01 April 2008

A Tramp Comes Home

On this day in 1972 Charlie Chaplin returned to the United States after a 20 year absence. He had been labeled a communist in the early 1950s and had vowed never to return ("I have no further use for America. I wouldn't go back there if Jesus Christ was President.") but relented when he came back to accept a special Honorary Academy Award.

To this day, the magic that was Chaplin still entraces and his little tramp has become an iconic character created out of his vaudeville experience. Charles Chaplin's parents, Charles and Hannah Chaplin, were music hall entertainers. At age five, Charlie appeared and at eight he toured into his first stage musical. He came to New York in 1910, and in November of 1913 he signed a contract with Mack Sennett at Keystone and left for Hollywood the next month.

He made 35 films in 1914 before moving to Essanay in 1915 and Mutural in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 he joined First National (later absorbed by Warner Bros.) and in 1919 formed United Artists along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith. His first full-length film was The Kid (1921); his first for UA, which he produced and directed himself, was A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923). In 1929, at the first Oscar awards, he won a special award "for versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing" The Circus (1928).

Plagued by marital scandals, in 1943 he was accused of fathering a child, but it was proved in a court trial that he was not the father. The same year he entered his fourth marriage, to Oona Chaplin, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. They had eight children. Tired of political and moralistic controversies and plagued with tax problems, he left the United States for Switzerland in 1952. He published his memoirs in 1964. In 1972 he returned to Hollywood to claim a special Oscar honoring his lifetime contributions to movies. He was named Knight Commander of the British Empire in 1975.

Robert Downey, Jr. starred in the excellent biography of his life in Chaplin


All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.

I remain just one thing, and one thing only, and that is a clown. It places me on a far higher plane than any politician.

I care about my work. I care about everything I do. If I could do something else better, I would do it, but I can't.

Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.

Actors search for rejection. If they don't get it they reject themselves.

I went into the business for the money, and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can't help it. It's the truth.

My childhood was sad, but now I remember it with nostalgia, like a dream.

Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot.

It isn't the ups and downs that make life difficult; it's the jerks.

A day without a laugh is a wasted day.

Figuring out what the audience expects, and then doing something different, is great fun to me.

[on Douglas Fairbanks] He had extraordinary magnetism and charm and a genuine boyish enthusiasm which he conveyed to the public.

[on D.W. Griffith] The whole industry owes its existence to him.

Robert Downey, Jr. singing Smile by Charlie Chaplin


Anonymous said...


Always love what you have to say, both informative and humerous, thank you!


Travis said...

I think it takes on average about 30 seconds of any Chaplin clip before I start giggling. The guffaws generally come at about 90 seconds.

He was a master of using body language and facial expression to convey emotion.