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Charlie Chaplin: icon of comedy, cinematic titan

One of the greatest stars of the silent film era, his name is synonymous with comedy and humour. In a career spanning over 75 years, his achievements as an actor, filmmaker and composer makes Chaplin one of the greatest figures in the film industry.

inspiring-lives Updated: Sep 26, 2019, 18:06 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Legenday comic, actor and filmmaker, Charlie Chaplin composed the music for many of his own movies, though he never really had proper music training. In 1972, he won an Oscar for the music in Limelight which he had helped compose.
Legenday comic, actor and filmmaker, Charlie Chaplin composed the music for many of his own movies, though he never really had proper music training. In 1972, he won an Oscar for the music in Limelight which he had helped compose.(Illustration: Mohit Suneja)

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London, United Kingdom on April 16, 1889. His father, Charles Chaplin Sr, was a vocalist and actor and mother Hannah Chaplin was a singer-actress who worked in the light opera and was also known by her stage name, Lily Harley. His father’s early death, and his mother’s unsuccessful career as well as her illness forced Chaplin and his brother, Sydney Chaplin, to fend for themselves.

Early career

Chaplin made his professional debut as a member of a juvenile group called The Eight Lancashire Lads and quickly became popular as an outstanding tap dancer.

When he was around the age of 12, he got his first chance to act in a legitimate stage show and appeared as a newsboy in a play directed by HA Saintsbury and later as a pageboy in a production of Sherlock Holmes. At the end of that engagement, Chaplin began a stint as a comedian in vaudeville, which in 1910 took him to the United States as a player with the Fred Karno comedy company. In 1913, he had signed a one-year contract with the New York Motion Picture Company, which promised him a pay of $150 a week. In 1914, he made his film debut in Making a Living that was followed by several films for Keystone Studios.

In 1915, he directed and wrote screenplays for the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company. Some of them included The Champion, The Tramp, Work, A Woman, The Bank, Triple Trouble and Police. In 1916-17, he worked for the Mutual Film Corporation.

Rise to fame

September 1923 onwards, he had directed, acted, produced, wrote, composed tunes for many movies and released them under the United Artists label. In 1925, his Academy Award-winning film The Gold Rush, which he directed, starred in and produced, was released. In 1928, he released the film The Circus which became one of his highest grossing silent films.

In 1940, he came up with The Great Dictator, which was one of his most successful films. In 1952, his Academy Award-winning film Limelight was released. A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) was his last film.

Personal life

Chaplin’s first marriage was with Mildred Harris in 1918. After their divorce, he married the actress, Lita Grey in 1924. When Chaplin was 47, he then married Paulette Goddard. His fourth marriage was with Oona O’Neill in 1943, when Chaplin was 54. She gave birth to eight of Chaplin’s 11 children. On December 25, 1977, he died in his sleep at the age of 88 after suffering a stroke and was laid to rest in Vevey, Switzerland.

Awards & achievements

He received the Honorary Academy Award (1929) for ‘versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing. In 1972, he received the Honorary Academy Award for ‘the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century’. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1972 and, in 1973, received the Academy Award in the category, Best Music, Original Dramatic Score for the film Limelight. On April 16, 2016, Chaplin’s World, a museum dedicated to the filmmaker’s life and work, opened at his former home in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland.

Interesting Facts

1.Chaplin composed the music for many of his own movies, though he never had proper music training. In 1972, he won an Oscar for the music in Limelight which he had helped compose.

2.Chaplin never became an American citizen, despite having lived in the United States for almost 40 years. After the movie Modern Times, he gained a reputation as a communist sympathiser. In 1952, the US government revoked his re-entry permit. Therefore, he moved to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. In 1972 he returned to the US to accept his Oscar.

3.Chaplin narrowly escaped death on his first day of visit to Japan in 1931. Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi was assassinated in an attack apparently carried out by a group which had hoped to target the great actor and filmmaker at an event hosted by the prime minister in his honour. Chaplin, escaped the attack as he had gone out to watch a sumo wrestling match.

Source: Wikipedia, charliechaplin.com, thefamouspeople.com

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