Charles Chaplin — The Girl I Wanted (1932) 🇺🇸
The Girl I Wanted as told to Rada Bercovici by Charlie Chaplin
“Don’t ever miss out on anything when you are young,” Charlie Chaplin said to me. “Take it when it is ready for you, no matter what people tell you. Don’t wait till you are older. I want to tell you about the things I wanted, and about my first hundred dollars that I might have used to buy them.”
Because I waited too long for many things in life I am a failure. Not as an actor. I am a good actor. But there are many things I have missed. Things I wanted and could have had — a screen, a rug and a chair, and a girl to sit in the chair!
Now that I can have them — so many of these things I wanted — I don’t enjoy them. The happiness they once could have given me is lost.
I remember when my brother Syd and I lived in Paris when we both were young. We lived in a bare room over a store. I trudged home every night over a long distance, tired and lonely. Syd would never let me spend a few of my sous for a luxury such as carfare. ”You would be wasteful,” Syd would say. “You must learn to save for a rainy day.”
Svd was the practical one. I adored him. I thought him wonderful. But, much as I loved him, there were times when I was resentful that I could not spend a few sous for fare on the creaking boards of the quaint wooden car that would have taken me home across Paris, from my hard day at clowning. Often I dreamed of the time to come when I had saved enough to justify me in the wild extravagance of a ride home.
But months went by. Sou by sou, franc by franc, I saved until my coins began to clink merrily And now I began to have other ambitions. I did not only want to ride home, but I dared to linger before the working-men’s wine houses and listen to the talk and laughter inside and think of the time soon to come when I would have enough to go inside and buy a glass of wine for myself and join in the talk.
Sometimes the rain soaked into my thin shoes. So I began to long for a new pair of shoes. I dreamed even of a fancy necktie and then a new suit! But I dared not confide those dreams to Syd. He would have said: “Save. Save for a rainy day while you are young.”
So I saved for a “rainy day.”
After I had been saving for more than a year I first noticed a screen — a little like that one over there. It was in a second-hand store between some kitchen pots and a broken chair. But it was beautiful, that screen, and dignified its surroundings, shutting out the ugliness as a true screen will.
I dared go in, ragged urchin that I was, to ask the price. The lame shopkeeper, a bit of second-hand himself, watched me sidewise and saw that I was eager. The sum he asked was almost every sou I had saved!
I would never dare face Syd if I spent all my money for that screen.
Next night I passed the second-hand store again. The screen was lovelier than before. It and I became great friends. I loved it and wanted it, not so much for its beauty as for its repose. It gave out a feeling of home-like security. It took my loneliness from me, and I was very lonely then.
“I’ll buy it when the old man comes down to a reasonable price,” I promised myself, and save up a little more. Still I did not mention the screen to Syd.
I began to look into other second-hand shops. I made friends with an old but brightly colored rug that would match the screen beautifully. I made little plans while I walked home how I would some day furnish the room we lived in so that it would be brighter and, with the screen in one corner, not so lonely.
I found a chair that was very cheap to match the rug and the screen. Now I added to my dream. I put a girl in the chair on the rug by the screen. She was a pretty girl, of course, and smiling and gay. Sometimes, some nights, I frowned over this girl. When I had saved enough for the screen and the rug and chair and girl, where would I find the girl? How does one get to know a girl if you can’t take her out places, and spend sous on her, and have a place to take her that belongs to you?
More than one time I almost stopped a girl and asked her to be my girl. But I didn’t dare.
One night I counted my sous and francs. They made up what would be almost one hundred dollars. I had saved for two years. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” I suggested to Syd, “to spend some of it? I know of a rug and a chair and even a pretty screen, that would make our room warm and comfortable. And we could have a girl — I mean, people! — come in once in a while for a bottle of wine.”
Syd shook his head.
“But surely,” I pleaded, “we can have the screen anyway, and just one blow-out.”
“It’s your money,” said Syd, “and you can do as you please. But I am against it. You should put your savings in the post office and get interest. If you keep it here you may lose it all. Or if you have a blow-out and buy a screen, it also will be gone. Two years’ work for nothing.”
Next morning I gave up all thought of the screen and the rug and chair, and the girl. It was like giving up everything I had in the world. All I had left was the little blue slip they gave me at the post office in return for my savings.
“Now you are sensible,” Syd said. “Wait till you are older for the blow-out.”
That very same week I got my offer to come to America with a vaudeville company. Two weeks later I left Havre for the United States. My salary was three times what I had been earning in Paris. Syd came with me.
I remembered the screen for a long time. I have never forgotten it. The little blue slip from the post office I lost. My hundred dollars didn’t matter. It was the screen I remembered. Some day I would take that hundred dollars and add to it and have a screen — and a blow-out!
But I had waited. I waited too long.
The hundred dollars soon didn’t amount to anything. I had many thousands.
The screen? Why, I could buy the most beautiful screens in the world now. And I bought the loveliest one I could find. It cost many hundreds.
But the screen doesn’t count now. I don’t want it.
And I don’t want the first hundred dollars I saved. I never want to see it. It doesn’t amount to anything.
It still is in the post office savings vault in Paris.
You might think that this is a scene from a picture starring Eddie Lowe and Lil Tashman. But it isn’t, it’s just the way husband Eddie greeted Lil on her arrival in Hollywood from an extended personal appearance tour.
Collection: The New Movie Magazine, July 1932