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Charlie Chaplin Chooses Me

By Janice Lovoos / February 26, 1998

If you grew up in Hollywood when it was in its infancy, as I did, you were aware of "the movies" from the time you cut your first tooth. Movie stars shopped at markets where Mother shopped, and traded at Robinson's where she traded. Everyone knew where Marie Dressler of "Min and Bill" (1931) fame lived. You seldom passed the corner of Wilshire and Vermont without seeing camera buffs taking pictures of the great stone lions guarding the front lawn, hoping for a glimpse of the great lady.

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Security at studios was not a priority then. With a responsible adult (like my father) you could wangle your way onto a set and watch celebrities at work. I recall some of them - Charlie Chase, Laurel and Hardy, Mabel Normand - cavorting in front of motion-picture cameras. Mabel Normand especially delighted me. I wrote her a letter when I got home, informing her how my talents were comparable to hers. I felt sure she would enjoy meeting me and discovering them for herself. When could such a meeting be arranged? My youthful ignorance and arrogance knew no limits.

I was rather disgruntled when her secretary told me Miss Normand was going on an extensive trip. She would not be available for months. (Perhaps forever?)

I was crushed, but only momentarily. My real obsession was Charlie Chaplin. He was the greatest, the funniest of all. I wrote him a paean of praise, then added, "and, Mr. Chaplin, would you happen to have an extra photo of yourself you could send me? Signed?"

Ten days after I mailed my request, the postman delivered the large envelope I'd watched for daily. It was a head shot of my idol, smiling at me. I gave the photo a grateful hug. "Sincerely yours," was not as personal as I might have wished, but it was signed, in his own handwriting. I put it on the mantel over the fireplace in our living-room.

My autographed picture - gone!

One morning, a few weeks later, I discovered my treasure missing. I went wailing into the kitchen. "Mama! Somebody stole my picture of Charlie Chaplin!"

"Nonsense," she said. "Look under the rug, under the tables. It's there!" But it wasn't. I was inconsolable for weeks.

Then one day, Father pointed out an interesting fact. There was a large crack between the fireplace and the wall behind it.

"Anything could slip into a crack that size," he said. "The only way you can retrieve your picture is to tear down the fireplace. That's where Charlie went."

"You think it's there?"

"Where else could it be?"

Yes, I finally gave up on the idea of tearing down the fireplace, but not before envisioning the living room without it.

"Why don't you write Charlie and ask for another photo? I'll bet he's got one," Father said. What a good idea! Would he mail it for me?

Father winked. He was my official letter-mailer, and I gave him plenty of business, stamping and mailing letters of request, demand, disapproval, criticism, advice. Did I mention I was also a reformer? All this rapid-fire correspondence was scrawled on pink notepaper to movie stars, Mother's friends, a missionary in Africa, editors at Vogue; few were spared.