Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)

Starring Lon Chaney as Tito the clown and Loretta Young as Simonetta, the young orphan-girl Tito rescued when she was a baby, who now is a tightrope-walker in his act.

Chaney’s heartbreaking performance has always reminded me of my friend Brett, with that same drive to please and entertain (Brett was, hands down, the funniest person I have ever met), and with the underbelly of gentleness, heartbreak, kindness. I slept horribly last night, so I finally just got up, made coffee, and popped in the movie at around 4:30 a.m. Then I found myself taking screengrabs. Obsessively. It felt strangely good.

I got lost again in the sweet sad story. Wishing I could talk to my friend again. I can almost picture the angels in heaven rolling around holding their stomachs and gasping for mercy because Brett is making them laugh so hard they are nearly on the edge of asphyxiation. All of us who knew Brett have a memory of laughing so hard that we actually became frightened that we would DIE.

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17 Responses to Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1928)

  1. Pingback: Laugh, Clown, Laugh

  2. Charles J. Sperling says:


    “Harlequin without his mask is known to present a very sober countenance, and was himself, the story goes, the melancholy patient whom the Doctor advised to go and see Harlequin — a man full of cares and perplexities like the rest of us, whose Self must always be serious to him, under whatever mask or disguise or uniform he presents it to the public.”
    — William Makepeace Thackeray, “Jonathan Swift”

    Norma Desmond was right: they did have faces back, and the 1000 of Lon Chaney were easily among the most expressive.

    As you deal with your loss, I hope you find this exchange between Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan after the assassination of President Kennedy a little helpful:

    McGrory: “We’ll never laugh again.”

    Moynihan: “Heavens, Mary, of course we’ll laugh again. It’s just that we’ll never be young again.”

    I also hope you’ve seen “The Unknown,” where Chaney’s Alonzo the Armless pines for a young Joan Crawford’s Nanon/Estrellita.

    Carry on.

    There’s a famous exchange between Mary McGrory and Daniel Patrick Moynihan after

  3. kathy says:

    Lon Chaney is such a great actor! He always scares me, even when he’s not supposed to. I can’t explain it. He just scares me. I watch him at every opportunity, though. I’m very sorry for the loss of your friend. Not very comforting; but nothing really would be.

  4. sheila says:

    Kathy – I have a similar response to Chaney. I’m not sure what it is, either. What do you think it is? I think it has something to do with his honesty – his big-ness – the sense that this big big man could crack from rejection. It’s incongrous – his bulkiness and his softness.

    He’s so good here, just totally heartbreaking.

    Thanks for the words. “I’m very sorry” is very comforting to hear. I wish more people understood that simplicity like that is best. It is MUCH appreciated. Thank you!

    • I’ve often wondered at how expressive Lon Chaney could be out of makeup, and for the longest time tried to think of it as a side-effect of spending so much time in makeup; as if the masks he wore so often had erased any self-consciousness he may have possessed. He was such a bear of a man that his sheer physicality sometimes interfered with a performance, but you never for a moment doubted the sincerity of his expression. Everything he felt was on that magnificent face for all to see.

      And Loretta Young… those eyes… *melt*

      • sheila says:

        Yeah, some of the most moving moments in Laugh, Clown, Laugh is when he is sans makeup – he looks so … ordinary. With such an expressive face. Full of delight and heartbreak. Magic little movie.

        And yes, Loretta Young.

        One of the things I love about this movie is that there are no villains. Everyone is doing the best they can. It’s a love-triangle, but there is no sneering villain twirling his moustache. Both guys love her. She really has to make a tough choice.

  5. kathy says:

    Maybe us New England girls just have similar sensibilities! I think he could turn really mean, really quickly. He restrains himself. I don’t know. Just thoughts that don’t make much sense. New England girls ARE special, though!

  6. sheila says:

    Oh definitely we are special! I could pick a New England girl out of a lineup!

    Yes, Chaney definitely seems capable of great violence. I can totally see that in his other roles.

  7. sheila says:

    Charles – Here’s the deal.

    I have plenty of experience with death. Too much, actually.

    Do not tell me what to think of, do not give me reminders, do not try to provide hope, do not try to fix it, do not try to provide comfort with some fucking quote – you know why? You don’t know me.

    You are a READER on my site. That’s it.

    I approved your comment because I wanted to reply to it publicly. You tried to comment with some other quote and then, when it didn’t show up, you EMAILED it to me. Dude. I’m dealing with some personal shit here. How dare you? Only friends should be inserting themselves into my own personal experience of loss like that. How dare you?

    Charles, I am setting some boundaries right now. Do not email me directly. Do not send me novel-length email responses to my posts that are “too long” for my site. Respond in the comments section like a normal person. I correspond with my friends (online blog-friends and real-life friends) – and with a couple of readers I know very well. With your behavior in the wake of my friend’s death I needed to put my foot down. I realize you’re just trying to be helpful, but you have stepped way over the line.

    The phrase “Sorry for your loss” was invented for a reason. That’s all you need to say.

  8. sheila says:

    Sorry, anyone looking on to this. Long experience has shown me that setting boundaries is best done in public.


  9. Melissa says:

    So sorry for your loss…

  10. just1beth says:

    Sometimes it has to be done.

  11. sheila says:

    Beth – in this case, yes. :(

  12. litdreamer says:

    Again, sorry for your loss. From a fellow New Englander.

    And Lon Chaney is awesome.

  13. sheila says:

    Litdreamer – Ugh, I’ve been calling him Lou all day. That’s what 3 hours of sleep’ll get ya. And no copyeditor!!

    I love this movie! It’s so beautifully shot, too – I love all the stuff in the theatre.

  14. Charles J. Sperling says:

    I shall respect your boundaries in the future.

    And I am sorry for your loss.

  15. sheila says:

    Charles – No apology for NOT respecting my boundaries? Huh. Interesting.

    No “Wow, sorry I totally mis-read this” or “sorry, I didn’t realize my behavior was so weird – I’m sorry you took it the way you did – not my intention” – Nothing like that?

    So I am glad now that I spoke up when I did. It had been building up anyway, because your comments to my Diary Fridays were bizarre and a little bit annoying – you didn’t seem to get what I was doing and seemed incapable of responding in a genuine “Oh my God, that was so funny” kind of way. Which is FINE, you don’t have to respond in a way not truthful to you, but if that is the case then I certainly wish you would cease commenting on my personal posts. Not every post here is going to be for everyone. Just scroll on by if you have nothing to contribute. That’s how most people read my site.

    I hated that I had to scream at you in the comments, but it appears you needed to be spoken to that firmly. I have a LOT of expereince with readers feeling like they know me better than they do, and making all kinds of assumptions about me – and taking my writing way too personally, like I am writing only to them. You know nothing about me. You’ve been reading me for 4 months.

    Back the fuck up.

    And you still haven’t apologized.

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