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Who was Charlie Chaplin?

Updated on December 2, 2016

Charlie Chaplin was a British film actor, whose "little tramp" character was the most popular comic figure of the 20th century. Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889, into a family of music hall performers. His parents separated when he was a boy, and both he and his half brother Sydney were sent to live in the Lambeth Workhouse.

Early Career

While still a youth, Charles joined a music hall act called Fred Karno's Comedians, and by the time he was 19 had become a. starring performer. When the troupe was on tour in the United States in 1913, Mack Sennett saw Chaplin's performance and hired him to work for his Keystone studios in Hollywood. In less than a year Chaplin made 35 one-reel comedies. However, Chaplin disliked the violence and speed of the Sennett slapstick. "Nothing transcends personality," Chaplin once said, and the personality he wanted to develop was that of the "little tramp" —the elegant ragamuffin in a derby hat, baggy pants, oversized shoes, and tightly fitting coat, who sported a toothbrush mustache and carried a bamboo cane - that he had introduced in his second one-reeler, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914).

By the time Chaplin signed a contract with the Essanay company in 1915 at 10 times his Keystone salary, he was already internationally famous for his little tramp's shuffling walk, nervous smile, and formal mannerisms. In the 14 one-reel comedies he made for Essanay, Chaplin combined elements of pathos and comedy for the first time in motion pictures. In 1916, Chaplin was hired by the Mutual company, again with a huge salary increase. The films he made in 1916-1917 for Mutual - The Floor Walker, One A. M., The Pawnshop, Easy Street, and The Immigrant - are generally acknowledged to be Chaplin's best short films.

Later Career

In 1918, Chaplin built his own studio and signed a $1 million contract with First National Films to produce eight motion pictures. Among the eight were the enormously popular Shoulder Arms (1918) and Chaplin's first feature-length film, The Kid (1921), which introduced the child star Jackie Coogan. In 1923, Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., and D. W. Griffith founded United Artists Corporation, which produced the feature-length "little tramp" pictures: The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940).

After World War II, Chaplin abandoned the "little tramp". He wrote, produced, directed, and acted in Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Limelight (1952), and A King in New York (1957) and wrote and directed A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). These films, however, failed to win the acclaim his earlier efforts had received.

Chaplin, who had been the target for widespread but vague charges of holding radical political beliefs, had never become an American citizen, and in 1952, while vacationing abroad, he was notified by the U. S. attorney general that his reentry into the United States would be challenged. Chaplin responded by selling his American possessions and settling with his fourth wife (the former Oona O'Neill) and children in Switzerland. He published My Autobiography in 1964 and was knighted in January 1975.

Chaplin died in 25 December 1977, aged 88.


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    • Hubography profile image

      Hubography 7 years ago

      I guess it's hard to tell because the films were silent, therefore no accent to be heard :D

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're going to think I'm so ignorant, but until I read this hub, I didn't know Charlie Chaplin was British--I thought he was ours (United States)! Thanks for an interesting and informative hub.