Woal, M. Maland, C.
Milton, J. Thomajan, D. Weisman, S. Lemaster, David J. Young Charlie Chaplin , television film biography directed by Baz Taylor, Chaplin , film biography directed by Richard Attenborough, It took only a very busy year of acting and directing short films for Charles Chaplin to launch his own career and alter the format of the Mack Sennett comic film. While the famous comedian owed much to the Sennett tradition—the story material and plotting, the techniques of the medium, and the comic vigor—he had his own contribution to make to the comic film.
The more subtle humor of this English music hall entertainer was thwarted by the fast pace and farcical plotting of many of the Sennett one- and two-reel comedies. Chaplin's fame emerged with the development of the little tramp character as early as when he co-starred with Mabel Normand for Keystone studio and producer Mack Sennett. When he left Sennett's company to work for Essanay and Mutual studios he added finishing touches to the tramp character so that it became a marvelous comic portrait for all times. At the same time, from to Chaplin came very close to perfection in the construction of the two-reel humorous film, especially with The Cure and Easy Street in But the most important aspect of his work was not structure, it was the heights he brought to his acting skills.
The quality of Chaplin's acting as it relates to the total work and his fellow players surfaced in these early works. The Cure and Easy Street , for example, illustrate how he achieved a balanced enactment with his casts. Although he is the leading figure, there are convincing performances by all of the supporting players so that the works display theatrical unity. From the documentary on the working method of Chaplin, 's Unknown Chaplin , featuring a number of outtakes from the comedian's The Cure , we now know he often acted out a number of roles which would later be played by other members of his cast.
From the evidence in this documentary, extensive rehearsal by all cast members proved Chaplin demanded the devotion of those who worked with him on his films. With all the repetition of one scene it is a wonder the acting did not become stale, flat, and mechanical. But the comedian's portraits emerged fresh, providing a first-time illusion. Especially noteworthy in The Cure is Chaplin's portrayal of an alcoholic who has arrived at a mineral springs hotel for a cure. Gone from his portrayal is the broad, staggering stereotype of the Sennett comedies. He teeters and leans aslant as his locomotion becomes comically askew.
And, of course, his mind also reveals it is askew. When he is pushed into the gym to receive physical therapy he sees the masseur as an attacker and strikes the pose of a wrestler. He then begins a series of moves to avoid what he thinks is an opponent. The comedian handles this pantomime adroitly with the grace of a dancer.
It is little wonder then that W. Fields is reported to have declared in a fit of jealousy: "The son of a bitch is a ballet dancer! When Chaplin moved to the feature length film with The Kid in , the richness of his character and acting sprang forth. A greater range of humor was finally achieved because the feature allowed the actor the total dimension of the little tramp. While his two-reelers often moved in the rapid, farcical, slapstick style of Mack Sennett, his full-length films explored the spectrum of his little man-child clown.
The quiet, personal moments of the social outcast blossomed, and what critics called "Chaplin's pathos" was born. The little tramp raises a foundling to have many of the awry social values of a social outcast—providing the viewer with some understanding of survival necessities.
The kid breaks windows with a pocketful of rocks as the little tramp follows behind as a glazer who repairs the damage for a fee.
Films as Actor, Director, and Scriptwriter:
When an orphanage official takes the kid away in a truck, the tramp pursues and stops the abduction. In an emotional embrace of his adopted son, Chaplin underplays the joy of the moment in a powerful shot of the scene. It may not be what has been called "pathos"—more like sympathy—nevertheless, this shows the essence of a subtle tone without moving to sentimentality. Other examples of the range of Chaplin's acting deftness display his skill.
Critics often point to turns of Chaplin's innovation, such as the oceanic roll dance when he entertains a guest with a routine that shows his head hovering over rolls on forks executing a ballet—an unusual bit in The Gold Rush. There are also more subtle scenes such as one when the little fellow is starving in a remote cabin in Alaska. With delicate, facile pantomime the hollow-eyed, comic hero eyes the stub of a candle. Sadly, the little tramp picks it up and nibbles it with rabbit bites—as if the candle were a piece of carrot or celery.
And with a deft touch that again shows Chaplin's genius, he sprinkles salt on the morsel of wax, finds that it tastes better, and pops it into his mouth. With such actions a new depth in comic character was added, a dimension that was to make Chaplin the darling of the critics. Evaluators of the comedian's work have been most generous in the hundreds of articles published and more than 25 major books solely devoted to his life and films.
Sometimes critics believe comedy films do not receive recognition for social significance and employ sweeping symbols and allusions to elevate them. Theodore Huff, usually detached and low-key in his work, Charlie Chaplin , writes that the comedian has become "a symbol of the age, the twentieth-century Everyman. By far the most rhapsodic commentary comes from Robert Payne who uses the pretentious title The Great God Pan for a biography of Chaplin.
He writes: "Far more than Sir Galahad, he [Chaplin] represents the heroic figure of the man pure and undefiled. These three statements by writers of major works in the early s use allusions that touch upon themes and not the acting, which was the major quality that places Chaplin as the leading king of comedy of the s. This feeling increased when he released Monsieur Verdoux, in which he showed that mass murder and the abuse of workers in an attempt to increase business profits were similar.
Critics praised the film, but it was more popular with European audiences than those in America. During the next five years Chaplin devoted himself to Limelight , a gentle and sometimes sad work based in part on his own life.
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It was much different from Monsieur Verdoux. Although Chaplin proved he was not the child's father, reaction to the charges turned many people against him. While on vacation in Europe in , Chaplin was notified by the U. He was charged with committing immoral acts and being politically suspicious.
Chaplin, who had never become a United States citizen, sold all of his American possessions and settled in Geneva, Switzerland, with his fourth wife, Oona O'Neill, daughter of the American playwright Eugene O'Neill — , and their children. My Autobiography the story of his own life was published in By the s times had changed, and Chaplin was again recognized for his rich contribution to film. He returned to the United States in , where he was honored by major tributes in New York City and Hollywood , California , including receiving a special Academy Award. All of Chaplin's works display the physical grace, ability to express feeling, and intellectual vision possessed by the finest actors.
A film about Chaplin's life, titled Chaplin, was released in Chaplin, Charlie. Charlie Chaplin's Own Story. Edited by Harry M. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, My Autobiography. Reprint, New York: Plume, Hale, Georgia. Charlie Chaplin: Intimate Close-Ups. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, Charlie Chaplin Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin , —, English film actor, director, producer, writer, and composer, b. Chaplin began on the music-hall stage and then joined a pantomime troupe.
While on tour in the United States , he was recruited by Mack Sennett. Chaplin merged physical grace, disrespect for authority, and sentimentality into a highly individual character he created for the Keystone Company. In appearance, his Little Tramp wore a gentlemen's derby, cane, and neatly kept moustache with baggy trousers and oversized shoes. He affected a unique, bow-legged dance-walk. Chaplin skipped from one studio to another in search of greater control over his work, finally cofounding United Artists in with D.
Griffith , Douglas Fairbanks , and Mary Pickford. He enjoyed immense worldwide popularity, though this was tempered by his refusal to use sound until His political sympathies and various personal scandals contributed to his declining popularity. In , he was barred on political grounds from re-entering the United States and lived thereafter in Switzerland. In he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He won an Academy Award in for his score to Limelight.
See his My Trip Abroad and autobiography ; biographies by C. Chaplin, Jr. Tyler , repr. Ackroyd ; G. McDonald et al. Vance, Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema Chaplin, Charles — Film actor and director. London-born of music-hall performers, with a wretched childhood as the family lost everything, Chaplin learned vaudeville techniques with the Fred Karno Company before being signed by the Keystone Company Hollywood in After an unpropitious start, he gained fame in silent films through portrayal of a baggy-trousered, moustachioed tramp, softening the original character with sentiment and pathos The Kid , The Gold Rush , City Lights , so charming audiences.
His rapid rise was due partly to the emergence of the star system but he contributed creatively if egotistically to cinema art: directing was merely an extension of his power as actor. He made few films after the introduction of sound, but received a special Academy Award in and was knighted Chaplin's personal life was frequently stormy, and he left America in because of political hostility and moral disapproval, to settle permanently in Switzerland.
Chaplin, Charlie Sir Charles Spencer — English actor and film-maker, often considered the greatest silent film comedian. In his short films, such as The Immigrant and A Dog's Life , he developed his famous character; a jaunty, wistful figure of pathos in baggy trousers and bowler hat, with a cane and a moustache. He was attacked for his liberal politics, and in left the USA to live in Switzerland. In , he returned to Hollywood to accept an honorary Oscar. Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin April 16, —December 25, , motion-picture actor, director, producer, and writer, was born in London, England, to two music-hall singers who separated soon after his birth.
Chaplin experienced a difficult and often unstable childhood. A talented mimic, he began acting early, and by the successful music-hall performer signed a movie contract to work for Keystone's Mack Sennett. Chaplin quickly developed a comic persona, the Tramp, which launched him to stardom, and began to write and direct his short comedies. During the s Chaplin shifted from two-reel shorts to feature-length films, most notably The Gold Rush City Lights was planned before the stock market crash of and is best considered Chaplin's farewell to the s, particularly for its satirical portrayal of an urban millionaire who is generous when drunk but suicidal when sober.
In and Chaplin took a fifteen-month world tour, which demonstrated his global fame and confronted him with the suffering of the Depression. Responding to calls for socially relevant works, Chaplin began work in on a project, The Masses, that was released in as Modern Times. Although it resembled earlier Chaplin features with its visual comedy, romance, and pathos, Modern Times was more topical than his previous films, alluding to the Depression in images of frantic assembly lines, closed factories, and street clashes between protesters and the police.
Ideologically progressive, the film sympathized with common people like his Tramp and the gamin, and criticized authority figures like the factory owner or the policeman who kills the gamin's father. Critics and moviegoers were divided in their response to this new and more socially aware Chaplin. Chaplin's next film, The Great Dictator, aligned itself with another progressive cause of the later Depression years: antifascism. A pointed satirical attack on fascism, the film starred Chaplin in two roles—a gentle Jewish barber and the dictator of Tomania, Adenoid Hynkel. Chaplin conceived the film in the late s, halted production on it briefly when World War II erupted in , then decided that even during wartime, it was important to use humor to combat what he considered to be cruel totalitarianism.
The Great Dictator was Chaplin's biggest box-office success in its initial domestic release. Recognizing its popularity, Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Chaplin to read the film's final speech at a presidential inaugural ball in By the end of the Depression, Chaplin was developing the reputation of a politically aware and progressive filmmaker; that reputation would later cause him problems after the Cold War set in, when he faced accusations that he was a Communist.
Gehring, Wes D.
Shadow and Substance/Arthur Lyons
Charlie Chaplin , a Bio-Bibliography. Lynn, Kenneth Schuyler. Charlie Chaplin and His Times. Actor and vaudeville performer; screenwriter, producer, and director of motion pictures ; author. Music hall performer in London, England, and provincial theatres, beginning ; vaudeville performer with Fred Karno troupe, ; toured United States with Karno, and ; Keystone Films, Hollywood, CA, under contract as actor, director, and screenwriter, ; actor, director, and screenwriter for Essanay Films, ; actor, director, and screenwriter for Mutual Films, ; actor, director, and screenwriter for First National, ; cofounder with D.
Academy Award for "versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing," Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, , for The Circus; Academy Award nomination for best actor, best screenplay, and best film, and New York Film Critics Circle Award for best actor refused , all , all for The Great Dictator; Academy Award nomination for best screenplay, , for Monsieur Verdoux; special Academy Award, , for "incalculable effect. Les feux de la rampe screenplay; translation of Limelight , Gallimard Paris, France , The Cure , Mutual Films, A Countess from Hong Kong , Universal, Few entertainers received more recognition in their time than did Charlie Chaplin, who was lovingly known the world over as "the tramp," an impoverished yet ever-hopeful hero of more than eighty films.
For over thirty years Chaplin was a major force in comedy; he wrote, directed, and acted in the vast majority of his films, most of which are now considered classics. Time contributor Ann Douglas wrote that Chaplin "was the first, and to date the last, person to control every aspect of the filmmaking process—founding his own studio, United Artists, with Douglas Fairbanks , Mary Pickford and D.
Griffith, and producing, casting, directing, writing, scoring and editing the movies he starred in. In the first decades of the twentieth century, when weekly moviegoing was a national habit, Chaplin more or less invented global recognizability and helped turn an industry into an art. Chaplin's early life was that of the struggling entertainer. Born Charles Spencer Chaplin, he was placed in an orphanage in when his parents, both hard-luck vaudeville performers, became unable to support their family of five.
When he left the orphanage, Chaplin earned money as an extra in small vaudeville shows. Soon he was playing major parts in touring productions, and in he joined Fred Karno's vaudeville troup. Chaplin rose to star billing within four years as a comedian in Karno's company and one night, during a performance of A Night in an English Music Hall, his acting drew the attention of Hollywood film mogul Mack Sennett. When Chaplin arrived in Hollywood in , he was given the star dressing room, the same one used previously by Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and also by Sennett.
But despite the star treatment, Chaplin worked only sporadically, often going an entire week with no assignments. Then one day Chaplin spied Sennett in conversation with a fellow actor. Impatient with inactivity, Chaplin persistently placed himself in Sennett's line of vision in order to gain the filmmaker's attention. Sennett eventually spotted Chaplin, though apparently unaware of the ploy, and told him to dress for a comedy sequence. As Chaplin recalled in My Autobiography, "I had no idea what make-up to put on. However, on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat.
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I wanted everything a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born. There was nothing quite like him before, certainly not in films and probably not in world art. He became this universal figure that everybody in every country in the world understood, recognized and loved. Chaplin soon found himself under the direction of Mabel Normand, a top comedy actress but a novice director.
He immediately began plaguing her with countless suggestions on how to improve their film. When Normand disagreed, the confrontation resulted in Chaplin's refusal to perform in a specific scene unless his ideas were implemented. Normand stalked off to Sennett for arbitration, and the producer's immediate reaction was to fire Chaplin.
However, that very day he had received a demand from New York distributors for more Chaplin films. Sennett conferred with Chaplin and asked for his cooperation. Chaplin replied that if Sennett were to let him direct, there would be no problem. After some consternation, Sennett agreed to let Chaplin direct a film, provided he agreed to cover any financial loss. Buoyed by the prospect of directing his own films, Chaplin returned to the set where Normand and crew waited. He immediately noticed a new attitude on Normand's part and responded by turning in a string of admirable performances.
However, Chaplin felt himself better suited to working under his own direction. Tillie's Punctured Romance, co-starring Normand and Chaplin and directed by Sennett in , was his last film under another director. Sadly, Normand's career declined with the advent of sound. Chaplin's contract with Keystone Films expired in , whereupon he joined the Essanay Company.
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He made fifteen short films for Essanay, including The Tramp, "considered to be Chaplin's first masterpiece," according to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Botham Stone. He then signed with the Mutual Film Company in There he made twelve more two-reelers, including the popular Easy Street in which Chaplin, in his tramp guise, plays a policeman who overcomes his assailant by placing his head in a gas street lamp. Upon expiration of his agreement with Mutual Films, Chaplin signed an eight-film pact with First National Exhibitors' Circuit which netted him more than one million dollars and made him one of the highest-paid entertainers in the world.
Some of Chaplin's most acclaimed films were made for First National. But Chaplin's biggest success up to that time came with his first full-length film, The Kid. The story of a tramp's relationship with an abandoned child was much praised for its blend of humor and pathos. Whether you appreciate Chaplin's sentimentality or not, it's clear that without it he was merely an incredibly gifted comedian.
With it, he became an allegorical figure: humanity's stand-in. With completion of The Kid, Chaplin felt drained. His divorce from his first wife coincided with the film's release, and uncertainty over the film's potential, coupled with his disintegrating marriage, forced Chaplin to take a much-needed vacation. In he went to Europe, and was greeted by enthusiastic crowds in Paris, Berlin, and London.
I was returning with complete satisfaction—though somewhat sad, for I was leaving behind not alone the noise of acclaim or accolades of the rich and celebrated who had entertained me, but the sincere affection and enthusiasm of the English and the French crowds that had waited to welcome me. I was also leaving behind my past. Upon returning from Europe, Chaplin made three more shorts, thus ending his contract with First National. He then began working for United Artists, a releasing company he co-founded in Chaplin's first film for his own company was a marked departure from what the public had come to expect.
The film was A Woman of Paris. It was not a comedy but a serious study of upper-class life in Paris. It did not star Chaplin; he made the film as a vehicle for his long time co-star Edna Purviance with the hope that she could start her own career as a "serious" actress. Although it received critical praise, the film was met with ambivalence by Chaplin's audiences and was rarely seen in the United States following its initial release. In the film, the tramp finds himself an unlikely participant in the Klondike gold rush , gets stranded in a cabin with two rough-necked prospectors, and courts a dance-hall girl.
Released in , the movie contains some of Chaplin's best-known sequences: the starving tramp dining on a leather boot, a cabin dangling precariously over a cliff, and a delirious fellow prospector imagining the tramp to be a chicken. In The Gold Rush Chaplin's acting skills are on full display, observed a contributor in the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, who praised the subtle tone of one memorable scene: "With delicate, facile pantomime the hollow-eyed, comic hero eyes the stub of a candle.
In Chaplin made The Circus, a film in many ways reminiscent of his early two-reelers. The Circus was another success, and it earned Chaplin a special Academy Award. It took almost three years for Chaplin to make his next movie, City Lights. Like The Gold Rush, City Lights was warmly received by both critics and the public, but contains a serious and more sentimental theme; in its pathos, it is often compared to The Kid.
The movie concerns the tramp's affections for a blind girl. When he learns an operation can restore her sight, he obtains the money from a millionaire friend. Unfortunately, the police believe the tramp stole the money and he is put in prison. Upon his release, he meets the girl once again. According to Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, "The last scene of City Lights is justly famous as one of the great emotional moments in the movies; the girl, whose sight has been restored by an operation paid for by the Tramp, now sees him as a bum—but smiles at him anyway, and gives him a rose and some money, and then, touching his hands, recognizes them.
He nods, tries to smile, and asks, 'You can see now? Chaplin had taken a chance with City Lights.
By the time of its release in , sound had been incorporated into the movies. He chose to make City Lights as a silent picture anyway and the film proved to be one of the top box-office winners that year. With the release of Modern Times in , "a fable about among other things automation, assembly lines and the enslaving of man by machines," according to Ebert, "he hit upon an effective way to introduce sound without disturbing his comedy of pantomime: The voices in the movie are channeled through other media.
The ruthless steel tycoon talks over closed-circuit television, a crackpot inventor brings in a recorded sales pitch, and so on. After being rescued, he attempts to tighten anything which will fit his wrenches, including the buttons on a woman's dress. Despite the popularity of Modern Times, it was Chaplin's last film without spoken dialogue and, more importantly, it marked his last appearance as the tramp. The Great Dictator was released in amid great controversy.
Chaplin's first sound film was a parody of Adolf Hitler , whose tyranny Chaplin could not imagine when he began production in Nonetheless, The Great Dictator, featuring Chaplin in a dual role as dictator Adenoid Hynkel and his lookalike, a humble Jewish barber, was as popular with audiences as his previous films. It, too, contains many timeless moments: Hynkel dancing with a globe and sliding up a curtain, the barber fighting off Hynkel's henchmen, and Hynkel's confrontations with fellow dictator Napaloni.
Although Chaplin received some criticism for the excessive dialogue appealing for world peace that ends the film, most critics applauded his decision to abandon the tramp character in favor of the demanding dual role. The movie is a black comedy about a fashionable socialite who marries rich women and then murders them. Eventually, he is caught and put on trial. In Monsieur Verdoux, Chaplin justifies the murders by rationalizing that Verdoux is no less a killer than a ruler who plunges his country into war; Verdoux suggests that these rulers cause more deaths than he has.
With such a radical theme, Chaplin began to lose his following. Interestingly, the film has grown in stature over the ensuing years, and has been shown frequently at art houses and film festivals. Indeed, some critics rate Monsieur Verdoux as one of Chaplin's finest works. Limelight proved to be an apt title for Chaplin's last film produced in the United States. The sentimental story of an aging music-hall comedian whose greatest triumph is followed by his death typified Chaplin's own feelings on life.
According to a contributor in the International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, Limelight is "Chaplin's nostalgic farewell to the silent art of pantomime which nurtured him. Chaplin had little opportunity to rejoice over the reviews of Limelight. In , he was vacationed in England when his personal life caught up with him.
Owing to two scandalous marriages, a paternity suit, and various political stands, Chaplin was informed by the U. Insulted, Chaplin remained in England, and later settled in Switzerland. Now living overseas, Chaplin made two more films before he died. Made in , the film was not released in the United States for almost twenty years.
In Chaplin directed his own screenplay, A Countess from Hong Kong , but despite commendable performances by Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando , it too is regarded as an inferior film. In , Chaplin was allowed to return to the United States to accept a special Academy Award for his contributions to cinema. It was an emotional situation for the actor, who expressed himself by saying: "Words are so futile, so feeble.
I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here. You're wonderful, sweet people. Thank you. According to Botham Stone, writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Chaplin's place in the history of film is an important one. He drew millions to the new art form in the early part of [the twentieth]. No human being dresses like that. But in his abstraction he becomes universal. He becomes 'a man' who absorbs all of our humanity within that highly stylized presentation. If you look at his films, he is dealing with the most basic, wonderful human emotions.
CHAPLIN, (Sir) Charles (Charlie)
Safety Last! Duck Soup , featuring the Marx Brothers , Bowman, W. Conway, Michael, Gerald D. Finke, Blythe F. Geduld, Harry M. International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, St. Lynn, Kenneth S. Everson, "Rediscovery: 'New' Chaplin Films. Journal of Film and Video, Volume 46, number 3, E. Lieberman, "Charlie the Trickster," and M. Woal and L. Woal, "Chaplin and the Comedy of Melodrama. C harlie Chaplin came to the United States as an English stage actor and became one of the world's best-known and best-loved comic actors in the early days of the U.
Chaplin created the figure known as the Little Tramp, who appeared in nearly all of his best-known works. The Little Tramp represented the common man, the ordinary fellow who confronted a loss or setback, got up, and carried on. Even after the era of films with sound, Chaplin used his talents of pantomime, or communicating silently with only hand and body gestures, to create a worldwide audience.
But Chaplin fell out of favor with many, as he became involved in a series of marriages, an incident involving child support, and suspicions that he was a communist sympathizer. Chaplin never became an American citizen, but his great success defined American films in the days before movies had sound, and he contributed to the domination of Hollywood over the motion picture industry worldwide.
He was one of the many immigrants who came to the United States to earn a fortune but kept their original nationality and left after they became successful. Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin's childhood was extraordinarily difficult. His mother sang in comic operas under the name Lily Harley. When young Charles was just a year old, his father left the family and was seldom seen afterwards. He died in For a while after the father left, Chaplin's mother was able to support the family Charlie Chaplin had an older half brother, Sydney , but from the time Chaplin was six, her career started declining.
Ironically, a difficult and embarrassing incident in his mother's career marked the beginning of her son's career when he was just five. Harley was on stage, trying for a high note, when her voice cracked. I did not quite understand what was going on. But the noise increased until mother was obliged to walk off the stage…. She was very upset and argued with the stage manager who … said something about letting me go on in her place…. Not knowing what else to do, he imitated what he had just seen—his mother's voice cracking. The audience roared with laughter.
But this early triumph did not lead directly to fame and fortune. His mother, her career finished, tried to earn a living by sewing. She spent periods of time in hospitals, forcing Chaplin to live in a series of institutions for orphans. He had only four years of formal education, and some of his experiences were brutal.
On one occasion, when it was thought he might have ringworm, a highly contagious skin disease, Chaplin had his head shaved and painted with iodine, after which he was put into isolation. On another occasion, he was beaten for misbehavior. Chaplin's older brother became a sailor, leaving his younger brother and mother to cope with living on little money. Chaplin helped earn money by joining a group that performed clog dancing dancing while wearing heavy wooden shoes called clogs.
He also worked selling newspapers, running errands for a doctor, making toys, and working for a printer. When he was not working, Chaplin called on theatrical agencies companies that find performers for stage producers. At age twelve, he got his first break: a role in a play entitled Sherlock Holmes. Then came a number of jobs in stage comedies and a job in another play in London that later went on tour. On one occasion, Chaplin was playing on stage in the Channel Islands , between Britain and France, where people speak a dialect a local version of French.
Chaplin realized that his audience could not understand English and therefore did not understand his jokes. But the audience did laugh at pantomime, in which facial expressions and body movements substitute for words. Chaplin's big breakthrough, as it turned out, was joining the Fred Karno Company, a touring theatrical group that specialized in comedic pantomime.
Chaplin portrayed characters who stumble at their jobs—a pianist who loses his music, a magician who spoils his tricks—everyday characters whose misfortunes amused the audience. For Chaplin, the Karno Company was a kind of advanced education in acting that prepared him for his next career in the movies. Touring America with the company, Chaplin met a movie producer named Mack Sennett — , who was making short comedies on film.
With some reluctance, Chaplin took a chance that pantomime would work on film. His first production, Kid Auto Races at Venice, appeared in Moving pictures—"the movies"—had become immensely popular. The first films had no sound and thus no script. Music was provided by a pianist or organist in the theater. In Sennett's early films, actors improvised, or thought up on the spot what they would do, with the intent of leading into a chase scene.
Sennett later described this set-up as the essence of his comedy. So, too, did Chaplin improvise his most famous character: the Little Tramp. The character of the Little Tramp became instantly recognizable over two decades of filmmaking. It was a character made up by Chaplin spontaneously, or on the spot, while filming Kid Auto Races at Venice. He was told to wear something amusing. He took a pair of oversized pants and size fourteen shoes, which he wore on the opposite feet; put on a coat, a collar, and a derby hat; and placed a false mustache trimmed about as wide as the head of a toothbrush under his nose.
The costume on the small-statured Chaplin he was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed about pounds was a satire on a proper little man who has not quite arrived but acts as if he has. Shuffling with his feet nearly sideways was a touch Chaplin added that became part of the character. In addition to acting in his movies, Chaplin also began directing them, showing other actors exactly how he wanted them to play their parts. Although Chaplin invented the Little Tramp hurriedly for a movie, as his career advanced and he became a director, there was nothing spontaneous about his comedy.
Chaplin had a reputation as an exacting director, playing and replaying scenes until he had achieved just the effect he wanted, even it meant wasting vast amounts of film, which was expensive then. The essence of his comedies was to get him into trouble and then give him the chance to attempt, in a very serious way, to appear as a "normal little gentleman.
Chaplin recalled later that his inspiration came from everyday scenes he observed, scenes that his audiences could easily relate to. As he once described the process: "I watch people inside a theater to see when they laugh, I watch them everywhere to get material which they can laugh at. Chaplin became enormously popular around the world.
One theater in New York City played nothing but Chaplin films from to He toured London and Paris and was mobbed. His comedy depended on pantomime, rather than on verbal jokes, which made his films popular even in countries where English was not spoken. In addition to higher pay, Chaplin also gained control over his films, serving as author and director as well as actor.