September 1921 (pp. 565-6)
This was the month when Charles Spencer Chaplin--Charlie, to countless millions--paid that extraordinarily mob-ridden visit to the land of his birth. The war, and since the war his enchanting film of The Kid, together with the full development of his hitherto unexampled method of achieving world-wide fame, had made him the best-known and far and away the most popular actor on earth. His arrival in London had blocked all the traffic from Waterloo Station to the Ritz. Crows waited in Piccadilly, by day and night, in the hope of merely seeing him come in or go out. Wherever he went, unless the most extraordinary precautions were taken, more crowds sprang up and swarmed round him at once. It must have been a fairly ghastly experience for the sensitive and extremely sensible man. But at that time, and with his genius, it was apparently inevitable. He survived it, and of course he was touched by it, though he must have been pretty glad to make his final escape.
He could also, of course, have dined anywhere in London by expressing the very faintest wish. But on September 16th he chose--and looked forward to it, too--to dine at the Garrick, on the invitation of E. V. Lucas, to meet some of his host's friends. Sir Squire Bancroft was there, Sir George Frampton, Harry Graham, Walter Hackett, Edward Knoblock, Barrie, and--as a particularly glorious conclusion to his school holidays--Nico Davies*. The guest of honour has told the story of this evening in his book, My Trip Abroad, and makes it quite clear to what he had been looking forward most. He wanted to meet Barrie, and he wasn't disappointed. They sat side by side at dinner, and naturally took to each other at once. Barrie talked about films, and suggested--whether on an impulse or otherwise--that the guest should play Peter Pan. The guest was overwhelmed, though there is probably no part that he couldn't play if he tried, and changed the subject. But he was still fascinated; and so was J.M.B. He stole that guest. He took him, and Knoblock, back to the flat afterwards, and they talked until three o'clock in the morning, being joined during the session by Gerald du Maurier. Barrie repeated the suggestion about Peter Pan, and undoubtedly meant it by this time, though as we all know it never came to pass. A memorable night up there in the big study, as the two heroes poured out their thoughts about acting and plays. Chaplin noticed everything, remained flattered throughout, and seems to have been quite unconscious that he was giving just as much pleasure as he received. The boy from the South London slum and the boy from the cottage in Kirriemuir were happy together, and may be envied for once without a thought of the burdens that they also bore. It was their one meeting, but it was a vast and complete success. What, when one thinks of Barrie and Charlie Chaplin, can be pleasanter to record than that?
*The fifth son of Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies, left out of Finding Neverland.
Must confess, in my obsessiveness, I have already gone looking for a copy of the book by Chaplin mentioned above, and found that crumbling, barely readable copies can be purchased starting at 50 bucks. But I will try to get a look at the copy owned by the George Eastman House when I am in Rochester, NY, this summer.