Sydney Chaplin (1885-1965) was Charlie’s half-brother and closest blood relative throughout much of his life. Their lives and fortunes intersected often and one of these times just happened to be during the 1931-32 tour. Syd was living here and there in continental Europe during this period, and when called by Charlie to join him on the tour, jumped at the chance. They met up in Nice in June 1931. Syd’s contribution to A Comedian Sees the World cannot be overlooked. Along with the two representative letters about the trip he sent back to England to friend R. J. Minney (many of which appeared verbatim in Everybody’s Weekly), Syd kept notes of the Bali adventure—notes he hoped would help Charlie to recall names, places, and people when it came time for him to write the travel narrative. Just these sample pieces of Syd’s notes and correspondence give a whole other angle on the tour—a glimpse “behind the screen.”
Syd Chaplin to R. J. Minney
9 March 1932
NYK Line on board Maru
My dear Jim,
Here I am again with five minutes to spare. My time has been so taken up with pleasure that I have neglected my friends but not forgotten them. I have been owing you a letter for so long that I can only pay the interest by extending the length of the letter, which may not be so good “sez you.” A great deal of water has gone into stocks since I wrote you last or should I say a great deal of food has passed under the “bridges.” First, let me tell you I have had a wonderful time with Charlie at St. Moritz. It was so unexpected. I was just getting ready to hibernate for the winter and figuring out how I could reduce my debts by going off the Gold Standard or the end of the pier when I received a telegram from he of the quarter to three feet, asking if I would care to join him in the solidified water sports. So packing my skates and skis in my Gladstone, I beat it for the country of high altitude and prices—as Charlie was footing the bill I went first class instead of on the break rods. The first thing that happened on crossing the border of Italy was to have my two beautiful cigarette lighters confiscated by the customs as they are not allowed in the country. This lowered my opinion of Michael Angelo to Zero. It left me with as much appreciation of him as the British had for Wagner during the War. However, the rest of the journey passed off without event and Charlie received me with open checkbook. I found Charlie looking well and madly enthusiastic about skiing. It was his first season and everyone told me of the great progress he had made. I was invited to go with him and Mr Citröen and party on a skiing expedition the next day. We started off in two of Mr. Citröen’s special-built tractor cars taking our lunch with us, which we thoroughly enjoyed in an out-of-the-way farmhouse miles from anywhere and well off the beaten track of skiers. Of course, we would be exclusive. This was my second time on skis and the guide assured me I had nothing to fear. All I had to do was to keep my balance and put my trust in the Lord.
This was good advice, as the latter knew more about gravity than I did having made it. Twelve of us started down and eleven arrived. After I came to, I found myself buried in snow at the bottom of a ravine; the rest of the party had disappeared. I had visions of being left there for the night and frozen to death. I managed to pick myself up and continue on. I arrived an hour later at the station, just as the rest of the party were about to take the train back to St. Moritz. I was looking like a snowman; icicles were hanging from my nose and eyelashes. Everyone roared with laughter and I was the joke of the evening. I decided I had had enough of skiing and would confine my future activities to the bobsleigh, which I did. It’s funny the different fears that people have. Charlie would not go down the bob run for a £1000 and no one could persuade him to and yet he would go on night skiing expeditions that I would not have for any sum and yet I have not the slightest fear of the curves in the bob run. Perhaps I have less . . .? than he has. It is strange the amount of energy I developed while in St. Moritz. I don’t know whether it was the altitude that suited me or whether it was due to the Fellows syrup of Hypophosphates I was taking, but I was untiring. Everyone would remark about my vitality; I would dance in the bar until two or three in the morning—rumbas and Tyrolean waltzes—until my partners dropped from exhaustion. There was one little German girl there and how she could dance. When we got together the floor would clear and our rumba would always finish up with a big round of applause. All the old men with whiskers would ask me where I got my energy from, so I started advertising the Syrup. It resulted in a run on the local chemist and depleted his stock and left him wondering what it was all about. My energy was a great joke to Charlie because on my arrival, I told him I did not think my heart would stand the altitude. From then on in the middle of one of my dervish whirls, Charlie would shout out “mind your poor heart, Syd.” He had a wonderful time in the bar playing all sorts of practical jokes and pulling different stunts with the orchestra. Some of the best sports up there were with the members of nobility. They would enter into any kind of stunt we arranged. One night the Prince de Bourbon and I danced a waltz in a stooping position like two dwarves. I also danced an eccentric rumba with the Princess de Hesse. They all seemed to enter into the spirit of fun, but you could always tell the nouveau riche. They would sit perpendicular and parallel with their starched shirtfronts and talk Einstein.
I was sorry to leave St. Moritz, but Charlie decided to get back to America via the Orient as he was anxious to see Japan and did not want to make the journey when the weather was hot. So Kono, his Japanese secretary, was told to make all arrangements; the result is we are now comfortably installed in a suite on board the Suwa Maru. This is not a very large boat, only 10,500 tons, but English built and very steady—in fact remarkably so—as the waves are running very high, but there is scarcely any roll. All the staff are Japanese and do everything in their power to make us comfortable. The service is excellent and we look like we will be having an enjoyable trip. There are not many people on board. There is, however, one loud-speaking English couple who can be heard all over the dining saloon. They are the type that usually bring ridicule upon English people. This fellow has very prominent teeth and talks all the time about riding to the hounds what! what! And his wife has a set of false teeth that whistle. She reminds me of poor Harry Weldon when he used to say “s’no ussse.” Charlie made me double up with laughter when we got back into the cabin. He made a set of prominent teeth with a piece of orange peel and then gave me an impromptu conversation between the couple. If he would only do it for the talkies, it would be worth a fortune. I have never laughed so much in my life. I wish Charlie would keep in the lighter mood always; he gets so serious—at the present moment he is writing an article on how to solve the Germany reparation problem. And his solution of the difficulty is really remarkable and so simple I cannot see why it has never been thought of before. He has put his proposition up to several bankers and financiers and not one can find an argument against it, but on the contrary think it unassailable. I cannot give you his idea in this letter; it would take too long and I want to post this at Port Said. It’s strange that Charlie should interest himself in such serious subjects, but it would be still stranger if the world’s financial problem was solved by a comedian. I noticed a few of the books in Charlie’s cabin:
Behind the Scenes of International Finance by Paul Einzig
The Bank of International Settlement by Paul Einzig
The Economic Consequences of the Peace by J. M. Keynes
Reminiscence of the Russian Revolution by Phillip Price
In my cabin you still see:
The World’s Best Humorous Anecdotes by Lawson
A Beachcomber in the Orient by Foster
Finding the Worth While in the Orient by Kirtland
Boy, I’m out for a good time. Let Charlie do the worrying.
We are getting off at Port Said and taking a look at the Pyramids and catching the boat again the next day. We have eighty Arabs aboard who also get off at Port Said. They are going to Mecca for the religious festival. They opened up conversation with Charlie and me. They spoke French and I did the interpreting for Charlie. I asked them where they were going and they said “Mecca,” but I thought they said “America,” so I told them they ought to have a lot of fun there and told them not to miss some of the night cabarets but to be careful of the booze, it was not so good. There was a chilly silence and then it suddenly dawned upon me. It made a big hit with Charlie. So did another remark I made at St. Moritz. Charlie was discussing “honors” with a Prince. The Prince remarked about Charlie’s ribbon of the Légion d’Honneur and the Prince said he had the Cross of something or another from somebody and I chipped in and said all I had was the “double cross” and everyone had given me that. Well, you must be getting tired of reading this letter, so I will conclude by telling you that it is our intention to break our journey to Japan and proceed to Java and then to the Island of Bali. This is the island that Roosevelt has been raving about in the papers as being the last unspoiled paradise on earth, so Charlie is going to see what impression he gets from it. I am afraid Roosevelt has sealed its doom. There are two American artists on board who have been studying art in Rome and are now going to Bali for a year and they have very little money to do it on. They confessed to me that they had been inspired by the Roosevelt article, so it looks as though we may be the vanguard of the Army to follow. Well, Jimmy, I have done a hell of a lot of talking about my brother and myself and not a word about you. I suppose by now you have the new addition to the family. Heartiest congratulations. Send me one of the formula—and a photo, one of the baby, not the formula. How do you like your new house and how did the film turn out you wrote for B. . .? I hope it was a big success. Wheeler seems to have had no luck (not with the formula but with work). I have given my apartment to him and Dorothy while I am away. I think they will enjoy a stay there. I guess he will write and tell you all the news. I see poor Aubrey has been under the weather. I have just written him a long letter and I have a lot more to write, so will close with all good wishes and love to Edith and yourself.
Yours always, Sydney
P.S. My dear Jimmy,
You can use any of the material in this letter for your paper, but for god’s sake, correct the grammar and spelling. I have not even troubled to go over it. Change it as you like, but don’t change the facts. You understand, old dear. Give my love to Maxwell and a big kiss to Thorpe. Drop me a line c/o Thomas Cook, Tokyo, Japan.
“Love Drama in Charlie Chaplin’s Ship”
23 April 1932
By Syd Chaplin
Young Japanese Boy Shoots Himself, After Parting with Girl
While Charlie Chaplin, the world’s most famous film star, was traveling with his brother Syd to Japan, a fellow passenger in the same ship figured in a most touching love drama, which is revealed below.
Who was it said “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?”
A young Japanese boy returning home after a stay in Europe did not agree with one word of this sentiment. He had loved—loved madly. She was a French girl, and just before sailing, he found that she was only a “gold-digger”—nothing more. He had loved and lost. Life was intolerable, but he was bearing up. At the other end of the long journey was home—the family from whom he had been parted, waiting to greet him and to solace him.
Blinded for Life
Also on board the Suwa Maru, a Japanese liner carrying a mere handful of passengers, was Charlie Chaplin and his brother Syd. Charlie, after a long holiday spent in various parts of Europe, was returning to Hollywood.
All the passengers were startled one day. The Japanese youth, unable to struggle with his memories any longer, had decided to do away with himself. He shot himself in the head.
“But the bullet,” Syd writes in a letter to a friend, “by a miracle, did not penetrate the skull. It passed between the outer skin and the bone and came out again—but not before it had blinded the poor fellow for life.
“He is now on his way back to his parents. Can you picture the homecoming? It is very sad to see him being led about the boat. The other day he was photographed, at his own wish, with Charlie and myself.”
Craze for Coconut Milk
“This is a long, lazy journey. The passengers just idle their time away in deck chairs. But Charlie is busy most of the time writing. He has got a craze for the milk of coconuts and ordered a sack to be delivered on board in Ceylon. He is also keeping fit by running around the decks morning and evening.
“The other night the Captain invited us to a Japanese dinner on the top deck. Everything was cooked in correct Japanese fashion. Even the music was Japanese, and two of the stewards danced for our entertainment.
“Charlie and I sat for two solid hours in the Japanese manner, and, believe me, the feeling after a first day’s horseback riding is nothing in comparison with the aches and cramps on rising from a Japanese squat. Japanese sitting, like skiing, should be learnt when young.
“Charlie is anxious to live in Japanese hotels in Japan. If so, I intend buying a chair for myself. I am also taking no chances of getting a splinter in my neck by using a block of wood for a pillow.
“I thought that Japanese meal was never going to end. They cook it right on the table in front of you and put in everything but the mountain of Fujiyama. They gave us chopsticks to eat with. Charlie had practiced before and was quite dexterous with them. But I was about as graceful as an elephant trying to thread a needle with boxing gloves on. Can you imagine trying to eat a pea with two sticks in one hand!
“Anyway, it was an amusing affair, and in spite of the fact that my legs are slightly warped, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Sydney Chaplin Typescript Ms. (Bali)
Chaplin Archives, Montreux, Switzerland
We left on 4 March from Naples on Suwa Maru. Evelinoff and May came to see us off. Arrived Port Said. Motored through Cairo. Lunched at Shepheard’s Hotel. Rushed around town shopping, white suits, tropical helmets, etc. Visited pyramids. Watched a man ascend and descend more than six minutes, very dangerous, stumble would be fatal. Photographed camels. Difficulty in purchasing movie camera. Everybody hunting Cairo. Dozen people and dozen camels arrive at Cook’s office. Motored back to ship at night. Trip to Ceylon uneventful. Two American artists on board named Sitton and Johnson. Times exercise and running, etc. We partake first Japanese dinner. Stiffness after sitting in Japanese fashion for two hours. Stewards give Japanese dances. Your burlesque fan afterwards.
Photographs taken with the whole ship crew, stokers, stewards, and navigators. We arrived at Ceylon. Large crowd to meet us. British methods of using the whip on natives. We noticed the same thing in Cairo. We motored to Kandy. At dusk there is a full moon, which means Buddhist religious festival. This is our first impression of the tropics. All along the road we get the smell of spices and the perfume of the frangipane flower. We meet village procession and devil dancers. Dinner at Kandy. Crowd watching us eat through the window. After dinner, devil dances on the lawn. Midnight we take jinricksha ride around the lake. See tortoise crossing the road. The following morning, photographed devil dances, town, and temple. We are impressed by the handful of rice donation to the poor. Priest writes on wood. Offerings of flowers in temple. Motored back to Colombo. Visited tea and rubber factory. Leave Ceylon.
Arrived at Singapore. Drive around Singapore—should be called “Stinkapore.” Visited natives’ quarters. Guide would keep taking us to parks and municipal buildings. We are presented in native quarters with leis of flowers, same as they put around your neck in Honolulu. We visited Hindu temple and saw worshipping ceremonies. We were especially shown the golden horse with the swinging and detachable phallus. Drive to Seaview Hotel. We are the only customers. They switch off all our lights after serving us with drinks, because it is midnight—and so, we drank in the dark.
We sailed on 28 March on the Van Lanesberg for Java. We meet lady journalist abroad, armed with letters of introductions from crowned heads and presidents, etc. She is the one who pestered us to death at Bali. We arrived Batavia 30 March. Large crowd on dock. You are presented with wreath of welcome. We take tea at the Java Hotel with Hank Alsen, the cameraman. We drive to Bandoeng. Took a hot bath at the Praenger Hotel. This was the only hotel we found in Java where you could lie in the bath. All the others had Dutch dipper system. We dined at this hotel. You were very much impressed with the modern design, and complimented the manager. You and the manager standing outside in the center of the road, admiring the architecture in the pouring rain. He trying to be polite and getting soaked to the skin. You are wearing Mackintosh and entirely unconscious of predicament.
We motored to Garoet and stopped at Ngamplang Hotel. We stayed there that night. Wearied insects making strange noises entered the room, which suggests a new idea and picture. In the morning we found the hotel had a beautiful view over the mountains and valleys. We drive to Tjisoeroepan Hot Springs, Lake Leles, and Bagendit. We threw out money to crowds of kids. Girls entirely nude came running out of the lake to get their share. We take moving picture of the crowd scrambling for money. We dismiss car and take train to Djokja. There is no room in the carriages, so we sat in dining room all the way. We are smothered with smoke and dirt from the engine.
You decide not to travel again by train.
We stay at the Grand Hotel at Djokja.
Next morning we visit the Borobudur Temple. This is the famous temple that was covered up by the jungle for many years. You can get all the data you want about this temple from the library. We motored to Soerabaja. We arrived at night at the Orange Hotel. There is a large crowd waiting at the hotel. You make a speech over the radio in the hotel lobby and are presented with bouquets of flowers. We get a lot of amusement out of “Dutch wife” in bed.
The following morning, we take a KPM steamer and sail for Bali. We sit at the captain’s table; he is quite a comedian. There is a Dutch opera singer on board also at our table. Every now and then he would burst out into song during the meal. He was very proud of his bass voice. We struggle with the Dutch rijsttafels. This is the mountain of food so beloved by the Dutch.
The following morning we arrived at Bali at the port of Boeleleng. There is a large crowd on the docks to meet us. You are surprised as you thought in Bali you would be unknown. We are met by Mr. Minas, the Armenian who owns the tour agency there. We are invited to the governor’s house. In Bali, he is known as resident, and his name is Beeuwkes. We are entertained by governor and his wife and friends. I take photographs of group. We then motored to South Bali. You don’t like the personality of Minas, who traveled with us in the car.
We arrive Den Pasar and stop at the Bali Hotel. The manager’s name is Mr. B. Clalle. After we listen to the gamelan orchestra for the first time. Also see the girls dancing. Following are the few notes that may be useful to you:
The rajah who invited us to his palace is named Anak Agoeng Ngoerah Agoeng Agoeng Van Granjar. His position is the island’s Bestvurder. The outstanding points about him were his large watch and very heavy golden chain, which he keeps looking at. His desire to sell all the family heirlooms. Everything—going so far as to bring them down to the hotel. His politeness was of picking his teeth and his capacity for belching, which on the islands is considered very good manners and a sign to all hosts that the food is truly appreciated. So every banquet eventually turns into a belching competition.
You also dined with the rajah and his wife at the assistant’s resident’s house in Den Pasar. The Dutch officials remain formally dressed in spite of the heat. But hear that you dislike formality. They made in etiquette to remove their coats at dinner. All the Dutch officials’ wives are mountains of flesh with great capacities for rijsttafels, so different to the slim bodies of the natives.
At the rajah’s palace, we saw the “topeng,” which is the mask dance. All performances were very aristocratic. You can tell the breeding by the long fingernails on the left hand. There were beautiful golden embroidered costumes on the outside, and filthy dirty linen underneath, which they always seem anxious to show you by continually opening their covering robes.
We also saw the kris dance in which the dancers are supposed to be in a trance and are brought out of same by holy water thrown upon them by the priest. This is the dance that our journalist lady friend so rudely interrupted in order to get the pose for a photograph, and thereby destroying interest and suspense.
Just before the dance commenced, we noticed all the younger people vacating the front seats, while full-grown men took the pleasure. We were informed that they were placed there to protect us in case the dancers should attack us with their knives, which they were apt to do under the influence of their trance.
We finished up everything with the shadow-play. This is known as the Wayang Kulit. The names of the other Bali dances are as follows: The barong, Lion dance, Witch dance. This is the dance we saw one night where they sacrifice the chicken before the witch’s mask. The dance in which the actor plays the witch sometimes gets mad and becomes irresponsible of his actions. This is also the dance where they put over such a wonderful firework display.
There was also some good comedy works, but where three comedians, each in his turn, were supposed to be invisible; then you have the legong dance. This is danced by two or three girls and is a religious dance. This is the dance in which the girls use the wings on their arms. Girls do not dance this dance after they reach the age of puberty.
Then there is the baris dance. This is the warrior dance, only danced by men. There is also another dance, which is the Balinese modern conception of jazz. They say this dance was suggested and influenced by a visiting Mala Opera Company, circuses, and Chinese acrobats. I do not know the name of this dance, but you will find it mentioned in the book Last Paradise or the book about Bali, both of which you have with you.
There is another dance called the sang hyang. This is also a trance dance in which the men all shout in unison like a college yell. We saw the kris dance in the villages of Batoe and Boelan. We saw the legong dance, baris dance, and sang hyang dances in the village of Bedoeloe. This is the village where the two girls whom we photographed teaching other girls to dance. The village where we saw the priest using the whip on the villagers who stole the temple offerings is named Sebatoe.