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Charlie Chaplin; King of Comedy

Updated on April 26, 2015

Young Chaplin

Chaplin's Early Years

Few people would dispute that one of the greatest comic creations in the history of cinema is Charlie Chaplin's wistful baggy trousered tramp. Everyone's favorite "little man" fighting against the odds. He not only survived the most desperate situations but made whole generations laugh and cry at the same time The concept of the character was the direct result of Chaplin's own early life.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born over a shoe-repair shop in South London in April 1889. When he was a year old, his drunken father deserted his family and, from that time on, Mrs Hannah Chaplin, a music hall singer, struggled alone to support her two children, Charlie and his older brother, Sydney. They just about survived with Hannah supporting her boys from her earnings, until her over strained voice failed in mid song. Four year old Charlie was put on the stage for the first time in his life to take over for his mother. Charlie hammed it up, taking the opportunity to gain the audience approval by impersonating other singers. This was Charlie's first performance and his mother's last.

It is believed that Hannah took to the streets after she could no longer sing for a living; this belief is backed by the fact that eventually Charlie's mother was committed to an asylum, half mad from "malnutrition", as Chaplin had stated, however, it is known that Syphilis leads to the same dementia type of behavior that Hannah was exhibiting, also, a look at her diagnosis does in fact state, "syphilis" as the cause of her mental problems. Charlie and his older brother, Sydney, made money by singing on street corners, and taking odd jobs while hoping that their mother would make a recovery.

Edna Purviance

Early Films & Edna Purviance

Charlie's mother had music hall friends who eventually got Chaplin a place with a team of child dancers. By the age of 12, still unable to read or write, he was touring the country playing a pageboy in the play, Sherlock Holmes. In 1912 he went to New York with Fred Karno's comedy troop and was spotted by Mack Sennet; America's foremost producer of comedy films. Sennett began working with Chaplin and allowing his new protégé to be creative.

By his second film, Chaplin was already wearing his bowler hat and ill-fitting trousers, and carrying a cane as an essential prop. Masterpieces such as The Pawnshop, and Easy Street followed. Although he was always an outsider from the glamorous and decadent movie colony, he began to live in style and founded the United Artists Corporation with D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.

Chaplin soon employed a leading lady, Edna Purviance, who appeared in Chaplin's film's from 1915-1921. She also became Charlie's leading lady in real life too. Unfortunately for Edna, these were Chaplin's best years as an artist and his worst years as a man. His popularity was skyrocketing, he was in his late 20's, and women were very interested in him. Edna was so in love with Charlie that she did desperate things to try to keep her lover's attention. When she would see that Chaplin was talking to an attractive woman, she would have a fainting spell and send for him. But, all the fainting spells in the world could not keep his attention. Edna must have suffered greatly as she sat back and watched Charlie woe and marry other women, and leave her in the dust. To Charlie's credit, he kept her on the payroll for the rest of her life. She made her last movie with him in 1921, and she drew a regular paycheck until 1958 when she died at the age of 62.

Charlie was what they call a typical socialist, he was completely contradictory, and wanted to conquer everything and achieve all. He was not really interested in a marriage or a relationship until he was a much older man. He acted, wrote, directed and even began composing music. Smile was composed by Chaplin in the 30s.

First Wife; Mildred Harris

Second Wife; Lita Grey

Wife number 3, Paulette Goddard

Teenage Girls

By 1919 Chaplin's weakness for teenage girls was leading him into trouble. He married his fist wife, 16 year old Mildred Harris, when he realized that she was pregnant; but the child only lived for three days and died of birth defects. He was buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery under a headstone that reads, "The Little Mouse."

Following their divorce, Chaplin found himself forced into a shotgun wedding with Lita Grey, a teenage starlet of Mexican heritage who announced that she was pregnant. Chaplin chose marriage rather than prison for unlawful sex with a minor. What was from all accounts a disastrous marriage ended in a huge divorce settlement and two sons, Charlie Jr., and Sydney. Even 50 years after the incident Charlie ignored this entire episode of his life in his autobiography with one line that read something to the effect of not wishing to disgrace the name of the mother of his two sons.

Chaplin's reputation as a comic genius grew even greater with films like The Kid, City Lights and Modern Times. which starred Paulette Goddard, whom he had secretly married in 1933 when he was 44 and she 19.

By the time Monsieur Verdoux was released in 1947, the tide of popularity had long turned against him. In 1942, hard on the heels of his marriage to Oona O'Neil, his fourth teenage bride, Chaplin found himself named in a paternity suit brought by Joan Barry, who had once had a liaison with him.

Blood test proved that her daughter was not Chaplin's, but many Americans who had a strong belief in honesty and morality towards family saw Chaplin as an irresponsible chicken hawk. Also, Chaplin was a socialist, and that did not sit well with American's in the 1940s & 50's who valued their freedom. A man who regularly used women, made millions, and then spoke out against wealth was not something conservative America would just put up with. Either Chaplin should learn to respect women, and stop being a hypocrite, or just go to another country that excepts immoral behavior. After Limelight in 1952, in which Buster Keaton had a small role, Chaplin was at complete odds with the United States. This led Chaplin to declare war on Hollywood. Stating, " I have made up my mind to declare war, for once and for all, on Hollywood and its inhabitants, before long I shall leave."

Chaplin moved to Vevey Switzerland with Oona and vowed he would never return to the United States. He further stated, " I have no further use for America."

Winning The Oscar and Grave Robbers

In fact, in 1972, Chaplin did come back to receive a special Oscar for "the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures, the art form of this century" Beautiful people," he murmered as he collected the award. "This is my renaissance."

Charlie Chaplin's speech in 1972 was one of the highlights in Oscar history.

An even greater honor was bestowed upon him in 1975 when he was knighted by the Queen.

The little man ended his days on December 25, 1977 as Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin at the age of 88.

In 1978, the body of Charlie Chaplin was taken from its resting place by grave robbers. The robbers were socialists who were after Oona's money. They asked for a $600,000 ransom. When Oona refused to pay, the robbers threatened to kidnap two of her children. As things were not going the way they planned, the robbers discovered that they were stuck with a body and no money. The robbers buried Chaplin in a cornfield, and after the men were arrested, Chaplin's body was returned to the cemetery.

Charlie with 4th wife, Oona O'Neil


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    • phoenix2327 profile image

      Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      A true genius whose iconic 'Little Tramp' still lives on.

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Oh, how I loved this man's films -- and I was nearly grown before I saw the first one -- he was even pretty much before my time. The picture of he and Oona is not very flattering to her as a middle age woman but as a young girl her pictures were very pretty. Seems 'ol Charlie just had a roving eye that couldn't be stopped! Very enjoyable read. Best/Sis