Stage 3: Every once in a while, surprise myself

I'm right about the shy thing. I spent the first twenty years of my life ignoring everything my brain threw up flags about, I should really know not to do that anymore.

I think I got about 30 pages into Chaplin's book before he starts talking about it himself. "Shy" is in fact the word he uses, although I'm not entirely sure it's the one I would. What it seems to have been was a positively enormous amount of inertia that had to be overcome before he could get his mouth to work sometimes, especially in public. It surfaced on the oddest of occasions -- he recounts his first trip back to England after his success in the States, and how, after finally getting a modicum of grip on the idea that huge cheering crowds were going to be meeting him everywhere he went, he slipped off to go see a girl he used to know and found that he was much too shy to get himself to go knock on the door and talk to her.

Beautiful women and famous people routinely reduced him to making these sort of adolescent inarticulate gleep noises. Once he knew someone he was perfectly fine -- to the point where he would occasionally put his foot in his mouth and jam it there with sarcasm such that it took rather a lot of effort to get it out again -- but for those first few moments, he never quite knew what to do with himself. Personal praise knocked him for a loop, especially as a young man. Say "That was a fantastic show! Brought the house down!" and he'd agree with you enthusiastically, but as soon as you got to "You've got talent, m'boy," he went right back to "Um... oh... kay...."

He got over it some as he got older, although never quite completely. In the early '70s the Academy decided to give him an honorary award, and he decided that McCarthy was probably gone enough he could get back into the US to collect it. This clip is edited for time, but numerous sources say that the applause when he took the stage actually went on for a solid twelve minutes -- still the record holder for longest ovation at the Academy Awards, ever.

Chaplin accepts with good grace and great humility, but as Oscar speeches go, that's pretty much gleep.

Comments