Charlie Butterworth Sobs in His Beer (1936) 🇺🇸

October 14, 2023

He was a slight man, wearing an unobtrusive gray suit, and a tan which looked as if by rights he should have been pale and the glow was just an exhibition of contrariness. He stopped, put up one finger in a vague exhibition of a compelling gesture, and asked feebly, "Were you looking for me?"

by Elizabeth Borton

He had a hollow sort of voice, sad and dreary and utterly without human passion. A strained voice — like the water you drain off cooked rice. A longish, sad face with a dejected mouth and empty, resigned eyes.

"Yes," I said with an uncertain smile, "I'm sure I met you somewhere, and I just had to talk with you."

I had been staring at him in the manner of a person who is trying hard to place the object of her attentions. He was very nice. When I decided that I had known this meek fellow somewhere before, he almost apologized in giving me a chance to find out.

We were walking beside each other. He reminded me of the Mad Hatter a little, in Alice in Wonderland, but there was no restlessness about him. A dead calm.

"I have just been following the postman," he confessed suddenly. "It's fatal with me. I see somebody and I just sort of follow him. After a while I somehow realize that I am getting nowhere toward places I should be, and I start back. It's really fun to walk along beside postmen. You don't have to watch traffic. They're good about the lights. They hardly ever cross against them." "Well, whatever in the world do you follow people for? Think whom you might pick out to trail? You might get your pocket picked."

"I have, once or twice. But once we went right into a barber shop. I didn't need a shave either. It was funny, getting the shave."

He laughed, mirthlessly.

"Well, here we are," he continued, as we passed a little soda and beer place. "Might as well go in. I didn't think of asking you," he explained, waving his hands in wid2, rather futile gestures. "It just seemed to come to me. 'Walk in,' the sign said, so here we are." He laughed, and sat down. "Have a beer?"

"I might as well." I began to feel the same way. Funny. A sort of drift-with-the-tide feeling. It was peaceful. A little crazy, though.

I looked at him closely.

"I know who you are," I said. "You're Charles Butterworth!"

I put happy discovery into my voice, but he just look crushed.

"Go on," he said, "you didn't finish the speech. It goes, You're Charlie Butterworth, that nit-wit.' "

"Oh no," I protested faintly. "Oh no."

Our beer came. With a fierce gesture, he drained his glass and sat there panting a little. "I'm trying to work up a rage," he said. He worked a little longer. It didn't come. He relaxed.

"I might have another."

"So might I."

"I ought to work up a rage some day about people who think I get paid for being myself in pictures. 'That woolly-brain,' they call me. I'm not a woolly-brain."

"Of course you're not! I think you're very gifted."

He deprecated in a dejected way. "I really can act, you know," he said, with a touch of bitterness. "It's just because I hate to make decisions of any kind that the idea gets around that I'm Him."


"That Butterworth in the pictures. You know, my wife tells me I ought to go out in public and see people, and let interviewers talk to me. Then they'd know I was different. But it seems like such a lot of pain and woe. In the morning, waking up, I'd think, 'I have to have lunch with an interviewer.' I'll have to wear a nice suit. I'll have to be on time. When we get to the restaurant I'll have to order. I'll have to eat the food I ordered and ten to one, it won't be what I really wanted, and ten to one, I won't know what to say to the interviewer, and then the thing will just go on and on, 'Butterworth is a nit-wit.' I can't face it, I tell you."

He was staring into his second beer desperately.

"Maybe you're just shy."

"Well, I guess I am. I just can't bear crowds. When I see a little knot of people, interestedly talking and laughing, my idea is to slip past silently and not be drawn in."

"You must try to get over it. You must be more insouciant."

"That's easy to say," he muttered morosely. "But I might as well try it again. I have tried it, a few times. It never works. Nothing does. But I'll try it once more. For your sake."

We silently drank our second beer.

We sighed, and wiped our mouths.

"You know, I am a little like that character I play on the screen so much," he murmured. "I mean, a little frustrated. And always getting overcome by forces of nature. Like our cook. While I'm feebly contemplating my breakfast, and maybe I've got a little hangover, and maybe I am thinking, 'I wonder if a teeny weeny little bite of egg would be as awful as I think it would,'… my wife and the cook start planning dinner. The cook is magnificent; she can cook anything, but she hates to cook. She lives on cornflakes and milk herself. Food bores her.

"Well, my wife says, 'What about cauliflower?' The cook says, Anyway you want it, I can fix it.' Then my wife trills, 'Charlie, you're going to have cauliflower, with cheese on it, tonight!' and I tell you, it nearly kills me. It just nearly kills me. Then I have to get dressed you know, and pick out a tie to wear… Oh, the whole day is just a terrific problem."

"I never get any rest. No mental peace. I'm always having to decide something. You know… tea or coffee, or blue or green necktie, or where to go, or what to say to people, or something…

"Exciting? No. Just hard. You really want to know why I followed you over here? Well, they want me to have an interview at the studio. Tell some woman what I think about life, you now." He gave me a short desperate glance. "I had to get away. So I walked out. But then I didn't know where to go, and I followed you."

I coughed discreetly.

"I am, by profession, a lady interviewer," I said.

He looked at me like one betrayed.

I went on. "I was supposed to interview a man named Butterworth."

He flung out his hands in hopeless acceptance.

"Forces of nature," he told himself, with sad certainty. "Well… Shall we have another beer?"

Charlie Butterworth sobs in his Beer (1936) |

Beer started him talking about cauliflower and cheese and other awful things in life

We passed a little soda and beer place. "We might as well go in," Charlie said

Charlie Butterworth sobs in his Beer (1936) |

Collection: Hollywood Magazine, January 1936