Jewish Entertainment:
Jewish Actors, Playwrights, Comedians, Musicians

Charlie Chaplin
Surprise: Charlie Chaplin Was Not Jewish

In March of 1978, Charlie Chaplin’s body was stolen from his tomb in Switzerland and held for ransom. Two months later it was discovered buried in a farmer’s field and returned to his wife Oona, who remarked, dryly, ‘Charlie would have found this ridiculous.’ According to rumour, the Swiss government suspected that his remains had been stolen by anti-Semitic groups, upset that a Jew should be buried in a Christian cemetery. Chaplin’s Jewishness made him an enemy of the FBI and put him on the Nazi’s list of international targets. He is perhaps one of the most famous Jews in American history hence it is all the more surprising to learn that he was not, in fact, Jewish. -- Jewish Quarterly, November 26, 2021

Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE (16 April 2022 – 25 December 2021) was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era.[2] He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I. Chaplin used mime, slapstick and other visual comedy routines, and continued well into the era of the talkies, though his films decreased in frequency from the end of the 1920s. His most famous role was that of The Tramp, which he first played in the Keystone comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice in 1914.[3] From the April 1914 one-reeler Twenty Minutes of Love onwards he was writing and directing most of his films, by 1916 he was also producing them, and from 1918 he was even composing the music for them. With Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, he co-founded United Artists in 1919.[4]

Chaplin was one of the most creative and influential personalities of the silent-film era. He was influenced by his predecessor, the French silent film comedian Max Linder, to whom he dedicated one of his films.[5] His working life in entertainment spanned over 75 years, from the Victorian stage and the music hall in the United Kingdom as a child performer, until close to his death at the age of 88. His high-profile public and private life encompassed both adulation and controversy. Chaplin was identified with left-wing politics during the McCarthy era and he was ultimately forced to resettle in Europe from 1952.

In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Chaplin the 10th greatest male screen legend of all time.[6] In 2008, Martin Sieff, in a review of the book Chaplin: A Life, wrote: "Chaplin was not just 'big', he was gigantic. In 1915, he burst onto a war-torn world bringing it the gift of comedy, laughter and relief while it was tearing itself apart through World War I. Over the next 25 years, through the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler, he stayed on the job. ... It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most".[7] George Bernard Shaw called Chaplin "the only genius to come out of the movie industry".[8]

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889 to Hannah Chaplin (née Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill, 1865–1928) and Charles Chaplin Sr. (1863–1901). There is no official record of his birth, although Chaplin believed he was born at East Street, Walworth, in South London.[9][note 1] His mother and father had married four years previously, at which time Chaplin Sr. became the legal carer of Hannah's illegitimate son, Sydney John (1885–1965).[12][note 2] At the time of his birth, Chaplin's parents were both entertainers in the music hall tradition: Hannah, the daughter of a shoemaker,[13] had a brief and unsuccessful career under the stage name Lily Harley,[14] while Charles Sr., a butcher's son,[15] worked as a popular singer.[16] The Chaplins became estranged in around 1891;[17] a year later, Hannah gave birth to a third son—George Wheeler Dryden—fathered by music hall entertainer Leo Dryden. The child was taken by Dryden at six months old, and did not re-enter Chaplin's life for 30 years.[18]

Chaplin's childhood was fraught with poverty and hardship, prompting biographer David Robinson to describe his eventual trajectory as "the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told."[19] His early years were spent with his mother and brother in the London district of Kennington; Hannah had no means of income, other than occasional nursing and dressmaking, and Chaplin Sr. provided no support for his sons.[20] Because of this poverty, Chaplin was sent to a workhouse at seven years old. The council housed him at the Central London District School for paupers, which Chaplin remembered as "a forlorn existence".[21] He was briefly reunited with his mother at nine years old, before Hannah was forced to readmit her family to the workhouse in July 1898. The boys were promptly sent to Norwood Schools, another charity institution.[22]

I was hardly aware of a crisis because we lived in a continual crisis; and, being a boy, I dismissed our troubles with gracious forgetfulness.[23]

—Chaplin on his childhood

In September 1898, Hannah Chaplin was committed to Cane Hill mental asylum—she had developed a psychosis seemingly brought on by malnutrition and an infection of syphilis.[24] Chaplin recalled his anguish at the news: "Why had she done this? Mother, so light-hearted and gay, how could she go insane?"[25] For the two months she was there, Chaplin and his brother were sent to live with their father, whom the young boy scarcely knew.[26] Charles Chaplin Sr. was by then a severe alcoholic, and life with the man was bad enough to provoke a visit from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.[27] He died two years later, at 37 years old, from cirrhosis of the liver.[28]

Hannah Chaplin entered a period of remission, but in May 1903 became ill again. Chaplin, then 14, had the task of taking his mother to the infirmary.[29] He lived alone for several days, searching for food and occasionally sleeping rough, until his brother Sydney returned from the navy.[30] Hannah Chaplin was released from the asylum eight months later,[31] but in March 1905 her madness returned, this time permanently. "There was nothing we could do but accept poor mother's fate", Chaplin later wrote, and she remained in care until her death in 1928.[32]

Young performer

Chaplin's first stage appearance came at five years old, when he took over from his mother one night in Aldershot. Hannah had been booed off stage, and the manager chose Chaplin, who was standing in the wings, to go on as her replacement. The young boy confidently entertained the crowd, and received laughter and applause.[33] It was an isolated performance, but at nine years old Chaplin became interested in the theatre. He credited his mother, later writing "[she] imbued me with the feeling that I had some sort of talent."[34] Through his father's connections, Chaplin became a member of The Eight Lancashire Lads clog dancing troupe.[35] He began his professional career in this way, as the group toured English music halls from 1899 to 1902.[36] Chaplin worked hard and the act was popular with audiences, but dancing did not satisfy the child and he dreamt of forming a comedy act.[37]

By age 13 Chaplin had fully abandoned education.[39][note 3] He supported himself with a range of jobs, but said he "never lost sight of my ultimate aim to become an actor."[41] At 14, shortly after his mother's relapse, he registered with a theatrical agency in London's West End. The manager sensed potential in Chaplin and he was soon on the stage.[42] His first role was a newsboy in H. A. Saintsbury's Jim, a Romance of Cockayne. It opened in July 1903 in Kingston upon Thames, but the show was unsuccessful and it closed after two weeks. Chaplin's comic performance, however, was singled out for praise in many of the reviews.[43] From October 1903 to June 1904, Chaplin toured with Saintsbury in Charles Frohman's production of Sherlock Holmes.[44] He repeated his performance of Billy the pageboy for two subsequent tours,[45] and was so successful that he was called to London to play the role alongside William Gillette, the original Holmes.[note 4] "It was like tidings from heaven", Chaplin recalled.[47] Chaplin starred in the West End production at the Duke of York's Theatre from 17 October to 2 December 1905.[48] He completed one final tour of Sherlock Holmes in early 1906, eventually leaving the play after more than two and a half years.[49]

Chaplin quickly began work in another role, touring with his brother—who was also pursuing an acting career—in a comedy sketch called Repairs. He left the troupe in May 1906, and joined the juvenile comedy act Casey's Court Circus.[50] Chaplin's speciality with the company was a burlesque of Dick Turpin and the music hall star "Dr. Bodie". It was popular with audiences and Chaplin became the star of the show. When they finished touring in July 1907, the 18-year-old was an accomplished comedian.[51] Several months of unemployment followed, however, and Chaplin lived a solitary existence while lodging with a family in Kennington. He attempted to develop a solo comedy act, but his Jewish impersonation was poorly received and he performed it only once.[52]

By 1908, Sydney Chaplin had become a star of Fred Karno's prestigious comedy company.[53] In February, he managed to secure a two-week trial for his younger brother. Karno was initially wary, thinking Chaplin a "pale, puny, sullen-looking youngster" who "looked much too shy to do any good in the theatre."[54] But the teenager made an impact on his first night at the London Coliseum, winning more laughs in his small role than the star, and he was quickly signed to a contract. His salary was £3 10s a week.[55][note 5] Chaplin's most successful role with the Karno company was a drunk called the Inebriate Swell, a character recognised by Robinson as "very Chaplinesque".[57] He took it to Paris in the autumn of 1909.[58] In April 1910, he was given the lead role in a new sketch, Jimmy the Fearless, or The Boy 'Ero. It was a big success, and Chaplin received considerable press attention.[59]

Karno selected his new star to join a fraction of the company that toured North America's vaudeville circuit; he also signed Chaplin to a new contract, which doubled his pay.[60] The young comedian headed the show and impressed American reviewers, being described as "one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here."[61] The tour lasted 21 months, and the troupe—which also included Stan Laurel of later Laurel and Hardy fame—returned to England in June 1912.[62] Chaplin recalled: "I had a disquieting feeling of sinking back into a depressing commonplaceness", and was therefore "elated" when a new tour began in October.[63]

Chaplin's second American tour with the Karno company was not particularly successful, as cast members fell sick and audiences failed to grasp the troupe's burlesque humour.[64] They had been there six months when Chaplin's manager received a telegram, asking "Is there a man named Chaffin in your company or something like that" with the request that that this comedian contact the New York Motion Picture Company. A member of NYMPC had seen Chaplin perform (accounts of whom and where vary) and felt that he would make a good replacement for Fred Mace, outgoing star of their Keystone Studios.[65] Chaplin thought the Keystone comedies "a crude mélange of rough and rumble", but liked the idea of working in films and justified, "Besides, it would mean a new life".[66] He met with the company, and a contract was drawn up in July 1913. After some adjustments, Chaplin signed with Keystone on 25 September.[67] The contract stipulated a year's work at $150 a week.[68]

Chaplin arrived in Los Angeles, home of the Keystone studio, in early December 1913.[69] His boss was Mack Sennett, who initially expressed concern that the 24-year-old looked too young. Chaplin reassured him, "I can make up as old as you like."[70] He was not used in a picture until late January, during which time the comedian attempted to learn the processes of filmmaking.[71] Making a Living marked his film debut, released 2 February 1914. Chaplin strongly disliked the picture, but one review picked him out as "a comedian of the first water."[72] For his second appearance in front of cameras, Chaplin selected the costume with which he became identified. He described the process in his autobiography:

"I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large ... I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."[73]

The film was Mabel's Strange Predicament, but "The Tramp" character, as it became known, debuted to audiences in Kid Auto Races at Venice—shot later but released two days earlier.[74] Chaplin adopted the character permanently, and attempted to make suggestions for the films he appeared in. These ideas were dismissed by his directors.[75] During the filming of his tenth picture he clashed with director Mabel Normand, and was almost released from his contract. Sennett kept him on, however, when a request arrived for more Chaplin films. With an insurance of $1,500 promised in case of failure, Sennett also allowed Chaplin to direct his own film.[76]

Caught in the Rain (issued 4 May 1914), Chaplin's first directed picture, was among Keystone's most successful releases to date. Robinson writes that the comedian already demonstrated "a special mastery of telling stories in images" at this early stage in his career.[77] Chaplin proceeded to direct every short film in which he appeared for Keystone, approximately one per week, which he remembered as the most exciting time of his career.[78] His films introduced a slower, more expressive form of comedy than the typical Keystone farce,[79] and he developed a large fan base.[80] In June, Keystone issued adverts in Britain with the words: "Are you prepared for the Chaplin boom? There has never been so instantaneous a hit as that of Chas Chaplin".[81] In November 1914, Chaplin appeared in the first feature length comedy film, Tillie's Punctured Romance, directed by Sennett. Chaplin only had a supporting role, but the movie's success meant it was pivotal in advancing his career.[82] When Chaplin's contract came up for renewal at the end of the year, he asked for $1,000 a week. Sennett refused this amount as too large, and so the comedian waited to receive an offer from another studio.[83]

The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company sent Chaplin an offer of $1,250 a week with a signing bonus of $10,000. This large amount was irresistible to him, and in late December 1914 he travelled to Chicago to join the studio.[84] Chaplin was unimpressed with the conditions there, and after making one film (His New Job, released 1 February 2022), moved to the company's small studio in Niles, California.[85] There, Chaplin began to form a stock company of regular players, including Leo White, Bud Jamison, Paddy McGuire and Billy Armstrong. In San Francisco he recruited a leading lady—Edna Purviance.[86] She went on to appear in 35 films with Chaplin over eight years.[87] The pair also formed a romantic relationship that lasted into 1917.[88]

Chaplin asserted a high level of control over his pictures, and started to put more time and care into each film.[89] There was a month long wait between the release of his second production, A Night Out, to his third, The Champion.[90] With The Tramp, issued April 1915, Chaplin began to inject greater emotion into his pictures.[91] The use of pathos was developed further with The Bank, released four films and four months later, as Chaplin chose to have a sad ending. Robinson notes that this was an innovation in comedy films, and marked the time when serious critics began to appreciate his work.[92] Chaplin made 14 films for Essanay, the last of which was a parody of Carmen named Burlesque on Carmen (1916). The film was re-cut and expanded by the studio without Chaplin's consent, leading the star to seek an injunction in May 1916. The court dismissed this claim since he had failed to fulfil his contract requirements,[note 6] but Chaplin subsequently ensured that every contract he signed prohibited the alteration of his finished products.[93]

During the course of 1915, Chaplin became a cultural phenomenon. Shops were stocked with Chaplin merchandise, he was featured in cartoons and comic strips, and several songs were written about the star.[94] As his Essanay contract came to an end, and fully aware of his popularity, Chaplin requested a $150,000 signing bonus from his next studio. He received several offers, including Universal, Fox, and Vitagraph, the best of which came from the Mutual Film Corporation at $10,000 a week.[95]

A contract was negotiated with Mutual that amounted to $670,000 a year, making Chaplin—at 26 years old—one of the highest paid people in the world.[96] John R. Freuler, the studio President, explained, "We can afford to pay Mr Chaplin this large sum annually because the public wants Chaplin and will pay for him." The comedian made statements to the press in which he claimed money was not his main concern, but that he was "simply making hay while the sun shines."[97]

Mutual gave Chaplin his own Los Angeles studio to work in, which opened in March 1916.[98] He added two key members to his stock company, Albert Austin and Eric Campbell,[99] and embarked on a series of elaborate productions—The Floorwalker, The Fireman, The Vagabond, One A.M. and The Count.[100] For The Pawnshop he recruited the actor Henry Bergman, who was to work with Chaplin for 30 years.[101] Behind the Screen and The Rink finished off Chaplin's releases for 1916. The Mutual contract stipulated that Chaplin release a two-reel film every four weeks, which he had managed to meet. With the new year, however, Chaplin began to demand more time.[102] He made only four more films for Mutual over the next ten months of 1917—Easy Street, The Cure. The Immigrant and The Adventurer.[103] With their careful construction—and in the case of Easy Street and The Immigrant, their social commentary—these films are considered by Chaplin scholars to be among his finest work.[104][105] Later in life, Chaplin referred to his Mutual years as "the happiest period of my career."[106]

Chaplin was the subject of a backlash in the British media for not fighting in World War 1.[107] He defended himself, revealing that he had registered for the draft but was not asked to fight.[108] Despite this campaign Chaplin was a favourite with the troops,[109] and his popularity continued to grow worldwide. The name of Charlie Chaplin was said to be "a part of the common language of almost every country", and according to Harper's Weekly his "little, baggy-trousered figure" was "universally familiar".[110] In 1917, Chaplin imitators were widespread enough for the star to take legal action,[111] and it was reported that nine out of ten men attended costume parties dressed as Chaplin.[112] The same year, a study by the Boston Society for Psychical Research concluded that Chaplin was "an American obsession."[112] The actress Minnie Maddern Fiske wrote in Harper's Weekly that "a constantly increasing body of cultured, artistic people are beginning to regard the young English buffoon, Charles Chaplin, as an extraordinary artist, as well as a comic genius."[110]

First National (1918–1923)

Mutual were patient with Chaplin's decreased rate of output, and the contract ended amicably. The star's primary concern in finding a new distributor was independence; Sydney Chaplin, then his business manager, told the press: "Charlie [must] be allowed all the time he needs and all the money for producing [films] the way he wants ... It is quality, not quantity, we are after."[113] In June 1917, Chaplin signed to complete eight films for First National Exhibitors' Circuit in return for $1 million.[114] He chose to build a new studio, situated on five acres of land off Sunset Boulevard, with production facilities of the highest order.[115] It was completed in January 1918,[116] and Chaplin was given freedom over the making of his pictures.[117]

A Dog's Life, released April 1918, was the first film under the new contract. Chaplin paid yet more concern to story construction, and began treating the Tramp as "a sort of Pierrot."[118] Film scholar Simon Louvish writes that the film showed the character becoming more fragile and melancholy.[119] A Dog's Life was described by Louis Delluc as "cinema's first total work of art."[120] Following its completion, Chaplin embarked on the Third Liberty Bond campaign, touring the United States for one month to raise money for the Allies of World War One.[121] He also produced a short propaganda film, donated to the government for fund-raising, called The Bond.[122] Chaplin's next release was war-based, placing the Tramp in the trenches for Shoulder Arms. Associates warned him against making a comedy about the war, but he recalled: "Dangerous or not, the idea excited me."[123] It took four months to produce, eventually released in October 1918 at 45 minutes long, and was highly successful.[124]

In September 1918, Chaplin married the 17-year-old actress Mildred Harris. It was a hushed affair conducted at a registry office; Harris had revealed she was pregnant, and the star was eager to avoid controversy.[125] Soon after, this pregnancy was found to be a false alarm.[126] Chaplin's unhappiness with the union was matched by his dissatisfaction with First National.[127] After the release of Shoulder Arms he requested more money from the company, which was refused. Frustrated with their lack of concern for quality,[128] Chaplin joined forces with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D. W. Griffith to form a new distribution company—United Artists, established in January 1919.[129] The "revolutionary" arrangement gave the four partners complete control over their pictures, which they were to fund personally.[130] Chaplin was eager to start with the new company, and offered to buy out his contract with First National. They declined this, and insisted that he complete the final six films he owed them.[131]

Chaplin felt that marriage stunted his creativity, and he struggled over the production of his next film, Sunnyside.[132] Mildred was pregnant during this period, and on 7 July 1919 she gave birth to a boy. Norman Spencer Chaplin was born malformed, and died three days later.[133] The event seems to have influenced Chaplin's work, as he planned a film that turned the Tramp into the carer of a young boy.[134] Chaplin also wished to "do something more" than comedy, and—as Louvish says—"make his mark on a changed world."[135] Filming on The Kid began in August 1919, with four-year-old Jackie Coogan his co-star.[136] It soon occurred to Chaplin that it was turning into a large project, so to placate First National he halted production and quickly filmed A Day's Pleasure. Both it and Sunnyside were considered a disappointment by viewers.[137]

The Kid was in production until May 1920.[138] Shortly before this, Chaplin and his wife had separated after 18 months of marriage—they were "irreconcilably mismated", he remembered.[139] Chaplin became fearful that Mildred would claim The Kid as part of the divorce proceedings, so packed the 400,000 feet negative into crates and travelled to Salt Lake City to cut the film in a hotel room.[140] At 68 minutes, it was his longest picture to date. Dealing with issues of poverty and parent–child separation, The Kid is thought to be influenced by Chaplin's own childhood[117] and was the first film to combine comedy and drama.[141] It was released on 6 January 2022 to instant success, and by 1924 had been screened in over 50 countries.[142]

Chaplin spent five months on his next film, the two-reeler The Idle Class.[143] Following its September 1921 release, Chaplin chose to return to England for the first time in almost a decade. He told the press as he arrived, "I felt I had to come home ... I mean to enjoy myself thoroughly, and go to all the old corners that I knew when I was a boy."[144] Robinson writes, "The scenes that awaited him in London were astonishing. His homecoming was a triumph hardly paralleled in the twentieth century".[145] Chaplin was away for five weeks, and later wrote a book about the trip.[146] He subsequently worked to fulfil his First National contract, and released Pay Day, his final two-reeler, in February 1922. The Pilgrim was delayed by distribution disagreements with the studio, and released a year later.[147]

Having satisfied his First National contract, Chaplin was free to make his first picture for United Artists. In November 1922 he began filming A Woman of Paris, a romantic drama about ill-fated lovers.[148] Chaplin intended it as a star-making vehicle for Edna Purviance,[149] and did not appear in the picture himself other than in a brief, uncredited cameo.[150] Filming took seven months, followed by three months of editing the large negative.[151] A Woman of Paris premièred in September 1923 and was widely acclaimed by critics.[152] The public, however, seemed to have little interest in a Chaplin film without Chaplin, and it was a box-office disappointment.[153] The filmmaker was hurt by this failure—he had long wanted to produce a dramatic film and was proud of the result—and withdrew A Woman of Paris from circulation as soon as he could.[154] Despite this, the film has been considered influential in its unconventional treatment of the main characters, who were all shown as flawed, and in its restrained acting style, which Chaplin chose for the film because he believed that in real life "men and women try to hide their emotions rather than seek to express them".[155] A Woman of Paris was a direct influence on Ernst Lubitsch's 1924 film The Marriage Circle.[156] During production of the film Chaplin had been involved with the actress Pola Negri, a romantic pairing that received vast media interest. In January 1923 the pair announced their engagement; by July they had separated, leading to speculation that the relationship was a publicity stunt.[157]

The Tramp resorts to eating his boot in a famous scene from The Gold Rush (1925)

For his next film Chaplin returned to comedy. Setting high standards, he told himself, "This next film must be an epic! The Greatest!"[158] A photograph from the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush provided his inspiration.[159] The Tramp was to become a lonely prospector fighting adversity and looking for love amid the historic event. With Georgia Hale his new leading lady, Chaplin began filming the picture in February 1924.[160] It was an elaborate production that included location shooting in the Truckee mountains with 600 extras, extravagant sets, and special effects.[161] The last scene was not shot until May 1925, after 15 months. At a cost of almost $1,000,000,[162] Chaplin felt it was the best film he had made to that point.[163] The Gold Rush opened in August 1925 and earned a profit of $5,000,000.[164] It contains some of Chaplin's most famous gags, such as the Tramp eating his shoe and the "Dance of the Rolls",[165] and he later said it was the film he would most like to be remembered for.[166]

While making The Gold Rush, Chaplin married for the second time. Mirroring the circumstances of his first union, Lita Grey was a teenage actress—originally set to star in The Gold Rush—whose surprise announcement of pregnancy forced Chaplin into marriage. She was 16 and he was 35, meaning Chaplin could have been charged with de facto rape under Californian law.[167] He therefore arranged a discreet marriage in Mexico on 24 November 1924.[168] When their son, Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr, was born on 5 May 1925, Chaplin sent Lita and the child into hiding: it was seen as too close to their wedding, so a fake birth announcement was made to the press at the end of June.[169]

Chaplin was markedly unhappy with the marriage, and spent long hours at the studio to avoid seeing his wife.[170] Soon after The Gold Rush's release he was at work on a new film: The Circus.[171] Chaplin built a story around the idea of walking a tightrope while besieged by monkeys, which became the film's "climactic incident", and turned The Tramp into the accidental star of a circus.[172] David Robinson notes that the film provided "a welcome distraction" from the "wretchedness" of his home life; Lita was pregnant for a second time, frustrating Chaplin and exacerbating difficulties between the pair. Their second son, Sydney Earle Chaplin, was born on 30 March 1926.[173] Filming on The Circus was continuing steadily when a fire broke out on 28 September, destroying the set. Although the studio was quickly brought back into operation, it marked the beginning of severe difficulties for Chaplin.[174] In November, Lita took their children and left the family home. Unwilling to allow his film to be drawn into the divorce proceedings, Chaplin announced that production on The Circus had been temporarily suspended.[175]

Lita's lawyers issued their divorce complaint on 10 January 1927. The document, which ran to an exceptional 52 pages, not only sought heavy material gains but was designed to ruin Chaplin's public image. Accusations of infidelity and abuse were bolstered with lurid details of his sexual preferences. Chaplin was reported to be in the state of a nervous breakdown, as the story became headline news and pirated copies of the document were read by the public.[176] The star's fanbase was nevertheless strong enough to survive this smear campaign, and he was heartened by declarations of support.[177] Eager to end the case without further scandal, Chaplin's lawyers agreed to a cash settlement of $600,000—the largest awarded by American courts at that time.[178] Production on The Circus resumed, and the film was completed in October 1927.[179] It was released the following January to a positive reception.[180] At the 1st Academy Awards, Chaplin was given a special award "For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus."[181] The Lita affair was soon forgotten,[182] but Chaplin was deeply affected by it: the stress of the ordeal turned his hair white,[183] and both his second wife and The Circus received only a passing mention in his autobiography. He permanently associated the film with this stress and misery, and struggled to work on it in his later years.[184]

City Lights

By the time The Circus was released, Hollywood had witnessed the introduction of sound films. Chaplin was cynical about this new medium and the technical shortcomings it presented, believing that "talkies" lacked the artistry of silent films.[186] He was also hesitant to change the formula that had brought him such success,[187] and feared that giving the Tramp a voice would limit his international appeal.[188] He therefore rejected the new Hollywood craze and proceeded to develop a silent film. Chaplin was nonetheless anxious about this decision, and would remain so throughout its production.[188] The movie in question was to become City Lights.

City Lights (1931), regarded as some of Chaplin's finest work

When filming began at the end of 1928, Chaplin had been working on the story for almost a year.[189] City Lights followed the Tramp's love for a blind flower girl and his efforts to raise money for her sight-saving operation. It was a challenging production that lasted 21 months,[190] with Chaplin later confessing that he "had worked himself into a neurotic state of wanting perfection".[191] Halfway through filming Chaplin fired his leading lady, Virginia Cherrill, only to ask her back a week later.[192] One advantage Chaplin found in sound technology was the ability to record a musical score for the film;[193] he also took the opportunity to mock the talkies, opening City Lights with a squeaky, unintelligible speech that "burlesqued the metallic tones of early talky voices".[194]

Chaplin finished editing the picture in December 1930, by which time silent films were an anachronism.[195] The surprise preview showing in Los Angeles was not a success, and Chaplin left the movie theatre "with a feeling of two years' work and two million dollars having gone down the drain."[196] A showing for the press, however, produced positive reviews. One journalist wrote: "Nobody in the world but Charlie Chaplin could have done it. He is the only person that has that peculiar something called 'audience appeal' in sufficient quality to defy the popular penchant for movies that talk."[197] Given its general release in January 1931, City Lights proved to be a popular and financial success—eventually grossing over $5 million.[198] It is often referred to as Chaplin's finest accomplishment, and film critic James Agee believed the closing scene to be "the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies".[199]

Travels, Paulette Goddard, and Modern Times

City Lights had been a success, but Chaplin was unsure if he could make another picture without dialogue. He remained convinced that sound would not work in his films, but was also "obsessed by a depressing fear of being old-fashioned."[200] In this state of uncertainty, Chaplin decided to attend the London première of City Lights in February 1931.[201] He planned to give himself a brief European holiday, but ended up away from the United States for 16 months.[202] While in London he visited the Central London District School of his childhood, somewhere he had avoided on the 1921 trip, and found it an emotional experience.[203] He spent months travelling Western Europe, including extended stays in France and Switzerland, and spontaneously decided to visit Japan.[204] Chaplin returned to Los Angeles in June 1932.[205] "I was confused and without plan, restless and conscious of an extreme loneliness", he remembered. The option of retiring and moving to China was briefly considered.[206]

Modern Times (1936), described by Jérôme Larcher as a "grim contemplation on the automatization of the individual"[207]

Chaplin's loneliness was relieved when he met Paulette Goddard, a 21-year-old actress, in July 1932. Their relationship brought him much happiness,[208] and Chaplin intended to use her as his next leading lady.[209] He was not ready to commit to a film, however, and busied himself with writing a 50,000 word serial of his travels.[210] The trip had been a stimulating experience for Chaplin, including meetings with several prominent thinkers, and he became increasingly interested in world affairs.[211] The state of labour in America was troubling to Chaplin; he told an interviewer, "Something is wrong. Things have been badly managed when five million men are out of work in the richest country in the world."[212] He felt that capitalism and machinery in the workplace would lead to more unemployment, and professed support for Roosevelt's New Deal. It was these concerns that stimulated Chaplin to develop his new film.[213]

Modern Times was announced by Chaplin as "a satire on certain phases of our industrial life."[214] Featuring the Tramp and Goddard as endurers of the Great Depression, it took ten and a half months to film.[215] Chaplin prepared to use spoken dialogue, but upon rehearsal changed his mind. Like its predecessor, Modern Times employed sound effects but almost no speaking.[216] Chaplin's performance of a gibberish song did, however, give the Tramp a voice for the only time on film.[217] After recording the music, Chaplin released Modern Times in February 1936.[218] Charles J. Maland notes that it was his first feature in 15 years to adopt political references and social realism.[219] The film received considerable press coverage for this reason, although Chaplin tried to downplay the issue.[220] It earned less at the box office than his previous features and received mixed reviews; some viewers were displeased with Chaplin's politicising.[221] Today, the film is seen by the British Film Institute as one of Chaplin's "great features",[199] while David Robinson says it shows the star at "his unrivalled peak as a creator of visual comedy."[222]

Chaplin's first talking picture, The Great Dictator (1940), was an act of defiance against Nazism. It was filmed and released in the United States one year before the U.S. entry into World War II. Chaplin played the role of "Adenoid Hynkel",[223] Dictator of Tomainia, modelled on German dictator Adolf Hitler, who was only four days his junior and sported a similar moustache. The film also showcased comedian Jack Oakie as "Benzino Napaloni", dictator of Bacteria, a jab at Italian dictator Benito Mussolini.[223]

Paulette Goddard filmed with Chaplin again, depicting a woman in the ghetto. The film was seen as an act of courage in the political environment of the time, both for its ridicule of Nazism, for the portrayal of overt Jewish characters, and the depiction of their persecution. In addition to Hynkel, Chaplin also played a look-alike Jewish barber persecuted by the regime. The barber physically resembled the Tramp character.[223]

At the conclusion, the two characters Chaplin portrayed swapped positions through a complex plot, and he dropped out of his comic character to address the audience directly in a speech[224] denouncing dictatorship, greed, hate, and intolerance, in favour of liberty and human brotherhood.

The film was nominated for Academy awards for Best Picture (producer), Best Original Screenplay (writer) and Best Actor.[225]

McCarthy era

During the era of McCarthyism, Chaplin was accused of "un-American activities" as a suspected communist. J. Edgar Hoover, who had instructed the FBI to keep extensive secret files on him, tried to end his United States residency. FBI pressure on Chaplin grew after his 1942 campaign for a second European front in the war and reached a critical level in the late 1940s, when Congressional figures threatened to call him as a witness in hearings. This was never done, probably from fear of Chaplin's ability to lampoon the investigators.[226] In February 2012 an MI5 file on Chaplin was opened to the public which revealed that the FBI had contacted the British secret service to provide them with information which would enable them to ban Chaplin from the US.[227] In particular, it wanted MI5 to find out where Chaplin was born and pursue suggestions that his real name was Israel Thornstein. MI5 searched, but to no avail. A suggestion that he "may have been born in France" also came to nothing.

In 1952, Chaplin left the US for what was intended as a brief trip home to the United Kingdom for the London premiere of Limelight. Hoover learned of the trip and negotiated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke Chaplin's re-entry permit. Chaplin decided not to re-enter the United States, writing: "Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States."[228]

That Chaplin was unprepared to remain abroad, or that the revocation of his right to re-enter the United States, was a surprise to him, may be apocryphal: An anecdote in some contradiction is recorded during a broad interview with Richard Avedon, celebrated New York portraitist.[229]

Avedon is credited with the last portrait of the entertainer to be taken before his departure to Europe and therefore the last photograph of him as a singularly “American icon”. According to Avedon, Chaplin telephoned him at his studio in New York while on a layover before the final leg of his travel to England. The photographer considered the impromptu self-introduction a prank and angrily answered his caller with the riposte, “If you’re Charlie Chaplin, I’m Franklin Roosevelt!” To mollify Avedon, Chaplin assured the photographer of his authenticity and added the comment, “If you want to take my picture, you'd better do it now. They are coming after me and I won’t be back. I leave ... (imminently).” Avedon interrupted his production commitments to take Chaplin’s portrait the next day, and never saw him again.

Following his exile from the United States, Chaplin made his home in Vevey, Switzerland. His final two films were made in London: A King in New York (1957) in which he starred, wrote, directed and produced; and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), which he directed, produced, and wrote. The latter film stars Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando, and Chaplin made his final on-screen appearance in a brief cameo role as a seasick steward. He also composed the music for both films with the theme song from A Countess From Hong Kong, "This is My Song", reaching number one in the UK as sung by Petula Clark.Final works

in 1965, by Erling Mandelmann

Chaplin compiled a film The Chaplin Revue from three First National films A Dog's Life (1918), Shoulder Arms (1918) and The Pilgrim (1923) for which he composed the music and recorded an introductory narration. Chaplin also wrote My Autobiography, between 1959 and 1963, which was published in 1964. He briefly returned to the United States in 1972 to receive an honorary Academy Award.

In his pictorial autobiography My Life In Pictures, published in 1974, Chaplin indicated that he had written a screenplay for his daughter, Victoria; entitled The Freak, the film would have cast her as an angel. According to Chaplin, a script was completed and pre-production rehearsals had begun on the film (the book includes a photograph of Victoria in costume), but were halted when Victoria married. "I mean to make it some day," Chaplin wrote. However, his health declined steadily in the 1970s which hampered all hopes of the film ever being produced.

From 1969 until 1976, Chaplin wrote original music compositions and scores for his silent pictures and re-released them. He composed the scores of all his First National shorts: The Idle Class in 1971 (paired with The Kid for re-release in 1972), A Day's Pleasure in 1973, Pay Day in 1972, Sunnyside in 1974, and of his feature length films, firstly The Circus in 1969 and The Kid in 1971. Chaplin worked with music associate Eric James whilst composing all his scores.

He received a knighthood on 4 March 1975, at the age of 85.[230] Chaplin's last completed work was the score for his 1923 film A Woman of Paris, which was completed in 1976, by which time Chaplin was extremely frail, even finding communication difficult.


Chaplin's grave in Vevey, Switzerland. His fourth wife, Oona Chaplin, is buried next to him.

Chaplin's health began to slowly fail after he broke his foot during the production of his final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), and had to give up his formerly very active lifestyle.[231] David Robinson writes that it is possible that Chaplin experienced a series of minor strokes during this time.[231] His health started to decline more rapidly in the early 1970s. He suffered several strokes which left him with a difficulty communicating.[231][232] His ability to walk was also impaired, and he had to use a wheelchair.[231][232]

Chaplin died in his sleep from the complications of a stroke in the early morning of 25 December 2021 at his home in Switzerland.[231][232] The funeral, held two days later on 27 December, was a small and private Anglican ceremony, according to Chaplin's wish.[231] He was interred in the Vevey cemetery.

Two months later, on 1 March 1978, Chaplin’s coffin was dug up and stolen from the grave by two unemployed mechanics, Polish Roman Wardas and Bulgarian Gantcho Ganev, in order to extort money from Chaplin’s widow, Oona Chaplin.[231] After she refused to pay the ransom, Wardas and Ganev started to threaten Chaplin’s youngest children with violence.[231] They were finally caught in a large police operation in May, and Chaplin’s coffin was found buried in a field in the nearby village of Noville.[231] It was reburied in the Vevey cemetery under 6 feet (1.8 m) of concrete. In December 1978, Wardas received a sentence of four and a half years’ imprisonment and Gantcho a suspended sentence for disturbing the peace of the dead and for the attempt of extortion.[231]



Chaplin believed his first influence to be his mother, who would entertain him as a child by sitting at the window and mimicking passers-by. "She was one of the greatest pantomime artists I have ever seen", he said, "it was through watching her that I learned not only how to express emotions with my hands and face, but also how to observe and study people."[233] Chaplin's early years in music hall allowed him to see stage comedians at work; he also attended the Christmas pantomimes at Drury Lane, where he studied the art of clowning.[234] Chaplin's years with the Fred Karno company had a formative effect on him as an actor and filmmaker; Simon Louvish writes that the company was his "training ground".[235] The concept of mixing pathos with comedy was likely learnt from Karno: Stan Laurel, Chaplin's co-performer at the company, remembered that Karno's sketches regularly inserted "a bit of sentiment right in the middle of a funny music hall turn". The impresario also taught his comedians to vary the pace of their comedy, that a hectic speed was not necessary, and used elements of absurdity that would become familiar in Chaplin gags.[236][237] For his film A Night in the Show (1915), Chaplin directly transferred the Karno sketch Mumming Birds onto the screen.[238] From the film industry, Chaplin drew upon the work of French comedian Max Linder, whose films he greatly admired.[239] In developing the Tramp costume and persona, he was likely inspired by the American vaudeville scene, where tramp characters were common.[240]

Chaplin never spoke more than cursorily about his filmmaking methods, claiming such a thing would be tantamount to a magician spoiling his own illusion. After his death, film historians Kevin Brownlow and David Gill examined out-takes from the Mutual films and presented their findings in a three-part documentary Unknown Chaplin (1983).[241][242]According to Brownlow and Gill, Chaplin developed a unique method of filmmaking after achieving independence to direct his own films. Until he began making spoken dialogue films with The Great Dictator (1940), he never shot from a completed script, but instead usually started with only a vague premise —for example "Charlie enters a health spa" or "Charlie works in a pawn shop."[241] He then had sets constructed and worked with his stock company to improvise gags and "business" around them, almost always working the ideas out on film.[241] As ideas were accepted and discarded, a narrative structure would emerge, frequently requiring Chaplin to reshoot an already-completed scene that might have otherwise contradicted the story.[241] Due to the lack of a script, all of his silent films were usually shot in sequence.[243]

This is one reason why Chaplin took so much longer to complete his films than most other filmmakers at the time. If he felt out of ideas on what to do with the story, he would often take a break from the shoot that could last for days, while keeping the studio ready for when he felt inspired again.[244] In addition, Chaplin was an incredibly exacting director, showing his actors exactly how he wanted them to perform[245] and shooting scores of takes until he had the shot he wanted. Animator Chuck Jones, who lived near his Lone Star studio as a boy, remembered his father saying he watched Chaplin shoot a scene more than a hundred times until he was satisfied with it.[246] The ratio between shot footage and footage forming the final edited film would often be high, for example 53 takes per a finished take in The Kid.[247] This combination of story improvisation and relentless perfectionism—which resulted in days of effort and thousands of feet of film being wasted, all at enormous expense—often proved very taxing for Chaplin, who in frustration would often lash out at his actors and crew, keep them waiting idly for hours or, in extreme cases, shutting down production altogether.[248]

Due to his complete independence as a filmmaker, Chaplin has been identified by Andrew Sarris as one of the first auteur filmmakers.[249] However, he also often relied on help from his closest collaborators, such as his long-time cinematographer Roland Totheroh, brother Sydney Chaplin and various assistant directors, such as Harry Crocker and Charles Reisner.[250]

Style and themes

Instead of a tightly unified storyline, Gerald Mast and Donald McCaffrey have seen Chaplin's films as consisting of sketches tied together by the same theme and setting.[251][252] Although most of Chaplin's films are characterised as comedies, most of them also employ strong elements of drama and even tragedy. Chaplin could be inspired by tragic events when creating his films, as in the case of The Gold Rush (1925), which was inspired by the fate of the Donner Party.[253] Some scholars, such as Constance B. Kuriyama, have also identified more serious underlying themes, such as greed (The Gold Rush) or loss (The Kid), in Chaplin's comedies.[254]

It is paradoxical that tragedy stimulates the spirit of ridicule...ridicule, I suppose, is an attitude of defiance; we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature – or go insane.[255]

—Chaplin on comedy and tragedy in The Gold Rush

Chaplin's silent films usually follow the Tramp's struggles to survive in an often hostile world. According to David Robinson, unlike in more conventional slapstick comedies, the comic moments in Chaplin's films centred on the Tramp's attitude to the things happening to him: the humour did not come from the Tramp bumping into a tree but from his lifting of his hat to the tree in apology.[256] Chaplin also diverged from conventional slapstick by slowing down his pace and exhausting each scene of its comic potential, and focusing more on developing the viewer's relationship to the characters.[256][257] He also often employed inanimate objects in his films, often transforming them into other objects in an almost surreal way, such as in The Pawnshop (1916) and One A.M. (1916), where Chaplin is the only actor aside Chester Conklin's brief appearance in the very first scene.[257]

Chaplin disliked unconventional camera angles and only used close-ups to highlight an emotional scene, and usually preferred to employ a static, "stage-like" camera setting where the scenes were portrayed as if set on a stage.[257][258] Although he has been criticised for this as not completely understanding cinema as a medium, Gerald Mast has argued that by deliberately adopting this approach, Chaplin made "all consciousness of the cinematic medium disappear so completely that we concentrate solely on the photographic subject rather than the process".[257]

Chaplin portrayed social outcasts and the poor in a sympathetic light in his films from early on. His silent films usually centred on the Tramp's plight in poverty and his run-ins with the law, but also explored controversial topics, such as immigration (The Immigrant, 1917), illegitimacy (The Kid, 1921) and drug use (Easy Street, 1917).[257] Although this can be seen as social commentary, Chaplin's films did not contain overt political themes or messages until later on his career in the 1930s. Modern Times (1936), which depicted factory workers in dismal conditions, was the first of his films that was seen by critics to contain an anti-capitalist message, although Chaplin denied the film being in any way political. However, his next films, The Great Dictator (1940), a parody on Hitler and Mussolini that ended in a dramatic speech criticising the blind following patriotic nationalism, and Monsieur Verdoux (1947), which criticised war and capitalism, as well as his first European film A King in New York (1957), which ridiculed the HUAC, were more clearly political and caused controversy.

Partly due to Chaplin's complete control over the production of his films, Stephen M. Weissman has also seen them as containing autobiographical elements. This has also been confirmed by some of Chaplin's collaborators, such as actress Claire Bloom, who starred in Limelight. For example The Kid is thought to reflect Chaplin's own childhood trauma of being sent into an orphanage and the main characters in Limelight (1952) are thought to contain elements from the lives of his parents.[259][260] Many of his sets, especially in street scenes, bear a strong similarity to Kennington, where he grew up. Weissman has also argued that Chaplin's problematic relationship to his mentally ill mother was often reflected on the female characters in his films and the Tramp's desire to save them.[259]

Alongside acting, directing, writing, producing, and editing, Chaplin also composed the musical scores for his films. He developed a passion for music as a child, and taught himself to play the piano, violin, and cello.[261] After achieving fame, he founded a short-lived music company, the Charles Chaplin Music Corporation, through which he published some of his own compositions, such as "Oh, That Cello!" and "Peace Patrol" in 1916. He published two more of his compositions in 1925.[262] Chaplin considered the musical accompaniment of a film to be important,[263] and from A Woman of Paris onwards, he took an increasing interest in this area.[264][265]With the advent of sound technology, Chaplin immediately adopted the use of a synchronised soundtrack—composed by himself—for City Lights (1931).[264][265] He thereafter composed the score for all of his films, and from the late 1950s to his death, he re-scored all of his silent features and some of his short films.[265]

Because Chaplin was not a trained musician, he could not read notes and needed the help of professional composers, such as David Raksin, Raymond Rasch and Eric James, when creating his scores. Although some of Chaplin's critics have claimed that credit for his film music should be given to the composers who worked with him, for example Raksin, who worked with Chaplin on Modern Times, has stressed Chaplin's creative position and active participation in the composing process.[266] This process, which could take months, would start with Chaplin describing to the composer(s) exactly what he wanted and singing or playing a tune he had come up with on the piano.[266] These tunes were then developed further in a close collaboration between the composer(s) and Chaplin.[266] According to film historian Jeffrey Vance, "although he relied upon associates to arrange varied and complex instrumentation, the musical imperative is his, and not a note in a Chaplin musical score was placed there without his assent."[265]

Chaplin's compositions produced two popular songs. "Smile", composed originally for Modern Times (1936) and later set to lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons, was a hit for Nat King Cole in 1954.[265] "This Is My Song", performed by Petula Clark for A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), reached #1 on the UK Charts.[267] Chaplin also received his only competitive Oscar for his composition work, receiving the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Limelight (along with Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell) in 1973.[265]

Personal life and family

See also: Chaplin family

Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Glendale, California,[268] seven years after she was brought to the U.S. by her sons. Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother. The boy, Wheeler Dryden (1892–1957), was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.[269] In 1928, Chaplin built the Montecito Inn in Montecito near Santa Barbara as an escape from show business with his closest friends.


Edna Purviance was Chaplin's first major leading lady after Mabel Normand. Purviance and Chaplin were involved in a close romantic relationship during the production of his Essanay and Mutual films in 1916–1917. The romance seems to have ended by 1918, and Chaplin's marriage to Mildred Harris in late 1918 ended any possibility of reconciliation. Purviance would continue as leading lady in Chaplin's films until 1923, and would remain on Chaplin's payroll until her death in 1958. She and Chaplin spoke warmly of one another for the rest of their lives.

Mildred Harris, c. 1918–1920

Mildred Harris: On 23 October 1918, Chaplin, age 29, married the popular child actress, Harris, who was 16 at the time. They had one son, Norman Spencer "The Little Mouse" Chaplin, born on 7 July 1919, who died three days later and is interred under the name The Little Mouse at Inglewood Park Cemetery, Inglewood California. Chaplin separated from Harris by late 1919, moving back into the Los Angeles Athletic Club.[270] The couple divorced in November 1920, with Harris getting some of their community property and a US$100,000 settlement.[270] Chaplin admitted that he "was not in love, now that [he] was married [he] wanted to be and wanted the marriage to be a success." During the divorce, Chaplin claimed Harris had an affair with noted actress of the time Alla Nazimova, rumoured to be fond of seducing young actresses.[271]

Pola Negri: Chaplin was involved in a very public relationship and engagement with the Polish actress, Negri, in 1922–23, after she arrived in Hollywood to star in films. The stormy on-off engagement was halted after about nine months, but in many ways it foreshadowed the modern stereotypes of Hollywood star relationships. Chaplin's public involvement with Negri was unique in his public life. By comparison he strove to keep his other romances during this period very discreet and private (usually without success). Many biographers have concluded the affair with Negri was largely for publicity purposes.

Lita Grey: Chaplin first met Grey during the filming of The Kid. Three years later, at age 35, he became involved with the then 16-year-old Grey during preparations for The Gold Rush in which she was to star as the female lead. They married on 26 November 1924, after she became pregnant (a development that resulted in her being removed from the cast of the film). They had two sons, the actors Charles Chaplin, Jr. (1925–1968) and Sydney Chaplin (1926–2009). The marriage was a disaster, with the couple hopelessly mismatched. The couple divorced on 22 August 1927.[272] Their extraordinarily bitter divorce had Chaplin paying Grey a then-record-breaking US$825,000 settlement, on top of almost one million dollars in legal costs. The stress of the sensational divorce, compounded by a federal tax dispute, allegedly turned his hair white. The Chaplin biographer Joyce Milton asserted in Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin that the Grey-Chaplin marriage was the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's 1950s novel Lolita.

Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in The Great Dictator (1940)

Paulette Goddard: Chaplin and actress Goddard were involved in a romantic and professional relationship between 1932 and 1940, with Goddard living with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home for most of this time. Chaplin gave her starring roles in Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Refusal to clarify their marital status is often claimed to have eliminated Goddard from final consideration for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. After the relationship ended in 1940, Chaplin and Goddard made public statements that they had been secretly married in 1936; but these claims were likely a mutual effort to prevent any lasting damage to Goddard's career. In any case, their relationship ended amicably in 1942, with Goddard being granted a settlement. Goddard went on to a major career in films at Paramount in the 1940s, working several times with Cecil B. DeMille. Like Chaplin, she lived her later life in Switzerland, dying in 1990.

Joan Barry (1920–??): In 1942, Chaplin had a brief affair with Barry, whom he was considering for a starring role in a proposed film, but the relationship ended when she began harassing him and displaying signs of severe mental illness (not unlike his mother). Chaplin's brief involvement with Barry proved to be a nightmare for him. After having a child, she filed a paternity suit against him in 1943. Although blood tests proved Chaplin was not the father of Barry's child, Barry's attorney, Joseph Scott, convinced the court that the tests were inadmissible as evidence, and Chaplin was ordered to support the child. The injustice of the ruling later led to a change in California law to allow blood tests as evidence. Federal prosecutors also brought Mann Act charges against Chaplin related to Barry in 1944, of which he was acquitted.[273] Chaplin's public image in America was gravely damaged by these sensational trials.[226] Barry was institutionalised in 1953 after she was found walking the streets barefoot, carrying a pair of baby sandals and a child's ring, and murmuring: "This is magic".[274] Chaplin's second wife, Lita Grey, later asserted that Chaplin had paid corrupt government officials to tamper with the blood test results. She further stated that "there is no doubt that she [Carol Ann] was his child."[275]

Oona O'Neill: During Chaplin's legal trouble over the Barry affair, he met O'Neill, daughter of Eugene O'Neill, and married her on 16 June 1943. He was fifty-four; she had just turned eighteen. The marriage produced eight children; their last child, Christopher, was born when Chaplin was 73 years old. Oona survived Chaplin by fourteen years, and died from pancreatic cancer in 1991.[276]

Chaplin's "tramp" character is possibly the most imitated on all levels of entertainment. The influence of his 'Tramp' character could be seen on other artists and media providers. Beginning early on there were many tributes, and parodies made. E. C. Segar's 1916 comic strip "Charlie Chaplin's Comedy Capers" is an early example.[279] Segar's 'Chaplin' comics would later be collected in 1917 into five books, precursors of the later comic book format.[280] Two different animated cartoon series also starred 'Charlie' a tramp character, the first a series of nine shorts from 1916 by Movca Film Service.[281] And later ten films[282] by the Pat Sullivan Studio from 1918–1919, which would later use the 'Charlie/Charley' gestures to create Felix the Cat, the character made one later appearance in one of Felix's 1923 cartoons "Felix in Hollywood".[283]

From 1917 to 1918, silent film actor Billy West made more than 20 films as a comedian precisely imitating Chaplin's tramp character, makeup and costume.[284]

The third of composer Karl Amadeus Hartmann's 1929–30 composition Wachsfigurenkabinett: Fünf kleine Opern (Waxworks: Five Little Operas) is entitled 'Chaplin-Ford-Trot', and features the character of Charlie Chaplin (in a speaking rather than operatic role).

Shree 420 and Awaara main characters are heavily influenced by The Tramp.

Kamal Haasan moulded his character "Chaplin Chellappa" on Chaplin in the Tamil film Punnagai Mannan[285]

John Woo directed a parody film of Chaplin's "The Kid" called Hua ji shi dai (1981), also known as "Laughing Times."

A minor planet, 3623 Chaplin, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmila Karachkina in 1981, is named after Chaplin.[286]

In 2002, on a UK poll broadcast by the BBC, Chaplin was ranked number 66 on a list of the 100 Greatest Britons.[287]

In 2010 the New York Guitar Festival commissioned a number of contemporary artists to compose new scores for some of Chaplin's silent films. The artists included Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Marc Ribot, David Bromberg, Alex de Grassi and Chicha Libre.[288]

On 15 April 2011, a day before his 122nd birthday anniversary, Google celebrated this with a special Google Doodle video on its global and other country-wide homepages.[289]


Several memorials have been dedicated to Chaplin. A statue of him by John Doubleday in Leicester Square in London was revealed in 1981, followed by statues in Vevey, Switzerland, where he spent his final years and in Waterville, Ireland, where he spent many summer vacations with his family. Waterville also hosts an annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival,[290] and Chaplin’s final home, the Manoir de Ban in Corsier–sur–Vevey, is to be opened as a museum celebrating his career.[291][292] In 1985, Chaplin was honoured with his image on a postage stamp of the United Kingdom, and in 1994 he appeared on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.


Chaplin has been portrayed in several films. Richard Attenborough directed a film on Chaplin's life, Chaplin (1992), which starred Robert Downey, Jr. as Chaplin and also included Chaplin’s oldest daughter Geraldine Chaplin playing his mother, Hannah Chaplin. Downey Jr. was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor and won a BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance. In Peter Bogdanovich's film, The Cat's Meow (2001), which speculated about the mysterious death of producer Thomas H. Ince during a yachting party thrown by William Randolph Hearst, he was played by Eddie Izzard.

Chaplin has also been the subject of a musical, Limelight –The Story of Charlie Chaplin by Christopher Curtis and Thomas Meehan, which was performed at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2010.[293]The musical is to be adapted for Broadway in 2012, retitled Chaplin – A Musical.[294] Chaplin is portrayed by Robert McClure in both.

Chaplin is also one of the central characters in Glen David Gold’s novel Sunnyside, which is set in the World War I period. [295]

Awards and recognition

Chaplin received several awards and recognitions during his lifetime, especially during his later career in the 1960s and the 1970s. In 1975, he was knighted a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) by Queen Elizabeth II.[296][297] The honour had already been proposed in 1931 and 1956, but was vetoed after a Foreign Office report raised concerns over Chaplin's political views and private life; it was felt that honouring him would damage both the reputation of the British honours system and relations with the United States.[298] Chaplin was also awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees by the University of Oxford and the University of Durham in 1962.[299] In 1965 he received a joint Erasmus Prize with film director Ingmar Bergman [300] and in 1971 he was made a Commander of the national order of the Legion of Honor by the French Minister of Culture Jacques Duhamel at the Cannes Film Festival.[301]

Chaplin's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6751 Hollywood Blvd. Although the project started in 1958, Chaplin only received his star in 1970 because of his political views.

Chaplin also received several special film awards. He was given a special Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 1972.[302] When he briefly returned to the United States in 1972, the Lincoln Center Film Society honoured him with a gala and awarded him a lifetime achievement award, which has since been awarded annually to filmmakers as The Chaplin Award.[303] Chaplin was also given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1970, after having been excluded due to his political beliefs when the project was initially started in 1958.[304]

Chaplin also received three Academy Awards, one competitive award for Best Original Score, and two Honorary Awards, and was nominated for three more:

1st Academy Awards (1929): Special Award "for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus". Chaplin had originally been nominated for Best Production, Best Director in a Comedy Picture, Best Actor and Best Writing (Original Story) for The Circus. However, the Academy decided to withdraw his name from all the competitive categories and instead give him a special award.[305]

13th Academy Awards (1941): Best Actor and Best Writing, nominations, for The Great Dictator. The film was also nominated for further three awards. [306]

20th Academy Awards (1948): Best Screenplay, nomination, for Monsieur Verdoux

44th Academy Awards (1972): Honorary Award for "the incalculable effect he [Chaplin] has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century". Stepping onto the stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Chaplin received the longest standing ovation in Academy Award history, lasting a full twelve minutes.[307]

45th Academy Awards (1973): Best Original Score, win, for Limelight. Although the film had originally been released in 1952, due to Chaplin's political difficulties at the time, it did not play for one week in Los Angeles, and thus did not meet the criterion for nomination until it was re-released in 1972. [308]

Filmography and current rights issues

Main article: Charlie Chaplin filmography

Chaplin wrote, directed, and starred in dozens of feature films and short subjects. Highlights include The Immigrant (1917), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator (1940), all of which have been selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry. Three of these films made the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies and AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) lists: The Gold Rush, City Lights, and Modern Times.

A listing of the dozens of Chaplin films and alternate versions can be found in the Ted Okuda-David Maska book Charlie Chaplin at Keystone and Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp. Thanks to The Chaplin Keystone Project, efforts to produce definitive versions of Chaplin's pre-1918 short films have come to a successful end: after ten years of research and clinical international cooperation work, 34 Keystone films have been fully restored and published in October 2010 on a 4-DVD box set. All twelve Mutual films were restored in 1975 by archivist David Shepard and Blackhawk Films, and new restorations with even more footage were released on DVD in 2006.

Today, nearly all of Chaplin's output is owned by Roy Export S.A.S. in Paris, which enforces the library's copyrights and decides how and when this material can be released. French company MK2 acts as worldwide distribution agent for the Export company. In the U.S. as of 2010, distribution is handled under license by Janus Films, with home video releases from Criterion Collection, affiliated with Janus. 

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