Charles Laughton’s widow, actress Elsa Lanchester, recalled that he had a couple of telling experiences on cross-country trains.
“Once, when Charles was traveling across the United States on the Super Chief in the late thirties, he sat in the dining car opposite a couple,” she wrote. “They were a nice, middle-aged, middle-class husband and wife, and Charles got into a conversation with them. The husband explained that he was in the wholesale dolls-underwear business.
“‘And you’re a famous actor, aren’t you?’ he asked.
His wife piped up, ‘But what do you do in real life, Mr. Laughton?’”
Lanchester wrote, “Charles was a moral man who was shocked by himself, so that he suffered the painful guilts of a highly moral individual. He could laugh at moral contradictions in others, but he couldn’t laugh at the paradoxes in himself. But he could roar with laughter when he told this story:
“On another of his trips across the country, talking to a couple in the dining car, Charles asked if they went to the theatre much in New York.
“ ‘No, we don’t go to plays nowadays,’ the husband answered. ‘We don’t approve of the immoral language.’
“Charles inquired, ‘May I ask, what is your work, your profession?’
“ ‘Oh,’ answered his wife, ‘my husband is in atomic research.’”