Chaplin’s Angst

A “Profile” piece by Frank Waldo (aka “Searchlight”) in the May 23, 1925 issue took a look at the 36-year-old Charlie Chaplin and his “magical popularity,” recounting how he was nearly “devoured” by an adoring crowd in Paris (Chaplin was decorated by the French government in 1921 for his film work and made Officer of the Légion d’Honneur in 1952). Chaplin dismissed the attention as “nothing,” and was reported to spend much of his time off-screen brooding and in despair.

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May 23, 1925 cover by Julian de Miskey (New Yorker Digital Archive)

Waldo wrote that the “pity” of Chaplin is that “he does not understand the adoration he receives, and therefore has become a self-doubting, melancholy, haunted man…caught in a vast machine he has created and which he does not run…he has created for himself a mask (that) has satisfied the world, from China to Paris. It has failed in but a single way—a cruel one: for it has failed to satisfy its maker.”

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Chaplin directs on the set of The Gold Rush (1925) in Truckee, California (Critics At Large)
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Conrado Massaguer’s “Profile” illustration

Waldo wrote that Chaplin seeks his answer wistfully through women or through association with intellectuals, leaving him “as will-less as a Russian romantic, in the quicksands of Los Angeles: lost in a world of which he is the king, and which he does not love and which distrusts him, knowing him different from it.”

William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” was a frequent target of the early New Yorker. “Talk of the Town” reported that he denied making a million dollars on a Florida land deal (“it was only five hundred thousand dollars, Mr. Bryan indignantly averred”).

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Villa Serena, the Miami winter home of Nebraska statesman William Jennings Bryan (State Archives of Florida)

Apparently Bryan, “the great statesman and religionist,” also controlled a choice site in Miami, toward which “a certain church cast longing glances.” The church pleaded poverty, but Bryan wouldn’t budge on the price. Instead, he said if the church bought the plot at said price and built on the site he would agree to preach eight sermons there, which, the “Talk” writer observed, “would unquestionably attract many casual worshippers, so swelling the collections.”

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Cosmopolitan, June 1925

“Talk” also reported on the wedding of Mrs. David Meriwether Milton, nee Abby Rockefeller. Guests included New York Governor Alfred Smith and NYC Mayor John Hylan. The New Yorker also reported receiving a letter from writer Michael Arlen prior to his departure for England. Referring to a previous issue that pondered what impressions of America he would relate to England, he wrote “I shall say that I found America charming. And Oh, I have!” The New Yorker dryly observed that Arlen, before boarding his ship, “made an arrangement with one of our monthly periodicals; that is to say, The Cosmopolitan.” It was reported that this rival Hearst publication was paying Arlen the princely sum of $3,500 for each short story delivered. No doubt a pang of jealousy was felt at the fledgling New Yorker.

A feature by “Susan Simple, Spinster” titled “Husbands, An Appreciation,” described various types of husbands including those who are acrobatic, helpless, doggy (“so friendly and believing”) and those who have no time for their wives (“the Metered One”).

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(New Yorker Digital Archive)
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Scribner’s 1925 edition of The Great Gatsby.

“Books noted the passing of Amy Lowell, and briefly reviews F. Scott Fitzgerald’s latest novel The Great Gatsby; the reviewer writes that the novel “revives our interest” in Fitzgerald, though the book is “not in a Byronic promise he probably never had. He still reveres and pities romantic constancy, but with detachment. Gatsby, its heroic victim, is otherwise a good deal of a nut…Parts are solidly good, all has to be read, The young man is not petering out.”

History would not be kind to Fitzgerald, who received similar mixed reviews from other publications. The book sold only 20,000 copies in its first year, and when the writer died in 1940, he believed himself to be a failure and his work forgotten. Little did he know that he had written what many still believe to be “The Great American Novel.”

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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