Saturday, November 22, 2014

Theodor Adorno on the time Charlie Chaplin imitated him "at a villa in Malibu"

"....surely I am one of the few intellectuals to whom this happened and to be able to account for it when it happened."

The Yale Journal of Criticism 9.1 (1996) 57-61
Chaplin Times Two
Theodor W. Adorno
Translated by John MacKay

"Perhaps I may justify my speaking about him by recounting a certain privilege which I was granted, entirely without having earned it. He once imitated me, and surely I am one of the few intellectuals to whom this happened and to be able to account for it when it happened. Together with many others we were invited to a villa in Malibu, on the coast outside of Los Angeles. While Chaplin stood next to me, one of the guests was taking his leave early. Unlike Chaplin, I extended my hand to him a bit absent-mindedly, and, almost instantly, started violently back. The man was one of the lead actors* from The Best Years of Our Lives, a film famous shortly after the war; he lost a hand during the war, and in its place bore practicable claws made of iron. When I shook his right hand and felt it return the pressure, I was extremely startled, but sensed immediately that I could not reveal my shock to the injured man at any price. In a split second I transformed my frightened expression into an obliging grimace that must have been far ghastlier. The actor had hardly moved away when Chaplin was already playing the scene back. All the laughter he brings about is so near to cruelty; solely in such proximity to cruelty does it find its  legitimation and its element of the salvational. Let my remembrance of this event and my thanks be my congratulations to him on his 75th birthday."
*The actor described here was Harold Russell (b.1914 in Nova Scotia), who in fact lost both his hands as a soldier during World War II. Acclaimed for his performance as one of the three returning veterans in William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Russell became the only actor ever to win two Oscars for the same role: one for Best Supporting Actor, the other a special Oscar given "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." Russell made history again in 1992, as he became the first Oscar recipient to sell one of his awards, which he did in order to raise money to help cover his wife's medical expenses.