First of all, hats off to one of my favorite blogs: The Automat | In which the unqualified gentleman looks at art. And, thank you Mr. Whittington for reminding me about Mr. Niven’s wonderful autobiography.
Ernst Lubitsch… wanted me to start immediately at Paramount in a very good part in “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife with Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert.
Working with Lubitsch in the company of such professional experts and such privately wonderful human beings as Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert was a joy that lasted about three months.
The screenplay was by another expert – Billy Wilder.
Lubitsch sat, like a little gnome, beside the camera, perched on a step ladder, giggling and hugging himself at all his own wonderful inventiveness. A vast cigar was always in his mouth. He was patient, understanding and encouraging: what more could an actor ask?
I learned major lessons about playing comedy during that time and will forever remember a statement of his: “nobody should play comedy unless they have a circus going on inside.”
Irving (Thalberg) and Norma (Shearer), like all the top movie people, had a private projection room in their home. One night Lubitsch brought down a print of “Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” and they ran it after dinner for their friends.
I sat squirming with embarrassment throughout the showing but after it was all over, everyone, with one exception, was overly flattering and enthusiastic. Fairbanks and Sylvia, Merle, the Astaires, Paulette Goddard, and Frederick Lonsdale, all puffed me pleasantly. One guest sat silent in his chair. Finally, I could stand it no longer.
“What did you think, Mr. Chaplin?”
His answer constituted the greatest advice to any beginner in my profession.
“Don’t be like the majority of actors… don’t just stand around waiting for your turn to speak – learn to listen.”
“The Moon’s a Balloon” by David Niven