Ángel Augier meets Charles Chaplin
By: Luis Hernández Serrano / Photos: Courtesy of the Augier Family
"Reading the evening papers in my hotel room, I had the idea of trying to interview Charlie Chaplin."
Thus, on the birth centennial of the famous British actor, Cuban poet, writer and journalist Angel Augier alluded to the "exceptional experience" of his interview.
This took place In the Ritz Hotel in Paris on Wednesday October 29, 1952, when the consummate mimic was visiting from London for the premiere of his latest film, Limelight, (in French Les feux Ramp and Candilejas in Spanish), which would premiere in the Biarritz cinema on the Champs Elysees; a premiere to which Augier was invited.
"I immediately spoke with a colleague, then resident in Paris, who had an excellent camera, and invited him to participate in the bold journalistic attempt."
The poet, a technology professor at the Graphic Arts Workshop of the Rancho Boyeros Industrial Technical School, was in Paris following his win of a top journalism award in Havana, which allowed him to attend an international Paris exhibition of graphic arts.
In Uno (his first book) the poet recalled how "as a boy, in the evenings with family, I tried to imitate Chaplin's characteristic props: a moustache drawn with charcoal and an improvised walking stick. I was impressed at the possibility of facing this living legend, the hero of: The Kid, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux and many other films."
The next morning, Augier and his photographer friend showed up at the Ritz. It was a typical autumn Parisian day, cloudy with frequent showers, but there was a large crowd under umbrellas filling the Place Vendome.
"From the lobby of the Ritz, where he always stayed, we contacted Harry Crockert, the distinguished visitor's secretary. I told him 'We are Cuban journalists who have traveled from Havana especially to interview Chaplin.' His answer was a categorical 'no'.
Just then a couple speaking Spanish with a Cuban accent arrived at the hotel. They were guests and belonged to a well-known Creole "sugarocracy" family. That chance encounter, the Cuban poet later explained, was critical for their success to interview Charlot. And they did not have long to wait as, a few minutes later, Chaplin slowly descended the stairs to the elegant Las Tuileries Salon.
"Wearing a light raincoat over a dark suit and carrying a grey cloth hat, Chaplin was accompanied by a man who proved to be his interpreter. Without hesitation, I approached, holding out my hand and speaking in Spanish: 'Mr. Chaplin, I come from Havana and bring greetings from your fans in Cuba' ... The Spanish expression and the name of the remote island sparked his interest, and he exclaimed while he shook my hand: 'The Javana, Kiuba, Beautiful city!'.
'Mr. Chaplin, is it possible that you will visit Havana on your return to the United States" I asked. The actor responded with a vague gesture that could be interpreted as 'Who knows? ''' Chaplin had not yet decided not to return to the U.S. due to declarations by U.S. authorities to hamper his return.
"Then, with a sullen face, secretary Crockert came to rescue the actor from the circle that had begun to form around him and the interview was sealed with another handshake. Chaplin left with tiny, rapid steps toward the back of the room to exit through a side door opening on the Champs Elysees."
Augier added: "We believe it interesting to evoke this unique experience of our daily newspaper, perhaps the most exciting for the importance of that personality, but also for the difficult conditions to confront in an environment, environmental conditions in which I found myself occasionally".
The interview, perhaps the only one given to a Cuban journalist by Chaplin, was published in the magazine Bohemia in late November 1952 with a report on the activities and statements about the commercial success of Limelight.
Ángel Augier– poet, literary scholar, critic,essayist and journalist – bornDecember 1, 1910 in CentralSanta Lucía in the easternprovince of Holguín.
A graduate of University of Havana and the Maxim Gorky Institute of World Literature in Moscow; he received his Doctor of Philological Sciences in 1981 and founded the Revista de Literatura Cubana (Cuban Literature magazine) in 1982. He was organizing president for the Nicolás Guillén Foundation and was awarded the National Literature Prize in 1991.
Augier founded the newspaper El Mundo and the Prensa Latina News Agency. He died in 2010 in Havana at the age of 99. He is considered a luminary of Cuban culture.