Catalina Island News

Rare Footage of Chaplin and Goddard Cruising to Catalina Island in Current Exhibition

Catalina Island Museum

Film footage of Charlie Chaplin, thought to be lost, and unseen for nearly 75 years, is featured in the Catalina Island Museum's current exhibition, Chaplin and Goddard: A Secret Love Affair. The exhibition explores the dynamic relationship between the world's most famous actor and his love affair with a young starlet by the name of Paulette Goddard. To escape the gossip swirling around Hollywood, the two often sailed to Catalina Island aboard their yacht Panacea.

The rare black and white silent footage is entitled "All at Sea" and was filmed on a weekend cruise to Catalina Island by Alistair Cooke, an aspiring journalist who would go on to host Masterpiece Theatre. The film shows a relaxed Chaplin aboard his yacht impersonating Greta Garbo, the Prince of Wales and Napoleon, while Goddard suns herself on its deck. The new Casino building, Avalon harbor and the Isthmus are clearly depicted during various parts of their journey.

For permission to use the footage, the Catalina Island Museum reached out to Alistair Cooke's son, John Byrne Cooke. The museum spoke with him about his father, Chaplin, and the 8mm home movie "All at Sea."

Do you know the story of how your father met Charlie Chaplin and ended up sailing to Catalina Island with Chaplin and Goddard for a weekend trip in 1933?
My father really told it best in his 1977 book "Six Men," in which he profiles six prominent men that he knew and admired. Chaplin is one of the six.

I’ll do my best to summarize it... As a young journalist working for the London Observer, my father proposed a summer series on Hollywood. This series would include a director, a cameraman, shooting on location, an English star, and Charlie Chaplin. He sent off letters of request and began planning his trip to Hollywood. A bit of luck and coincidence had come into play and with much surprise the last reply came from Chaplin's manager relaying that Mr. Chaplin would be pleased to see him if he appeared at his studio office on a certain July morning. They immediately hit it off. The 'interview' quickly dissolved into lively conversation, then on to lunch, and finally up to Chaplin's house where he was introduced to his "friend Miss Goddard." They invited him back for dinner the following evening, and soon he was invited on a weekend cruise to Catalina Island.

Did your father and Chaplin stay in contact through the years?
They had a close friendship for two years. The summer following their initial meeting, Chaplin invited my father to come back out to Hollywood to research and help write a script for a film about Napoleon on St. Helena. After a couple of months, the script was coming along well and suddenly Chaplin announced the film idea was a great one, but not for him. Other ideas came and went with Chaplin’s moods. At the end of August that year, my father was to be married. Chaplin had agreed to be his best man but when the day arrived, he didn’t show. However, a few days later he threw a lavish wedding party for the bridal couple. Soon my father was off to England to start a new job as the BBC’s film critic. After that, they only saw each other on random occasions.

Did your father ever talk about him or that trip to Catalina Island?
Yes, my father sometimes spoke of Chaplin, most often in the form of humorous anecdotes. In the years before he wrote "Six Men,” I was aware of the Chaplin story but I never retained the details or put all the pieces of the story together until "Six Men" came out. I think sometimes my father wondered what might have happened if Chaplin had continued with the Napoleon film project. If my father had become the screenwriter on that project he might have had a different life (but in that case I wouldn't be around to write this!)

Is it true that the “All at Sea” film was ‘lost’ and not discovered till after your father passed away?
It is not true. I was aware that my father shot 8mm movies, including some film of me playing with my electric train. I rarely saw him with his movie camera after about 1950, when I was ten. After that it was more often his still camera.

I think I must have visited at least a couple of times, with my father, the storage cage in the basement of his New York apartment building at 1150 Fifth Avenue, where he lived for more than fifty years. He kept his movie films in the storage cage – each apartment had one – in a somewhat haphazard manner. After he died, his secretary and my sister Susan found some of the movies in an open box, where they had accumulated a lot of very gritty New York dust.

I remember at least one occasion, when I was in my twenties, when my father set up his projector and screen and showed "All at Sea" to me and a friend of mine in the New York apartment. At the time I was not as impressed as I should have been by the fact that he had gone on a cruise to Catalina with Chaplin and Paulette Goddard. Looking back now, I am more impressed every time I think about it. As he says in his profile of Chaplin in "Six Men," he became friends, for a year in the early 30s, with the most famous man in the world.

Visit the Catalina Island Museum’s exhibition Chaplin and Goddard: A Secret Love Affair to see portions of “All at Sea,” and to explore the dynamics of their scandalous affair and the island they loved. The exhibition is open every day through the end of September.