Thursday, June 18, 2009

YMCA CIRCUS: Chaplin and Slivers Program

Scans courtesy of Gene Wolande

Read that last page one more time...

That's right, the audience at an amateur circus, put on by the YMCA March 30th and 31st 1911, were treated to 20 professional clowns as well as CHARLIE CHAPLIN and SLIVERS OAKLEY WORKING ON THE SAME BILL in between the gymnastics of the "circus camp" kids.

Not only are they on the same bill, but Slivers is described as the "famous" one!!!

Wow. Holy... wow.


Gary said...

Pat,is there a date on the program? Chaplin was still in the Karno troupe in 1911. Would he have been able to do a date independently? Then again, the 30th and 31st were not on a Thursday and Friday again until 1916, a few weeks after Sliver's suicide.

Marcos_JW said...

Chaplin learned of Marceline Orbes. Marceline worked with Slivers in The Hippodrome. Slivers worked with Chaplin.
This is a good idea!

I`m working still about my graphical novel about Marceline, Pat.


Anonymous said...

Now, that's pretty puzzling.
Chaplin's life is one of the most documented in showbiz, almost daily. I don't remember hearing of this performance in any existing source but, of course, everything is possible.

1911 Chaplin was effectively in the States, this being the first year he visited the country joining the second Karno's overseas tour (I think he arrived in February).

-the billing of Chaplin is unlikely, being more or less an unknown; at least Karno was the name more popular in the circuit.
-the repertory presented at the time was a couple of written sketches or pantomimes (the music-hall parody and a skating act), specific for the stage, not the appropriate material to quickly adapt for circus reprises togheter with 20 other clowns.
-the name "Charlie" was not yet used at the time. In the Karno bills where Chaplin was sometimes named, it always was "Charles".
My opinion is:
-This program is later than 1911;
-The "Charlie Chaplin and co." are one of the many impostor troupes.

But I can be totally wrong, and everything can be real.

What can be the town?

I'll take the time to verify the list of the 1911 Karno Usa tour, everything is recorded date by date.

Raffaele De Ritis

Pat Cashin said...

We have no other information than what is printed here.

While there are 20 clowns listed in the program, my impression is that Chaplin and Slivers worked independently of these other performers given that they are billed separately.

My guess would be that Slivers did the Baseball specialty, Chaplin his drunk act.

It's entirely possible that someone could have seen Chaplin with the Karno troupe an asked him to take part in a charity event.

We just need to see if anyone out there can find out where Chaplin would have been at the end of March 1911.

Raffaele De Ritis said...

Chaplin's drunk act was staged for a theatre loge box, with gags specifcally cued on the music-hall parodies of "A night in an English Music Hall".
It is still possible a ring adaptation as a solo walkaround.
The program announces "and co.": what that means?

You can find a listing of Karno 1911 tour in the book "Chaplin Stage by Stage", among other sources. Unfortunately I'm abroad, and I can access to my books next week. But he was in the Usa or Canada for sure.

Pat Cashin said...

The "& Co." could have been as simple as an unbilled straightman for him to heckle before launching into the strongest parts of his stage act.

And we don't know where and how this was staged. It could very well have been presented on a proscenium stage which Slivers, having spent years in vaudeville and at the Hippodrome, would have been very comfortable with.

The most intriguing part of that scenario is that Slivers and Chaplin would have shared a dressing room.

The man who had been the best known comedian in America for over a decade sat one night and chatted with the man who was just a few short months from not just usurping his title but becoming the biggest comedy star that the world had ever known.

THAT'S your screenplay, right there.

Gary said...

I would love for this to be true.

A few other hypotheses to consider:

The third sheet is from another date (is it a loose sheet or the back of the program?). I cannot tell from the scan, but the headline font seems different from that of the interior of the program. Compare the lower case "r". Why are Slivers and Chaplin mentioned? Circus hoopla. If you believe everything you read in a circus program, Cleopatra and Marc Antony existed in the 19th century.

Also, it seems odd that an amateur circus with other acts comprised of students and boy scouts would also employ top billed entertainers. These could also (although the timing is suspect for the Chaplin reference) be the kind of puffery put in an amateur production to represent the kid-imitators who will trot out to the delight of their parents.

Still, I would be thrilled if it turns out to be bona fide.

Pat Cashin said...

I'm going to bet that the listings are absolutely legit.

Felix Adler, for one, did several of the charity circuses in Clinton, Iowa was he was home and it wasn't as uncommon as it is today for pros to lend a hand in charity events of this nature.

Chaplin wasn't a star yet, so there is no value to lying about his appearance. He may be listed first because he either did more time or was simply a more powerful act than Slivers.

Could Chaplin have blown the far more experienced Slivers off the stage? It's entirely possible. Chaplin was Chaplin; young, extremely talented and very hungry.

Slivers, as great as he was, would have been almost twice Chaplin's age.

I've been thinking about this all morning and wondering if the seeds of the Calvero character from Limelight character were planted in Chaplin's mind that night in 1911.

Raffaele De Ritis said...

Of course we all love this being true.
But still, why to bill or even book Chaplin as a feature, totally unknown after few months in the country, when part of a more famous troupe?
If true or not, the date must be later than 1911, just for the notion of Chaplin as a popular name, imitation or not.

Beside this, I feel sure he visited circuses, and clowns' dressing rooms all during his career, and I bet he knew and admired Slivers.
In his last decades, for exemple, he visited yearly Knie, then trhowing a party in his villa for the performers. Many old clowns today remembers how long he spent time with them at those times, and how deeply he knew the business as a true insider.

Pat Cashin said...

Why give Chaplin top billing as a complete unknown?

My guess is that Chaplin was the breakout star of the Karno troupe and likely to gather offers that weren't extended to the rest of the cast.

If he was capable of absolutely destroying a live audience the way his legend says that he did, he'd have hit American audiences like a ton of bricks.

In more recent terms, it's still not uncommon for talented breakout stars like Goldie Hawn on Laugh-In, Chevy Chase in the first season of Saturday Night Live or Jim Carrey on In Living Color to get the lion's share of the attention (sometimes at the expense of their castmates) and lucrative offers.

Anonymous said...

I think it was not Chaplin, but Billy West.

Pat Cashin said...

(Grumble, grumble) Billy West... (grumble, grumble) wise guy... (grumble, grumble) I'll give a Billy West! Why I oughta...

Gary said...

Yeah, Chaplin's drunk routine would have been a BIG hit for the YMCA crowd at the time.

Anonymous said...

Chaplin is all a matter of taste.
His pathos got to me almost every time; his "comedy" rarely. So many others so much funnier. Must
say though that much of Chaplin's physical endeavors were pretty amazing...can anybody discuss this?
I've heard many bits were shot at slow exposure and shown speeded up and other bits were filmed in reverse to be shown forward.

Must add that I find Gary's comment about a drunk routine for a YMCA crowd interesting, ie. Mike Rice told me he had to change his
mule act on Cole Bros. because some people complained that they didn't think it was appropriate for children to see a mule or a man getting "drunk". Yeah, and what are their little darlings seeing on the internet or on their cell phones?

One Who Misses The Golden Age(s)