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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Of looks and millinery

Elsa Lanchester:
Before any production, Charles would play with his new props–putting on a hat and taking it off, hanging it up, putting it down, at home, in his dressing room, or in the producer's office. This was a time of fun for Charles and any audience around him. He could look at you from under a hat brim like nobody else could. He knew he could captivate and mesmerize.

There's so much talk, and ink on paper, on the topic of "Charles not standing his face in the mirror", that I often wonder if this was really so, all of the time. Laughton may have been, in Simon Callow's deft definition "A disappointed narcissist", but, personally, I don't think he was as emo about his looks as Higham depicts him (often bordering the caricature), in fact, I'd go with Callow when he writes that "(Charles') ugliness, one might say, was a technique, rather than a condition". And Elsa's above quote underlines Charles' knowledge about his own power to charm people, in short, a Charles who was well aware of his attractiveness.

Charlie as a lad of twelve, in an early rehearsal of his under-the-brim bussiness, and not yet looking too bad, in his own opinion

So, he could look himself into a mirror (otherwise, the daily shaving would have been quite a chore). There's in fact, an interesting quote by Peter Bogdanovich:
When I was sixteen or seventeen, my parents used some connections they had to arrange for me to go backstage and meet Charles Laughton, who I believe was playing in Shaw's Don Juan In Hell (which he also directed). He was quite heavy and awfully nice in a slightly gruff yet self-deprecating way. When I told him I wanted to be an actor he said, "Well, you should have no trouble–you're a good-looking boy. I've looked like the hind end of an elephant since I was twenty-one."

So, at least, up to being 21 of age, Charles seemingly didn't consider himself ugly-looking. One ponders if it was merely a manner of speaking, or whether something happened to him around that age which made him look into the mirror in a different way for ever more...

Well... Happy belated 111th birthday, Charles! (because your birthday was on July 1st... Today, of course, is Tura Satana's birthday)

Simon Callow's Charles Laughton, A Difficult Actor; Elsa Lanchester's Elsa Lanchester Herself; Peter Bogdavich's Who the Hell's in It: Conversations with Hollywood's Legendary Actors