(Sir) Charles (Charlie) Chaplin - Director

Nationality: British. Born: Charles Spencer Chaplin in London, 16 April 1889. Family: Married 1) Mildred Harris, 1918 (divorced 1920); 2) Lita Grey, 1924 (divorced 1927), two sons; 3) Paulette Goddard, 1936 (divorced 1941); 4) Oona O'Neill, 1943, eight children. Career: Music-Hall Performer in London and provincial theatres, from 1898; engaged by Fred Karno troupe, 1907; toured United States with Karno, 1910 and 1912; signed to Keystone and moved to Hollywood, 1913; after acting in eleven Keystone comedies, began directing (thirty-five films for Keystone), 1914; signed with Essanay (fourteen films), 1915; signed with Mutual (eleven films), 1916; signed with First National (nine films), 1917; joint-founder, with Griffith, Pickford, and Fairbanks, of United Artists, 1919; left United States to visit London, reentry permit rescinded en route, 1952; moved to Vevey, on Lake Geneva, Switzerland, 1953. Awards: Best Actor, New York Film Critics, for The Great Dictator , 1940 (award refused); Honorary Oscar, "for the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of the country," 1971; Medallion Award, Writers Guild of America, 1971; Oscar for Best Original Dramatic Score (shared) for Limelight , 1972; Knighted, 1975. Died: In Vevey, 25 December 1977.

Films as Director, Actor and Scriptwriter:


Caught in a Cabaret ( Jazz Waiter ; Faking with Society ) (co-d, co-sc); Caught in the Rain ( Who Got Stung? ; At It Again ); A Busy Day ( Lady Charlie ; Militant Suffragette ); The Fatal Mallet ( The Pile Driver ; The Rival Suitors ; Hit Him Again ) (co-d, co-sc); Her Friend the Bandit ( Mabel's Flirtation ; A Thief Catcher ) (co-d, co-sc); Mabel's Busy Day ( Charlie and the Sausages ; Love and Lunch ; Hot Dogs ) (co-d, co-sc); Mabel's Married Life ( When You're Married ; The Squarehead ) (co-d, co-sc); Laughing Gas ( Tuning His Ivories ; The Dentist ); The Property Man ( Getting His Goat ; The Roustabout ; Vamping Venus ); The Face on the Bar-Room Floor ( The Ham Artist ); Recreation ( Spring Fever ); The Masquerader ( Putting One Over ; The Female Impersonator ); His New Profession ( The Good-for-Nothing ; Helping Himself ); The Rounders ( Two of a Kind ; Oh, What a Night! ); The New Janitor ( The Porter ; The Blundering Boob ); Those Love Pangs ( The Rival Mashers ; Busted Hearts ); Dough and Dynamite ( The Doughnut Designer ; The Cook ); Gentlemen of Nerve ( Some Nerve ; Charlie at the Races ); His Musical Career ( The Piano Movers ; Musical Tramps ); His Trysting Place ( Family Home ); Getting Acquainted ( A Fair Exchange ; Hullo Everybody ); His Prehistoric Past ( A Dream ; King Charlie ; The Caveman )


(for Essanay): His New Job ; A Night Out ( Champagne Charlie ); The Champion ( Battling Charlie ); In the Park ( Charlie on the Spree ); A Jitney Elopement ( Married in Haste ); The Tramp ( Charlie the Hobo ); By the Sea ( Charlie's Day Out ); Work ( The Paper Hanger ; The Plumber ); A Woman ( The Perfect Lady ); The Bank ; Shanghaied ( Charlie the Sailor ; Charlie on the Ocean ); A Night in the Show


(for Essanay): Carmen ( Charlie Chaplin's Burlesque on Carmen ); Police! ( Charlie the Burglar ); (for Mutual): The Floorwalker ( The Store ); The Fireman ; The Vagabond ; One A.M. ; The Count ; The Pawnshop ; Behind the Screen ; The Rink


(for Mutual): Easy Street ; The Cure ; The Immigrant ; The Adventurer


(for First National): A Dog's Life ; (for Liberty Loan Committee): The Bond ; Triple Trouble (compiled from 1915 footage plus additional non-Chaplin film by Essanay after he left); (for First National): Shoulder Arms


(for First National): Sunnyside ; A Day's Pleasure


The Kid ; (+ pr); The Idle Class (+ pr)


Pay Day (+ pr); Nice and Friendly (+ pr) (made privately and unreleased)


The Pilgrim (+ pr); A Woman of Paris (+ pr)


The Gold Rush (+ pr, narration, mus for sound reissue)


A Woman of the Sea ( The Sea Gull ) (von Sternberg) (unreleased) (pr, d additional scenes)


The Circus (+ pr, mus, song for sound reissue)


City Lights (+ pr, mus)


Modern Times (+ pr, mus)


The Great Dictator (+ pr, mus)


Monsieur Verdoux (+ pr, mus)


Limelight (+ pr, mus, co-choreographer)


A King in New York (+ pr, mus)


The Chaplin Revue (+ pr, mus) (comprising A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms , and The Pilgrim , with commentary and music)


A Countess from Hong Kong (+ mus)

Other Films:


Making a Living ( A Busted Johnny ; Troubles ; Doing His Best ) (Lehrman) (role as reporter); Kid Auto Races at Venice ( The Kid Auto Race ) (Lehrman) (role as Charlie); Mabel's Strange Predicament ( Hotel Mixup ) (Lehrman and Sennett) (role as Charlie); Between Showers ( The Flirts ; Charlie and the Umbrella ; In Wrong ) (Lehrman) (role as Charlie); A Film Johnnie ( Movie Nut ; Million Dollar Job ; Charlie at the Studio ) (Sennett) (role as Charlie); Tango Tangles ( Charlie's Recreation ; Music Hall ) (Sennett) (role as Charlie); His Favorite Pastime ( The Bonehead ; His Reckless Fling ) (Nichols) (role as Charlie); Cruel, Cruel Love (Sennett) (role as Charlie); The Star Boarder ( The Hash-House Hero ) (Sennett) (role as Charlie); Mabel at the Wheel ( His Dare-devil Queen ; Hot Finish ) (Normand and Sennett) (role as Charlie); Twenty Minutes of Love ( He Loved Her So ; Cops and Watches ) (Sennett) (role as Charlie, + sc); The KnockOut ( Counted Out ; The Pugilist ) (Arbuckle) (role as Charlie); Tillie's Punctured Romance ( Tillie's Nightmare ; For the Love of Tillie ; Marie's Millions ) (Sennett) (role as Charlie); His Regeneration (Anderson) (guest appearance)


The Nut (Reed) (guest appearance)


Souls for Sale (Hughes) (guest appearance)


Show People (King Vidor) (guest appearance)

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin


By CHAPLIN: books—

Charlie Chaplin's Own Story , Indianapolis, 1916.

My Trip Abroad , New York, 1922.

My Autobiography , London, 1964.

My Life in Pictures , London, 1974.

By CHAPLIN: articles—

Interview with Margaret Hinxman, in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1957.

Interview with Richard Merryman, in Life (New York), 10 March 1967.

"Charles Chaplin parle," interviews excerpted by C. Gauteur, in Image et Son (Paris), November 1972.

"Chaplin est mort, vive Charlot!," interview with Philippe Soupault, text by Chaplin from 1921, and round-table discussion, in Ecran (Paris), March 1978.

"The INS interview with Chaplin," edited by Charles J. Maland, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 14, no. 4, 1986.

On CHAPLIN: books—

Delluc, Louis, Charlot , Paris, 1921.

Tyler, Parker, Chaplin, Last of the Clowns , New York, 1947.

Huff, Theodore, Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1951.

Bessy, Maurice, and Robert Florey, Monsieur Chaplin ou le rire dans la nuit , Paris, 1952.

Payne, Robert, The Great God Pan: A Biography of the Tramp Played by Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1952.

Sadoul, Georges, Vie de Charlot , Paris, 1952; published as Vie de Charlot: Charles Spencer Chaplin, ses films et son temps , Paris, 1978.

Mitry, Jean, Charlot et la "fabulation" chaplinesque , Paris, 1957.

McDonald, Gerald, and others, The Films of Charlie Chaplin , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1965.

Martin, Marcel, Charlie Chaplin , Paris, 1966; 3rd edition, Paris, 1983.

Brownlow, Kevin, The Parade's Gone By , London, 1968.

McCaffrey, Donald, Four Great Comedians: Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton, Langdon , London, 1968.

Quigly, Isabel, Charlie Chaplin: Early Comedies , London, 1968.

Leprohon, Pierre, Charles Chaplin , Paris, 1970.

McCaffrey, Donald, editor, Focus on Chaplin , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1971.

Mitry, Jean, Tout Chaplin: Tous les films, par le texte, par le gag et par l'image , Paris, 1972.

Mast, Gerald, The Comic Mind , New York, 1973.

Manvell, Roger, Chaplin , Boston, 1974.

Lyons, T.J., Charles Chaplin—A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1977.

Sobel, Raoul, and David Francis, Chaplin, Genesis of a Clown , London, 1977.

McCabe, John, Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1978.

Nysenholc, Adolphe, L'Age d'or du comique: sémiologie de Charlot , Brussels, 1979.

Eisenstein, Sergei, Film Essays and a Lecture , edited by Jay Leyda, Princeton, New Jersey, 1982.

Gehring, Wes D., Charlie Chaplin: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1983.

Robinson, David, Chaplin: The Mirror of Opinion , London, 1983.

Kamin, Dan, Charlie Chaplin's One-Man Show , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

Smith, Julian, Chaplin , Boston, 1984.

Geduld, Harry M., Charlie Chaplin's Own Story , Bloomington, Indiana, 1985.

Robinson, David, Chaplin: His Life and Art , London, 1985.

Geduld, Harry M., Chapliniana 1: The Keystone Films , Bloomington, Indiana, 1987.

Mitry, Jean, Tout Chaplin: L'Oeuvre complète presentée par le texte et par l'image , Paris, 1987.

Saint-Martin, Catherine, Charlot/Chaplin; ou, La Conscience du mythe , Paris, 1987.

Epstein, Jerry, Remembering Charlie: The Story of a Friendship , London, 1988.

Schickel, Richard, Schickel on Film: Encounters—Critical and Personal—with Movie Immortals , New York, 1989.

Silver, Charles, Charlie Chaplin: An Appreciation , New York, 1989.

Maland, Charles J., Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star , 1990.

Karney, Robyn, and Robin Cross, The Life and Times of Charlie Chaplin , London, 1992.

MacCann, Richard Dyer, editor, The Silent Comedians (vol. 4 of American Movies: The First Thirty Years ), Metuchen, New Jersey, 1993.

Hale, Georgia, Charlie Chaplin: Intimate Close-Ups , edited by Heather Kierman, Metuchen, New Jersey, 1995.

Milton, Joyce, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin , New York, 1996.

Mitchell, Glenn, The Chaplin Encyclopedia , London, 1997.

Flom, Eric L., Chaplin in the Sound Era: An Analysis of the Seven Talkies , Jefferson, North Carolina, 1997.

On CHAPLIN: articles—

Churchill, Winston, "Everybody's Language," in Collier's (New York), 26 October 1935.

Eisenstein, Sergei, "Charlie the Kid," and "Charlie the Grown Up," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring and Summer 1946.

Huff, Theodore, "Chaplin as Composer," in Films in Review (New York), September 1950.

Hickey, Terry, "Accusations against Charles Chaplin for Political and Moral Offenses," in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1969.

Lyons, T.J., "Roland H. Totheroh Interviewed: Chaplin Films," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1972.

"Chaplin Issue" of Film Comment (New York), September/October 1972.

"Chaplin Issue" of Positif (Paris), July/August 1973.

Cott, J., "The Limits of Silent Film Comedy," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Spring 1975.

Adorno, Theodor, "Quel giorno che Chaplin mi fece l'imitazione," in Cinema Nuovo (Bari), July-August 1976.

"Chaplin Issue" of Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), March 1978.

Corliss, Richard, "Chaplin," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1978.

"Pour saluter Charlot," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 1 May 1978.

"Chaplin Issue" of University Film Association Journal (Houston), no.1, 1979.

Sato, Tadao, "The Comedy of Ozu and Chaplin—a Study in Contrast," in Wide Angle (Athens, Ohio), no.2, 1979.

"Dossier: Charles Chaplin et l'opinion publique," in Cinématographe (Paris), January 1981.

Ingrao, P., "Chaplin: The Antagonism of the Comic Hero," in Film Quarterly (Los Angeles), Fall 1981.

Everson, William K., "Rediscovery: 'New' Chaplin Films," in Films in Review (New York), November 1981.

Manning, H., and T.J. Lyons, "Charlie Chaplin's Early Life: Fact and Fiction," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television (Abingdon, Oxon), March 1983.

Balio, Tino, "Charles Chaplin, homme d'affaires: Un artiste associé," in Filméchange (Paris), Spring 1983.

Millar, Gavin, "The Unknown Chaplin," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1983.

Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), nos. 98–106, August 1983-April 1984.

Slide, Anthony, "The American Press and Public vs. Charles Spencer Chaplin," in Cineaste (New York), vol. 13, no. 4, 1984.

Maland, Charles J., "The Millionaire Tramp," in Post Script (Jacksonville, Florida), Spring-Summer 1984.

Jaffe, I.S., "Chaplin's Labor of Performance: The Circus and Limelight ," and R.L. Liebman, "Rabbis or Rakes, Schlemiels or Supermen? Jewish Identity in Charles Chaplin, Jerry Lewis and Woody Allen," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), July 1984.

"Chaplin Section" of American Film (Washington, D.C.), September 1984.

Naremore, J., "Film and the Performance Frame," in Film Quarterly (Los Angeles), Winter 1984–85.

Maland, Charles J., "A Documentary Note on Charlie Chaplin's Politics," in Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television (Abingdon, Oxon), vol. 5, no.2, 1985.

Heurtebise, "On First Looking into Chaplin's Humor," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1985.

Davis, D. William, "A Tale of Two Movies: Charlie Chaplin, United Artists, and the Red Scare," in Cinema Journal (Champaigne, Illinois), Fall 1987.

Florey, Robert, with Brian Naves, "Charlie Dearest," in Film Comment (New York), March-April 1988.

Kuriyama, Constance Brown, "Chaplin's Impure Comedy: The Art of Survival," in Film Quarterly (Los Angeles), Spring 1992.

Nightingale, B., "The Melancholy That Forged a Comic Genius," in New York Times , 22 March 1992.

Bloom, Claire, "Charles the Great," in Vogue , December 1992.

Ivor, Davis, "Chaplin," in Los Angeles Magazine , December 1992.

Combs, Richard, "Little Man, What Now?" in Film Comment (New York), August 1993.

Lieberman, E.A., "Charlie the Trickster," Journal of film and Video (Atlanta, Georgia), vol. 46, no. 3, 1994.

Siegel, Scott, and Barbara Siegel, "Charlie Chaplin," in American Film Comedy , New York, 1994.

Woal, M., and L.K. Woal, "Chaplin and the Comedy of Melodrama," Journal of Film and Video (Atlanta, Georgia), vol. 46, no. 3, 1994.

Frumkes, Roy, "Chaplin on Laser Disc," in Films in Review (New York), February 1994.

Maland, C., "How Much Chaplin Appears in Chaplin?," Literature/ Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 25, no. 1, 1995.

Codelli, Lorenzo, editor, "Forgotten Laughter: A Symposium on American Silent Comedy," in The Journal of Film History: Griffithiana (Italy/United States), May 1995.

Thomajan, D. "Charlie Chaplin Never Called Me Pig," Film Comment (New York), no. 32, November/December 1996.

Weisman, S.M. "Charlie Chaplin's Film Heroines," Film History (London), vol. 8, no. 4, 1996.

Lemaster, David J. "The Pathos of the Unconscious: Charlie Chaplin and Dreams," Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington D.C.), vol. 25, no. 3, Fall 1997.

On CHAPLIN: films—

Carlson, Wallace, Introducing Charlie Chaplin , 1915.

Abramson, Hans, "Upptäckten (Discovery)" episode of Stimulantia , Sweden, 1967.

Becker, Vernon, The Funniest Man in the World , 1967.

Hurwitz, Harry, Chaplinesque, My Life and Hard Times , for TV, 1967 (also released as The Eternal Tramp ).

* * *

Charles Chaplin was the first and the greatest international star of the American silent comic cinema. He was also the twentieth century's first media "superstar," the first artistic creator and popularized creature of our global culture. His face, onscreen antics, and offscreen scandals were disseminated around the globe by new media which knew no geographical or linguistic boundaries. But more than this, Chaplin was the first acknowledged artistic genius of the cinema, recognized as such by a young and influential generation of writers and artists whose number included George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertolt Brecht, Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and the surrealist painters and poets of both Paris and Berlin. Chaplin may be the one cinema artist who might truly be called a seminal figure of the century—if only because of his influence on virtually every other recognized seminal figure of the century.

Chaplin was born in London into a theatrical family; his mother and father alternated between periods of separation and union, activities onstage and difficulties offstage (his father was an alcoholic, his mother fell victim to insanity). The young Chaplin spent his early life on the London streets and in a London workhouse, but by the age of eight he was earning his living on the stage.

Chaplin's career, like that of Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel, indicates that gifted physical comedians often develop their talents as children (as do concert pianists and ballet dancers) or never really develop them at all. By the time he was twenty years old, Chaplin had become the star attraction of the Fred Karno Pantomime Troupe, an internationally acclaimed English music-hall act, and it was on his second tour of America that a representative of the Keystone comedy film company (either Mack Sennett, comedienne Mabel Normand, or co-owner Charles Bauman) saw Chaplin. In 1913 he was offered a job at Keystone. Chaplin went to work at the Keystone lot in Burbank, California, in January of 1914. To some extent, the story of Chaplin's popular success and artistic evolution is evident from even a cursory examination of the sheer volume of Chaplin's works (and the compensation he received). In 1914 at Keystone, Chaplin appeared in thirty-five one- and two-reel films (as well as the six-reeler Tillie's Punctured Romance ), about half of which he directed himself, for the yearly salary of $7,800. The following year, Chaplin made fourteen one- and two-reel films for the Essanay Film Company—all of which he wrote and directed himself—for a salary of $67,000. In 1916–17, Chaplin wrote, directed and starred in twelve two-reel films for the Mutual Film company, and then signed a million-dollar contract with First National Corporation to write, direct, produce, and star in twelve more two-reel films. The contract allowed him to build his own studio, which he alone used until 1952 (it is now the studio for A&M Records), but his developing artistic consciousness kept him from completing the contract until 1923 with nine films of lengths ranging from two to six reels. Finally, in 1919, Chaplin became one of the founders of United Artists (along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith), through which Chaplin released eight feature films, made between 1923 and 1952, after which he sold his interest in the company.

In his early one- and two-reel films Chaplin evolved the comic tools and means that would lead to his future success. His character of the Tramp, the "little fellow," a figure invariably garbed with derby, cane, floppy shoes, baggy pants, and tight jacket, debuted in his second Keystone film, Kid Auto Races at Venice. Because the tramp was a little guy, he made an easy target for the larger and tougher characters who loomed over him, but his quick thinking, agile body, and surprising ingenuity in converting ordinary objects into extraordinary physical allies helped him more than hold his own in a big, mean world. Although he was capable of lechery ( The Masquerader, Dough and Dynamite ) he could also selflessly aid the innocent woman under attack ( The New Janitor, The Tramp, The Bank ). Although he deserved her affection as a reward, he was frequently rejected for his social or sexual inadequacies ( The Tramp, The Bank, The Vagabond, The Adventurer ). Many of his early films combined his dexterous games with physical objects with deliberate attempts at emotional pathos ( The Tramp, The Vagabond, The Pawnshop ) or with social commentary on the corruption of the police, the brutality of the slums, or the selfishness of the rich ( Police, Easy Street, The Adventurer ).

Prior to Chaplin, no one had demonstrated that physical comedy could be simultaneously hilariously funny, emotionally passionate, and pointedly intellectual. While his cinema technique tended to be invisible—emphasizing the actor and his actions—he gradually evolved a principle of cinema based on framing: finding the exact way to frame a shot to reveal its motion and meaning completely, thus avoiding disturbing cuts.

Chaplin's later films evolved and featured increasingly complicated or ironic situations in which to explore the Tramp's character and the moral paradoxes of his existence. His friend and ally is a mongrel dog in A Dog's Life ; he becomes a doughboy in Shoulder Arms ; acquires a child in The Kid ; becomes a preacher in The Pilgrim ; and explores the decadent Parisian high life in A Woman of Paris , a comedy-melodrama of subtle visual techniques in which the Tramp does not appear. Chaplin's four feature films between 1925 and 1936 might be called his "marriage group," in which he explores the circumstances by which the tramp might acquire a sexual-romantic mate. In The Gold Rush the Tramp succeeds in winning the dance-hall gal who previously rejected him, because she now appreciates his kindness and his new-found wealth. The happy ending is as improbable as the Tramp's sudden riches—perhaps a comment that kindness helps but money gets the girl. But in The Circus , Charlie turns his beloved over to the romantic high-wire daredevil Rex; the girl rejects him not because of Charlie's kindness or poverty but because he cannot fulfill the woman's image of male sexual attractiveness. City Lights builds upon this problem as it rises to a final question, deliberately and poignantly left unanswered: can the blind flower seller, whose vision has been restored by Charlie's kindness, love him for his kindness alone since her vision now reveals him to look so painfully different from the rich and handsome man she imagined and expected? And in Modern Times , Charlie successfully finds a mate, a social outcast and child of nature like himself; unfortunately, their marriage can find no sanctification or existence within contemporary industrial society. So the two of them take to the road together, walking away from society toward who knows where—the Tramp's final departure from the Chaplin world.

Although both City Lights and Modern Times used orchestral music and cleverly comic sound effects (especially Modern Times ), Chaplin's final three American films were talking films— The Great Dictator , in which Chaplin burlesques Hitler and Nazism, Monsieur Verdoux , in which Chaplin portrays a dapper mass murderer, and Limelight , Chaplin's nostalgic farewell to the silent art of pantomime which nurtured him. In this film, in which Buster Keaton also plays a major role, Chaplin bids farewell not only to a dead movie tradition—silent comedy—but to a two-hundred-year tradition of physical comedy on both stage and screen, the tradition out of which both Keaton and Chaplin came, which would produce no clowns of the future.

Chaplin's later years were scarred by personal and political difficulties produced by his many marriages and divorces, his supposed sexual philanderings, his difficulties with the Internal Revenue Service, his outspoken defence of liberal political causes, and his refusal to become an American citizen. Although he was never called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Chaplin's films were picketed and boycotted by right-wing activist groups. When Chaplin left for a trip abroad in 1952, the State Department summarily revoked his automatic re-entry permit. Chaplin sent his young wife Oona O'Neill, daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill, back to America to settle their business affairs.

Chaplin established his family in Switzerland and conveyed his outrage against his former country by not returning to America for twenty years and by refusing to let any of his films circulate in America for two decades. In 1957 he made a very uneven, often embarrassing satire of American democracy, A King in New York. This film, like A Countess from Hong Kong , made ten years later, was a commercial and artistic disappointment, perhaps in part because Chaplin was cut off from the familiar studio, the experienced production team, and the painstakingly slow production methods he had been using for over three decades. In 1971 he enjoyed a triumphant return to Hollywood to accept an honorary Academy Award for a lifetime of cinematic achievement.

—Gerald Mast

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