Wednesday, December 10, 2008

New York and Beyond

My last research trip occurred the week before Halloween and, thanks to gracious friends and colleagues, allowed me to visit New York City and the Public Library Billy Rose Theatre Collection, to kind of top off my informational gathering efforts. First, a big thank you goes to Michael Cartellone and his lovely wife Nancy Meyer for hosting me in their home for the duration of the trip. They were wonderful and very supportive hosts and I really appreciate their efforts on my behalf. Michael not only hosted me, but accompanied me on my little research trips into Manhattan proper. I can't even get the boyfriend to do that! Thanks, Michael!

Besides the great overview of Manhattan I received from Michael nearly every day, Steve Massa had gone well out of his way to make my trip a profitable one for the book. When I arrived at the Billy Rose Collection on my second day in town, Steve handed me a two-page list of goodies I should gander at there, which he had personally compiled for me. Everyone there at the library was gracious and helpful (well, except for one guy in the Special Collections room, who basically told us to "shut up") and I even managed to meet a librarian who's parents still live here in Zanesville. What is it about Zanesville anyway? No matter where I go, I seem to run into references to it. In Seattle, I found pottery in the SAM collection from one of the Zanesville potteries. On Catalina Island, there was a whole monument practically to Zanesville's own--Zane Grey, who had a house there, I guess. Everyone seems to have heard of it or knows someone from here. I'm thinking it may just be a very blessed place from which to write a book. At least I hope so.

Anyway, Michael and I spent two days in the New York Public Library, the first in Bryant Park and the second at Lincoln Center with Steve. He looked at things Houdini, and I delved into the Syd stuff like there was no tomorrow. At Bryant Park, I managed to download all the remaining LA Times Syd articles that I had not collected from the LA Public Library and that was indeed a treasure trove of stuff. At Lincoln Center there were lots of great press books, programs, clippings and other goodies that helped to answer old questions. One in particular was contained in an article that suggested Charlie had pushed for Syd to be chosen to play the title role in Charley's Aunt. This aspect of the brothers' lives really interests me. I think most of us have some idea of the role that Syd played in Charlie's career, but as I am slowly coming to find out, Charlie seems to have played a very important role in Syd's as well--at least his career as an actor. Of course there is the whole Keystone thing, which is well known, but there also seems to be evidence of Charlie playing some role in Syd's million-dollar contract with Famous Players Lasky and now Christie. All this makes their relationship all the more complicated and interesting.

Friday night was the climax of the short trip, however, as Steve and his wife, Michael, myself, Ben Model, Rob Arkus and Jeni Rymer all met at a great Asian restaurant called Amber for a friendly get together. I can't thank Steve enough for arranging this. It was a great, great evening. Since this trip, my long and busy quarter at school has ended and I have now settled myself in here at home to begin writing. This will be the toughest challenge. I fully plan to complete three chapters and start a fourth before the quarter starts up again January 5th. I will keep everyone posted on my progress as it occurs. Also--ever the optimist--I have gotten two presentations on my Syd research accepted at conference early next year, one on the Gussle character, and one on The Better 'Ole. Part of my strategy here is to make sure I get that part of my work done in time, you know? And, of course, I'm always seeking both feedback and interest in the project, which I hope to also receive at these venues. And, hey, I get to go to Albuquerque and New Orleans respectively.

Ciao for now.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Los Angeles

It's high time I wrote up this episode in the Syd bio adventure, n'est-ce pas? Time has gotten away from me, that's for sure. However, the Los Angeles research trip, despite a nasty sunburn and so much traffic it would make your head spin, was an incredibly worthwhile adventure. Most of it I shared with my research assistant Kendra Lisum, a former Chaplin enthusiast and graduate of the University of Nevada-Reno. In fact, we arrived together on Tuesday, July 29th and Kendra lent me her researching services then for ten days. Of course, being her first time in LA, I felt compelled to show her the sites and provide for her enough entertainment so that she would feel the experience was a worthwhile one for herself as well.

Our first day of researching was spent at the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills. That first day, we had to learn the ropes of researching at the library, because there are so many little rules and regulations to remember that it sometimes got in the way of our main purpose. This first day, we had an appointment with two different special collections departments--documents and photos. We were to look at parts of the Harry Crocker collection, the Mack Sennett collection, and the Mary Pickford collection. This pretty much took the entire day and so, since we hadn't even accessed the core collection (which is available without an appointment), I knew we would have to spend at least another day or two there. I think the most important items this collection had were photos from films--and there were many. Unfortunately, although I made copies for future reference, I just know that whatever publisher I go with will not allow me more than a handful of photos, so perhaps a Syd photo book is in my future as well. Someone will want to see these beauties besides me--surely. I've included a couple here for your entertainment.

Margaret Herrick also had a great collection of literature--old periodicals and such--and I spent two more days with Kendra and then two days after her departure trying to collect as many mentions of Syd in things like Motion Picture News and The Triangle as I could. Needless to say, I didn't quite get done. But there is more than this one reason for me to go back to LA early next year to fill in a few gaps.

In between a visit to Charlie's studio on one day and to Venice Beach on another, we hit the Warner Brothers archive at USC. According to the two archivists on duty, the reading room we enjoyed was brand new. We even got to sign our names on the door, so I hope ole Syd appreciates the fact that his name in conjunction with ours now graces the door of the WB archive! Unfortunately, what they had to offer us was disappointing. Supposedly, they had legal documents from all of Syd's Warners films, but some were more well-represented than others and none of the files included a copy of Syd's contract, which I especially wanted. The folder for The Better 'Ole was the largest, and even included a list of all actors BUT Syd and their wages, but that was a close as we got. However, probably the best thing we got to see that day came over by way of Ned Comstock at the USC Film archive, and that was the complete script for The Rendezvous, a lost Syd film. Surprisingly, all of the archives we visited graciously offered to make copies of documents (for a price, of course). I was not expecting this, but it sure saved us a lot of time and energy in terms of typing everything into our tired computers.

We also visited the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. This is always a difficult place to get an appointment, for some reason, but perserverence paid off this time. They didn't have much on Syd (they have a huge collection on Charlie, though, if anyone's interested, including lots of props and costumes from the early films), but what they did have was useful--which were the incorporation documents from some of Syd's many side businesses. I learned here that he actually had two incorporations for the airline, for instance.

Of course, any such trip must include a little boat ride over to Catalina Island. I was hoping to find out from the folks that had the Wrigley estate papers about Syd's historic agreement with Wrigley involving landing his aircraft on the island--the first such agreement. No one could help me there. But, the curator of the Catalina Island Museum was very gracious and helpful and provided us with her entire collection of cuttings on the Syd Chaplin Aircraft Corporation as it came to be written about in the Catalina press. This was very helpful information as well.

Finally, and this occurred after Kendra's departure, was my visit to the LA Public Library. My intention here was to spend a good deal of time working with the LA Times archive database gathering Syd articles. This turned out to be time very well spent. Here I learned about Syd's expertise with the golf club--one I'm sure Charlie ridiculed him about--and the fact that he owned a race horse at one time, among many other things. I have to say, even though I know how unreliable the news media can be, spending so much time with newspaper archives has provided an incredible amount of information that I wouldn't have had otherwise. Of course, it has also given me quite a few more puzzling questions to answer in the bargain!

So, in arriving home with my booty and spending a good deal of time organizing it all, in hopes of making it useful, I feel certain that I now have more than enough information to write the entire biography. I know I will have to fill a few gaps here and there later on, but now my most important task is to write the thing. With that in mind, I have suspended research travel (with the exception of one quick trip to New York next week to view the NY Public Library collection) probably until springtime. With six weeks off at Christmas this year, then, my task will be to complete enough chapters with enough polish to start sending it off to publishers by January. And that's a tall order.

Thanks to my cadre of reviewers, however, I can now say that I have two chapters fully written and edited. A third is well on the way. So, as slow as this process has been, I don't think these deadlines are that unrealistic. We'll see.

Oh, yes, I have yet to write about Minnie's film career. That will be next time.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Library of Congress and Slapsticon 2008

Last weekend began my summer research schedule for the book. I arranged to spend the day before Slapsticon 2008 at the Library of Congress viewing Syd films. I think I had four or five films reserved for that day, but I had to arrive as early as possible, because my appointment began at 8:30. Little did I know then that I could have arrived anytime during that day and still viewed the films, so perhaps it would have been better to get some sleep first and then try to drive the 6 1/2 hours to Arlington. I will know better next time. Anyhow, I drove it, beginning from Zanesville at approximately 12:30AM and I was in pretty good shape until about 3:30. That's when I began to get REALLY SLEEPY. But, by 4:30, the sun was thinking about coming up and I got a reprieve. I was groggy the rest of the way, but alert and somehow, by the grace of god, managed to miss all the morning traffic around D.C. So, from the hotel in Arlington, I took the Metro down to the library, got my visitor's card (the worst picture ever made, I can tell you) and began viewing films. This is my second experience sitting in a film archive in front of a Steenbeck machine and threading rare films into it myself. I can't really believe they give me this privilege, but so far, happily, I haven't let them down. So, Wednesday, I viewed Giddy, Gay and Ticklish (Keystone, 1915), Hushing the Scandal (Keystone, 1915), a small, small fragment of Fatty's Wine Party (Keystone, 1914), and what was supposed to be 3 reels of the 7-reel The Perfect Flapper (First National, 1924), but which ended up being only 1 reel (the third). So, I spent about four hours viewing approximately one hour of film--but then that's research!

At one of the viewing carrels next to me was a pile of folks from Slapsticon, notably Steve Massa, who had invited me to join them after my work was done to view some of the 20-some-odd rare films they had scheduled to view for the day. I'm afraid I had to decline that offer, sadly, because by the time I was finished, I was having leg cramps--i.e., it was time to find a bed and crash.

Slapsticon was a delight ( This was my second time, but my first was a very long one-day journey in which I drove down, watched three Syd films and then drove home. That was two years ago. I wonder if I have some sort of skewed idea that one must push one's body to the limit in order to feel like one is doing proper research? Anyway, I saw Steve give an intro to Syd's work up on stage that year, but pretty much met no one. This year, I was determined to meet folks and see what kind of conversations I could get going on Syd. And, I did that. I had a wonderful visit to Slapsticon. I met up with old colleagues like Hooman Mehran, Uli Ruedel from the George Eastman House, Rob Arkus and Steve Massa, of course, but I also met some really famous silent comedy folks like Richard Roberts, Rob Farr, and Brent Walker--among many others. Brent, being that he's writing a book on Mack Sennett's Fun Factory, which should be coming out from McFarland soon, had quite a lot to talk about and I appreciated all the information he gave me. He's the one who discovered Syd's first released film to be Keystone's Among the Mourners (1914), which I got to see at the festival on Friday. Thanks again for that, Brent! He also had some tantalizing bits of info, which others echoed as well, about another possible Syd scandal. Now there's a surprise!

So, on Friday, before the screening of Among the Mourners, I had another visit to the LOC, because it takes about a week for them to get films for you and I had come up with another title late in the game. When I got there (it was totally empty of researchers on Friday, by the way), I discovered someone else had reserved reels of The Perfect Flapper and they were being housed on the shelves above my reserved film, which was Syd's last Keystone before A Submarine Pirate, entitled No One to Guide Him (1915). So, I asked to view those two reels as well, giving me a total of 4 reels to view that morning. Among the Mourners was scheduled for 2:00PM, so I had to hurry and work with all this stuff, having only arrived at the LOC at near 11:00AM, thanks to slowpokes Uli and his buddy Chris Seguin (and they say women are high maintenance--sheesh!). Too bad, too, because the National Portrait Gallery had two great visiting exhibitions that featured Charlie items--a Steichen Photography exhibit and one of old advertising posters. I got to see neither.

The Perfect Flapper reels (#1 & 2) were pretty good, especially the scene in which Syd does a parody on several odd scenes from Shakespeare. There are no title cards attached to these scenes, so I wonder how many folks could figure out what scenes he was doing--"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!" from Richard III, "Alas, poor Yorick!" from Hamlet, in which he kisses a bald man's head in lieu of a skull, and "Juliet, Juliet, wherefore art thou, Juliet?" which is a little play on similar lines from Romeo and Juliet, of course. No One to Guide Him, a two-reeler, however, had virtually nothing going for it. It was my least favorite film of the weekend. Maybe even Syd was realizing at that time that Gussle was about to fizzle out.

Back at the Rosslyn Spectrum, Among the Mourners was actually pretty good. To crib from Brent Walker's program notes: "The plot is a variation on one Sennett used frequently at Biograph and Keystone--the untrustworthy 'friend' (Conklin), who convinces his 'pal' (Opperman) to pretend to be dead, so as to test his wife's (Davenport's) faithfulness. Of course, Chester has every intention on moving in on the wife when hubby's in the pine box--but what no one anticipates is the arrival of an obnoxious, seltzer-bottle wielding drunk (Syd Chaplin), who disrupts the proceedings while demonstrating the profound acrobatic talents that would remain a staple of his comedy after he moved to his own starring unit as the character 'Gussle.'" In fact, this inebriate is the primordial Gussle, and a nod to Syd's Karno character Archibald as well. The monocle, the wide moustache, the center-parted, slicked down (but unwieldy) hair, and the sheer unconcern with propriety and decorum--those elements all made it into the Gussle character. Certainly, this film was a much better debut than what was Syd's first produced (but not first released) film, His Prehistoric Past, where he plays a cop, waking Charlie from a nap in the last few seconds of the final scene.

Anyway, by Saturday, I was ready to take my pile of notes and scurry home, which is exactly what I did. But the festival started something, and I found myself reviewing other Syd films I have copies of at the house. And, this activity lead to a great discovery, which I shall write about before I leave for my big LA research trip in a couple of days. Out in LA awaits my new research assistant and old friend Kendra Lisum, the AMPAS archive, the Warners archive and much, much more.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Finishing up with my Research Assistants

My undergraduate research assistants, Tyler and Crys, finish their last days of work with me this coming week. In their honor, I want to reflect back on the term and recount the successes and failures of utilizing them for this project. Well, there really were no failures, just a few things that weren't as useful as I had planned.

Both students had never done any kind of research assisting before. In fact, if you think about it, this is mostly an opportunity that comes to graduate students and is rarely one an undergrad experiences anywhere. Out at Zanesville, though, I only have undergrads, and since I consider myself an undergraduate professor anyway, I've always wanted to be able to provide some of these interesting opportunities to my own students, if possible. For these two, I was able to get a couple of hours of credit each for their efforts and they paid me back with good attendance and what seemed to be a genuine interest in the task at hand.

Over the course of the quarter, I have asked Crys and Tyler to take turns performing the following tasks: interview transcription, manuscript transcription, Newspaper and periodical database research (online and on microfilm), and film viewing with written commentary. In addition, I tacked on at the end an opportunity for each student to research a small contextual topic that I could then make use of in the book. After I provided a long list of such topics, Crys chose Vitaphone and James FitzPatrick's Traveltalks and Tyler chose Marshall Neilan and the onset of sound production at British International Pictures (which largely concerns Hitchcock's Blackmail). So, two topics each. I think, though, as involved as both topics are, that they're only really going to get to cover one each. Each one is important to understanding something about Syd's life story--especially the last one, which I hope will clear up a lot of questions I still have about Syd's BIP controversy of 1929.

My setup for entertaining research assistants is not the best. I have a small office and no place for a student to get particularly cozy each session and make his or her own. So, each student must feel he/she is under complete and humiliating scrutiny every time he/she comes in to work, although neither one has complained about it (maybe this is just the way I would feel given their situation). I have to say, though, that this proximity has helped me and the project quite a bit. Having set them to work on something right there in front of my desk for five hours a week helps to keep me engaged in the process and also motivated. And, with ten hours total thus spent--sort of forcibly--the project then becomes more a daily part of my life. In fact, I've been working with the assistants four days each week, keeping the whole thing uppermost in my mind, whether I want it to be there or not. What to do, though, now that this ideal situation is ending? How do I keep things on this level of productivity?

Anyway, although I haven't asked my assistants for their required response essays on this experience as yet, I would probably surmise that the film observation/commentary and then the little research projects were the two most interesting aspects. Transcribing in any form is just laborious, and I had to go back over the products carefully myself anyway. But at least most of it is now done! I also found that transcribing handwriting is a real gift--because one of my students just couldn't do it at all!

So, while I won't have time in the fall (I'm teaching 4 classes!) to sign up more assistants to help me, I will at least have one this summer when I go to LA for several weeks. I have that to look forward to. But first is the Library of Congress and Slapsticon. At the LOC, I will be watching several of Syd's films I have not yet seen, including Fatty's Wine Party, Hushing the Scandal, Giddy, Gay and Ticklish, and The Perfect Flapper. That happens the day before Slapsticon begins. At Slapsticon, then, I will get to see Among the Mourners, a film that up until Richard Roberts discovered it, was not known to be a Syd Chaplin film at all and now turns out to be his first ever film. So much for relaxing this summer!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Syd in Milan

I'm ashamed to admit I've been back three weeks and have not written about my fantastic experience in Milan. I have to admit, I was dreading the journey if only because a) I had never been there before, b) I was meeting someone I had never met (had only emailed), c) Europe is incredibly expensive now and Milan is probably one of the MOST expensive places to go within Europe, and d) I expected northern Italy to be nothing but rain in mid-April. Needless to say, with these worries in my mind as I flew over, ANY type of a trip would have had to been better than my expectations.

Okay, I had a little trouble getting acclimated to the place, but happily, my pre-work with the map and Google pretty much alleviated that. Second, I had probably the cheapest place to stay in Milan available--especially since there was this huge furniture design convention going on and rooms on Expedia and Travelocity were going for like $800 a night. That's just mad! My room was 50 Euros and clean and comfortable to boot. In fact, I've never had a bad hotel room in Italy--knock on wood! Third, the Gasparinis--the folks I traveled to meet, who had tempted me with their collection of 100+ Syd letters to R. J. Minney--were fantastic. I can't say enough about how wonderful they were and frankly, I'd like to adopt them as my parents. Finally, yes, it did rain a lot, but not on days I needed it to be nice. Sunday, for instance, my only day away from the documents, i.e., the only day I played tourist, was a beautiful sunny spring day. I couldn't ask for more.

Part of the reason I decided to take the time and expense to go to Milan is because I kind of knew about these letters. A tantalizing few of them exist as copies in the Charlie Chaplin archive. Syd had more than a rational fear of trusting other people--ANY other people--but I knew that of the one or two folks he might trust, British journalist and author R. J. Minney was one of those people. Unfortunately for Syd, I don't think Minney's affection was motivated by much more than the desire to get close enough to Charlie to write his 1954 book, Chaplin: The Immortal Tramp, but perhaps that's unfair. God knows, after reading these letters, Minney paid dearly for that book, because Syd put him through the ringer. I can say now, after reading the letters that Minney was Syd's titular confidante--perhaps his only such--during the very trying years 1929-39, in which Syd tried so hard to clear his name of the British International Pictures and Molly Wright scandals and return to film--all unsuccessfully. The Gasparini collection of letters gave me a blow by blow of this time period, answering many questions long unanswered. They show a whining Syd, an angry Syd, and an irresponsible Syd, among many others, but also a Syd who constantly wrote the refrain, "Well, at least I still have my sense of humour!" So, while I want to save the real goodies for the book, I'll share one of Syd's less "colorful" comic moments:

"Minnie has been looking over this letter & tells me my spelling is all wet. She says there should be two “p”’s in disappointment. I said that two “p”’s sounds like a weak bladder. One “p” should be silent as in “swimming.” Minnie has just looked in the dictionary & now informs me that there should be only one “s” as in $."

I spent everyday but one of my 5 days in Milan pouring over these letters and typing as much information into my computer as possible. My day started rather late for me--8ish, because the Gasparinis weren't open for business until 10AM. So, a quick Italian-type breakfast of brioche and cappucino at a little place across the street from their office and then concentrated work from 10-2PM. Mrs. Gasparini would serve a wonderful Italian lunch at 2--incredible food, or was it just because I was in Italy that I thought that?--and then back to work from 3-9PM. And not a minute of it was boring, either, but then that's my curse as a researcher. I would probably rather be in a room with old documents than anywhere else. Oh, and I should mention, too, that as Syd's biographer, yes, I am skeptical of even these letters. While I believe them to contain more frank information about things than other sources, I am not for one minute lead into a false sense of security about them. Syd was just as capable of bending the truth in letters to Minney as he would have been to anyone else.

Since my return, my productivity level has been high and working with my research assistants has been an outstanding experience.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

More Research and now with Assistants!

While I work fairly constantly on this project, last quarter was extremely busy, just with my three classes and committee work. I had three preps in vastly divergent areas--something I really like about teaching on a regional campus usually--but this seemed to leave me very little time for Syd. However, I was quick to change that over spring break.

I spent most of it out in Seattle with Hank, but at least one day of that time I was able to go downtown and work in the brand-spanking new public library. What an amazing building it is (see above). So, I had called the day before my visit to ascertain the location of the archived newspapers (microfilm, I suspected) and was told they were on the 6th floor. The building opens fairly late (10am) and because I had to ride into town with Hank and take the Sounder train in from Tukwila very early, I decided to at least find the location of the old Majestic/Empress Theatre where Charlie would have appeared during his couple of tours to Seattle in the teens. I had the address from the great webpage on this topic as the SE corner of 2nd Avenue and Spring Street. Well, of course, the theater doesn't exist anymore, but it once had a great view of Puget Sound, I can tell you that. There's a huge newish building on the site now, but I've included here a picture of the building across the street to the north, which seems to have been from Charlie's era, and then the view down towards the Sound.

Happily, then, at 10AM I was able to hook up with a nice librarian and spend the next four hours surfing through the Seattle Times for 1906 and 1907. I knew basically that Syd was not out there working the same circuit as Charlie, but I wanted to see what was there--what sorts of acts. Interestingly, James O'Neill, Oona's grandad, was still working the Count of Monte Cristo role at this time, appearing in Seattle the week of November 26, 1906.

Really, this day at the Seattle Public Library just got me stoked for this quarter and working with my new research assistants, Crys and Tyler. Both are receiving 2 independent study credits for their efforts on my and Syd's behalfs. So, when I returned to Zanesville from Seattle on March 25, I spent the rest of the week planning how best to use them and also, how best to keep them interested. Along the way, I did a lot of research work myself, and have planned my research agenda (or have begun to do so) for the rest of the year.

I set my assistants to searching newspaper databases this week and they concentrated on the Los Angeles Times. My idea here was that if the students could make a list of all pertinent Syd Chaplin articles from the Times, then I could access them for free once I get to LA in August and decide which ones I really need. As they were working on the papers, I was working on more genealogy-oriented databases and made some fantastic discoveries. Ship manifests have offered up a lot of information, as have census records. I'm trying very hard to trace Hannah Chaplin back a few generations, in order to add to David Robinson's family tree, mainly because Syd was related to her (of course) but not to the Chaplins at all. So far, this work has been both difficult and illuminating. This week, the students will be transcribing some handwritten documents. Of course, I hope to get their work in this area linked to the documents as they exist in the Chaplin archive, for the benefit of other researchers.

And, of course, besides the actual writing of the book, another aspect of this project is collecting Syd Chaplin. With the help of ebay and other venues, this part of the project continues with new acquisitions at least bi-weekly. Most, if not all of this "stuff" will be used to illustrate the text of the book.

Finally, for this blog at least, my next step is Milan. I'm scheduled to travel there already April 15th, landing in Milan on Charlie's birthday. How appropriate. A private collector there has kindly offered up his collection of 100 Syd letters to R. J. Minney for my research use. Hopefully, that will be a fruitful trip and I will be able to report on it in my next blog.
As for the website, is fixed for now and contains one or two new items. The Syd Title questionnaire is now working and I hope you will all visit it and make your choice. Also, Richard Roberts has kindly offered the information that Among the Mourners (1914) can now be considered Syd's first released film, because it indeed features Syd (and Chester Conklin), instead of Mack Swain, as imdb so reports. And, Among the Mourners is on the schedule of Slapsticon this year, Signing off!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Down to Business

Well, it's taken me much too long to get this blog started. Tonight I'll try to bring things up to date regarding my progress on the Syd bio project so far. Actually, there have been a lot of developments lately.

I actually began the project in March of 2006, when I received a green light from Association Chaplin on the project, one I have taken over from Matthew Sweet, who wrote the only recent article on Syd of late, called "A Life in Full: The Other Chaplin" and available here:

Since then, of course, I immediately began to do two things: search the Charlie Chaplin archive at the Cineteca di Bologna (I have since been to Bologna four times in search of Syd documents) and began collecting Syd artifacts on ebay and other places. My Syd photos now number around 80 or so and other items, such as programs, magazine articles, etc. have also become quite numerous.

When I visit the database, I try to type as much information into my laptop as I have time to and then begin to work with the information when I get home. I would say that I still have about 100 documents, mostly dealing with the period in the 1930s in which Syd was acting as Charlie's Europe-based United Artists agent (based in Europe, because he was essentially on the run at that time). I'm afraid I find the business of policing copyrights, or at least reading about it, a bit boring. So, I'm saving those for last--i.e, I will be checking them out carefully probably this coming winter break (November/December 2008).

The other very-important venue so far is Paris. In the Association Chaplin office there is a large collection of Syd items that is not in the archive. I've tried to catalogue these items--curate them--as best as I can. There are several hundred photos, including publicity photos of all sorts--Syd doing all sorts of expressions and appearing in all sorts of costumes--and film scene photos. If memory serves, the films represented are The Rendezvous, The Better 'Ole, Charley's Aunt, The Perfect Flapper, King, Queen and Joker, Oh! What a Nurse and A Little Bit of Fluff. In Paris, there is also a large collection of artifacts from Syd's films and the pressbooks he had constructed--especially of the airline and the popular film The Better 'Ole. I have pretty much sifted through and sifted through again these items, but may have to access them again at some point before the project is finished. I KNOW I will have to return there, if only to choose photographs for the book.

The amount of text written on Syd up to now is minimal, and so, collecting it has not taken very long. Last fall (2007), though, I decided I needed to pick up the pace a bit and so I added a trip to London to the itinerary of my fall research trip. My plan there was to locate information in the records offices, interview Aubrey Chaplin's only living daughter, Pauline Mason, and also visit the Thurrock Museum in Grays, Essex, the home of an archive dealing with the Exmouth Training Ships. I also needed to access and view Syd's films in the British Film Institute collection. I achieved most of this. Viewing the films took four full days and I could have used five. So, I may need a return visit there. I had friend Dean Cutsforth with me on the last day and found this very helpful, because he brought a whole different perspective to viewing the films than I had had alone. King, Queen and Joker, for instance, ONLY exists in unedited pieces there at the BFI, so it is quite a task to make some sense of it as you watch. What did Syd intend to leave in and what leave out? Now I know Frank Scheide is working on putting this film together, but so far he hasn't given me any hints about the plot. Dean, watching the fragments with me as he did, helped me to think of the plot quite differently than I had alone, and so I decided my quest to complete this project in solitude was probably not the best idea. In other words, this experience helped me to decide that I wanted to try to get research assistants if possible. Would this be possible, being that I am at a regional campus, wholly without graduate students? Hmmmm...

Also, I didn't get to Grays, Essex. The day I had planned with curator Jonathan Catton to visit the place and view Syd's file, well, the populace of London decided to cause a sort of subway strike. So, I just couldn't get out there and had no other day to reschedule it. That's how tightly I had scheduled my time there!! (London being soooo expensive for us right now, well, you know!) So, a visit back to Grays will be part of my next trip. I'm hoping that my last trip to Europe for Syd will be this coming winter break, as I already stated.

Back home here now from my last trip, I have begun writing. I decided that even though I have quite a bit of research still to do, that I should begin writing as soon as possible. In the meantime, I have indeed acquired research assistants. I have worked out a deal with my chosen students that they will get credit for helping me with the project. I have probably 3 interested students who will begin working for me next quarter. I hope to use them to research on databases available online, to transcribe interviews (I have at least 5 in-person interviews now to transcribe), to critique films, and to organize information, among other things. This work will be done here in Zanesville, probably in my office. In addition, I will be conducting research trips to Washington, D. C., where I will view Syd films at the Library of Congress, Los Angeles, California, where I will visit several archives and libraries and try to trace Syd's paper trail during his years of temporary residence there, and New York City, where I will look at the Syd files in the Lincoln Center Library and other venues. I also need to visit the United Artists archive at the University of Wisconsin. My trip to Los Angeles will be a long one, and because of that, I will probably be enlisting another student assistant, in this case fellow Chaplin scholar Kendra Lisum. Ms. Lisum has a bachelor's degree now, from the University of Nevada-Reno, and has participated in the 2005 Charlie Chaplin conference as well as the 2007 Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, Kansas. She will be quite an asset to me in trying to get the most out of my three weeks in California.

In the immediate future, though, I will continue writing. I also need to start planning for my research assistants who will be joining me very soon (in early April). I will be on here more frequently now, trying to keep a record of this progress. And finally, for now, important to this process also are those of you who kindly email me with your comments and contributions. Michael Vogelle, for instance, recently wrote with the inscribed photo above, informing me that his--was it great Aunt/Uncle, Michael?--acquired this photo of Syd and Minnie in Nice in the 1930s and you can see that Minnie has signed as "Buddy," a nickname I hadn't really known about before. And, then when I was in Paris shortly thereafter, I found a whole slew of photos of the same dinner party--the uninscribed photo is one of those. What a coincidence! Keep the info coming and thank you!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Welcome to Syd's Blog

As you know from the website, I have embarked on the Syd Chaplin life-and-art biography project, as of March 2006. That means, although this website and especially this blog is very young, I have been diligently working on this project as a whole for a while. Over the next few days, I will update you on my progress so far--the ups, the downs, the run-arounds.

This will be my most intensive Syd-year yet, for I have given myself until the end of the year to have the book mostly, if not completely done. Not published, simply written. Finding a publisher will be a whole other task completely and will require an entirely different kind of energy.

So, I hope you will check back often to see the progress we have made so far.