A Tribute to Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889 – 1977)
During the silent film era, The Tramp, The Little Fellow, or Charlot, as he is known in many non-English speaking countries, became one of the most recognized screen characters and brought laughter to millions of people.
Chaplin’s childhood was plagued by poverty, mitigated only by the love for and from his mother. His early life included spells in a workhouse and a strained relationship with his alcoholic father. His later films would portray this working class life and struggles using humor and social realism.
Charlie was a working actor from the age of 9 and while still a teenager, Chaplin toured the vaudeville circuit in the US with the likes of Stan Laurel. In late 1913, Charlie didn’t return home. Instead, he took up an offer from Keystone Films Studio, a decision that would change the course of film history.
The Tramp first came to life when Chaplin was working on another comic’s picture, Mabel’s Strange Predicament. As an afterthought, the director wanted a comic character with funny make-up, so Charlie grabbed a mishmash of vagabond-like clothing and a small mustache that would not hide his facial expressions. When he appeared on set, everyone loved it and Chaplin would say later that, “the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born.”
Chaplin’s first 8 films – all shot within two months in 1914 – included Kid Auto Races At Venice (February 7, 1914), which featured the Tramp for the first time because it was released two days before Mabel’s Strange Predicament. The movie catapulted Chaplin into stardom and he would continue to play this character in most of his later films.
By 1915, he was also directing and working for another film company, Essanay, where he took greater creative control. It was here that he created many classic short films, including The Tramp, released on April 11, 1915, and The Bank on August 9 later that year.
By 1919, Charlie was with First National and busy forming United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. His personal life was in tatters when he started work on his first full-length movie, The Kid, which featured The Tramp. It was released to high acclaim and record box office success in 1921. The Tramp again appeared in The Gold Rush, another critically acclaimed and financially successful film in 1925. Other films include City Lights on March 7, 1931.
After a 22-year run, the final Tramp film was Modern Times, released February 5, 1936, which famously features the little man speaking for the first time – although in gibberish. It ends with The Tramp, now known to the world as a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, and a lonely fellow, walking away from us down a long road, having yet again shaken off his disappointments.
Article by Debra Mills
For more details of Charlie Chaplin’s life and his works, please refer to the official website
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