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[FILM] Torichi Kono - Charles Chaplin's Aid and Confidente

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  • madchinaman
    Mr. Kono and the Tramp Toraichi Kono, an aide to Charlie Chaplin for years, was forgotten until crates of his papers came to light. By Bruce Wallace, Times
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 25, 2006
      Mr. Kono and the Tramp
      Toraichi Kono, an aide to Charlie Chaplin for years, was forgotten
      until crates of his papers came to light.
      By Bruce Wallace, Times Staff Writer
      http://www.latimes.com/business/custom/cotown/la-ca-
      chaplin16apr16,1,352208,full.story


      Charlie Chaplin traveled to Japan just four times in his long life
      and only narrowly missed being assassinated by a gang of rogue naval
      officers on one of those visits.

      But the Japanese loved Charlie and his Tramp. Still do. Chaplin's
      films and Tramp character carved a lasting place in Japanese
      culture, and new evidence of a little-discussed relationship with
      his longtime Japanese assistant is offering fresh opportunities to
      explore one of the most poked and perused lives of the 20th century.

      The barely mined Japanese connection is what drew many of the
      world's top Chaplinologists as well as a few hundred fans and the
      late comedian's daughter Josephine to the first conference on
      Chaplin in Japan.

      Convened in an unheated former elementary school in chilly Kyoto one
      weekend last month, they swapped business cards and traded Chaplin
      anecdotes, examining such questions as how much influence Kabuki
      theater had on his art and what moved prewar Japanese movie
      audiences to embrace a movie character they originally dubbed
      Strange Person and, later, Professor Alcohol.

      "I'm searching for an explanation of why Chaplin's Tramp has had
      such resonance in so many cultures for so long and why he keeps
      popping up everywhere," says Kathryn Millard, an Australian
      shooting "Here Comes Charlie," a feature documentary on Chaplin's
      influence around the world. "It's not just about the appeal of
      silent film stars. It's that the Tramp seems infinitely adaptable."

      But the honey that drew the specialists to Kyoto was the recent
      emergence of documents and photographs from the estate of Chaplin's
      longtime assistant Toraichi Kono, a Japanese national who had
      settled in California. Kono went to work as the star's driver in
      1916 and was, for the next 18 years if you believe his most
      enthusiastic Japanese supporters, one of the comedian's closest
      confidants.

      The FBI had another view. They thought Kono became a Japanese spy
      after he left Chaplin's employ in the mid-1930s. In the run-up to
      Pearl Harbor, with Japanese-American tensions rising, they caught
      Kono meeting with Japanese naval officers looking for information
      about U.S. naval deployments. He was arrested, released and then
      quickly interned after the attack.

      That hazy, curious life story has somehow remained below Hollywood's
      radar. The question, as phrased by conference organizer Hiroyuki
      Ono, the leading authority on Kono and who is writing his biography,
      is: "Why did the right-hand man of the world's greatest comedian
      disappear from history?"

      Until Ono started asking questions, the truth about what Kono did
      for his movie star boss — and perhaps for the Japanese navy — had
      disappeared into the mists. Chaplin called Kono his secretary in the
      fleeting references he made to him in his 1964 autobiography (though
      that's not unusual — plenty of people close to the star, including
      his second wife, never got a mention by name either). He also had
      minor roles — as a chauffeur — in three Chaplin films, though he was
      credited in just one: 1917's "The Adventurer."

      But Ono sees Kono, who died in 1971 and whose ashes are buried in
      Inglewood Park Cemetery, as much more than a gofer: He was Chaplin's
      gatekeeper. Although Ono says the relationship between the men
      was "never warm," he cites dozens of letters intended for Chaplin
      but addressed to Kono as evidence the Japanese assistant was the man
      you had to go through to get to the star.

      Ono argues that Kono had such control over Chaplin's domestic
      arrangements that at one point in the mid-'20s, all 17 male workers
      at the actor's estate were Japanese. And it was Kono, he says, who
      encouraged his boss to visit Japan for the first time in 1932 and
      cultivated a love in Chaplin for everything from Japanese literature
      to tempura (Chaplin's autobiography cites a book on Japanese theater
      written by Lafcadio Hearn as the source of his curiosity).

      *

      A new chapter is opened

      ONO'S fascination with Chaplin began 22 years ago when, at age 9, he
      saw "The Great Dictator" on Japanese TV. As an adult, he has visited
      all the Chaplin haunts: from the south London of his impoverished
      childhood to the road in California where the Tramp walks off into
      the unknown arm in arm with Paulette Goddard's gamin at the end
      of "Modern Times."

      An energetic storyteller dripping with enthusiasm, Ono is what the
      Japanese would kindly call an otaku — a Chaplin geek.

      In 2004, he met Kono's second wife, who uncrated hundreds of photos
      and letters for him and gave approval for a biography that would
      unveil the driver-valet-fixer's importance in the Chaplin pantheon.
      Ono took news of his find to a July 2005 Chaplin conference in
      London, where the assembled Chaplin scholars excitedly encouraged
      him to host his own conference in Japan.

      The result was a three-day gathering that made up for a lack of
      slickness in presentation with a big dose of authenticity and
      spirit. The venue — an abandoned school in a Kyoto neighborhood that
      has become an "entertainment" district — was cold and drafty. But it
      was also the site of the first movie screening in the country and a
      perfect reminder of the Japan Chaplin encountered when he visited in
      the 1930s: austere but welcoming, with everyone enraptured by the
      Tramp.

      And the discovery of the supporting role played by a Japanese
      assistant seeded a wider discussion about the extraordinary reach of
      the Tramp into other cultures and the endurance of Chaplin's appeal.
      (There are Chaplin festivals and conferences around the world
      virtually every year dissecting his cross-cultural appeal.)

      Japan was hardly immune to the Tramp's charms. Movie screens were
      dominated by American films in the early years of the century, just
      as Japan was embracing everything the West had to offer in the name
      of modernization. In an analysis of Chaplin's popularity at the
      time, Japan's great novelist Junichiro Tanizaki wrote admiringly
      about the "dynamism of slapstick," citing it as an example of the
      dynamism of American society.

      But Chaplin's appeal in Japan went beyond belly laughs. From "A
      Dog's Life" to "The Gold Rush," Chaplin's films were regarded as
      tragic dramas.

      "My students all seem to respond more strongly to Chaplin than to
      other filmmakers," said Jeffrey Tarlofsky, who has taught a Chaplin
      course at four Japanese universities. He cites the case of three
      members of a sumo team who took his course and blubbered through the
      rescue scene in "The Kid."

      "These are boys who were not, shall we say, noted for their academic
      abilities," Tarlofsky recalled. "But they are large kids, and you
      could hear these great big gasps coming from the back of the room."

      Ono also argues it was Chaplin's melancholy that appealed to the
      Japanese. "They would say: 'Don't you hear the sad song coming from
      his soul?' "

      In 1931, just six months after the world premiere of "City Lights,"
      a Kabuki company adapted it in a piece called "Komori no Yasusan,"
      with a lead actor in a Chaplin mustache and the boxing scene
      converted into a sumo wrestling match.

      Chaplin made his first visit to Japan a year later, shepherded by
      Kono. His autobiography describes it as a trip bristling with
      intimidation and violence.

      The visit's defining moment came while Chaplin watched a sumo match
      with Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai's son, Ken, on the afternoon of
      May 15. Six young naval officers broke into the leader's official
      residence in Tokyo and murdered the prime minister, hoping to spark
      a revolution that would reinstate an emperor-based government.

      Their plot dissolved. But later court-martial testimony into what
      the Japanese call the May 15 Incident suggested the officers had
      debated killing Chaplin as well, on the dubious premise it would
      provoke the U.S. into war with Japan.

      But the conference in Kyoto skipped over any discussion of the
      political violence of those times. Chaplin was a leading critic of
      fascism, militarism and imperialism — extremist forces that were all
      swelling in strength in Japan during that visit and two more in 1936.

      Yet there was no discussion on what effect Japanese nationalism
      might have had on him his politics or films. And it was noted but
      never deeply discussed that Japan's wartime government banned "The
      Great Dictator," Chaplin's film skewering Adolf Hitler. It was not
      shown in Japan until 1960.

      Ono said the conference ignored Chaplin's collision with nationalist
      extremism because the near assassination of the world's greatest
      comedian is well known in Japan — a debatable statement in a country
      whose school texts are notoriously skimpy on the history of that
      dark period.

      Instead the participants stuck safely to a mandate of uncovering
      evidence of Chaplin's Japanophilia. They learned he once devoured 30
      shrimp tempura in one sitting. And they heard from Tetsuko
      Kuroyanagi, a leading TV personality who met Chaplin in New York in
      1972, that the actor told her of his love for Japan, even bursting
      into tears at the sight of her in a kimono.

      *

      A falling-out

      KONO'S story — the driver entered Chaplin's orbit in 1916, by which
      time he had been living off and on in California for more than a
      dozen years — was the perfect catalyst for the conference. Unlike
      many Japanese who arrived in America fleeing poverty, Kono was a
      party guy running from the restraints of an arranged marriage and a
      wealthy but demanding father.

      He was a pilot whose first wife wouldn't let him fly, and he worked
      in a shop and as a houseboy before meeting Chaplin at the Los
      Angeles Athletic Club, where the actor then lived.

      Their relationship didn't end until 1934, when Kono complained about
      the spending habits of Goddard, Chaplin's third wife. Chaplin sided
      with his wife. Kono walked out. "It was a matter of face for him,"
      says Ono.

      Kono did take up Chaplin's offer to become the Japan representative
      of United Artists (which Chaplin co-owned) but quit after a year,
      muttering about sabotage from other Chaplin employees. He then slid
      into a social world that included Japanese naval spies who were
      scouting for information on U.S. Navy battleships. The FBI arrested
      Kono on espionage charges, though the allegations were dropped in
      favor of attempts to deport him.

      But when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Kono was rearrested the same
      day. He spent the war in internment camps, where he ran the
      projector on movie nights, just as he had done for the screenings at
      the Chaplin mansion, says Clyde Kusatsu, a Los Angeles actor and
      filmmaker who is finishing a shooting script for a documentary on
      Kono.

      He was not released until 1948.

      Kono's defenders say he never was a spy, though he did sign a
      confession while in custody. Ono contends that Kono sought only to
      be a bridge between Japan and America. "While the Japanese navy may
      have used Kono as a tool, we do not believe he betrayed the United
      States," Ono says.

      Kono fought further attempts to deport him after the war but by the
      1950s had returned to his birthplace of Hiroshima. He was living
      there in 1961 when Chaplin came to Japan for the last time.

      On that trip, Chaplin went to Hiroshima, where he visited the Peace
      Memorial Park built below the spot where the atomic bomb was
      detonated. Kono lived in an apartment facing the park.

      The two never met.

      ==

      Chaplin's Driver
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/asianamericanartistry/message/894


      Who the hell was Kono? Chaplin's driver who also was his personal
      secretary, a handy man and a friend? Or was he a friend? Why did they
      go separate ways? And how did they find together in the first place?

      He was born 1888 and moved to the US at the age of 17 or 18 to become
      a lawyer. He saw an article in a newspaper providing a job as a
      chauffeur and ended up coincidentally with Charly Chaplin.

      Kono showed peculiar behavior in the beginning, asking Chaplin to
      pray for the emperor, acting weird or with anxiety. When the Japanese
      president, Inukai Takeshi at that time had been assassinated, it
      became clear to Chaplin that Kono had been once pressured by the
      Japanese right wing, still carrying the fright with him.

      So was he satisfied with his boss? He was fond of him, one can
      probably say and ill mouthed about Chaplin's second very young wife
      Rita Grey, who was an avid spender of money and enjoyed parties with
      marine officers. This is according to a memoir by Mr. Ushihara, a
      Japanese Director, who's wish was to be a student of Chaplin. He
      therefore contacted Mr. Kono, who replied: "My uncle is a very
      difficult man. But I will try what I can do." When permission was
      achieved Ushihara to be a student of Chaplin, Kono was supposed to
      have exclaimed joy as if it was his own destiny, showing his side of
      a compassionate good man.

      Mr. Kono also tried to get some other acts together, for example when
      director Sternberg asked him to arrange Chaplin to see his movie,
      shoving a little bit of money into the pocket of Kono. Oh, was Kono
      greedy? Noo, this example should show, how Kono would work hard to
      get pieces moving together, taking his job serious as a secretary of
      Chaplin. It is obvious that Kono was a man of the Japanese Meiji
      period with strict moral orders. Chaplin invited Kono to play a part
      in his movie "Adventure" (Gee is this the American title? I just
      translated it from the Japanese) and was glad to tell his wife about
      the additional income he had received, upon which, his wife
      responded: "How dare you, an actor, this will never be forgiven by
      our ancestors, you should never, ever try to do this kind of thing
      again."

      Kono tried to support Chaplin in many ways. When Chaplin was going
      through the divorce with his first wife Mildred Harris, his
      project "Kid" which was in the process of being edited, was in danger
      of being held down by the court as a property. Both ended up fleeing,
      Kono driving the car with 60$ and Chaplin himself with 70$ in his
      pocket respectively all the way down to Salt Lake in Utah.

      According to David Robinson, who wrote about Chaplin, Kono took also
      care of private matters. He was supposed to have camouflaged the
      proceedings with Rita Grey and Chaplin, to support a smooth process
      for their wedding.

      After 18 years Kono decided to go separate ways. Chaplin was now
      together with Paulet, who was more engaged than his preceding wives
      in Chaplin's personal matters. According to Mr. Yodogawa, the famous
      film critic of Japan, Kono was jealous of Chaplin's new wife, and mad
      about Chaplin, who had made himself being a marionette of her,
      telling him what Kono had to do. Chaplin later apologized and asked
      Kono to come back again three times, but his wounded pride never
      really healed.

      Chaplin arranged him new work in the movie business, but Kono never
      found a way to stay there. He opened up a law office in Little Tokyo
      at Los Angeles and was known among the neighbors just as a lawyer
      Kono, not by the long-term relationship with a famous man. He reveals
      the character of the old traditional Japanese, pertaining thoughts
      and memories for himself. That on the other hand is the lack of a
      million seller titled "Charly Chaplin, the Writer, Director, Actor
      and the Man who Shagged a Million Chicks". (Had I been Kono, gee, I
      would be living in Hollywood in a mansion with three swimming pools
      and 100 chicks.)

      In the late days Kono was living in his apartment in Hiroshima. Mr.
      Yodogawa, the film critic paid him a visit and recalls the last time
      he met him that he would speak of Chaplin with love and before
      departing, that he was guiding out the way and looking at him until
      he disappeared in the far with eyes that followed his past.

      Kono Toraichi

      1888 Born

      1916-1934 Personal Secretary and Driver of Chaplin

      1971 Passed away in Hiroshima

      This piece was written based on the information by Hisaji Kubo.

      ***

      http://www.retrogroove.com/Vol6.articles/ince.part2.htm
      Although Chaplin would deny, at times none too convincingly, that he
      was even present on the Oneida that weekend, few believed him. One
      witness to the contrary was Vera Bernett, who later told Davies'
      biographer, Fred Lawernce Guiles, that she remembered Chaplin and
      Louella Parsons picking up Marion at the studio on their way to San
      Pedro. Indeed, the most damaging alleged witness was none other than
      the normally discreet Toraichi Kono, a loyal Chaplin employee.
      Supposedly on the dock in San Diego waiting to pick up Chaplin, who
      scheduled to meet United Artists executives the next day, Kono was
      present when Ince was brought ashore, and he saw something that upset
      him. Kono confided in his wife, and the story spread among the
      network of Japanese domestic workers in Beverly Hills.

      By the time the gossip reached the ears of actress Eleanor Boardman,
      the future wife of King Vidor, it was being said that Kono had seen
      Ince bleeding from a bullet wound to the head.

      That William Randolph Hearst shot Ince became part of Hollywood
      legend. It was often alleged, though never proved, that Hearst made a
      private settlement to Ince's estate, paying off the mortgages on the
      Château Elysée apartment building in Hollywood and another rental
      property. There are two schools of thought on this theory. One
      dismisses the Ince shooting as a fantasy; the other claims that
      Hearst had found Marion and Ince together in the yacht's galley late
      at night. Ince was looking for something to calm his upset stomach,
      but Hearst, mistaking him for Chaplin in the poor light, assumed he
      had walked in on a tryst and shot him.

      Chaplin's comments on Ince's death in his autobiography are equally
      bizarre. After denying that he was on the Oneida, he goes on to say
      that he, Hearst, and Davies visited Ince's bedside together a week
      after he fell ill. Ince seemed to be improving, Chaplin says, but
      died two weeks later.

      Why would Chaplin, Hearst and Davies have paid a joint call on Ince
      unless they had all been together on the yacht? On the other hand,
      why would Chaplin invent such a story? At any rate Ince survived not
      three weeks but less than forty-eight hours. That Friday Chaplin was
      a pallbearer at Ince's funeral. On Saturday, he completed the
      renegotiation of his United Artists contract and on Sunday, he
      departed for Guaymas to reunite with his underage wife Lita, whom he
      was forced marry after she became impregnated.

      Toraichi Kono, widely thought to know the truth about the Oneida
      incident, was later the chief source for Gerith von Ulm's gossipy but
      generally accurate biography of Chaplin. Published while Hearst and
      Davies were still alive, the book makes no claim that Ince was shot,
      but it does say Chaplin's decision to marry Lita Grey devastated a
      certain star, since "retired from the screen." This star was surely
      Marion Davies, though von Ulm, who had reason to fear a libel suit,
      chose to identify her by the pseudonym "Maisie," who wrote naïve and
      highly indiscreet love letters, using Kono as an intermediary. The
      envelope of one such letter, Kono recalled, bore the imprint of her
      lipstick-smeared mouth - the lover's come for "sealed with a kiss."

      ==============

      Biography for Toraichi Kono
      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0465231/bio


      Born in 1888 and raised in Hiroshima, Japan, Toraichi Kono
      immigrated to the U.S. around 1906 to study law and become a lawyer.

      In 1916, when Charles Chaplin was recruiting a trusty for his
      secretary, Kono applied for the position and immediately obtained
      it. Chaplin hired the Japanese allegedly because the cane, one of
      the trademarks of the Little Tramp character Chaplin played, was
      made in Japan.

      During the next 18 years, Kono was Chaplin's right-hand butler both
      in his public and private life. As a result, strongly impressed and
      admired by Kono's trustful job performances, Chaplin visited Japan 4
      times in his lifetime (1932, twice in 1936, 1961). However, their
      close relationship with trust ended in 1934 when Kono reproached
      Paulette Goddard, Chaplin's 3rd wife, for being a spendthrift.

      It made Chaplin angry and made him dismiss Kono after 18 years as
      his butler. As Kono, 1-year older than his boss, was thinking of
      returning home to Japan, Chaplin appointed him as the chief manager
      of the United Artists Japan.

      According to Kono himself, Chaplin visited him one day at his house
      and appeared to be eager to have him back, but Kono declined. Not
      fitting in the new position as well as the old one, Kono came back
      to Los Angeles and worked as a lawyer. Toraichi Kono died in his
      home Hiroshima, Japan in 1971 at age 83.


      ============

      http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0465231/
      City Lights (1931) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka City Lights: A Comedy Romance in Pantomime (USA)


      The Circus (1928) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Gold Rush (1925) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      A Woman of Paris (1923) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Pilgrim (1923) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      Pay Day (1922/I) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Idle Class (1921) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Vanity Fair (USA)
      The Kid (1921) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)


      A Day's Pleasure (1919) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka A Ford Story (USA)
      Sunnyside (1919) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      Shoulder Arms (1918) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      A Dog's Life (1918) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Adventurer (1917/I) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Immigrant (1917) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka A Modern Columbus (USA)
      ... aka Broke (USA: 8mm release title (short version))
      ... aka Hello U.S.A. (USA)
      ... aka The New World (USA)
      The Cure (1917) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka The Water Cure (USA)
      Easy Street (1917) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      The Rink (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Rolling Around (USA)
      ... aka Waiter (USA)
      Behind the Screen (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka The Pride of Hollywood (USA)
      The Pawnshop (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka At the Sign of the Dollar (USA)
      ... aka High and Low Finance (USA)
      The Count (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Almost a Gentleman (USA)
      One A.M. (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Solo (USA)
      The Vagabond (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Gipsy Life (USA)
      The Fireman (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka A Gallant Fireman (USA)
      ... aka The Fiery Circle (USA)
      The Floorwalker (1916) (driver: Mr. Chaplin) (uncredited)
      ... aka Shop (USA)
      ... aka The Store


      ========


      ----- 1941 -----
      http://www.ww2pacific.com/relocatime.html
      Spy LCDR Ohmea allowed to return to Japan so as to keep tabs on his
      successor.

      May 19. Spy Nakauchi intercepted message: "We have already
      established contact with absolutely reliable Japanese in San Pedro
      and San Diego area, who will keep close watch on all shipments of
      airplanes and other war material…"

      mid-June 1941. Spies LCDR Itaru Tachibana and Toraichi Kono
      arrested.


      ============


      The Search for Toraichi Kono
      By Philip W. Chung
      http://news.asianweek.com/news/view_article.html?
      article_id=add05c253216f181198fba838790a3d6


      I first came across Toraichi Kono by chance. Several years ago, the
      Los Angeles County Museum of Art was showing a retrospective of
      Charlie Chaplin's films. I happened to catch Chaplin's 1917 silent
      short, The Adventurer, and noticed that the character of the Tramp's
      chauffeur in the movie was played by a handsome, young Asian man.
      Upon further research, I learned that the role had actually been
      played by Chaplin's real-life chauffeur, a Japanese American man
      named Toraichi Kono.

      For more than 17 years, Kono worked with Chaplin, first as his
      driver, and later as his personal valet. Kono was the man who held
      the keys to Chaplin's kingdom. (At the time, Chaplin was the most
      famous movie star in the world.) He was Chaplin's closest
      confidante, his caretaker and according to most accounts, the man
      Chaplin trusted more than anyone else.

      I remembered that, years ago, I had met Chaplin's daughter, the
      great actress Geraldine Chaplin, and she had told me about her
      father's Japanese valet and their decades long friendship. Then two
      years ago, I was having lunch with Clyde Kusatsu, the Japanese
      American actor best known for his roles in films like Farewell to
      Manzanar and for playing Margaret Cho's father on All-American Girl.
      I casually mentioned what I knew about Kono to Clyde and he
      immediately responded to it.

      "At a time when Asian Pacific Americans were marginalized, here's
      this case of a Japanese man in a position of some power in
      Hollywood," Kusatsu said about what attracted him to Kono's
      story. "I thought it was important to reclaim a piece of history
      that's been all but forgotten."

      Clyde recruited two other colleagues — Warner Brothers on-line
      producer Jason James and Tim Lounibos, one of my co-Artistic
      Directors at Lodestone Theatre Ensemble — and we decided to produce
      a documentary film about the life of Toraichi Kono with the notion
      that we would later develop the story into a possible feature-length
      narrative film or play.

      For almost two years we've been slowly, but surely, researching and
      collecting information about Kono.

      Kono was born to a wealthy family in Hiroshima and quickly turned
      into an "undutiful" son, preferring to hang out with geishas,
      gambling and developing a rebellious spirit that members of upper
      class Japanese society frowned upon. He was sent to live with family
      in Seattle for a year in hopes that he would learn discipline and
      obedience, but when he returned to Japan, not much had changed.

      Shortly thereafter, Kono ran away from home and managed to both con
      his way onto a ship bound for America and convince U.S. immigration
      officials to let him into the country.

      By all accounts, Kono was a cunning and resourceful individual. Once
      in the United States, he hoped to be an aviator, but by now he was
      married and had a son. His wife forbade him from flying. Not wanting
      to become a farmer or gardener like many of the other Japanese
      immigrants, Kono learned to drive and became Charlie Chaplin's
      chauffeur.

      In time, Kono became Chaplin's valet and confidante. Kono was the
      man you went to see if you needed something from Charlie Chaplin. It
      didn't matter if you were the president or a fellow Hollywood
      celebrity, you had to pay respects to Kono if you wanted to get to
      Chaplin. Even Chaplin's own family had to make arrangements through
      Kono if they wanted an audience with Charlie. In this regard, Kono
      had a position of power and direct access to a world that was off-
      limits to most Asians living in America at the time.

      Kono left Chaplin's employment in the early 1930s because he
      couldn't get along with Chaplin's then-wife, actress Paulette
      Goddard. After this point, his story gets murkier but also more
      interesting. We know he spent a year working in the Tokyo office of
      United Artists, but after that things got stranger.

      Before the United States entered World War II, Kono was back in the
      United States working in some capacity for or with Itaru Tachibana,
      a Japanese naval officer who was later arrested and indicted for
      spying. Kono, himself, was detained for a period of time as a
      possible Japanese spy. After Pearl Harbor, Kono was interned at the
      camp in Kooskia, Idaho.

      So far, the information we've found about Kono's activities during
      this period and beyond has been vague and raises more questions than
      answers.

      Recently, we received word from the California Civil Liberties
      Public Education Program (CCLPEP) that they would award us a grant
      to start work on our documentary film.
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