A chapter from Picasso's Ghost
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
PICASSO, CHAPLIN AND PETER SELLERS a chapter from PICASSO'S GHOST
A chapter from Picasso's Ghost
Peter Sellers was sad a lot of the time, and I tried to make him smile. I felt I could make Peter feel better about himself. I had been trying to do this for Claude Picasso, too, because his father had been so cruel to him.
It never worked. I couldn’t rescue Peter, who wanted to be someone else.
Peter and Claude, to whom I was once engaged, reminded me of each other. I felt both suffered from depression and sought relief through laughter. Maybe we all do, but we can’t all create humor as Peter could. Claude also tried to be funny by imitating Charlie Chaplin in his movements -- because his father had emulated Chaplin. Claude enjoyed making hand gestures like Chaplin, mimicking his performances in silent films.
As I portray in my new book, "Picasso's Ghost," Pablo had admired Chaplin and had identified in a symbolic way with circus performers in that they, too, were often solitary performers, like artists: the acrobats and tumblers he etched in the Saltimbanques series, or the matadors whose struggles he made his own and whose drama he seemed to carry over into almost every phase of his life and his art.
The clown, too, was one of the most tragic yet heroic figures in the circus. Claude would tell me that almost every morning as Pablo lathered his face for shaving, he would trace with his finger in the billowing cream the enormous caricatured lips, the suggestions of question marks over the eyebrows and the path of tears oozing out of each eye -- the stigmata of the professional clown.
“Why do you do that, Papa?” Claude would ask as Pablo would begin to gesticulate and grimace with an intensity that showed this was not only a game but his attempt to imitate Chaplin.
“I loved being my father’s audience and watching him in front of the mirror as he talked to himself made up like a clown,” Claude said.
Like Claude listening to his father, I would sit in the kitchen of Peter's home and be his audience as he rehearsed his lines, using funny expressions for my teacup poodle, Tutu, and me. Unlike Claude, I did not laugh but remained quiet so as not to disturb Peter’s concentration.
Claude continued to talk about Pablo. “My father had been an avid fan of Chaplin during the silent film days, but when the talkies came along my father lost all interest in movies. When “Monsieur Verdoux” was announced, he could not contain his excitement. For my father, Chaplin’s art was the embodiment of the physical stylization of his ‘little man ‘role.’”
It has been written that Pablo cherished those scenes in “Verdoux” where Chaplin relied on mime to produce his effects. Those scenes, where Chaplin flipped through the pages of the telephone directory and over and over again counted money, were responsible for the way Picasso counted or miscounted money. The direct force of the film image seemed to duplicate the kind of shock that comes when one looks at a painting, Picasso said. (CONTINUED ON THE WRAP)