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.”
Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the silent era.Chaplin is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. His career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until a year before his death at age 88, and encompassed both adulation and controversy.
Chaplin’s childhood in London was defined by poverty and hardship. As his father was absent and his mother struggled financially, he was sent to a workhouse twice before the age of nine. When he was 14, his mother was committed to a mental asylum.Chaplin began performing at an early age, touring music halls and later working as a stage actor and comedian. At 19 he was signed to the prestigious Fred Karno company, which took him to America.
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: “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.” Chaplin developed a passion for music as a child, and taught himself to play the piano, violin, and cello.
Chaplin became a member of the Eight Lancashire Lads clog-dancing troupe, with whom he toured English music halls throughout 1899 and 1900. Chaplin worked hard, and the act was popular with audiences, but he was not satisfied with dancing and wished to form a comedy act. In the years Chaplin was touring with the Eight Lancashire Lads, his mother ensured that he still attended school, but by age 13 he had abandoned education. He supported himself with a range of jobs, while nursing his ambition to become an actor.
Chaplin was scouted for the film industry, and made his first appearance in Keystone Studios’s Making a Living (1914). By 1918, he was one of the best known figures in the world.
In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the distribution company United Artists, which gave him complete control over his films. He refused to move to sound films in the 1930s, instead producing City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936) without dialogue. Chaplin became increasingly political and his next film, The Great Dictator(1940), satirised Adolf Hitler. Caught in the Rain, issued 4 May 1914, was Chaplin’s directorial debut and was highly successful.
Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his films. He was a perfectionist, and his financial independence enabled him to spend years on the development and production of a picture. His films are characterised by slapstick combined with pathos, typified in the Tramp’s struggles against adversity. A contract was negotiated with Mutual that amounted to $670,000 a year, which Robinson says made Chaplin – at 26 years old – one of the highest paid people in the world.
Many contain social and political themes, as well as autobiographical elements. In 1972, as part of a renewed appreciation for his work, Chaplin received an Honorary Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century”. He continues to be held in high regard, with The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times, and The Great Dictator often ranked among industry lists of the greatest films of all time.