Category Archives: Charlie Chaplin

Life is a Tragedy when Seen in Closeup, But a Comedy in Longshot

Charlie Chaplin? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The cinema icon Charlie Chaplin depicted comic and tragic situations in his films, and he also experienced both in his personal life. One of his memorable quotations metaphorically employed the film director terms closeup and longshot to contrast tragedy and comedy. Would you help me to find a citation for his statement?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a 1972 “Chicago Tribune” article about a gala attended by honoree Charlie Chaplin that was held at the Philharmonic Hall in New York City. The program notes for the event were written by the influential film critic Richard Roud. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

“Life is a tragedy when seen in closeup, but a comedy in long-shot,” is a Chaplin quote that Richard Roud, director of the New York Film Festival, borrowed to introduce the program notes for the gala.

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Notes:

  1. 1972 April 6, Chicago Tribune, ‘Little Tramp’ Triumphs: Chaplin Savors His ‘Renaissance’ by Carol Kramer (Chicago Tribune News Service), Section 2, Quote Page 2, Column 7, Chicago, Illinois. (Newspapers_com)

They’re Cheering Us Both, You Because Nobody Understands You, and Me Because Everybody Understands Me

Charlie Chaplin? Albert Einstein? János Plesch? Apocryphal?

chaplineinstein07Dear Quote Investigator: The entertainer Charlie Chaplin and the scientist Albert Einstein were two of the most famous individuals of the last century. I have heard the following anecdote about a meeting between them in the 1930s. While traveling together they were recognized and a crowd of people started to vigorously applaud the luminaries. They waved to the throng and reportedly exchanged the following words:

Einstein: What I most admire about your art, is your universality. You don’t say a word, yet the world understands you!

Chaplin: True. But your glory is even greater! The whole world admires you, even though they don’t understand a word of what you say.

Is there any truth to this tale?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence of this anecdote known to QI appeared in a memoir by János Plesch who was Albert Einstein’s physician and also his friend. This work was translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald and published in 1947. In this version of the tale the two celebrities Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein were conversing, but only Chaplin presented the comparison between their different types of fame. Boldface has been added to excerpts below: 1

Once when Einstein was in Hollywood on a visit Chaplin drove him through the town. As the people on the sidewalks recognized two of their greatest, if very different, contemporaries, they gave them a tremendous reception which greatly astonished Einstein. “They’re cheering us both,” said Chaplin: “you because nobody understands you, and me because everybody understands me.” There was a good-humoured pride in his remark, and at the same time a certain humility as at a recognition of the difference between ready popularity and lasting greatness.

Apparently, Plesch was not present when the words were spoken, so his account was second-hand. An episode showing the relationship between Plesch and Einstein was mentioned in the valuable recent biography “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson. When Einstein wished to obtain some peace and quiet he sometimes sojourned at the estate of his medical-doctor friend to hide from journalists: 2

Einstein wanted some solitude for his fiftieth birthday, a refuge from publicity. So in March 1929 he fled once again, as he had during the publication of his unified field theory paper of a few months earlier, to the gardener’s cottage of an estate on the Havel River owned by Janos Plesch, a flamboyant and gossipy Hungarian-born celebrity doctor who had added Einstein to his showcase collection of patient-friends.

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Notes:

  1. 1947, János: The Story of a Doctor by John Plesch (János Plesch), Translated to English by Edward Fitzgerald, Quote Page 211, Victor Gollancz, London. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)
  2. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Chapter 16: Turning Fifty, Quote Page 357, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

A Day Without Laughter is a Day Wasted

Charlie Chaplin? Steve Martin? Groucho Marx? Nicolas Chamfort?

chaplinchamfort04Dear Quote Investigator: The following guideline for living makes sense to me, so I try to find humor in something every day:

A day without laughter is a day wasted

When I read this maxim originally it was credited to Charlie Chaplin, but I once heard it attributed to Groucho Marx. Do you know who said it and on what occasion?

Quote Investigator: This principle is sometimes credited to popular comedic entertainers such as Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx, but the idea was expressed more than two centuries ago. The French writer Nicolas Chamfort was famous for his witticisms and epigrams. In 1795 the periodical Mercure Français reprinted the following saying from one of his manuscripts [MFNC]:

La plus perdue de toutes les journées est celle où l’on n’a pas ri.

The earliest instance of this aphorism in the English language located by QI is dated 1803 in a periodical titled “Flowers of Literature” in a section titled “Laughing” [FLFB]:

I admire the man who exclaimed, “I have lost a day!” because he had neglected to do any good in the course of it; but another has observed that “the most lost of all days, is that in which we have not laughed*;” and, I must confess, that I feel myself greatly of his opinion.

The asterisk footnote pointed to the bottom of the page where the French phrase listed above was presented. The text did not identify Chamfort as the author of the saying, but it did give his precise French wording as the source of the English epigram.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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