Charlie Chaplin (April 16, 1889-December 25, 1977) was a British silent film actor. His contributions to the film world are virtually unparalleled. His career evolved from small time comedy troupes to vaudeville to film. By the age of 26, he was one of the highest paid people in the world. He achieved enough of a following to start his own distribution company, United Artists, by 1919. He went on to produce his own films, some his most notable including The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), and The Great Dictator (1940). He was nominated for Best Production, Best Director in a Comedy Picture, Best Actor and Best Writing (Original Story) for The Circus (1928) in the first ever Academy Awards in 1929, along with receiving many other recognitions throughout his life and posthumously.


Chaplin was born Charles Spencer Chaplin to Hannah Chaplin and Charles Chaplin Sr. The whereabouts of his birth are unknown, although he claimed to have been born in Walworth, South London. He grew up in poverty, his mother without a steady income and his father abandoning his financial duties. His mother had several bouts of mental illness, likely as a result of malnutrition and syphilis. His father was an abusive alcoholic, and died at the age of 38 of liver disease.

Chaplin always knew he wanted to become an actor, and by the age of 13 he had registered with theater agency in London. His innate talent was quickly acknowledged and he rose to play Billy the pageboy in H.A. Saintsbury's Sherlock Holmes.


Following a brief stint touring with his brother, Sydney Chaplin, in a comedy sketch called Repairs, he moved on to another comedy troupe called Casey's Circus. He became the star of the show with his performance caricaturing the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin.

Initially cast aside by the famous Karno Comedy Company, his brother, who had started with them, suggested they take on Charlie as well. He was ultimately given a spot in the company. He quickly made a name for himself, and first lead appearance with Karno was in a sketch called "Jimmy the Fearless". Karno renegotiated his contract, doubling his pay, and sent him on the vaudeville circuit around the United States, where he was received well by critics.

His film career began halfway through his second American tour when New York Motion Picture Company reached out to his manager in 1913. They wanted him for their Keystone Studios in Los Angeles. He signed with them and appeared in his first film, Making a Living in February 1914. The costume he selected for his second film, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), would go on to become his signature outfit: baggy pants, a tight jacket, small bowler hat, and large shoes. Chaplin's bowler hat and cane were later auctioned off in 1987 for 82,500 pounds (US $151,246).




The Kid

Chaplin's directorial debut came in May 1914 with Caught in the Rain. Following that, he directed a series of comedic shorts and appeared in a feature length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance. By this point in his career, he knew what he was worth and asked for $1,000 a week from Keystone, and when they wouldn't give it to him, he moved on to Essanay Film Manufacturing Company.

Essanay is where Chaplin really started taking more time to develop his films. He worked heavily with Leo White, Bud Jamison, Paddy McGuire, Billy Armstrong, and Edna Purviance. It was also at Essanay where Chaplin developed the genre most associated with his film The Tramp, which was characterized by a sad ending and a more gentle protagonist.


The Tramp

Following Essanay, Chaplin moved on to Mutual, where he was offered a salary of $670,000 a year, making him one of the highest paid people in the world. Under Mutual, he made four films in 1917: Easy Street, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. But he wanted more and more time to produce his films, so eventually he moved on to another company, First National, under whom he built an entirely new studio where he had full control over the production of his films until 1922. Soon he became the first actor to appear on the cover of Time Magazine in 1925.



The Circus


Soon after, he founded the company United Artists. Important films he went on to produce include The Circus, City Lights, and Modern Times. These last two he produced under intense pressure to conform to the "talkies," or films that begun to incorporate sound, which had overtaken Hollywood. Chaplin felt his films weren't made for sound, so kept them silent. As time wore on, he became ever more political, traveling around Europe and Asia, and eventually making the film The Great Dictator, satirizing Adolf Hitler.



The Great Dictator 

In addition to his politics, a series of personal scandals including a paternity suit, as well as multiple rushed marriages, contributed to his decline in productivity and popularity. He eventually married Oona O'Neil, 36 years his junior, and they went on to have eight children and remain married until his death.

In 1946, he produced Monsieur Verdoux, and soon was under investigation by the FBI. He denied allegations that he was a communist, but remained politically active. Eventually left to remain in Europe permanently anyway, with the premiere of his next film, Limelight, held in London as an excuse. He went on to live in Switzerland for the rest of his life. In 1972, the Academy of Motion Pictures offered Chaplin an Honorary Award. He has been recognized with many memorials and honors since his death.

Link to full Charlie Chaplin films

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Wednesday, 16 April 2014
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