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Lot 391: Original Charlie Chaplin "Tramp" cane from Modern Times.Platinum House
July 28, 2013
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
Original Charlie Chaplin “Tramp” cane from Modern Times. (Chaplin Prod., 1936) Vintage, screen-used Charlie Chaplin “Tramp” curved bamboo cane 34.5 in. long, originally signed and dated by Chaplin (signature now barely visible) and given directly by Chaplin to French journalist and Chaplin historian Maurice Bessy. Bessy was a Chaplin biographer and the former Managing Director of the Cannes Film Festival. The Bessy Award for Film Criticism is named after him. The cane is composed of a single stalk of bent bamboo with pronounced nodes, or knuckles, curved top piece as handle and unfinished tip and was retired after the release of Chaplin’s Modern Times in 1936. Modern Times is widely considered one of Chaplin’s finest films and greatest achievements and was the last to use his iconic “Tramp” character. The film was written and directed by Chaplin, who also wrote the score. While the film was made in 1936, it is effectively a silent film with sound effects and depicts the struggles of the “Little Tramp” to survive in the industrialized world, mirroring the plight of Chaplin himself, who refused to make the film a “talkie”, even in 1936. The world famous image of Chaplin as “The Tramp” with his characteristic penguin waddle, spinning his cane, is one that permeates cinematic history and culture. In the true spirit of Hollywood lore, Charlie Chaplin’s iconic character is said to have been a spontaneous silent film invention quickly assembled in a dressing room at Mack Sennet’s Keystone Studio in 1914. Chaplin states in his book Charlie Chaplin: My Autobiography, “A hotel set was built for (fellow Keystone comic) Mabel Normand’s picture ‘Mabel’s Strange Predicament’ and I was hurriedly told to put on funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking death, but his feet won’t let him.” This simple, bent bamboo cane was an essential accessory to that costume, making it quite possibly the most famous walking stick of all time. According to Bessy in his book Charlie Chaplin (published 1983, by Editions Pygmalion), in 1938, he met with Chaplin who was feeling disenchanted by the political climate in the world, as well as being frustrated by the expectation of modern audiences that his previous film, Modern Times, be a “talkie.” Bessy writes, “He [Chaplin] went on to discuss the international situation, the wars that were brewing. But clearly something was very wrong. It seems cruel that genius is so invariably a prey to those harrowing afflictions of the spirit. He toyed with his cane and suddenly held it out to me. ‘Here you are, take my stick, Charlie the Tramp is dead and I don’t need it anymore’.” While Chaplin used many canes in his films, most were damaged and destroyed in the process of production, and this one is singularly important as it came directly from Chaplin and symbolically signified the “death” of the Tramp character. Exhibiting signs of age and patina but remaining sturdy and in vintage fine condition. The cane is housed in an elaborate lighted, antique, museum-quality display case (c. 1880s) 65 x 15.5 x 27 of brass colored wood, plaster and metal with beveled glass viewing panes on the side panels and oval pane on the front and a key-locking door. Interior back features a life-size photographic image of Chaplin in old age holding this exact cane (photo matched) with Bessy at his side (as can be seen in the mirror in the room) with his poignant quote to Bessy, “Here you are, take my stick, Charlie the Tramp is dead and I don’t need it any more” emblazoned across the photographic image. The interior of the case has been outfitted with two clear plexiglass rings on stems that hold the cane in place, as if Chaplin were actually holding it himself, mirroring the photo in the case. This historic cane comes with a copy of Maurice Bessy’s book Charlie Chaplin, containing the passages describing Chaplin’s gifting of the cane as well as a picture of Bessy receiving the cane from Chaplin. Additionally, both a DVD and VHS are provided in which Bessy discusses, in French, his meeting with Chaplin in which he receives this cane from Modern Times. Accompanied by three black and white photographs by photographer Patrice Hasans of Chaplin at the Ritz Hotel in 1971 showing Chaplin revisiting this cane with Bessy and (1) black-and-white photograph of Maurice Bessy (c. 1980s - printed later) holding this cane surrounded by other pieces from his collection. Special shipping arrangements will apply. Certainly an item of extreme historical importance and the best documented Chaplin cane extant.