I’m at the café with Pola Negri, the femme fatale from the Kingdom of Poland who appeared in German films such as Die Augen der Mumie (1918) and Mad Love (1921) before she made her first Hollywood film in 1922. Charlie Chaplin joins us at the table.
“I met Charlie at the Palais Heinroth,” Pola tells me.
I know the place well as it’s the swankiest hot spot in Berlin. Pola says that Charlie entered unrecognized, conspicuously underdressed among all the swells in evening dress.
Charlie remembers it like this:
“I was guided by the Palais Heinroth manager to a table located at the most obscure part of the room and I’m surprised by a slap on the back and a voice calling out my name.”
It’s Al Kaufman of the Lansky Corporation.
“Come over to our table,” says the manager of the Famous Players studio in Berlin. “Pola Negri wants to meet you.”
Negri laughs at the memory.
“A little man with a sad sensitive face fought his way up to our table. Were it not for his odd appearance, so dapper and so pathetic. He had such a strange physiognomy, with tiny feet and an enormous head that made him seem top-heavy. The only physically attractive thing about him were his hands, which were never without a cigarette.”
“Pola was so beautiful,” Charlie remembers. “Beautiful jet-black hair, white, even teeth and wonderful coloring. She was the centre of attraction.”
The silent screen star blushes.
“What a voice she has,” he says, traveling back in time to the moment. “Her mouth speaks so prettily the German language. Her voice has a soft, mellow quality, with charming inflections. Offered a drink, she clinks my glass and offers her only English words, ‘Jazz boy, Charlie.’”
On Christmas Eve of 1922, Charlie gave Pola a large diamond that he intended to set within an engagement ring. However, in March, he announced to the papers he was too poor to marry her and she ended their engagement.