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Entertainment Weekly


Brando's encounter with Charlie Chaplin

A Countess from Hong Kong: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Posted on

Here’s a look at part of a chapter in Marlon Brando’s brazen autobiography, ”Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me.”

”Comic genius or not, when I went to London to work with him late in life, (Charlie) Chaplin was a fearsomely cruel man. He was almost seventy-seven when he offered me the part of a diplomat named Ogden Mears in ‘A Countess From Hong Kong.’ In this comedy set aboard a luxury liner sailing between Hong Kong and San Francisco, Sophia Loren played an impoverished former dance-hall girl who stowed away in my room.

But ‘A Countess From Hong Kong’ was a disaster, and while we were making it I discovered that Chaplin was probably the most sadistic man I’d ever met. He was an egotistical tyrant and a penny-pincher. He harassed people when they were late, and scolded them unmercifully to work faster. Worst of all, he treated his son Sydney, who played my sidekick, cruelly. In front of everybody, he humiliated him constantly: ‘Sydney, you’re so stupid! Don’t you have enough brains to know to place your hand on a doorknob? You know what a doorknob is, don’t you? All you do is turn the knob, open the door and enter. Isn’t that easy, Sydney?’

Chaplin spoke to his son this way again and again. Oona O’Neill, Charlie’s wife, was always there but never defended her stepson. It was painful to watch.

One day I arrived on the set about fifteen minutes late. I was in the wrong and shouldn’t have been late, but it happened. In front of the whole cast Chaplin berated me, embarrassing me, telling me that I had no sense of professional ethics and that I was a disgrace to my profession.” (Brando says he then demanded an apology and Chaplin obliged.)