"Charlie directed by action—by touch—and not with words"
Telephone interview with Julian Ludwig, who played a small role as one of the three buskers in Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight. Mr. Ludwig is now deceased.
Interview conducted by Lisa Stein Haven on August 11, 2003
Julian Ludwig: Jerry Epstein used to tell the story that Charlie would drive with him to the slums of LA—the eastside—and then get out of the car and walk along the streets, with Jerry following in the car. He would stop at each homeless person along the way and put money in his pockets and then walk on. He did this a couple of times.
If you notice in the scene I’m in in Limelight, Charlie keeps touching me. That’s because I was the most inexperienced actor in the scene [the other actors were Snub Pollard and Loyal Underwood] and Charlie directed by action—by touch—and not with words. He kept touching me in order to keep me with him in the scene. That’s why I’m the one standing closest to him. One day, he asked me to go for a walk with him and he took me out to look at his footprints in the cement just outside the door of Stage One. Then he took me into his wardrobe area and showed me all his costumes—the derby hat, the cane, the shoes. Then he took me into the prop room and showed me all the props. After that we walked back onset and into the scene and just started to work through it. There was very little conversation involved. Charlie showed you what he wanted. He knew he needed to make eye contact and touch an amateur actor to keep him in the scene. I thought he was a fantastic director.
But I think this is one of the reasons he had trouble with Brando. Brando wanted to read through the lines. Charlie would just try to direct through showing him how he wanted it acted and would make up the lines as he went along, never bothering with the script.
My friend Earle Herndan from the Circle Players was petrified of being directed by Charlie. You see, after we had rehearsed several weeks with another director, Charlie would come in during the last week and rework everything, sometimes staying until after 3:00AM. Oona would call and ask him to come home at that point. Earle was directed by him in The Skin Game and Caligula.
He was very involved with the political left in Carmel in the late 1930s. Robinson Jeffers, [Lincoln?] Steffins.
One day on the set of Limelight out of the blue, Charlie said to Sydney, “You know, if I was as tall and good-looking as you, I’d have been the biggest star in Hollywood!” Everyone was stunned.
At the end of the 1950s after Charlie had gone to Switzerland, I was involved with the production of Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita with Jimmy Harris and needed to contact Sydney Chaplin, who was living in Paris at the time. The only contact number I could get happened to be for the Manoir in Vevey and so, I called this number. Charlie answered the phone and when I said, “Is Sydney Chaplin there?” he said, “Why do you want to speak to him, Julian?” Shortly after that, I was invited to meet with Sydney at the Manoir and Charlie gave me specific instructions on how to get there. I was to take a plane to Geneva and then certain trains at certain times to Vevey. When I finally got there, I departed the train to find Charlie waiting there for me, playing the violin!