by Oscar. M. Sheridan.
Being an interview with the inimitable Max Linder.
The Avenue Emile-Deschanel, Paris, is one of the most charming and stately avenues in the fashionable quarter of the Champ de Mars. In more ways than one it is famous. But the chief reason why it is famous is not to be found in ancient, natural, or any other history for that matter. One has only to ask the smiling agent at the corner. It is simply and solely because Max Linder lives there. Max Linder, that extremely chic, immaculate Frenchman, Charles Chaplin's acknowledged tutor, and himself one of the most remarkable of screen comedians.
Max Linder is one of the most sought for men in France. He lives, as he told me, in constant terror of telephone bells, door-bells, and last, but not least, blue-bells!
“It happened in Paris,” said the celebrated artiste to me.
A pretty little midinette of not more than nineteen rang the bell at the door of his flat at six o'clock one cold and frosty morning not so very long ago. “I would like your photograph, please – autographed!” she said. With teeth chattering, and shivering from head to foot, Max, for fear of losing his reputation as an amiable film star, smiling a sickly smile, complied. In return, the sweet young thing produced from behind her back ("I thought she had only one arm," said Max Linder), a bunch, or, to put it a little more elegantly, a bouquet of fragrant blue bells, "Thank you," said Max, showing all his teeth and rolling his eyeballs in an effort to smile, and held the door open till his young admirer passed slowly, very slowly, through. And the thermometer dropped, dropped, DROPPED!
A fencing match with Douglas Fairbanks.
“Never, never again will I answer door bells personally and at such an unearthly hour," remarked Max to me afterwards, grinning ruefully at the recollection. As I mounted the stairs of the palatial residence where Max Linder has his flat, I remembered the delightful story he told me on the last occasion I saw him. The memory filled me with misgiving, for although I was not paying him a visit at six o'clock in the morning, it was in the middle of a torrid afternoon, and as no appointment had been fixed, perhaps he would not receive me.
Anyhow, I pressed the bell-button. No sound. Nor could I hear the bell ring. I pressed again and again, and finally leant my elbow against the button. The door suddenly opened, and I was confronted with the little, stooping figure of Marie, Max Linder's eighty-year-old housekeeper.
“It is but you are in a hurry." A smile illumined her wrinkled countenance, and her still youthful eyes twinkled merrily. I was too astonished to see the door open to think of removing my ellbow from the bell,which I could now hear ringing within the apartment, and was gently reminded of my absence of mind. I was profuse in my apologies, and, religiously baring my head, I entered the luxurious and extremely comfortable apartment.
I was shown into a most cheerful salon, well and comfortably furnished, and tastefully decorated. Through a glass partition I could see a vague shadow seated at the dining-room table.
Marie, still smiling at my little joke, which I had assuredly not meant it to be, bade me enter. With a dramatic gesture, I drew aside the charming and frightfully expensive lace curtains hanging over the doorway, and marched into the room without stretched hand. The sight that met my eyes made me stand rooted to the ground in amazement.
Max Linder at three-thirty in the afternoon was calmly seated at the dinner-table, gazing hungrily at about four pounds of steak and a huge dish of roasted new potatoes. As I entered he was raising his fork to his lips, and a pretty golden potato that should have met with a different end fell with a dull sound to the floor, and rolled along the handsome Aubusson carpet, leaving behind it a pretty trail of brown gravy. At least, I thought it looked rather pretty.
"You!" said Max Linder, speaking quietly, and the only outward sign of the emotion he must have felt was apparent in his twitching ears.
Max Linder drew his heavy overcoat farther over his shoulders and carefully arranged the thick travelling rug about his knees. All this in weather that was 90 degrees in the shade!
"You think I am mad," he smiled — a bright, fascinating sourire. "It is true in America they say 'Max, but he is crazy!' NO! Emphatically and assuredly no! When I am hot I put on as many articles of clothing as I possibly can. In this way one cannot catch cold. It is only when one divests oneself of one's shirt, etc., that the consequences are serious.
"I have only just returned from a hurried walk, and I am hot, very hot,'' he went on. "But, to turn the conversation into less pleasant channels, do you know that you are the sixteenth journalist who has called on me since nine o'clock this morning? You do not let me sleep, you prevent me from taking my meals, and, what is worse, you spoil my potatoes!"
I listened meekly to this fiery tirade, which was accompanied by a wealth of expressive gestures and facial contortions which, had I seen them on the screen, would have very nearly split my sides with healthy laughter. As it was, the outburst being directed at me, I would have liked to cry.
“I come on behalf of your English admirers," I said, with a choking feeling in my throat. "And they want to know all about you through the medium of the PICTUREGOER."
"Thank you!" said Max simply. I am deeply indebted for your visit.” He saw to it that the Aubusson carpet did not get the next potato, and carefully transferred another generous chunk from the steaming dish on to his plate.
"Do you know," asked Max, "that I started lunch over three hours ago. An hour for hors-d'œuvres is, believe me, excessive, another hour for fish unbelievable; and although I have taken ninety minutes in eating some steak and a dish of potatoes (minus one), you may, if you wish, drop in at midnight and join me at coffee!"
Max Linder then relapsed into silence. I thought how funny would be a film of this famous star's private life. Immaculately dressed in a morning coat, his silk hat lying on the beautiful antique sideboard, and his cream waistcoat a big white spot in the darkened room (darkened because of the fierce rays of the sun), Max Linder presented a most amusing spectacle as, every few minutes, he drew his heavy overcoat closer about his shoulders and draped the rug more securely around his knees.
Max Linder is one of the most delightful personalities of the world's screen, and to interview him is to be acquainted with lots of amusing anecdotes, told as only Max Linder can tell them. He speaks with an accent that at once leads one to think that he is an Englishman whose conversation in French is so perfect that one would take him for such, if you know what I mean. To put it more concisely, he speaks French with an English accent. Curious, but true. Here in his own words is the story of his life—
"I was born near Bordeaux — at St.-Loubes, to be exact — on Dec. 16, 1885. When I had grown up into a young man of about seventeen, my parents, who owned vast vineyards around Bordeaux, decided that I had better go into their wine-growing business. Can you, I ask you, picture me all through my life pulling down bunches of grapes, smelling them to see if they're ripe, and, if they are, throwing them into big metallic bins, or, if not, getting a needle and cotton and stitching them back onto the vines?
"I made a momentous decision," continued Max, still cutting steak and devouring roasted potatoes, "and came to the conclusion that I was meant to be an artist. Without telling my parents, I took up painting, and, with what I thought was my greatest masterpiece, I went to see a well-known painter. 'Yes, indeed,' said the man, gazing critically at my piece of work, 'it certainly looks promising. But you will never become a second Raphael!'
"I gave up painting and graduated at Bordeaux Conservatory, where, after two years, I left with a first prize in dramatic acting. From then onwards it was more or less a struggle for me to make ends meet, for I left home and set to work to earn my own living, much to my parents' annoyance. Not that I was without engagements, but the pay was extremely poor. The salary I received at a theatre where I was playing in 'Le Barbier de Seville,' 'Les Précieuses Ridicules,' 'Les Fourberies de Scapin,' and other famous works, was 150 francs per month.
"In 1905 I made my debut at Pathé's, and, starring in comedies and dramas, I got forty francs a day. It was rather hard work, for, you see, in the contract I was to produce one film every day. However, at the end of the month — which was then composed of an average of thirty-one days, and I believe still is — I found that my output was between forty and fifty films per month."
Max Linder pointed to a large trunk made of stout iron in the next room. The "safe" contained over 400 of these famous films, not one of them longer than 600 feet.
The first really important film with Max Linder was produced towards the end of 1914 [sic.], and was called La Sortie d'un Collégien, which was followed by a film of intense dramatic interest, The Death of a Toreador. Also Max Linder played in various other film dramas; among them, still fresh in one's memory, are The Smugglers, Poison, and famous little comedies such as Learning to Skate, A Peep at Each Floor, A Schoolboy's First Cigar, Marriage: Before and After, etc. In 1910, however, the public were more able to judge his remarkable talents. Max Linder is an artiste to his fingertips, as well as being a most finished actor and a director with a brain and — what is, perhaps, more—an imagination.
At the outbreak of war Max met with a serious accident while completing a film, but on recovery immediately joined the colours. He was gassed in the early part of the war, and later sent on a diplomatic mission to Italy, and played an extremely important part in the declaration of war against Austria by Italy. Shortly afterwards, Max had a breakdown and left for Switzerland, where he produced two amusing films — Max and the Clutching Hand, a delightful parody on the "Mysteries of New York"; and also Max Between Two Fires. 1916 saw Max in Los Angeles, where he stayed for six months, completing Max Comes Over and Max and His Taxi.
He has just signed a contract with an important firm in Vienna to produce his next film, A Clown for Love. In this photoplay Max plays the part of a French Count who falls in love with a circus girl. His attentions receive little encouragement until the Count conceives the happy idea of joining the circus. Max believes that it will be the best film he has produced so far.
"Come with me," said Max, finishing his lunch at a quarter past five; "I will show you my study."
The first thing that caught my eye was a large and most lifelike portrait of Charles Chaplin with the following words written across the bottom—
"To the one and Only Max, 'The Professor,' from his disciple, Charles Chaplin." And on all sides other photographs of Max's friends and neighbours in Hollywood and Los Angeles perceptibly brighten the staid and respectable atmosphere that always seems to pervade a study. There are beautiful framed portraits of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, the late Wallace Reid. and other celebrities of the kinemaworld.
For weeks past a rumour has been circulating about the French capital to the effect that Max Linder is about to get married to — whom? I ventured to approach him on the matter.
"I beg your pardon," said Max, and a drawer in his secretaire came sliding open, and a second later a heavy but serviceable revolver made its appearance on the blotting pad. Phew! The heat was oppressive. I went over to the window and pulled it just a little more open. Max's uncomfortably penetrating eyes watched me. He gazed meditatively out of the window, turning his pistol over and over in his hands, his fingers softly caressing the butt, or playing with the trigger.
Suddenly a light dawned on me. The revolver was unloaded! Of course, I ought to have thought of it before. I leant back in my comfortable armchair and smiled across at Max Linder.
Max, his eyes still clouded, still looking out of the window into vacancy, turned the weapon over in his hand and, one, two, three bullets dropped into his palm; and as gently and as quickly as he had removed them he replaced them.
I rose silently, tiptoed across the carpeted floor, and left him.
Two minutes later I rang Max up and said "Good-bye." (Pictures and Picturegoer, July 1923)