Southern Calls Vol. 6, December 2014
Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin was an actor, comedian, composer and filmmaker who rose to fame in the silent movie era. Arriving in Los Angeles in 1913, his boss initially expressed concern that the 24-year-old looked too young. He was not used in a picture until 1914, during which time Chaplin attempted to learn the processes of filmmaking. The one-reeler “Making a Living” marked his film acting debut, and was released on February 2, 1914. For his 2nd appearance in front of the camera, Chaplin selected the costume with which he became identified. “I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large . . . I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was, and by the time I walked on stage he (The Tramp) was fully born.”
In the mid-1940s, Chaplin was involved in a series of trials that significantly affected his public image. The troubles stemmed from his affair with an aspirant actress, Joan Barry. The director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, used the opportunity to generate negative publicity around him. As part of a smear campaign the FBI named him in four indictments related to the Barry case. Most serious was an alleged violation of the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes. Three charges lacked sufficient evidence to proceed to court, but Chaplin was acquitted weeks later. The controversy surrounding Chaplin, then 54, increased when it was announced that he had married his fourth wife and newest protégée, 18-year-old Oona O’Neill. The couple remained married until Chaplin’s death, and had eight children over 18 years.
In the early morning of 25 December 1977, he died at home after suffering a stroke in his sleep. He was 88 years old. March 1978, Chaplin’s coffin was dug up and stolen from its grave by two unemployed immigrants. The body was held for ransom in an attempt to extort money from Oona Chaplin. The pair were caught in a large police operation in May, and Chaplin’s coffin was found buried in a field in the nearby village. It was re-interred in the Corsier-sur-Vevey cemetery in Switzerland surrounded by reinforced concrete.
Better known as W.C. Fields, he was an American comedian, actor, juggler and writer. Fields died at Las Encinas Sanatorium, Pasadena, California, a bungalow-type sanitarium. According to Carlotta Monti’s memoir published in 1971, as he lay in bed dying, she went outside and turned the hose onto the roof, to allow Fields to hear for one last time his favorite sound, falling rain. According to the documentary “W.C. Fields Straight Up”, his death occurred in this way: he winked and smiled at a nurse, put a finger to his lips, and died. Fields’s biographer James Curtis says this story is unlikely, and is uncorroborated by the obituary in the Pasadena Star-News and its sources in the hospital. Fields was 66, and had been a patient for 22 months.
Born Dino Paul Crocetti, Martin was an American singer, actor, television personality, comedian, film producer and member of the “Rat Pack.” One of the most popular and enduring American entertainers of the mid-20th century, Martin was nicknamed the “King of Cool” for his seemingly effortless charisma and self-assuredness. Martin’s relaxed, warbling crooning voice earned him dozens of hit singles. He was a star in concert stage/nightclubs, recordings, motion pictures, and television, and the host of the television variety program The Dean Martin Show and The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast.
Martin was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 1993 and died of acute respiratory failure resulting from emphysema at his Beverly Hills home on Christmas morning 1995, at age 78. The lights of the Las Vegas Strip were dimmed in his honor.
James Brown was an American recording artist and musician. In a career that spanned six decades, Brown influenced the development of several music genres. Brown began his career as a gospel singer in Toccoa, Georgia. First coming to national public attention in the late 1950s, Brown built a reputation as a tireless live performer. Brown recorded 16 number-one singles and was honored by many institutions including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame.
On December 25, 2006, Brown died from congestive heart failure resulting from complications of pneumonia, at age 73. According to Charles Bobbit, his manager, Brown stuttered “I’m going away tonight”, and then took three long, quiet breaths and fell asleep before dying.
Billy Martin was an American Major League Baseball second baseman and manager. He is best known as the manager of the New York Yankees, a position he held five different times. At the time of his death, Martin was preparing to manage the Yankees a sixth time for the 1990 season. Martin was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm on Christmas Day 1989.
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