By the time he was 29, Charles Spencer Chaplin had risen from poverty to become the richest and most famous film actor in the world. He was born in a South London slum, and though his father had been a fairly successful music hall singer, he was alcoholic, mostly absent and died of cirrhosis of the liver by the time Charlie was 12. Chaplin’s favourite book was Oliver Twist. He felt his childhood was very close to that of Oliver’s.
Charlie’s mother failed to make a living as a performer and was often committed to lunatic asylums, leaving Charlie and his brother to survive alone in the Workhouse or in schools for destitute children.
Chaplin’s first stage performance was at the age of five when his mother was booed off stage and he was sent on to sing instead. In his teens, after dozens of lowly jobs, Charlie finally got himself regular work in the music halls. At 19, he joined the famous Fred Karno company which then toured America. On one of these tours in 1914 he was offered film work with Keystone Studios, where he developed his famous Tramp persona. He soon took over directing his own films and started to earn dizzying amounts of money.
For several decades Chaplin fell out of favour as the ‘talkies’ took over from silent films in the 1930s and public disapproval of his personal life and left-leaning politics led him to exile himself from America and live in Switzerland.
In 1925, BBC Radio broadcast ten minutes of Chaplin’s silent movie The Goldrush. All that could be heard was the piano accompaniment and roars of laughter.
Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.
A year after Chaplin was buried in 1977, his body was stolen by grave robbers who demanded a £400,000 ransom, which Chaplin’s widow Oona refused to pay. The police eventually traced the robbers by tapping the Chaplin family phone and keeping 200 phone kiosks under surveillance. 11 weeks later, Chaplin’s body was found buried in field about 10 miles (16 kilometres) away from the Chaplin family home in Corsier, near Lausanne in Switzerland. His body was finally returned to its proper grave and this time it was encased in thick concrete.
Despite his huge success and many Oscar nominations, Chaplin didn’t win a single Academy Award until his honorary Oscar in 1972 for his 'incalculable effect on motion pictures'.
Now his feature-length films The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator are regarded as among the greatest films of all time.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.
Charlie Chaplin never spoke publicly about his creative techniques, but fortunately the British actor David Niven recorded a conversation with a young screenwriter who was complaining to him about the difficulty of getting a laugh from the time-honoured gag of the fat lady slipping on a banana peel because it had been done a million times before.
Chaplin thought for a moment and gave his solution: ‘You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps over the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.’
3623 Chaplin is an asteroid named in honour of Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin was born four days before Adolf Hitler, whom he parodied in his film The Great Dictator.
Chaplin adopted his famous ‘toothbrush’ moustache in 1915. Hitler didn’t start sporting his until 1919.
Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse to have ‘something of the wistfulness of Chaplin - a little fellow trying to do the best he could.’
Campsicnemius charliechaplini is a species fly named after Charlie Chaplin because of its bandy legs.
For one short scene in his film City Lights, Chaplin recorded 342 takes.
Chaplin was the first actor to appear on the cover of Time Magazine, (July 6, 1925).