- Category : Entertainment-Comedy
- Type : MGP
- Profile : 1/3 - Investigating / Martyr
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Laws 1
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. KBE (April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an English comedy actor, becoming one of the most famous performers in the early to mid Hollywood cinema era, and also a notable director and musician. He is considered to be one of the finest mimes and clowns caught on film and has greatly influenced performers in this field.
Chaplin was one of the most creative and influential personalities in the silent film era: he acted in, directed, scripted, produced, and eventually scored his own films. His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years, from the Victorian stage and music hall in England as a child performer, almost until his death at the age of 88. Chaplin's high-profile public and private life encompassed highs and lows of both adulation and controversy.
His principal character was "The Tramp" (known as "Charlot" in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Turkey): a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman who wears a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes, a derby, carries a bamboo cane, and has a signature toothbrush moustache.
Charlie Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London. His parents, both entertainers in the Music Hall tradition, separated before he was three. The 1891 census shows his mother, the actress Lily Harvey (Hannah Harriet Hill), living with Charlie and his older brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth. As a child he lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, such as 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street and 46 Methley Street. His father Charles Chaplin Senior, who was of Roma ancestry,was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his brother briefly lived with him and his mistress, whose name was Louise, at 287 Kennington Road (which address is now ornamented with a plaque commemorating Chaplin's residence here) when his mother was on a bout of mental illness and was admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. Louise sent the young Chaplin to Kennington Road school. Chaplin's father died when Charlie was twelve in 1901. At the time of the 1901 Census, Charles was resided at 94 Ferndale Road, Lambeth with the The Eight Lancashire Lads led by John William Jackson the 17 year old son of one of the founders.
A larynx condition ended their mother’s career as a singer and her first crisis was when she was performing "La Cantina" at the Aldershot theatre, mainly frequented by rioters and soldiers, one of the worst places to perform. Hannah was badly injured by the objects the audience mercilessly threw at her and she was booed off the stage. Backstage, she cried and argued with her manager. In the meantime, Chaplin went on stage alone and started singing a very well known tune at that time (Jack Jones).
Hannah Chaplin was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum. Chaplin had to be left in the workhouse at Lambeth, London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell. The young Chaplin brothers forged a close relationship to survive. They gravitated to the Music Hall while still very young, and both proved to have considerable natural stage talent. Chaplin's early years of desperate poverty were a great influence on the characters and themes of his films and in later years he would re-visit the scenes of his childhood deprivation in Lambeth.
Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother, Wheeler Dryden, who was raised abroad by his father. He was later reconciled with the family, and worked for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.
Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after being brought to the U.S. by her sons.
Although baptised in the Church of England, Chaplin was an agnostic for most of his life.
Chaplin first toured America with the Fred Karno troupe from 1910 to 1912. Then, after five months back in England, he returned for a second tour and arrived in the United States with the Karno Troupe on October 2, 1912. In the Karno Company was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who would later become known as Stan Laurel. Chaplin and Laurel shared a room in a boarding house. Stan Laurel returned to England but Chaplin remained in the United States. In late 1913, Chaplin's act with the Karno Troupe was seen by film producer Mack Sennett, who hired him for his studio, the Keystone Film Company. Chaplin's first film appearance was in Making a Living a one-reel comedy released on February 2, 1914.
Pioneering film author
Chaplin in his famous "Tramp" costume
Kid Auto Races in Venice (1914): Chaplin's second film and the début of his "Tramp" costume.Chaplin's earliest films (1914) were made for Keystone Studios, where he developed his Tramp character and very quickly learned the art and craft of film making. The Tramp was first presented to the public in Chaplin's second film Kid Auto Races at Venice (released Feb 7th 1914) though Mabel's Strange Predicament, his third film, (released Feb 9th 1914) was produced a few days before. It was for this film that Chaplin first conceived of and played the Tramp. As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography:
I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter . However on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennet had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small mustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.
I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born (Chaplin, My Autobiography: 154).
By the end of his year at Keystone, he was directing and editing his own short films. These were an immediate, runaway success with the public, and even today Chaplin's screen presence in these films is apparent. In 1915 he began a year's contract with Essanay film studios, and further developed his film skills, adding new levels of depth and pathos to the Keystone-style slapstick. In 1916, he signed a lucrative deal with the Mutual Film Corporation to produce a dozen two-reel comedies. He was given near complete artistic control, and produced twelve films over an eighteen month period that rank among the most influential comedy films in cinema. Chaplin later said the Mutual period was the happiest of his career.
Most of the Chaplin films in circulation date from his Keystone, Essanay, and Mutual periods. After Chaplin assumed control of his productions in 1918 (and kept exhibitors and audiences waiting for them), entrepreneurs serviced the demand for Chaplin by bringing back his older comedies. The films were recut, retitled, and reissued again and again, first for theatres, then for the home-movie market, and in recent years, for home video. The 12 Mutual comedies were even revamped as sound movies in 1933, when producer Amadee J. Van Beuren added new orchestral scores and sound effects. A listing of the dozens of Chaplin films and alternate versions can be found in the Ted Okuda-David Maska book Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp.
Charlie Chaplin Studios, 1922At the conclusion of the Mutual contract in 1917, Chaplin signed a contract with First National to produce eight two-reel films. First National financed and distributed these pictures (1918-23) but otherwise gave him complete creative control over production. Chaplin built his own Hollywood studio and using his independence, created a remarkable, timeless body of work that remains entertaining and influential. Although First National expected Chaplin to deliver short comedies like the celebrated Mutuals, Chaplin ambitiously expanded most of his personal projects into longer, feature-length films, including Shoulder Arms (1918). The Pilgrim (1923); and the feature-length classic The Kid (1921).
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the United Artists film distribution company with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, all of whom were seeking to escape the growing power consolidation of film distributors and financiers in the developing Hollywood studio system. This move, along with complete control of his film production through his studio, assured Chaplin's independence as a film-maker. He served on the board of UA until the early 1950s.
All Chaplin's United Artists pictures were of feature length, beginning with A Woman of Paris (1923). This was followed by the classic The Gold Rush (1925), and The Circus (1928).
After the arrival of sound films, he made City Lights (1931), as well as Modern Times (1936) before he committed to sound. These were essentially silent films scored with his own music and sound effects. City Lights contained arguably his most perfect balance of comedy and sentimentality. Of the final scene, critic James Agee wrote in Life magazine in 1949 that it was the "greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid".
His dialogue films made in Hollywood were The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952).
"Modern Times" (1936) depicts the dismal situation of workers and the poor in industrial society. The Eating Machine scene depicts the dehumanizing effect of mechanization.While Modern Times (1936) is a non-talkie, it does contain talk — usually coming from inanimate objects such as a radio or a TV monitor. This was done to help 1930s audiences, who were out of the habit of watching silent films, adjust to not hearing dialogue. Modern Times was the first film where Chaplin's voice is heard (in the nonsense song at the end). However, for most viewers it is still considered a silent film -- and the end of an era.
Although "talkies" became the dominant mode of movie making soon after they were introduced in 1927, Chaplin resisted making such a film all through the 1930s. He considered cinema was essentially a pantomimic art. He said:
Action is more generally understood than words. Like the Chinese symbolism it will mean different things according to its scenic connotation. Listen to a description of some unfamiliar object—an African wart hog, for example. Then look at a picture of the animal and see how surprised you are (Time Magazine, February 9, 1931).
It is a tribute to Chaplin's versatility that he also has one film credit for choreography for the 1952 film Limelight, and another as a singer for the title music of the 1928's The Circus. The best-known of several songs he composed are "Smile", composed for the film "Modern Times" and given lyrics to help promote a 1950s revival of the film, famously covered by Nat King Cole. "This Is My Song" from Chaplin's last film, "A Countess From Hong Kong," was a number one hit in several different languages in the 1960s (most notably the version by Petula Clark), and Chaplin's theme from Limelight was a hit in the 50s under the title "Eternally." Chaplin's score to Limelight was nominated for an Academy Award in 1972 due to a decades-long delay in the film premièring in Los Angeles making it eligible.
His first dialogue picture, The Great Dictator (1940), was an act of defiance against Adolf Hitler and Nazism, filmed and released in the United States one year before it abandoned its policy of isolationism to enter World War II. Paulette Goddard filmed with Chaplin again, depicting a woman in the ghetto. The film was seen as an act of courage in the political environment of the time, both for its ridicule of Nazism and for the portrayal of overt Jewish characters and the depiction of their persecution. Chaplin played both the role of a Nazi-like dictator Adenoid Hynkel, clearly modeled on Hitler (even down to the toothbrush moustache), and also that of a Jewish barber cruelly persecuted by the Nazis. At the conclusion, the two characters Chaplin portrayed swapped positions through a complex plot. Chaplin dropped out of his comic character to address the audience directly in a speech. Interestingly, Chaplin was born just 4 days before Hitler.