Charlie Chaplin (April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977)
Charlie Chaplin, who brought laughter to millions worldwide as the silent “Little Tramp” clown, had the type of poor childhood that one would expect to find in a Dickens novel. Born in East Street, Walworth, London on 16 April, 1889, Charles Spencer Chaplin was the son of a music hall singer and his wife. Charlie Chaplin’s parents divorced early in his life, with his father providing little to no support, either financial or otherwise, leaving his mother to suupport them as best she could. Chaplin’s mother Hannah was the brightest spot in Charlie’s childhood; previously an actor on stage, she had lost her ability to perform, and managed to earn finance for living herself, Charlie, and Charlie’s older half-brother Sidney by sewing. She was an integral part of Charlie’s young life, and he credited her with much of his success. Sadly, she slowly get sick in mental illness, and by the time that Charlie was 7 years old, she waas confined to an madhouse; Charlie and Sidney were relegated to a workhouse (a government facility for orphaned and abandoned children) — not for the last time. After 2 months, she was released, and the family was happily reunited, for a time. In
Charlie Chaplin’s first taste of show business
Sidney left home first, working first on a sailing ship, and later on the stage, opening the door for Charlie to follow in his footsteps later. Young Charlie felt more alone than ever without his brother and as his closest friend . However, there was a bright spot as well in Chaplin’s 9th year — he toured with a stage company, the 8 Lancashire Lads,with a kindhearted couple who led the troupe, and gave Chaplin his first taste of stage life. He also met a young Stan Laurel as part of thhe troupe. At the age of 12, Charlie’s father died quite young.At the age of 14, Charlie’s mother is readmitted to the madhouse, while Sidney is out of town on an extended trip. Charlie provides for himself as best he can, desperate to avoid returning to the workhouse, until Sydney returns home. With Sidney’s return, young Chaplin’s luck begins to turn for the better. He wins a part in the stage play “Jim, A Romance of Cockney” to glowing reviews. Later in th
Charlie Chaplin tours with the Karno troupe, and enters films
Charlie continues in his acting career, as his brother Sidney joins the Karno troupe, again opening the way there for Charlie. Charlie joins the Karno troupe the next year, again working alongside Stan Laurel. Two years later, Chaplin (along with the rest of the Karno troupe) tour the United States’ vaudeville circuit. Two years later, in 1912, Charlie returns with the Karno troupe to the USA, but this time decides to stay. The next year, Chaplin leaves the stage to join Mack Sennet’s Keystone Films Studio, marking a milestone both in his own life and in the history of film.
Charlie Chaplin’s famous Tramp character is born
The pace of film making in early Hollywood seems impossible by today’s standards. In just two months, Chaplin appeared in some Keystone films. Although Chaplin started at the Keystone company as a bit player, with the introduction of his wo
By November of that year, Chaplin is leaving Keystone, having signed an exclusive contract for the newly formed Essanay Film Company. Sidney follows in Charlie’s steps this time, and joins the Keystone company shortly before Charlie left it.
In February of 1915, Chaplin begins work for Essanay, with greater control over his films than ever before — but not enough to avoid ‘creative differences’ with his bosses at Essanay. However, another milestone occurs at the same time — he meets Edna Purviance, who was to be his leading lady for many of his films, as well as an off-again, on-again romance. At Essanay, Chaplin created many of the classic short films he’s best remembered for, including His New Job, The Tramp, A Night in the Show, and The Immigrant. In February of 1916, Chaplin again jumps to another film company, Mutual, where he continues to create some of his finest films. In both his personal and professional life, his inner circle began to expand. He first hired Henry Bergman (the ‘heavy villain’ in so many of Chaplin’s films), as well as hi
Desiring even more creative control, Chaplin began building his own studio in the fall of 1917, and signed with yet another studio, First National. For the first time, Chaplin has complete control over every step of his films. For First National, Chaplin continues to create classic shorts: A Dog’s Life, Shoulder Arms, and The Bond. In 1918, he also marries for the first (but not the last) time, to Mildred Harris.
Charlie Chaplin – pathos and comedy
1919 was a year of both great gains and losses for Charlie. One of his most popular short films is released — demonstrating a degree of both pathos and comedy mixed together to a high degree. Chaplin had been slowly moving the Little Tramp towards this more balanced characterization for some time — and now Charlie the tramp is maturing. Sadly, Charlie the human being suffered a terrible loss, as his & Mildred’s newborn child is born, horribly deformed, and dies after only 3 days. Charliewas looking for solace in his work, alienating his wife even more. In that same year, he formed United Artists with his closest friend Douglas Fairbanks and Fairbanks’ wife, screen legend Mary Pickford — in a successful effort to keep the major studios from monopolizing and controlling all aspects of production. In December of that year, A Day’s Pleasure was released, dealing with a happy family trying to enjoy a quiet day at the beach — somewhat ironically, considering the state of Charlie Chaplin’s personal life at that stage. But something new was on the horizon — Charlie Chaplin had begun production of The Kid.
Charlie Chaplin – The Kid
The Kid was Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length movie. It, more than anything else to that date, made Chaplin a living legend. It took over a year to produce, and was an incredible success for Chaplin, both financially and artistically.
Over the next year, Charlie Chaplin continues working on The Kid, as his perfectionism takes more and more time in creating his film masterpieces. Sadly, he and Mildred Harris divorce at this time, in one of the most bitter Hollywood divorces seen up to this point. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, as The Kid is finally released to anonymous praise, and record box office success, in 1921. Charlie Chaplin had gone through a very difficult time, and needed time to relax, and renew himself. He took his first vacation, returning to Europe to crowds that were beyond his wildest dreams. In a bittersweet moment, he learns of Hetty Kelly’s death from her brother while in London. More cheerfully, he begins several friendships in London that become lifelong, including with the famous writer H. G. Welles. In addition, he and Sydney brought their mother, Hannah, to the States, where she lived the rest of her life, under the best medical care that Charlie’s money could provide.
Returning to America, and to his work, Charlie quickly produces his next film, The Idle Class. Charlie begins working on his next film, Payday, in his professional life, and meets the European actress Pola Negri, with whom he has an off-again, on-again romantic relationship that goes on for nearly a year. Over the course of that year, Charlie Chaplin releases his next film, The Pilgrim (about an escaped convict who takes on the role of a preacher to avoid recapture), and prepares for his first dramatic film, A Woman of Paris, designed to catapult Edna Purviance into her own career. Audiences by now had associated the name Charlie Chaplin with comedy, however, and were not expecting serious fare. Although a good movie, it died at the box office — and gave Charlie Chaplin his first commercial failure.
Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush – and in a family way
That was reversed by his next film, one of the classics of the silent era — The Gold Rush. It is the story of the Little Tramp going north to the Alaskan gold rush, and by more luck than skill both getting the girl and becoming rich. It is touching, poignant, and hilarious, containing some of Chaplin’s most famous routines. However, early in the filming of the movie, Chaplin’s leading lady, Lita Grey, had to be replaced by Georgia Hale — since Charlie Chaplin had married Lita Grey, and she had become pregnant. She was only 16 at the time.
Chaplin worried incessantly about his young wife’s pregnancy — had felt that the death of his first son was, in same way, his fault. Thankfully, in 1925 this child was born healthy — Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. Charlie had qualms about naming the child after himself, fearing that the boy would live in his father’s shadow, but he gave way to Lita. That same year, The Gold Rush was released to critical acclaim and great financial success. Some believe it is Chaplin’s finest film. Ironically, there was a third birth that year that would become integral to Chaplin years later — Oona O’Neil was born.
The next year, Charlie began work on his next film, The Circus. As John McCabe noted in his excellent biography of Charlie Chaplin, The Circus was not the equal of The Gold Rush, but was a good film in its’ own right — and, given the circumstances under which it was filmed, it was a miracle that it was even palatable.
Charlie Chaplin – the end of the Tramp
City Lights, released in 1931, was Charlie Chaplin’s first non-silent film. But it still was not a ‘talking’ picture. Chaplin included the musical soundtrack, and used sound effects, but nobody spoke in the picture yet. This was a major gamble for Chaplin, since sound pictures had now become the standard. But it was a gamble that paid off handsomely. The movie was both a financial and critical success, and many believe it to be one of Chaplin’s finest films, if not his best.
After City Lights, Charlie Chaplin did something totally out of character; he took a vacation. Actually, Chaplin took vacations quite frequently, both to refresh himself and to find new ideas for his films. But this was his first extended vacation, away from creating a new movie for nearly two years. He talks at length about this time in his autobiography (My Autobiography), including globe-trotting and how he was nearly assassinated in Japan; but perhaps his most pivotal moment was in 1932, when he met Paulette Goddard, who would costar in his next film — Modern Times — which would be the Tramp’s final film.
After the release of Modern Times, Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard were married in secret, while on vacation in the Orient. Upon his return, Charlie began his most courageous comedy yet – The Great Dictator, making fun of Adolph Hitler himself. Hitler, in many ways, was a natural subject for Chaplin to satirize. Hitler, it is said, adopte his mustache in imitation of Charlie. Both were smaller men, of disrespect build. And Chaplin saw the ideas that Hitler was championing as horrible, evil; and Charlie was determined to show the world what he saw.
Chaplin’s professional successes were repeatedly overshadowed by his private life, particularly with attention to his politics and his manner of relationship with young women. On October 23, 1918, the 28 year old Chaplin married the 16-year-old Mildred Harris. They had one child, Norman Spencer Chaplin, who died in babyhood; they divorced in 1920. At 35, he became involved with 16-year-old Lita Grey during preparations for The Gold Rush. They married on November 26, 1924 after she became pregnant. They had two sons, the actors Charles Chaplin Jr. (1925-1968) and Sydney Earle Chaplin. Their extraordinarily bitter divorce in 1928. The publication of court records, which included many intimate details, led to a campaign against him. Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard were involved in a romantic and professional relationship between 1932 and 1940, with Goddard living with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home for most of this time. After the relationship ended, Chaplin made public statements that they had been secretly married in 1936, but in private he claimed they were in fact never officially married. In any case, their common-law marriage ended friendly in 1942, with Goddard being granted a divorce and settlement. Afterwards, Chaplin briefly dated actress Joan Barry, but ended it when she started displaying signs of heavy mental illness. In May 1943, she filed a paternity suit against him. Blood tests proved Chaplin was not the father, but as blood tests were inadmissible evidence in court, he was ordered to pay $75 a week until the child turned 21. Shortly thereafter, he met Oona O’Neill, daughter of Eugene O’Neill, and married her on June 16, 1943. He was 54; she was 17. This marriage was a long and happy one, with eight children. They had three sons Christopher Chaplin, Eugene Chaplin and Michael Chaplin and five daughters Geraldine Chaplin, Josephine Chaplin, Jane Chaplin, Victoria Chaplin and Annette-Emilie Chaplin In April 1972, Chaplin returned to America to accept an Honorary Academy Award. The presentation is remembered as one of the emotional highlights in all of Academy Award history. Chaplin’s week long return visit to the US, his last, also included plentiful honors in both New York and Los Angeles.
On March 4, 1975 he was knighted as a Knight of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. The honour was first proposed in 1956, but vetoed by the British Foreign Office on the grounds that he sympathized with the left and that it would damage British relations with the United States, at the height of the Cold War and with planning for the ill-fated invasion of Suez underway.
Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977 in Vevey, Switzerland, following a stroke, aged 88, and was interred. On 1 March 1978, his body was stolen in an attempt to extort money from his family. The conspiracy failed. The robbers were captured, and the body was recovered 11 weeks later near Lake Geneva.
Among his many honours, Chaplin has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1985 he was honoured with his image on a postage stamp of the United Kingdom and in 1994 he appeared on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
In 1992 a film was made about his life entitled Chaplin, directed by Oscar-winner Sir Richard Attenborough, and starring Robert Downey Jr., Dan Aykroyd, Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter, portraying Charlie’s mother, her own grandmother), Sir Anthony Hopkins, Milla Jovovich, Moira Kelly, Kevin Kline, Diane Lane, Penelope Ann Miller, Paul Rhys, Marisa Tomei, Nancy Travis, and James Woods.
In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, he was voted among the top 20 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.
All his life, Chaplin was known to be an atheist. He had nothing but contempt for any form of religion. He once joked, “I would love to play the part of Jesus! I fit it perfectly because I am a comedian
Quotes by Charlie Chaplin:
• “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain, and play with it!”
• “I remain just one thing, and one thing only — and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.”
• “Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain”