Silence is Golden

The year was 1921--almost 1922 when I finally got to see “The KiD.” Charlie Chaplin’s newest movie that all the newspapers, Yiddish and English, were so excited about.  It was over an hour long, and it wasn’t so easy, believe me, saving the money--27 cents it cost, plus carfare. And getting a few hours free on a Saturday afternoon? Also not so easy.  Among very observant Jews, you couldn’t even go to a movie on a Saturday afternoon. On Shabbos? Shame on you! Better you should shoo the children out of the house, lock the bedroom door and make a baby.  But my husband wasn’t a believer. He was a dentist, and Saturday was one of his busiest days. Besides I was already expecting my fourth. As for me, I was sure God would forgive me--after all this was Charlie Chaplin, God’s gift to us.  Never will I forget that. And that Jacky Coogan! Such a darling little boy--he made you laugh and cry at the same time. No wonder--look who is showing him how to act?

So I saw every movie that man wrote, produced, acted, danced in, and they were all silent, except his last one.  He didn’t like talkies. Hollywood’s first talkie--what a fuss everyone made about that Al Jolson. Yes, I know he was also a Jew, like Charlie, and many of our folks were very proud of that.  Personally, I hated his voice and I hated his blackface makeup-- Feh! Even though I didn’t even know words like racist, at that time, I didn’t like him. With Charlie, you didn’t need to speak a particular language and you didn’t even have to know how to read English.  That’s what made him everyone’s little tramp, and why for all these years. he would have nothing to do with talkies.   

So now, over thirty years later, the great man is in the news again.  His “Limelight” is a talkie and Charlie is himself--not the little tramp.  I can hardly believe it, but I admit I’m very curious to see it. But--the nerve of them--The American Legion is picketing the David Marcus Theater, right here on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx for showing this movie by an anti-American communist. They are actually trying to keep Chaplin fans from seeing this movie.  They have nothing better to do, these fine patriots? Just because they are veterans? Well, two of my sons were soldiers in World War II, and you don’t see them going around in circles carrying on about how patriotic they are. In my opinion they fought for Charlie Chaplin. Besides, most of these men look too old to have fought the Nazis or the Japanese. Probably they fought in Teddy Roosevelt’s army, not Franklin’s. Maybe I should worry for them. Old men walking round and round in a circle could get dizzy, fall and crack their heads against the sidewalk.

Now I have never even thought of crossing a picket line in my life, because when I see a picket line I see union. I worked in the garment trades before I was married, in a millinery factory, and I know that there is no life for anyone operating a sewing machine or any other machine without a union. I don't cross any union picket line, no matter what. But this line I will cross because, believe me, it has nothing to do with a better life for ordinary people.

I used to take my oldest granddaughters to the movies, but they're getting too big to want to go with me. I took them to see City Lights a few years ago when they played it again right here at the Tuxedo. That was the old name of the David Marcus Theater. When Charlie got into the boxing ring I laughed so loud, the kids, said "Shh, Grandma!" I do sometimes give a whoop, I admit it. I laughed so I couldn't catch my breath, and I also had to wipe my eyes. Which, after all, is not so unusual with this man. It is always the same with the great ones--laughter and tears at the same time. My younger one from downstairs is curious to hear the Little Tramp talk, though she thinks maybe it would ruin him. I told her he isn’t the little tramp in this movie, and that settled it. She doesn’t want to see him as anything else.

So, I'll go Saturday with my friend from next door. She thinks the same way I do, mostly. She was a little nervous because Charlie Chaplin has a bad reputation with women and is also a communist, they say.  Still, I convinced her. Like I told her, I'm not going to applaud him for carrying on-- even marrying women half his age, but if you boycotted every famous movie star who did the same, you would never see anything. And  a communist? Don’t make me laugh. He's too rich to be a good one. Also too much sense of humor. A lefty, for sure, but I know communists, and if he follows any party line, I’m the queen of Romania.  

Well, guess what? After all my looking forward to this Limelight, I will not be able to see it. The owners of the David Marcus theater got scared and are not showing it anymore. Disrespect to David Marcus, who is probably rolling over in his grave from these cowards. He was a brave man, that I know, who risked his life and his citizenship to fight for Israel's independence. He wouldn't buckle under a little pressure like these little scared men, I don't care from what kind of big fancy-schmancy Hollywood company. What crazy times we live in when they boycott Charlie Chaplin.  

So, maybe silence is golden. Or at least not talking  is. I wouldn’t ever want to see Harpo speak. Now Harpo Marx is another one--so funny, yet sweet, with only that silly horn to talk for him.  And the harp, of course. When he plays that instrument his soul shows. He’s my favorite Marx brother. The others sometimes are too crazy for me.  I wonder whether some idiots will ever picket the Marx brothers for being subversives. Maybe those patriots think Minnie’s boys are the descendants of Karl Marx. Also, of course, they are Jews.  Now that would be ridiculous. No workers paradise for those brothers. They are only happy with Bedlam!   

Alice Rosenthal