This year Christmas day brings with it the 40th anniversary of Charlie Chaplin‘s death. A man who successfully achieved his goal – for the whole of America to have his name on their lips – as well as placing his image in the minds of millions across the world.
Charlie Chaplin is most well-known for his character The Tramp – a man in a suit with a toothbrush moustache, a cane, funny walk and bowler hat. Remember him? He is iconic and yet the character was an accident born in 1913. It was, Chaplin describes, based on his father’s alter ego – “the little boy who never grew up: ragged, cold, hungry, but still thumbing his nose at the world.” Though the Tramp speaks, many of the films that follow his adventures were silent, even in the talkies era. As a result, Chaplin used facial expressions to carry the plot.
Charlie Chaplin, Charlot (b/w photo), 20th century, American Photographer / Private Collection
Chaplin’s political views have also made headlines and even sparked an FBI investigation. The FBI looked into his links with communist organisations and his inclusion of these views into his films. The film Modern Times (1936) was a social commentary and depicts The Tramp’s conflict both with machines in a factory and society as a machine.
CHAPLIN: MODERN TIMES, 1936 Charlie Chaplin in a scene from the film ‘Modern Times’, 1936.
Les temps modernes MODERN TIMES de Charles Chaplin avec Charlie Chaplin, 1936
How it all began
Charles Spenser Chaplin was born to two actors in London in 1889 and, due to the skills he inherited from them and the poverty he grew up in, began his life on stage before the age of ten. He also had one brother – Sydney – and a half brother – Wheeler. By the age of eighteen he had begun touring as an actor and then joined Keystone Studio in 1913 (where The Tramp was born).
Chaplin may have been born into a small family but his children certainly weren’t – he married four times and had a total of eleven children. His wives were all involved in the film industry, including Paulette Goddard, whom he married in 1936 and performed alongside in Modern Times. His final marriage was to Oona O’Neill and lasted the rest of his life.
Charlie Chaplin With his Family on September 22, 1952 on Liner “Queen Elizabeth” in Cherbourg : L-R : Geraldine, Charles Chaplin, Michael, Josephine and Victoria in Arms of Oona O’Neill (b/w photo)
Throughout his life Chaplin won awards and was decorated by governments. Since his death in 1977, however, his legacy is even more interesting. In 1978 his body was stolen by grave robbers who hoped to receive a ransom of the equivalent of $600,000. Their plan failed and Chaplin was reburied. Earlier this year a world record has been set for the most Charlie Chaplins in one place (662 Chaplins!). His legacy continues!
And if we are to remember anything about him, why don’t we remember that:
‘Life is a beautiful magnificent thing, even to a Jellyfish.’ – Charlie Chaplin