charlie-chaplin-62909_640If an entertainer is successful at acting, singing, and dancing, they’re called a triple threat. But what about a person who can do all that and more? Charlie Chaplin was a master at his craft, a genius who succeeded in acting, writing, and directing — just to name a few of his talents. In short, Charlie is a legend, and that is why he is this month’s Old Hollywood Spotlight.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889, in London, England to theatrical parents. His father was a singer and his mother enjoyed some success as a singer and an actress. When Charlie was one, his parents separated, and Charlie’s mother relied on her singing career to earn a living for her and her kids. Little did Charlie know, he was about to make his own stage debut just a few years later.

One night, while performing for a crowd, Charlie’s mother inexplicably lost her voice in the middle of a song. Frozen with fear and confusion, she stood on the stage while the crowd began to boo. In an attempt to pacify the audience, the stage manager ushered Charlie out to the stage and asked him to sing. Five-year-old Charlie instantly charmed the crowd with his singing and dancing. And Charlie himself was instantly charmed with the idea of performing — an idea that would push him to pursue a career in acting.

When he was eight years old, Charlie landed his first professional gig when he joined “a clog-dancing troupe named the Eight Lancashire Lads.” It wasn’t until a few years later that Charlie finally secured his first acting role, playing a pageboy in a play version of Sherlock Holmes. In 1908, at the age of 19, Charlie joined the famed Fred Karno comedy troupe as an actor. This job would be the big break Charlie was hoping for, as the troupe gave him the chance to travel overseas to America.

After arriving in America, Charlie was signed to a movie contract and promptly began making a series of shorts (films that are too short to be classified as feature-length movies). His first role was in a short called Make a Living (1914), but it was his second short, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), that would set up his legacy. In an attempt to add comedy to the film, Charlie put on a bowler hat that was just a tad bit too small, a coat that was just a bit too tight, shabby pants that were too big and baggy, and shoes that were a bit too long for his feet. To complete the look, Charlie added a fake mustache and a cane. His character, the Little Tramp, was born.

Charlie as the Little Tramp.

The Little Tramp essentially made Charlie’s career. A year after his movie debut in 1914, Charlie went from making $150 a week to making $1,250 a week. Looking back on the success he had as the Little Tramp, Charlie remarked in an interview, “I never really thought of the Tramp in terms of appeal. The Tramp was something within myself I had to express. I was motivated by the reaction of the audience, but I never related to an audience. . . . I’ve always related to a sort of a comic spirit, something within me, that said, I must express this. This is funny.”

But acting wasn’t Charlie’s only talent. He also directed, wrote, and produced many of the movies he starred in. And if that wasn’t enough, Charlie also composed the score for many of his movies. In 1919, he also co-founded a production company with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. The company, which is called United Artists, is still in business today.

While it’s impossible to sum up Charlie’s cinema legacy in a single sentence, some of his notable films include: The Tramp (1915), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), Limelight (1952), and A King in New York (1957). He is also the recipient of two honorary Oscars, one given to him in 1929 for The Circus (1928) and one given to him in 1972 for his contribution to the world of film. However, in 1973, he won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score for his movie Limelight. Even though the movie was filmed in 1952, it wasn’t released in Los Angeles until 1972, making the movie “eligible despite . . . being 20 years old.”

Sadly, on December 25, 1977, Charlie Chaplin passed away at the age of 88. Still, his legacy lives on in the movies he made, the contributions he gave, and the laughter he continues to provide all these years later.



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