Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Next up for 'Silent Comedy Week': Charlie Chaplin and a very young Uncle Fester in 'The Kid' (1921)

Tonight's 'Silent Film Comedy Week' attraction: 'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan.

When you work in show biz, you expect to rub elbows with the famous and near-famous.

But when your branch of show biz includes musical accompaniment to screenings of silent films, you take what you can get. 

For instance: after a screening last month of 'The Thief of Bagdad' (1924) starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr., a gentleman in the audience said that in the 1950s, when he worked as a delivery boy in Manhattan, he once delivered a package to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.!

Wow! So we gave him a round of applause. What else could we do?

Which takes us to 'The Kid' (1921), starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, which is tonight's title for the ongoing "Silent Comedy Week" at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

The first time I did live music for 'The Kid' was in 2008 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, N.H. Afterwards, a gentleman from Derry, N.H. (I remember) raised his hand to announce that his uncle's cousin by marriage (or some kind of non-direct relative, which I don't remember) had, as a young child, the distinction of working in Hollywood as Jackie Coogan's stunt double.

Wow again! So, yes, he got a round of applause. What else could we do? Of course there was no way to check the accuracy of this claim, but why would anyone make up something so specific?

So I've come to enjoy these random brushes with fame that surface within the audience for silent film screenings I do, even in the most rural New Hampshire crossroads. 

A good example is a kindly gentleman who for a time was attending screenings at the Flying Monkey in Plymouth, N.H. who turned out to be the grandson of Rudi Blesh, the jazz expert who collaborated with Buster Keaton on the comedian's first biography in the 1950s. 

Amazingly, this gentlemen had in his possession many of the photos and other Keaton family mementos that his grandfather had used in writing the book. They've since been acquired by the International Buster Keaton Society, known as 'The Damfinos.'

And once, after a screening in Brandon, Vt., a very tall middle-aged fellow came up to me to talk music, and turned out he was the grandson of operetta composer Rudolph Friml of 'When I'm Calling You' Indian Love Song fame! 

And let me use this opportunity (operetta-tunity?) to share with you a couplet that renowned poet Ogden Nash sent Friml on his 90th birthday:

"I trust your conclusion and mine are similar: 'Twould be a happier world if it were Frimler."

Sometimes the connections are surprising: at one screening of 'Wings' (1927) I accompanied, in attendance was director William Wellman's youngest daughter, who lives in this part of the world and had never actually seen her father's Academy Award-winning blockbuster. (She enjoyed it!)

And perhaps the strongest connection I've come across was a retired local English teacher, Dick Backus, who as a young man was an actor in New York, and had an extended run on stage with Gloria Swanson in the 1970s, when she starred in a play titled "Butterflies Are Free." Dick would sometimes attend screenings and it was a Swanson flick, he'd talk about his experiences working with Gloria. 

Dick, are you still out there? Let's connect. If this pandemic continues, we could do a whole week of Gloria Swanson silents at the Town Hall Theater, and put you in an easy chair onstage to reminisce. 

But tonight it's 'The Kid.' I'm not sure if our local connection to Jackie Coogan's childhood stunt double will attend, but I sure hope so.

And just to show you how I can crank out the press releases, here's one for tonight's showing. See you there!

 *  *  *


Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan star in 'The Kid' (1921) tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Contact Jeff Rapsis • (603) 236-9237 •

Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' to screen on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at Town Hall Theatre

Landmark movie about Little Tramp raising an orphan to be shown with live music as part of Silent Film Comedy Week

WILTON, N.H.—It's a story with "a smile, and perhaps a tear." It's Charlie Chaplin's breakthrough feature comedy, 'The Kid' (1921) and it screens with live music at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at the Town Hall Theatre in Wilton, N.H.

Admission is $10 per person, with proceeds to support the Town Hall Theatre during its temporary closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Live music will be provided by silent film accompanist Jeff Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who performs regularly at screenings around the nation.

The Town Hall Theatre observes all recommended CDC and local public health guidelines to keep patrons safe in the Covid-19 era. Movie-goers are asked to wear face-coverings in the lobby and theatre until seated; capacity is reduced 50 percent to allow for social distancing; and all high touch areas are cleaned and sanitized after each screening.

Chaplin was already the world's most popular comedian and filmmaker when he produced 'The Kid,' his first feature-length project.

The movie, with its daring mix of intense drama and slapstick comedy, proved an instant sensation and marked one of the high points of Chaplin's long career.

'The Kid' follows the story of a tramp (Chaplin) who attempts to raise an orphaned boy on his own. It includes several classic scenes, and is highlighted by a sequence in which Chaplin battles authorities attempting to return the child to an orphanage.

Co-starring with Chaplin in 'The Kid' is five-year-old Jackie Coogan, who turned in what many critics rank as the best child performance of the entire silent film era. Chaplin himself worked closely with the young Coogan for more than a year to develop the youngster's acting abilities.

Coogan went on to a long career that much later included the role of "Uncle Fester" in the popular 1960s Addams Family television show.

“Chaplin's first real feature mixes slapstick and sentiment in a winning combination, as the Tramp raises a streetwise orphan. Wonderful film launched Coogan as a major child star, and it's easy to see why.”
– Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide

The screening of 'The Kid' provides local audiences the opportunity to experience silent film as it was intended to be shown: on the big screen, in restored prints, with live music, and with an audience.

"If you can put pieces of the experience back together again, it's surprising how these films snap back to life," said Rapsis, a New Hampshire-based silent film accompanist who creates music for silent film screenings at venues around the country. "By showing the films under the right conditions, you can get a sense of why people first fell in love with the movies."

In creating music for silent films, Rapsis performs on a digital synthesizer that reproduces the texture of the full orchestra and creates a traditional "movie score" sound.

'The Kid' is part of Silent Film Comedy Week at the Town Hall Theatre, which has temporarily stopped running first-run movies due to lack of availability.

Thursday will bring Harold Lloyd's 1922 comedy classic 'Grandma's Boy,' while Friday finishes the week with Buster Keaton's 'Steamboat Bill Jr.' (1928).

"Response has been great so far," Rapsis said. "Maybe we're at the point where we could all use a good laugh."

'The Kid' (1921) starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, will be screened with live music on Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall Theatre, 40 Main St., Wilton, N.H. Tickets $10 per person. For more info, call (603) 654-3456 or visit

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