Charles Chaplin (1889-1977)

Charles Chaplin - Silent Film Star

“The Little Tramp”

Legendary silent film comedian Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London, England on April 16th, 1889 into a relatively well-to-do theatrical family. His father, Charles, and his mother Hannah were both headliners in their day in the English music halls. Charlie’s childhood became Dickensian in its poverty and tragedy however, for his father separated from his mother when he was a young boy and remarried another woman, rarely providing financial support to his first family, Hannah, Charlie and his older half brother Sydney Chaplin. Hannah had another son by comic Leo Dryden named Wheeler, but that relationship ended as well. She tried to resurrect her stage career, but her voice began to suffer from weakness and lack of projection, and ultimately she had to leave theater work behind, however not before Charlie had had a chance to perform in his mother’s place on stage, singing a popular tune to thunderous applause. Hannah became a seamstress to try and make a living to support Charles and Sydney for whom she had custody. For awhile she was successful; her clients were her old friends from her music hall days; Charlie and Sydney went to school and life was relatively normal. Young Charles had little contact with his father growing up, and Charles Sr. eventually died from alcoholism. After his death what little extra support Hannah had been receiving from him disappeared. Her sewing jobs began to diminish, and her mind began to fail from malnutrition; any food she bought she gave to her two boys instead. Charles and Sydney spent the rest of their childhoods in and out of charity homes and workhouses, wandering the streets, or doing occasional acting jobs to make some extra income. Young Syd left to join the navy as soon as he was able, and for a time Charlie was alone, living with his insane mother in a slum area of London, waiting desperately for his older brother to send them money. Charlie avoided school in the hopes of not being discovered, so that he would not be separated from his mother. But Hannah was eventually discovered by neighbors to be completely insane and she was committed to an asylum in 1903. She remained there until 1921, when Charlie moved her to California to a more professional nursing home. Hannah died in 1928.

Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance

Charlie Chaplin with his frequent leading lady Edna Purviance

Charlie’s first real stage experience began at the age of eight with the music hall troupe The Eight Lancashire Lads. He loved the experience. At age seventeen Charles joined the Fred Karno Company and toured Britain performing, and then excitedly went off with them to America for their first tour in 1910. He and the troupe traveled by train and performed in several major U.S. cities. Charlie fell in love with America, its fast pace and positive, upbeat atmosphere. While performing with Karno on a second trip to the United States, Charlie’s popular stage act was seen by a young filmmaker named Mack Sennett. Charles was persuaded by Sennett to leave the stage for that new fangled form of entertainment, the “flickers.” At first Charlie was loath to leave but when the salary was mentioned he quickly changed his mind. It was much more than he was earning on the stage.

Chaplin in A Dog's Life

Charles Chaplin and Tom Wilson in “A Dog’s Life” (1918)

Charles Chaplin made his screen debut in a Keystone short called “Making a Living” (1914), but he did not make a big impression at first. Anxious to succeed, Charlie improvised with costumes in his private dressing room, until one day he experimented with a combination which felt perfect to him: droopy trousers, tight coat, derby hat, floppy shoes, and cane. The Little Tramp was born. Charlie found immediate success with the new character; even the crew members and co-stars on his sets laughed at the little fellow’s antics. He made 35 films for Sennett in his first year, then moved on to the Essanay, Mutual, and First National studios. Searching for ways to increase his artistic freedom and his profits he joined with friends Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists in 1919. By then Charlie was an international film star whose films such as “The Immigrant” (1917), and “Shoulder Arms” (1918) were tremendous box office successes. Other hit films for Charlie included “The Kid” (1921), which featured his child discovery, young Jackie Coogan, “The Gold Rush” (1924) and “The Circus” (1928). Essentially a mime and a dancer, Charles resisted the coming of sound as long as possible. He made two classics after the advent of sound: “City Lights” (1931) a completely silent film with musical soundtrack, and “Modern Times” (1936) which had a musical soundtrack, sound effects, and a few talking sequences. Charles was the first person in Hollywood to dare make fun of the German dictator, Adolph Hitler, with his film “The Great Dictator” (1940). However he claimed later that he would not have made the film if he had known of the existence of the concentration camps and the magnitude of Hitler’s genocide. Although critics at the time did not like the film the public loved it, and the film made a fortune for Chaplin.

Charles and Oona Chaplin and their two children

Charlie Chaplin, his wife Oona Chaplin, and their first two children,
Geraldine and Michael, in March 1946

Charlie’s professional success in films was tempered by much unhappiness and controversy in his personal life. His first two marriages, to actress Mildred Harris, who had a son with Charlie who lived only a few days, and to actress Lita Grey ended in bitter divorce. Charlie had two sons with Lita named Charles Jr. and Sydney, but he had restricted access to them for years after the divorce. A third marriage to actress Paulette Goddard was a happier experience, though it too ended in divorce when the two grew apart professionally and personally. His fourth marriage to Oona O’Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O’Neill, in 1943 was his happiest and most stable marriage, lasting until Charlie’s death in 1977. The fact that Oona decided to give up her own acting ambitions to be a wife and mother no doubt contributed to the success of the marriage; for once Charlie had a mate who was not in competition with him. Charles had eight children with Oona, including Geraldine Chaplin, who went on to become an actress and to appear as Tonya in David Lean’s classic “Dr. Zhivago” in 1965. In the early years of Charlie’s relationship and marriage to Oona he had to undergo the stress of a paternity suit charged to him by an imbalanced actress named Joan Barry who had been obsessed with him. A blood test proved that Charles could not possibly be the father of Barry’s illegitimate baby; nevertheless Charlie had to submit to two trials on the matter, the second one finding him guilty. At the time blood tests were not admissible in court as evidence. He was ordered to pay child support for a baby that was not his biological child. This incident, combined with the investigation into his life and political views by J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI and the House Committee on Un-American Activities, finally helped Charles and Oona decide they were better off raising their children in Europe. Although the U.S. government never had anything concrete they could pin on him – in fact they seemed to forget the millions of dollars he had raised for them in war bonds during World War One and the millions United Artists had paid in taxes to the U.S. government – Charles and Oona left Hollywood and their old friends and family behind and moved to Switzerland, where they lived out the remainder of their lives in relative peace and quiet, raising their children, traveling, entertaining, and involved in occasional film projects. Charles published his autobiography, “My Autobiography” in 1964, an interesting, if incomplete read, filled with accounts of his poignant childhood and his personal encounters with the humble and famous. He published a second autobiographical volume, “My Life in Pictures”, in 1974.

Charles made several sound films in the 1940’s and 1950’s, including the memorable “Limelight” (1952), which featured an appearance by his old contemporary and friend Buster Keaton. The last film he made in which he appeared as an actor was “A King In New York” (1957), in which his son Michael also appeared. During the years Charles had helped both his brothers Sydney and Wheeler land film work in Hollywood, and Sydney had also acted as Charlie’s business manager. His last film project was as director for “A Countess from Hong Kong” (1966), starring Marlon Brando, a failure at the box office. However both “Limelight” and “Countess” featured beautiful musical scores created by Charles Chaplin. He also composed lovely Victorian style melodies for his classic “City Lights” score.

In 1971 Charles Chaplin returned to the United States to a warm welcome, to receive a special Academy Award for lifetime achievement in film. He wept as he received his Oscar and seemed genuinely humbled by the experience and appreciative of all the good will bestowed on him. A British subject until his death, Charles Chaplin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975. He died peacefully in his sleep on Christmas Day, 1977. Much of Charlie Chaplin’s silent film work has survived, and has been restored and transferred to video and DVD for future generations to rediscover and enjoy. ~ Copyright © 2004

Charles Chaplin’s Silent Films

City Lights (1931) …. A Tramp
… aka City Lights: A Comedy Romance in Pantomime (1931) (USA)
Show People (1928) (uncredited) …. Cameo appearance
Circus, The (1928) (as Charlie Chaplin) …. A Tramp
Gold Rush, The (1925) …. The Lone Prospector
Woman of Paris, A (1923) (uncredited) …. Porter
Hollywood (1923) …. Cameo appearance
… aka Joligud (1923)
Souls for Sale (1923) …. Celebrity
Pilgrim, The (1923) …. The Pilgrim
Pay Day (1922/I) …. Laborer
Idle Class, The (1921) …. Tramp and Husband
… aka Vanity Fair (1921) (USA)
Nut, The (1921) (uncredited) …. Cameo appearance

Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan, Charlie’s discovery,
in the classic silent film “The Kid” (1921)

Kid, The (1921) …. Tramp
Day’s Pleasure, A (1919) …. Father
… aka Ford Story, A (1919) (USA)
Sunnyside (1919) …. Farm handyman
Shoulder Arms (1918) …. Recruit
Triple Trouble (1918) …. The Janitor
… aka Charlie’s Triple Trouble (1918) (USA)
Dog’s Life, A (1918) …. Tramp
Chase Me Charlie (1918) …. Charlie
Adventurer, The (1917/I) …. The Convict
Immigrant, The (1917) …. Immigrant
… aka Broke (1917) (USA: 8mm release title (short version))
… aka Hello U.S.A. (1917) (USA)
… aka Modern Columbus, A (1917) (USA)
… aka New World, The (1917/I) (USA)
Cure, The (1917) …. The Inebriate
… aka Water Cure, The (1917) (USA)
Easy Street (1917) …. The Derelict
Rink, The (1916) …. A Waiter. Posing as Sir Cecil Seltzer
… aka Rolling Around (1916) (USA)
… aka Waiter (1916) (USA)

Charles Chaplin and Doug Fairbanks on skiing holiday

Charles Chaplin and one of his closest friends Douglas Fairbanks on skiing holiday

Behind the Screen (1916) …. David (Goliath’s assistant)
… aka Pride of Hollywood, The (1916) (USA)
Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916, The (1916) (as Charlie Chaplin) …. The tramp
… aka Chaplin Revue of 1916, The (1916) (USA: alternative title)
Pawnshop, The (1916) …. Pawnshop Assistant
… aka At the Sign of the Dollar (1916) (USA)
… aka High and Low Finance (1916) (USA)
Count, The (1916) …. Tailor’s Apprentice
… aka Almost a Gentleman (1916) (USA)
One A.M. (1916) …. Drunk
… aka Solo (1916) (USA)
Vagabond, The (1916) …. Street Musician
… aka Gipsy Life (1916) (USA)
Fireman, The (1916) …. Fireman
… aka Fiery Circle, The (1916) (USA)
… aka Gallant Fireman, A (1916) (USA)
Floorwalker, The (1916) …. Tramp
… aka Shop (1916) (USA)
… aka Store, The (1916)
Burlesque on Carmen (1916) …. Darn Hosiery
… aka Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen (1916) (USA: complete title)
Police (1916) …. Tramp
… aka Charlie in the Police (1916) (USA)
… aka Charlie the Burglar (1916)
… aka Housebreaker (1916)
Burlesque on Carmen (1915) …. Darn Hosiery
… aka Charlie Chaplin’s Burlesque on Carmen (1915) (USA: complete title)
His Regeneration (1915)
Night in the Show, A (1915) …. Mr. Pest and Mr. Rowdy
… aka Charlie at the Show (1915)
… aka Night at the Show, A (1915)
Mixed Up (1915)
Shanghaied (1915) …. Tramp
… aka Charlie Shanghaied (1915) (USA)
… aka Charlie on the Ocean (1915)
… aka Charlie the Sailor (1915)
Bank, The (1915) …. Janitor
… aka Charlie Detective (1915)
… aka Charlie at the Bank (1915)
… aka Charlie in the Bank (1915) (USA)
Woman, A (1915/I) …. Gentleman/’Nora Nettlerash’
… aka Charlie the Perfect Lady (1915) (USA)
… aka Perfect Lady, The (1915)
Work (1915) …. Izzy A. Wake’s assistant
… aka Charlie at Work (1915)
… aka Charlie the Decorator (1915) (USA)
… aka Only a Working Man (1915)
… aka Paperhanger, The (1915)
… aka Plumber, The (1915)
By the Sea (1915) …. Stroller
… aka Charlie by the Sea (1915) (USA)
… aka Charlie’s Day Out (1915)
Tramp, The (1915) …. Tramp
… aka Charlie on the Farm (1915) (USA)
… aka Charlie the Hobo (1915)
… aka Charlie the Tramp (1915) (USA)
Jitney Elopement, A (1915) …. Suitor, the Fake Count
… aka Charlie’s Elopement (1915)
… aka Married in Haste (1915)
In the Park (1915) …. Charlie
… aka Charlie in the Park (1915)
… aka Charlie on the Spree (1915)
Champion, The (1915) …. Challenger
… aka Battling Charlie (1915)
… aka Champion Charlie (1915)
… aka Charlie the Champion (1915) (USA)
Night Out, A (1915/I) …. Reveller
… aka Champagne Charlie (1915)
… aka Charlie’s Drunken Daze (1915) (USA)
… aka Charlie’s Night Out (1915) (USA)
… aka His Night Out (1915) (USA)
His New Job (1915) …. Film Extra
… aka Charlie’s New Job (1915)
Between Showers (1914) …. Masher
… aka Charlie and the Umbrella (1914)
… aka Flirts, The (1914)
… aka In Wrong Thunder and Lightning (1914) (USA)
Busy Day, A (1914) …. Wife
… aka Busy as Can Be (1914) (USA)
… aka Lady Charlie (1914)
… aka Militant Suffragette (1914)
Caught in a Cabaret (1914) …. Waiter
… aka Charlie the Waiter (1914) (USA)
… aka Faking with Society (1914)
… aka Jazz Waiter (1914)
… aka Prime Minister Charlie (1914) (USA)
… aka Waiter, The (1914)
Caught in the Rain (1914) …. Tipsy Hotel Guest
… aka At It Again (1914)
… aka In the Park (1914) (USA: reissue title)
… aka Who Got Stung? (1914)
Face on the Bar Room Floor, The (1914) …. Artist
… aka Ham Actor, The (1914)
… aka Ham Artist, The (1914)
Fatal Mallet, The (1914) …. Suitor
… aka Hit Him Again (1914)
… aka Pile Driver, The (1914)
… aka Rival Suitors, The (1914)

Chaplin with his books   Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush

A Chaplin study in contrasts: a gentleman of privilege and the little tramp which provided the privilege

Gentlemen of Nerve (1914) …. Track Fanatic
… aka Charlie at the Races (1914)
… aka Some Nerve (1914)
Her Friend the Bandit (1914) …. Bandit
… aka Mabel’s Flirtation (1914)
… aka Thief Catcher, A (1914)
His Musical Career (1914) …. Piano Mover
… aka Charlie as a Piano Mover (1914) (USA)
… aka Musical Tramps (1914)
… aka Piano Movers, The (1914)
His New Profession (1914) …. Charlie
… aka Good for Nothing, The (1914/II)
… aka Helping Himself (1914)
Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) …. Tramp
… aka Children’s Automobile Race, The (1914)
… aka Kid’s Auto Race (1914)
… aka Pest, The (1914) (USA)
Mabel at the Wheel (1914) …. Villain
… aka His Daredevil Queen (1914)
… aka Hot Finish, A (1914/II) (USA)
Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914) …. Tramp
… aka Hotel Mixup (1914)
Property Man, The (1914) …. The Property Man
… aka Charlie on the Boards (1914) (USA)
… aka Getting His Goat (1914)
… aka Props (1914) (USA)
… aka Rustabout, The (1914)
… aka Vamping Venus (1914)
Recreation (1914) …. Tramp
… aka Spring Fever (1914)
Those Love Pangs (1914) …. Masher
… aka Busted Hearts (1914)
… aka Oh, You Girls (1914) (USA)
… aka Rival Mashers, The (1914)
Twenty Minutes of Love (1914) …. Pickpocket
… aka Cops and Watches (1914)
… aka He Loves Her So (1914)
… aka Love-Friend (1914)
His Prehistoric Past (1914) …. Mr. Weakchin
… aka Caveman, The (1914)
… aka Dream, A (1914)
… aka Hula-Hula Dance, The (1914) (USA)
… aka King Charlie (1914)
Getting Acquainted (1914) …. Spouse
… aka Exchange Is No Robbery (1914)
… aka Fair Exchange, A (1914)
… aka Hello Everybody (1914)
Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) …. Charlie, City Slicker
… aka For the Love of Tillie (1914)
… aka Marie’s Millions (1914)
… aka Tillie’s Big Romance (1914)
… aka Tillie’s Nightmare (1914)
Dough and Dynamite (1914) …. Waiter
… aka Cook, The (1914)
… aka Doughnut Designer, The (1914)
… aka New Cook, The (1914)
His Trysting Place (1914) …. Husband
… aka Family Home (1914)
… aka Family House (1914)
… aka Henpecked Spouse, The (1914) (USA)
… aka His Trysting Places (1914) (USA)
… aka Ladies’ Man, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Very Much Married (1914) (USA)
New Janitor, The (1914) …. Janitor
… aka Blundering Boob, The (1914)
… aka New Porter, The (1914)
… aka Porter, The (1914)
Rounders, The (1914) …. Reveller
… aka Going Down (1914) (USA)
… aka Love Thief, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Oh, What a Night (1914) (USA)
… aka Revelry (1914)
… aka Tip, Tap, Toe (1914) (USA)
… aka Two of a Kind (1914)
Masquerader, The (1914) …. Film Actor
… aka Female Impersonator, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Female, The (1914)
… aka Perfumed Lady, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Picnic, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Putting One Over (1914)
Laughing Gas (1914) …. Dentist’s Assistant
… aka Busy Little Dentist (1914) (USA)
… aka Dentist, The (1914)
… aka Down and Out (1914)
… aka Laffing Gas (1914) (USA)
… aka Tuning His Ivories (1914) (USA)
Mabel’s Married Life (1914) …. Mabel’s Husband
… aka Squarehead, The (1914)
… aka When You’re Married (1914)
Mabel’s Busy Day (1914) …. Tipsy Nuisance
… aka Charlie and the Sausages (1914)
… aka Hot Dog Charlie (1914)
… aka Hot Dogs (1914)
… aka Love and Lunch (1914)
Knockout, The (1914) …. Referee
… aka Counted Out (1914)
… aka Pugilist, The (1914)
Star Boarder, The (1914/II) …. The Star Boarder
… aka Fatal Lantern, The (1914) (USA)
… aka Hash-House Hero, The (1914)
… aka In Love with His Landlady (1914)
… aka Landlady’s Pet, The (1914) (USA)
Cruel, Cruel Love (1914) …. Lord Helpus
… aka Lord Helpus (1914)
His Favorite Pastime (1914) …. Drunken masher
… aka Bonehead, The (1914)
… aka Charlie Is Thirsty (1914) (USA)
… aka Charlie’s Reckless Fling (1914) (USA)
… aka Reckless Fling, The (1914) (USA)
Tango Tangles (1914) …. Tipsy Dancer
… aka Charlie’s Recreation (1914)
… aka Music Hall (1914)
Film Johnnie, A (1914) …. The Film Johnnie
… aka Charlie at the Studio (1914)
… aka Charlie the Actor (1914) (USA)
… aka Film Johnny (1914) (UK)
… aka Million Dollar Job (1914)
… aka Movie Nut (1914)
Making a Living (1914) …. Swindler
… aka Busted Johnny, A (1914)
… aka Doing His Best (1914)

To learn more about Charles Chaplin visit his profile on The Internet Movie Database


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