Legendary comic actor Charlie Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889 to actor parents. As a young boy they taught him the fundamentals of acting and singing, as well as doing funny performances in front of an audience. Though they divorced when he was still young, his father was still an important figure to him. At an older age he realized that his father was an alcoholic and he turned to the females in his family for support including his grandmother who was partly Gypsy.
Chaplin’s life as a teenager was rough. His mother suffered from mental problems and sent the boy to live with his father and his girlfriend. After his father died, the woman sent him off to a home for boys. His mother lost her voice and left the stage after which she suffered a breakdown and went into an asylum. Chaplin was sent to a poor house where he learned to turn inwards as a way of escaping the harshness of his life. He found himself frequently moving towards the Music Hall and performing on stage.
The actor came to America in 1910 as part of a theater troupe and spent two years touring. He returned a few months later for a second tour where he lived with a young comedian Arthur Jefferson who later adopted the stage name of Stan Laurel. Mack Sennett, a film producer, hired Chaplin after seeing him perform live. He made one movie before Mabel Normand took over as his main Hollywood contact. Chaplin’s role in the 1914 picture Kid Auto Races at Venice was the first to reach a wide audience. It was also the first time that he dressed as his notable character, The Tramp. He worked for Keystone Studios, but used pantomime that was completely different from the other actors at the time. His work was so popular that the studio let him produce and direct over 30 films for them. His character, The Tramp, featuring oversized clothing, a derby hat and cane, became a hit and made him instantly recognizable. He left Keystone for Essanay Studios in 1915, which let him make longer and more ambitious films.
Resources on the actor include:
- Charlie Chaplin: official resource about the actor with news on shows about his life, a biography and images of the actor on-screen and off.
- Chaplin Museum: French museum dedicated to the actor and his works.
- Charlie Chaplin Archive: archive with a searchable database of information on the actor.
- IMDB: provides a full filmography of the actor, a biography and photographs.
- The Talkie & The Tramp: discusses how the actor conquered the world even during the age of talking pictures.
The actor’s career continued throughout the following years. He was popular among recent immigrants who loved seeing him perform because they didn’t need to understand English to follow along. In 1916 he started working for Mutual, but left two years later to form his own production company and take control over his own films. He also helped form United Artists in 1919 as a way for actors to have control over their movies and take back some of the power from the production companies.
Chaplin did work in talking films though he strongly preferred the silent movies. He worked as a composer for a number of movies as well, many of which survived. His greatest film was quite possibly The Great Dictator, which poked fun at Adolph Hitler who was just gaining power. He also showed his leftist politics in his films, leading some to claim he was a Communist and others to claim he was a Fascist. In 1953 Chaplin moved to London for a short period of time, which became a permanent stay. His visa was revoked while overseas, primarily because of his outspoken political beliefs. He also stayed in Switzerland, making only a few trips back to the United States. He passed away in 1977 at his home in Switzerland.