One of the most universally popular images is of that little man with a small beard, an old oversized suit, unkempt hair, an old worn-out black hat, and a cane. Almost universally, the iconic image is linked to the legendary Charlie Chaplin. It was really a character called ‘Tramp’ played by Charlie Chaplin that often features in many movies and remains one of the most popular characters in the world. It also increased the once-poor Charlie Chaplin’s net worth to millions of dollars. Read on to learn more about this iconic artist, the greatest Charlie Chaplin.
Birth and Early Life
Charlie Chaplin, or rather Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Junior, was born on April 16, 1889, about 133 years ago. His beginnings couldn’t have been humbler – he was born in a low-income family in South London with an absent father (Charlie Chaplin Senior) and a poor mother (Hannah Hill) who, after a life full of misery, would be committed to a mental asylum when he was just fourteen. It is from these humble origins that Charlie Chaplin rose to popularity.
Charlie went to a school for poor children along with his brother Sydney for a few years and would also visit the workhouse twice. Thus, their acting career started at a rather early age, as he abandoned his school altogether by the age of thirteen. He supported his acting career by taking up a number of jobs in his teen years. He started getting chances in theatre around the age of fourteen and would play the role of Pageboy in popular theatrical productions of Sherlock Holmes, which got him nationwide recognition in London.
From then, stars started smiling at young Charlie Chaplin. At 19, he was signed by a company owned by Fred Kano, a popular comedian of the time. It was after this contact that he took him to the United States, where he would make him immortal. Steadily he progressed as he got better roles in stage productions, finally making it as a lead in “Jimmy the Fearless.”
Charlie Chaplin was now scouted for movies. He hates his first movie though he was noticed in it. His next two movies’ Mabel’s Strange Predicament’ and ‘Kid Auto Races at Venice’ debuted his famous Tramp character. By 1914, Charlie Chaplin was directing his own short films for Keystone.
By 1915, Charlie Chaplin was not only a success but also a cultural phenomenon, with merchandise of his Tramp persona hitting the market.
Some Popular Movies
Six of Charlie Chaplin’s films have been selected and preserved in the National Film Registry maintained by the United States Library of Congress. These include The Great Dictator (1940), Modern Times (1936), City Lights (1931), The Gold Rush (1925), The Kid (1921), and Immigrant (1917). He directed eleven films in all, including The Kid (1921), A Woman of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdun (1947), Limelight (1952), A King in New York (1957), and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Of these, he has played a leading role in all except A Woman of Paris (1923). The last of his movies, A King in New York (1957), was not shown in the USA.
- The Immigrant
The Immigrant, a 1917 American silent romantic comedy short, was one of the first Charlie Chaplin movies. Tramp’s character in this film is also an immigrant to the new world, who just arrived in the United States and is now accused of theft on a voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman in the story portrayed by Edna Purviance. It also featured Eric Campbell. Edna Purviance acted in nearly thirty movies with Charlie Chaplin, while Eric Campbell shared eleven movies with the iconic actor.
- The Gold Rush
As its name suggests, this 1925 silent film featured Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp Character as a gold hunter amidst a gold rush. The immortal artist was inspired by the photographs of the Klondike Gold Rush and the Donner Party. Donner Party was a group of people snowbound in the Sierra Nevada who would be driven by their dire conditions to cannibalism or to eat leather from their shoes. Chaplin manages to create humour out of such poverty and miserable conditions. The movie was considered his greatest by Charlie Chaplin and was also one of the best-paying movies of the silent era.
- The Kid
Charlie Chaplin married a 16-year-old actress Mildred Harris after she claimed she was pregnant with his child. The claim later proved false, but by the time he divorced her three years later, she was actually pregnant. The resultant child was malformed and died only three days after its birth. That may have inspired him to work on ‘The Kid,’ where his Tramp character is now a father looking after a four-year child. It was one of the first movies that combined drama (of caring for a child) with comedy.
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- City Lights
The movie shows Tramp’s love for a flower girl who is fast losing vision. Trump tries to raise money for a vision-saving surgery.
- Modern Life
This was Charlie Chaplin’s take on modern industrial life. The only dialogue in the film is the gibberish spoken by Charlie Chaplin. That showed his disapproval of sound in the movie.
In 1951, ‘Spotlight,’ a largely autobiographical movie, was premier in the UK (instead of the USA). Charlie Chaplin was not allowed to enter the USA after the premiere as there was some controversy about his political opinions. He won’t re-enter the USA for over twenty years.
- The Great Dictator
The resemblance between the looks of Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp character and Hitler was often remarked on, especially with the same small beard. An amusing fact is that the two were born only four days apart, and both had risen out of poverty. Chaplin used these resemblances to his benefit in ‘The Great Dictator’ in which he played the twin roles of a Jewish Barber and a dictator, Adenoid Hynkel”, a parody of Hitler. It was also one of his first movies with dialogue in it. The movie was also the first one where Chaplin allowed dialogue in his movies.
Talents and Arts
As mentioned above, Charlie Chaplin not only acted in his movies but also wrote, directed, and later produced them. Further, he would also develop musical scores for some of his movies.
One of the biggest influences on Charlie Chaplin remained his mother, who, according to him, would sit on a window and would mimic passers-by to entertain him when he was a kid. According to him, that is how he learned how to express himself using one’s face and hands, as well as how to observe people. She was also the first person to encourage the artist in her.
Charlie Chaplin had a rather controversial personal life marrying four times, which resulted in eleven children, including eight, by his last wife, Oona O’Neill, the daughter of American playwright and Nobel laureate for literature Eugene O’Neill. She was only 18, and he was 54 when they married.
Charlie Chaplin has been aptly considered the king of slapstick. His Tramp character generated humour through exaggerated movements. The look of the characters itself is comical, generating several contradictions – Some clothes are too big for him, while others are too small, and his props – a cane and sometimes a bag are similarly comical.
As for themes, his earlier short movies involved the Trump character being introduced to some circumstances and trying to survive the harshness of modern times. It was only gradually that the stories in his movies started to be more developed.
Chaplin was slow to accept the sound in his movies. Starting his career and reaching the heights of his popularity in the Silent era, he did not take to dialogues in his movies easily. His first movies won’t have dialogues at all, and then the only sounds would be gibberish or such. He finally accepted sound and dialogue in his movie ‘The Great Dictator as the only way to give his political message.
He was open about his political opinions, and many of his movies would show a political message, including, famously, a speech at the end of ‘The Great Dictator’ in which he dropped the character at the end and spoke as himself.
Charlie Chaplin House
Although Charlie Chaplin lived in several places throughout his career, His most notable home, Charlie Chaplin House, also known as Chaplin, Studios, was located at 1416 North La Brea Avenue in Hollywood in the state of California. It once served as Chaplin’s production studio and is the site where he wrote the most iconic of his movies produced in the silent era. Apart from his main house, which was a Spanish-style mansion and his residence, it would include sound stages and production facilities.
At his peak, Charlie Chaplin was the highest-paid actor or artist in any form, not only in the United States but the whole world. As he wrote, directed, and acted in his movies, his earning was only larger for it. His fame started declining gradually after his twenties. After being denied entry into the United States, his fortunes suffered, and so did his later productions, especially since he didn’t allow screening for the same in the United States. At the time of his death in 1977, Charlie Chaplin’s net worth was estimated at around 50 million dollars at the time of his death. On Christmas Day 1977, it is estimated that Charlie Chaplin’s net worth was approximately 50 million dollars, that’s 207 million dollars in 2017.
Charlie Chaplin was involved in several controversies. A lot of his controversies arose from his political opinions, which were openly challenged in the fifties when he was denied entry to the United States for a refusal to hold an interview where he should declare his opinions.
He was also controversial about romantic relationships. He was married four times and broke off another engaged. Of his four marriages, two only lasted three years, and one lasted only six years.
Further, at least one of his marriages may have been a result of statutory rape, as he was thirty-five and was involved with a sixteen-year-old girl.
After being exiled from the United States, Charlie Chaplin spent the rest of his life in Europe. It was harder for him to work in the limited conditions of Europe. Over more than two decades of his life after the spotlight, his output was only two movies – A King in New York in 1957 and A Countess from Hong Kong, released a decade later in 1967. The first of these got limited success in Europe, while the second was a failure for the most part despite being Charlie Chaplin’s only film to feature Technicolor. After its release, Charlie Chaplain couldn’t continue to work on further projects despite having several ideas owing to his poor health.
On December 25, 1977, Christmas day, he died when he was eighty-eight years old in his sleep. Charlie Chaplin’s cause of death was a heart stroke. The cause of death wasn’t a surprise as he was in very fragile health and already had had many heart strokes by that time. A small and private Anglican funeral ceremony was held on December 27 as per his expressed wishes. Three months later, his coffin would be dug up and stolen, and his body would be held for ransom to extort money from his widowed wife, Oona. However, the attempt was unsuccessful, as the culprit was caught by police.
The Bottom Line
Even decades after his death, Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp persona continue to inspire artists around the world, including Bollywood and other fields like literature and musicals. His celebrated life is considered the greatest gift of Hollywood to humanity. His legacy lives on not only in his movies but the hearts of the people he inspired to the day, including not only artists but people from all walks of life.