw. Movies are supremely intimate, and Normand was consummate at drawing people in, and holding them. We can watch Chaplin learning Normand's delicate skills.

Three months after the Tramp showed up, Sennett was cranking the first feature-length comedy ever made, and Normand and Chaplin were part of it, though neither one was above the title. Sennett's old boss was making his first magnum opus, The Clansman, later called The Birth of a Nation, and so Sennett wanted to match him. Smart money said a movie audience couldn't laugh for more than half an hour, and Sennett bought insurance in the form of Marie Dressler, star of the Broadway hit Tillie's Nightmare. She would bring in the middle-class audience that was only beginning to warm to cloth-cap darling Normand. Sennett paid Dressler her stage rate, $2500 a week, or 10 times what Normand earned.

Dressler was a skilled comedienne in the pre-Normand pattern of the grotesque who thought herself a beauty, and she transferred well to pictures. Later, Chaplin preferred ingénues to comediennes, but in Tillie's Punctured Romance he plays against two of the best. Watching Chaplin play with stage-trained Dressler and with movie-star Normand, we can see how Normand's subtler style toned down Chaplin, and brought him closer to the mature Tramp. Here, in Tillie, Chaplin doesn't play the Tramp. He's a low-life con man, after Dressler for her money. Sennett directs.
Here are Chaplin and Normand in the same picture. Normand is Chaplin's moll. They've stolen Dressler's money and spent it on fancy clothes, and they're watching a movie about a pair of low-lifes like themselves doing the same thing. Sennett cut up their close shot into 10-foot bits, but even in bits we can see they have a comfort with each other that allows for nuance and grounds the scene. Would Chaplin have found his subtle style without Normand, with Sennet pushing pace?
Sennett wrote about what Normand taught Chaplin, but Chaplin is mute on the subject. In his autobiography Mabel is pretty, Mabel is sweet, Mabel is reassuring, but Mabel is not an experienced professional who helps perfect his art. Why is Chaplin so dismissive? In part because she's a woman but more, I think, because Chaplin needed to portray Normand as incompetent to justify the shabby way he treated her.

Before Tillie began, only six weeks after the Tramp first walked on stage, just as Mabel's Strange Predicament came out in the East and the Tramp first captured the public imagination, Sennett put Chaplin in a picture where he didn't play the Tramp. Lehrman had absconded to Universal with Ford Sterling, Sennett's most popular male star, and Sennett decided that Chaplin would play a Sterling role in his next picture. This had the double virtue of plugging the hole left by Sterling's departure and putting Chaplin in the kind of role Sennett could appreciate, because unfortunately for Chaplin, Sterling played the consummate scenery-chewing villain, a vaudeville Dutch with the volume jacked to 11.  Chaplin despised his style but went along with the gag. Perhaps suspension did its job.
To fans of the Tramp, a spectacularly bad idea. Oddly, when Chaplin recalls this picture he omits the fact that he played Ford Sterling. Here is his account. Chaplin was 24, and had acted in pictures for all of 10 weeks:

Now I was anxious to write and direct my own comedies, so I talked to Sennett about it. But he would not hear of it; instead he assigned me to Mabel Normand who had just started directing her own pictures. This nettled me, for, charming as Mabel was, I doubted her competence as a director; so the first day there came the inevitable blow-up ... Mabel wanted me to stand with a hose and water down the road so the villain's car would skid over it. [In fact Chaplin was the villain; Mabel drove the car.] I suggested standing on the hose so that the water can't come out, and when I look down the nozzle I unconsciously step off the hose and the water squirts in my face. But she shut me up quickly: 'We have no time! We have no time! Do what you're told.'

'I'm sorry, Miss Normand,'" Chaplin says he replied, "'I don't think you are competent to tell me what to do,'" and he walked off the set.

Sweet Mabel — at the time she was only twenty [she was 22], pretty and charming, everybody's favorite, everybody loved her. Now she sat by the camera bewildered; nobody had ever talked to her so directly before.

Chaplin said that his solution to their impasse was to strike a deal with Sennett: he offered to let Normand finish this picture in exchange for the right to direct his own picture next. Chaplin, a notorious tightwad, had saved up $1500, and to allay Sennett's very reasonable misgivings he offered it all to Keystone if his picture was unreleasable. Sennett, pressured by East Coast reports of Chaplin's instant popularity, took the deal. The rest, as they say, is history.
As Chaplin biographer David Robinson points out, the spritz-in-the-eye bit that Chaplin proposed was the oldest joke in movies, dating back to the Lumière brothers in 1896. Normand probably wanted something fresher. Not only had she already directed Chaplin well in Mabel's Strange Predicament, a few weeks later they'd partner up to direct Caught In a Cabaret together.

The deeper truth is that Chaplin was set on directing his own pictures, and Sennett wouldn't let him. The God Griffith could have helmed Mabel at the Wheel, but Chaplin knew he was popular back East, knew this was his chance to leverage himself into directing. To justify his dirty dealing, he had to paint Normand as incompetent. As he put it, "this was my work."

In 10 weeks Chaplin had gone from rank amateur to auteur. If he had anyone but himself to thank, it was probably Mabel Normand. He was lucky she was directing when he decided to take home his football. According to Mabel, a couple of extras offered to beat him up, and she talked them out of it. Had Mr. Suicide been talking to those extras, Chaplin might have had more painful memories.

Do we know what really happened? No. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. To understand what happened, we have to play with the facts until we find the story that fits them together most comfortably. Mabel Normand is the missing piece that knits together the invention of Chaplin's Tramp.

We owe it to Normand to speculate. She didn't have her say decades later like the others.  She was mortally ill by the time sound came to the movies, and she died soon thereafter. It's easy to forget her brilliance, because most of her pictures are gone as well. Chaplin's remain.

We need to honor Normand for larger reasons. We all need genius. It's essential to know that Great Souls are out there, revealing the potential of the species, and we want to believe that true genius creates itself, and forces itself on the world. But we only know those geniuses who have broken through, and when we look at their stories, we often find that a random stroke of luck or a passionate believer made all the difference. If ever there was a movie genius, it was Charlie Chaplin. But anyone who works in movies will tell you that when it comes to pictures, nobody does anything alone.