On a Visit with Charlie

It’s difficult for a person in today’s world to understand how immensely popular Charlie Chaplin was during his heyday as a silent film star and director. Chaplin was mobbed everywhere he went. People could not get enough of stories about Charlie. Photos of his most famous character, the Little Tramp, filled magazines and newspapers.

Sometimes Charlie found it difficult to make his movies, even when he would be filming or directing on a studio lot. People, famous or not, would often stop by and demand that Charlie take a moment to speak to them and maybe have a photograph or two taken with him. As you can imagine, this became very annoying and disruptive to Charlie as an artist. Yet, when someone showed up on set, Charlie rarely turned him or her away. Such was the case in 1919, when a young woman showed up to meet him on the set of his movie, Sunnyside.

Usually, Charlie would tell the cast and crew to take a short break while he made small talk and posed for the obligatory photographs. But, on this day, something was different. Rather than taking just a few moments and then getting right back to work, Charlie seemed  immediately and absolutely captivated with the young woman. It seemed odd. She was certainly no beauty.

You probably know that Charlie had a deserved reputation as being a man who had an eye for beautiful women, and one could almost understand him taking a little extra time if the woman were especially attractive, but this was so obviously not the case. This woman was awkward. Her movements were stilted. Yet, Charlie ended up spending several hours talking to her. And, again oddly, during their whole time together, the woman said absolutely nothing to Charlie—not one word.

That actually suited Charlie quite well. It was said about him that he was someone, “who tries to avoid people who talk too much, which gets on his nerves.” Perhaps that’s why Charlie became friends with a artist in California named Granville Redmond. Redmond was a deaf mute, but he and Charlie got along famously. Charlie said that he learned from Redmond that subtle movements and actions carry great weight if they were done properly. Redmond also taught Charlie sign language, and Charlie helped promote Redmond’s art career.  But, at the heart of their friendship, the fact that the two men could communicate without speaking seemed to be important to Charlie.

And that may be why he spent so much time with the woman that day. For, like Redman, this woman was also a deaf-mute. In fact, she was also blind.

The great silent comedian did all the talking that day because he had spent the hours with a young woman named Helen Keller.