Charles Chaplin

Picture Charles Chaplin
Foto: Albert Witzel (1879-1929)

1889 - 1977

It is difficult to summarize the life and work of the actor Charles Chaplin with a few lines. His name became a synonym for filmcomic at all was the greates movie star of all time with hin international language of humour.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in Walworth, London. His parents separated when he was one year old. His father died later because of excessive drinking. The health of his mother became visibly more and more fragile so that Charles Chaplin and his half brother Sydney - who also became an acotr - had to work for the living of the family. For this reason they also appeared already as children on different stages.

At the age of 17 he met Fred Karno who taught him the skill of pantomime, an important step for Charlie's future silent movie career. 

Eventually he was engaged by the famous Mack Sennett for his comedies and Charles Chaplin made his film debŁt with "Making a Living" (14).
At this time he hadn't create the figure of the tramp yet, this became only one year later his unmistakable trademark. Chaplin stated in later years that the French comic actor Max Linder set an example on him, and if you look at Chaplins early movies you can really point to a copy of Max Linder.

In 1914 followed many other movies like "The Knockout" (14), "Mable's Married Life" (24), "Laughing Gas" (14), "The New Janitor" (14), "Tillie's Punctured Romance" (14), "The Property Man" (14) and "Kid Auto Races at Venice" (14), where he appeared as a little tramp for the first time. In the following movies he fell back on this figure and refined it.

Although in 1914 Charles Chaplin started to direct his own movies and moreover wrote the scripts.

Chaplin left Mack Sennett in 1915 and went to Essanay where he could septuple his salary on an amount of $ 1'250 a week. At Essanay his tramp character matured to a cult figure and he celebrated a world wide success with "The Tramp" (15). 

Charles Chaplin was not only a ingenious film maker but also a clever businessman. His salary grew to $ 10'000 a week in 1916, connected with a bonus till $ 150'000. Besides he had the total control of his own movies and also appeared as producer.

Chaplin had the privilege set a shooting time of one month for each of his movies. In those days it was usual to finish the movies within a few days. This politic had a very positive effect to the quality of his works.

When he went to Mutual he realised one success after an other with the movies "The Rink" (16), "Easy Street" (17), "The Cure" (17) and "The Immigrant" (17). There was no end in sight for the Chaplinmania and First National tempted him by a million dollar contract in 1918. He shot the movies "A Dog's Life" (18), "Shoulder Arms" (18) and his first and perhaps most successful feature movie "The Kid" (21). 
The great talent Charles Chaplin was also acting as a filmcomposer besides his acting, directing, writing and producing - and this with a considerable result.

Charles Chaplin did free from the studios in 1919 and founded together with D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks the United Artists company.
His first work for the new founded studio was "A Woman of Paris" (23) - a picture in which he only appeared in a cameo role, otherwise he concentrated on the direction. The picture failed and Chaplin came back to his tramp. He shot the classics "The Pilgrim" (23), "The Gold Rush" (25) and "The Circus" (28), for which he got a Honorary Award in 1929.

From 1928/1929 the age of silent movies was over and the talkies conquered the screen, but Charles Chaplin offered bitter resistance against this new technology. Not until three years after "The Circus" (28) he made his next movie - as a silent movie, mind you! Still he landed another worldwide success and went down in film history again with "City Lights" (31). In this movie he only used the sound for specific effects. 

When Charles Chaplin made his next movie "Modern Times" in 1936, it was again a silent movie. Although the audience got used to the talkies long since or rather looked to the silent movie era as a kind of a relic of a past time, the movie achieved a great success. Chaplin engaged his wife and actress Paulette Goddard for the leading role.

But "Modern Times" was also fateful for Chaplin's future in a negative way. When in Hollywood began the baiting of the communists at the end of the 40's, at the beginning of the 50's, Chaplin became a target of these attacks too. His antikapitalistic movie was abused as a peg for the baiting. 

But first Chaplin could land another great coup and the tramp had his last appearance on the screen. The brilliant parody "The Great Dictator" (40) - this time it involved dialogs - caricatured Hitler in a time when the world didn't really think off to attack this dictator public. Chaplin was nominated for three Oscars - for the best leading actor, for the best script and for the best film.

With his next movie "Monsieur Verdoux" he offended the audience with his role as a women murderer. The film didn't have the same success like his earlier works but still he was nominated for another Oscar for the best script.

But then the dark age of the McCarthy era befell Hollywood. Chaplin was summoned to the committee and there was a growing number of people calling against him. Chaplin refused to appear in court of the HUAC and sweared his innocence in a letter. When Chaplin went to England for the first night of his newest movie "Limelight" (52), he was informed that the USA refused to give him an entry permit again. 

Charles Chaplin could only realize two more movies in England - "A King in New York" (57) and "A Countess from Hong Kong" (67). After that he retired from the filmbusiness and lived in Switzerland.
Charles Chaplin was very disappointed of the behavious of the USA and was embittered. The baiting in those days left so deep wounds that in 1972, when he was awarded for the Honorary Oscar for his lifework, he went to Hollywood with a throbbing heart and went weak at the knees. He was afraid that the American still hated him and that they would tackle him.
Therefore he was very surprised when he appeared on the stage and the audience spent a very long and thunderous standing ovation. The emotion and relief were legible read in Chaplin's face and water-filled eyes.

Charles Chaplin produced negative headlines time and again because of his preference for young women. He got married the 16 years old Mildred Harris in 1918, they had one child. The marriage was divorced in 1920. His next wife was the also 16 years old Lita Gray in 1924. The marriage was divorced in 1926 with a dirty divorce battle and Lita Gray got a million dollar. They had two children. His third marriage was with actress Paulette Goddard in 1936 when she was 19 years old - the marriage was divorced in 1942. When Chaplin got married with 18 years old Oona O'Neill in 1943 he finally found the right partner to spend the rest of his life.

His daughters Josephine and Geraldine Chaplin as well as his sons Christopher, Sydney and Charles Chaplin jr. became actresses/actors too.

The movie "Limelight" harboured a unique constellation. Because the movie was shot during the time of the baiting against Chaplin, the movie wasn't official showed in Los Angeles. This meant that the movie - when he was presented officially in Los Angeles in 1972 - was qualified for the academy award of this year. And in fact, twenty years after the creation of "Limelight", Charles Chaplin got an Oscar for the best filmmusic in 1973.

Finally some curious events and strories with Charles Chaplin.
Once he took anonymous part in a competition for the best double of Charles Chaplin. He was placed third!
Chaplin's corpse was stolen from grave robbers in 1978. His body was only found again ten weeks later.

Other movies with Charles Chaplin (Actor, Director, Writer, Producer, Filmcomposer): 
A Film Johnnie (14) Tango Tangles (14) His Favorite Pastime (14) The Masquerader (14) The Rounders (14) His Trysting Place (14) Dough and Dynamite (14) His Prehistoric Past (14) Getting Acquainted (14) Twenty Minutes of Love (14) Those Love Pangs (14) The Star Boarder (14) Recreation (14) Mabel's Strange Predicament (14) Mabel's Busy Day (14) Mabel at the Wheel (14) His New Profession (14) His Musical Career (14) Her Friend the Bandit (14) Gentlemen of Nerve (14) The Fatal Mallet (14) The Face on the Bar Room Floor (14) Cruel, Cruel Love (14) Caught in the Rain (14) Caught in a Cabaret (14) A Busy Day (14) Between Showers (14) His New Job (15) A Night Out (15) The Champion (15) In the Park (15) A Jitney Elopement (15) By the Sea (15) Work (15) A Woman (15) The Bank (15) Shanghaied (15) A Night in the Show (15) Burlesque on Carmen (15) Mixed Up (15) His Regeneration (15) The Floorwalker (16) Police (16) The Fireman (16) The Vagabond (16) One A.M. (16) The Count (16) The Pawnshop (16) The Essanay-Chaplin Revue of 1916 (16) Behind the Screen (16) The Adventurer (17) Chase Me Charlie (17) Triple Trouble (18) Sunnyside (19) A Day's Pleasure (19) The Idle Class (21) Pay Day (22) Souls for Sale (23)