See biography by G. Lambert (1997).
| deathplace = Vevey, Switzerland
| occupation = Actor, Director
| yearsactive = 1914 - 1976
| spouse = Mildred Harris (1918-20)
Lita Grey (1924-28)
Paulette Goddard (1936-42)
Oona O'Neill (1943-77) | academyawards = Academy Honorary Award
1929 The Circus
1972 Lifetime Achievement
Best Original Music Score
1952 Limelight | awards = NYFCC Award for Best Actor
1940 The Great Dictator
Career Golden Lion
1972 Lifetime Achievement }}
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, KBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an Academy Award-winning English comedic actor. Chaplin became one of the most famous actors as well as a notable filmmaker, composer and musician in the early to mid Hollywood cinema era. He is considered one of the finest mimes and clowns ever captured on film. He greatly influenced other performers.
Chaplin acted in, directed, scripted, produced, and eventually scored his own films as one of the most creative and influential personalities of the silent-film era. His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years, from the Victorian stage and the Music Hall in the United Kingdom as a child performer almost until his death at the age of 88. His high-profile public and private life encompassed both adulation and controversy. With Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919.
Chaplin's principal character was "The Tramp" (known as "Charlot" in France, and the French-speaking world, Italy, Spain, Andorra, Portugal, Greece, Romania, and Turkey, "Carlitos" in Brazil and Argentina, and "Vagabund" in Germany). "The Tramp" is a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman. The character wears a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes, and a derby; carries a bamboo cane; and has a signature toothbrush moustache.
Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London. His parents were both entertainers in the music hall tradition; they separated before Charlie was three. He learned singing from his parents. The 1891 census shows that his mother, the actress Lily Harvey (Hannah Harriet Hill), lived with Charlie and his older brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth. As a child Charlie also lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, including 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street, and 39 Methley Street. His maternal grandmother was half-Roma, a fact of which he was extremely proud, but also described as "the skeleton in our family cupboard". Chaplin's father, Charles Chaplin, Sr, was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress, Louise, at 287 Kennington Road where a plaque now commemorates the fact. The brothers lived there while their mentally ill mother resided at Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. Chaplin's father's mistress sent the boy to Kennington Road School. His father died of alcoholism when Charlie was twelve in 1901. As of the 1901 Census, Charles 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 the singing career of Chaplin's mother. Hannah's first crisis came in 1894 when she was performing at The Canteen, a theatre in Aldershot. The theatre was mainly frequented by rioters and soldiers. Hannah was badly injured by the objects the audience threw at her and she was booed off the stage. Backstage, she cried and argued with her manager. Meanwhile, the five-year old Chaplin went on stage alone and sang a well-known tune at that time, "Jack Jones".
After Hannah Chaplin was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum, her son was left in the workhouse at Lambeth in south London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell. The young Chaplin brothers forged a close relationship in order to survive. They gravitated to the Music Hall while still very young, and both of them proved to have considerable natural stage talent. Chaplin's early years of desperate poverty were a great influence on his characters. Themes in his films in later years would re-visit the scenes of his childhood deprivation in Lambeth.
Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after having been brought to the U.S. by her sons. Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother. The boy, Wheeler Dryden, was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.
Chaplin first toured America with the Fred Karno troupe from 1910 to 1912. After five months back in England, he returned to the U.S. for a second tour, arriving with the Karno Troupe on 2 October 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 2 February 1914. At Keystone Studios, Chaplin became an instant success. Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest in San Francisco and, quite humorously, could not make it to the final round.
Chaplin's earliest films were made for Mack Sennett's 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 when Chaplin was age 24 in his second film Kid Auto Races at Venice (released Feb. 7, 1914) though Mabel's Strange Predicament, his third film, (released Feb. 9,1914) was produced a few days before. It was for this film that Chaplin first conceived of the tramp. The character would immediately gain huge popularity among theater audiences. As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography:
Chaplin's early Keystones use the standard Mack Sennett formula of extreme physical comedy and exaggerated gestures. Chaplin's pantomime was subtler, more suitable to romantic and domestic farces than to the usual Keystone chases and mob scenes. The visual gags were pure Keystone, however; the tramp character would aggressively assault his enemies with kicks and bricks. Moviegoers loved this cheerfully earthy new comedian, even though critics warned that his antics bordered on vulgarity. Chaplin was soon entrusted with directing and editing his own films. He made 34 shorts for Sennett during his first year in pictures, as well as the landmark comedy feature Tillie's Punctured Romance.
The Tramp character was featured in the first movie trailer to be exhibited in a U.S. movie theater, a slide promotion developed by Nils Granlund, advertising manager for the Marcus Loew theater chain, and shown at the Loew's Seventh Avenue Theatre in Harlem in 1914.
In 1915, Chaplin signed a much more favorable contract with Essanay Studios, and further developed his cinematic skills, adding new levels of depth and pathos to the Keystone-style slapstick. Most of the Essanay films were more ambitious, running twice as long as the average Keystone comedy. Chaplin also developed his own stock company, including ingenue Edna Purviance and comic villains Leo White and Bud Jamison.
In 1916, the Mutual Film Corporation paid Chaplin US$670,000 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. Practically every Mutual comedy is a classic: Easy Street, One AM, The Pawnshop, and The Adventurer are perhaps the best known. Edna Purviance remained the leading lady, and Chaplin added Eric Campbell, Henry Bergman, and Albert Austin to his stock company; Campbell, a Gilbert and Sullivan veteran, provided superb villainy, and second bananas Bergman and Austin would remain with Chaplin for decades. Chaplin regarded the Mutual period as the happiest of his career, although he also had concerns that the films during that time were becoming formulaic owing to the stringent production schedule his contract required. Upon the U.S. entering World War I, Chaplin became a spokesman for Liberty Bonds with his close friend Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
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. Even Essanay was guilty of this practice, fashioning "new" Chaplin comedies from old film clips and out-takes. The twelve Mutual comedies were 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. Efforts to produce definitive versions of Chaplin's pre-1918 short films have been underway in recent years; all twelve Mutual films were restored in 1975 by archivist David Shepard and Blackhawk Films, and new restorations with even more footage were released on DVD in 2006.
This is one reason why Chaplin took so much longer to complete his films than did his rivals. In addition, Chaplin was an incredibly exacting director, showing his actors exactly how he wanted them to perform and shooting scores of takes until he had the shot he wanted. (Animator Chuck Jones, who lived near Charlie Chaplin's Lone Star studio as a boy, remembered his father saying he watched Chaplin shoot a scene more than a hundred times until he was satisfied with it.) This combination of story improvisation and relentless perfectionism - which resulted in days of effort and thousands of feet of film being wasted, all at enormous expense - often proved very taxing for Chaplin, who in frustration would often lash out at his actors and crew, keep them waiting idly for hours or, in extreme cases, shutting down production altogether.
At 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 which he could perform at a more relaxed pace that allowed him to focus on quality. 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 the atypical drama in which Chaplin had only a brief cameo role, A Woman of Paris (1923). This was followed by the classic comedies The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).
After the arrival of sound films, Chaplin 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".
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, being both written and performed by Chaplin). 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 essentially a pantomimic art. He said: "Action is more generally understood than words. Like 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, 9 February 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 Circus (1928). 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 discovery of an unreleased version in the 1990s recorded in 1967 by Judith Durham of The Seekers), and Chaplin's theme from Limelight was a hit in the 1950s 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 premiering in Los Angeles making it eligible.
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 Adenoid Hynkel and also that of a look-alike Jewish barber persecuted by the Nazis. The barber physically resembles Chaplin's Tramp character, but is not considered to be the Tramp. At the conclusion, the two characters Chaplin portrayed swapped positions through a complex plot, and he dropped out of his comic character to address the audience directly in a speech.
Chaplin's political sympathies always lay with the left. His politics seem moderate by some contemporary standards, but in the 1940s his views (in conjunction with his influence, fame, and status in the United States as a resident foreigner) were seen by many as communistic. His silent films made prior to the Great Depression typically did not contain overt political themes or messages, apart from the Tramp's plight in poverty and his run-ins with the law, but his 1930s films were more openly political. Modern Times depicts workers and poor people in dismal conditions. The final dramatic speech in The Great Dictator, which was critical of following patriotic nationalism without question, and his vocal public support for the opening of a second European front in 1942 to assist the Soviet Union in World War II were controversial. In at least one of those speeches, according to a contemporary account in the Daily Worker, he intimated that Communism might sweep the world after World War II and equated it with human progress.
Apart from the controversial 1942 speeches, Chaplin declined to support the war effort as he had done for the First World War which led to public anger, although his two sons saw service in the Army in Europe. For most of World War II he was fighting serious criminal and civil charges related to his involvement with actress Joan Barry (see below). After the war, the critical view towards what he regarded as capitalism in his 1947 black comedy, Monsieur Verdoux led to increased hostility, with the film being the subject of protests in many U.S. cities. As a result, Chaplin's final American film, Limelight, was less political and more autobiographical in nature. His following European-made film, A King in New York (1957), satirized the political persecution and paranoia that had forced him to leave the U.S. five years earlier. After this film, Chaplin lost interest in making overt political statements, later saying that comedians and clowns should be "above politics".
In 1952, Chaplin left the US for what was intended as a brief trip home to the United Kingdom for the London premiere of Limelight. Hoover learned of the trip and negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke Chaplin's re-entry permit. Chaplin decided not to re-enter the United States, writing; ".....Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.
Chaplin was also nominated for Best Comedy Director for The Circus in 1929, for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay (although the Academy no longer lists these nominations in their official records because he received a Special Award instead of being included in the final voting for the competitive ones), and Best Original Music for The Great Dictator in 1940, and again for Best Original Screenplay for Monsieur Verdoux in 1948. During his active years as a filmmaker, Chaplin expressed disdain for the Academy Awards; his son Charles Jr wrote that Chaplin invoked the ire of the Academy in the 1930s by jokingly using his 1929 Oscar as a doorstop. This may help explain why City Lights and Modern Times, considered by several polls to be two of the greatest of all motion pictures, were not nominated for a single Academy Award.
Chaplin's second honorary award came forty-four years later in 1972, and was for "the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century". He came out of his exile to accept his award, and received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full five minutes.
Chaplin's final two films were made in London: A King in New York (1957) in which he starred, wrote, directed and produced; and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), which he directed, produced, and wrote. The latter film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, and Chaplin made his final on-screen appearance in a brief cameo role as a seasick steward. He also composed the music for both films with the theme song from A Countess From Hong Kong, "This is My Song," reaching number one in England as sung by Petula Clark. Chaplin also compiled a film The Chaplin Revue from three First National films A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923) for which he composed the music and recorded an introductary narration. As well as directing these final films, Chaplin also wrote My Autobiography, between 1959 and 1963, which was published in 1964.
In his pictorial autobiography My Life In Pictures, published in 1974, Chaplin indicated that he had written a screenplay for his daughter, Victoria; entitled The Freak, the film would have cast her as an angel. According to Chaplin, a script was completed and pre-production rehearsals had begun on the film (the book includes a photograph of Victoria in costume), but were halted when Victoria married. "I mean to make it some day," Chaplin wrote. However, his health declined steadily in the 1970s which hampered all hopes of the film ever been produced.
From 1969 until 1976, Chaplin wrote original music compositions and scores for his silent pictures and re-released them. He composed the scores of all his First National shorts: The Idle Class in 1971 (paired with The Kid for re-release in 1972), A Day's Pleasure in 1973, Pay Day in 1972, Sunnyside in 1974, and of his feature length films firstly The Circus in 1969 and The Kid in 1971. Chaplin worked with music associate Eric James whilst composing all his scores.
Chaplin's last completed work was the score for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris, which was completed in 1976, by which time Chaplin was extremely frail, even finding communication difficult.
Chaplin and his first major leading lady, Edna Purviance, were involved in a close romantic relationship during the production of his Essanay and Mutual films in 1916–1917. The romance seems to have ended by 1918, and Chaplin's marriage to Mildred Harris in late 1918 ended any possibility of reconciliation. Purviance would continue as leading lady in Chaplin's films until 1923, and would remain on Chaplin's payroll until her death in 1958. She and Chaplin spoke warmly of one another for the rest of their lives.
On 23 October 1918, Chaplin, age 29, married the popular child-actress, Mildred Harris, age 16. They had one son, Norman Spencer Chaplin (also known as "The Little Mouse"), born 7 July 1919, who died three days later. Chaplin separated from Harris by late 1919, moving back into the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The couple divorced in November, 1920, with Harris getting some of their community property and a US$100,000 settlement. Chaplin admitted that he "was not in love, now that [he] was married [he] wanted to be and wanted the marriage to be a success." During the divorce, Chaplin claimed Harris had an affair with noted actress of the time Alla Nazimova, rumoured to be fond of seducing young actresses.
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.
Chaplin "discovered" Goddard and gave her starring roles in Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Refusal to clarify their marital status is often claimed to have eliminated Goddard from final consideration for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. After the relationship ended in 1940, Chaplin and Goddard made public statements that they had been secretly married in 1936; but these claims were likely a mutual effort to prevent any lasting damage to Goddard's career. In any case, their relationship ended amicably in 1942, with Goddard being granted a settlement. Goddard went on to a major career in films at Paramount in the 1940s, working several times with Cecil B. DeMille. Like Chaplin, she lived her later life in Switzerland, dying in 1990.
For Chaplin's entire career, some level of controversy existed over claims of Jewish ancestry. Nazi propaganda in the 1930s prominently portrayed him as Jewish (named Karl Tonstein) relying on articles published in the U.S. press before, and FBI investigations of Chaplin in the late 1940s also focused on Chaplin's ethnic origins. There is no documentary evidence of Jewish ancestry for Chaplin himself. For his entire public life, he fiercely refused to challenge or refute claims that he was Jewish, saying that to do so would always "play directly into the hands of anti-semites." Although baptised in the Church of England, Chaplin was thought to be an agnostic for most of his life.
Chaplin has also figured in the mysterious events surrounding the death of producer Thomas Ince aboard the yacht of William Randolph Hearst in 1924, one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries. A fictionalized version of these events is depicted in Peter Bogdanovich's 2001 film The Cat's Meow. The precise circumstances of Ince's death will likely never be known.
Chaplin's lifelong attraction to younger women remains another enduring source of interest to some. His biographers have attributed this to a teenage infatuation with Hetty Kelly, whom he met in Britain while performing in the music hall, and which possibly defined his feminine ideal. Chaplin clearly relished the role of discovering and closely guiding young female stars; with the exception of Mildred Harris, all of his marriages and most of his major relationships began in this manner.
The three had very different styles: Chaplin had a strong affinity for sentimentality and pathos (which was popular in the 1920s), Lloyd was renowned for his everyman persona and classic 1920s optimism, and Keaton adhered to onscreen stoicism with a cynical tone more suited to modern audiences. On a historical level, Chaplin was behind the pioneering generation of film comedians, and both the younger Keaton and Harold Lloyd built upon his groundwork (in fact, Lloyd's early characters "Willie Work" and "Lonesome Luke" were obvious Chaplin ripoffs, something that Lloyd acknowledged and tried hard to move away from - eventually succeeding). Chaplin's period of film experimentation ended after the Mutual period (1916-1917), just before Keaton entered films.
Commercially, Chaplin made some of the highest-grossing films in the silent era; The Gold Rush is the fifth with US$4.25 million and The Circus is the seventh with US$3.8 million. However, Chaplin's films combined made about US$10.5 million while Harold Lloyd's grossed US$15.7 million (Lloyd was far more prolific, releasing twelve feature films in the 1920s while Chaplin released just three). Buster Keaton's films were not nearly as commercially successful as Chaplin's or Lloyd's even at the height of his popularity, and only received belated critical acclaim in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Beyond a healthy professional rivalry, former vaudevillians Chaplin and Keaton thought highly of one another. Keaton stated in his autobiography that Chaplin was the greatest comedian that ever lived, and the greatest comedy director. Chaplin also greatly admired Keaton: he welcomed him to United Artists in 1925, advised him against his disastrous move to MGM in 1928, and for his last American film, Limelight, wrote a part specifically for Keaton as his first on-screen comedy partner since 1915.
Chaplin was an admirer of his predecessor, the French silent movie comedian Max Linder, to whom he dedicated one of his films.
Publishers in Japan claim that works issued before 1954 are in public domain in Japan.