Charlie Chaplin Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889 in Walworth, London, and lived a Dickensian childhood, shared with his brother, Sydney, that included extreme poverty, workhouses and seeing his mother’s mental decline put her into an institution. Both his parents, though separated when he was very young, were music hall artists, his father quite famously so. But it was his mother Charlie idolized and was inspired by during his visits backstage while she performed, to take up such a career for himself. He achieved his ambition when he joined a dancing troop, the Eight Lancashire Lads, and this eventually led onto parts in Sherlock Holmes and Casey’s Court Circus. Sydney, meanwhile, had joined the famous Fred Karno Company and quickly became a leading player and writer therein.
He managed to get Charlie involved, and he too became a Karno star. For both boys, Karno was almost a college of comedy for them, and the period had a huge impact on Charlie especially. In 1910 Charlie toured the U.S. with the Karno group and returned for another in 1912. It was on this tour that he was head hunted by Mack Sennett and his Keystone Film Company, and Charlie was thus introduced into the medium of film. His first film, in 1914, was aptly titled Making A Living, and it was directed by Henry Lehrman.
He starred in many of his Keystones along side Mabel Normand, who also directed three of his films, but it wasn’t until Twenty Minutes of Love that he had a taste of directing himself, and this quickly became the only way he worked. His success was such that he was able to move from one company to another, each time into a better deal. In 1915, after thirty-five films, he moved to Essanay, and it was here he really found his feet, not to mention his longest serving leading lady, Edna Purviance. Notable films during this period include The Champion, The Tramp and The Bank. In 1916 he moved to Lone Star Mutual, with even greater control and financial rewards. Here he made the definitive Chaplin short comedies, The Rink, Easy Street, The Cure and The Immigrant. First National were next, and it was here he constructed his full length masterpiece, The Kid. Shorter comedies of note at this time included Sunnyside and The Idle Class.
Along with his great friend, Douglas Fairbanks, as well as Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, Chaplin formed United Artists in 1919. He made his first film for them in 1923, the Edna Purviance vehicle, A Woman of Paris, perhaps the least known of his films, but it was followed by the Chaplin classics – The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights and Modern Times. It wasn’t until 1940 that he made his first talkie, The Great Dictator, to be followed by the more refined Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight, a look back to the music hall world of his youth. Limelight (1952) was the last film he made in America. McCarthyite political maneuverings effectively ejected him from the country and he wasn’t to return until 1972, when he received a special Academy Award.
In the meantime, though heartily welcomed back to Britain, he moved to Switzerland with his wife, Oona O’ Neill, and their children. He made two more films, A King In New York (1957, with Dawn Addams) and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967, with Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando) and spent his final years writing music for his films and enjoying his family life before he died, at 4 A.M. on Christmas Day in 1977. Bibliography Robinson, David. Charlie Chaplin: The Art of Comedy (1995) Mitchell, Glenn. The Chaplin Encyclopedia (1997) Karney, Robyn and Cross, Robin.
The Life and Times of Charlie Chaplin (1992) Gifford, Denis. The Comic Art of Charlie Chaplin (1989) McCabe, John. Charlie Chaplin (1978) Payne, Robert. The Great Charlie (1957).