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April 17, 2022

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin was an English comic actor, filmmaker, and composer who rose to fame in the silent era. He is mostly famous for his screen persona “the tramp.”

Born on April 16, 1889 in London, Chaplin is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry. He had been a productive and creative film maker for about 75 years before he died in 1977. Below are some fun facts about the famous comic:

1. Chaplin Had a Difficult Childhood.

Charlie Chaplin at the Central London District School in Hanwell, 1897. Chaplin is in the centre of the third row.

As the health of Chaplin’s mother deteriorated, so too did the family’s finances. It got so bad that in 1896 Chaplin and his older half-brother were sent to a public boarding school for “orphans and destitute children.”

Chaplin spent about 18 months there, the longest period of continuous schooling he would ever receive. He learned to read and write, but apparently suffered quite a few indignities, including a severe caning and the shaving of his head during a bout with ringworm. Shortly thereafter, his mother was committed to a mental institution. His father, meanwhile, played very little role in his upbringing and ended up dying of alcoholism at age 37.

2. Chaplin Started Performing As a Child.

Charlie Chaplin, between age 14-16, appearing as Billy the Pageboy in the play Sherlock Holmes.

Both Chaplin’s parents were in the entertainment industry. It is reported that, at age five, Chaplin replaced his mother (who was suffering from laryngitis) at a music-hall show, singing his first song “Jack Jones” in front of a crowd of soldiers.

At age 12, he appeared as Billy the Pageboy in a rendition of Sherlock Holmes. His performance was so well received that he was called to London to play the role alongside William Gillette, the original Holmes. “It was like tidings from heaven,” Chaplin recalled.

At 16 years old, Chaplin starred in the play’s West End production at the Duke of York’s Theatre from October to December 1905. He completed one final tour of Sherlock Holmes in early 1906, before leaving the play after more than two-and-a-half years.

3. He Was Against Using Sound.

Sound was a revelation for the medium. But like all new technologies, some of the old guards were reluctant to embrace it. Chaplin was one filmmaker vehemently opposed to using sound and dialogue in his movies. As most of his comedy was pantomime, he felt it was unnecessary. He also bemoaned its technical limitations.

City Lights was produced when sound had all but become the norm, and while it was a silent film, it still included sound effects. Despite his resistance towards the rising tide of talkies, the movie was a huge success and stands as one of his most celebrated works.

4. Chaplin Was an Accomplished Musician

Other than his prowess as a filmmaker, Chaplin was also a self-taught musician. As such, he strove for the best when it came to the music in his films. He composed most of the scores for his works, though he couldn’t read notation so he sought help from other composers in order to translate his ideas into written form. Because of this, some thought these composers should have received the majority of the credit, but most who worked insisted the final product was a result of his ideas. Some of the more pop-oriented tunes from his movies even became hits.

5. He Was the First Actor to Appear in Time Magazine.

Chaplin was the first actor ever to appear in Time Magazine in the July 6, 1925 issue. The magazine is famous for its influential and controversial covers and this was a big step for the actor.

6. Chaplin Quickly Became a Millionaire.

Charlie Chaplin in 1919.

In December 1914, Chaplin was receiving $1,250 a week, and a $10,000 bonus from the Essanay Studios which touted him as “the greatest comedian in the world.” Later he signed a contract with Mutual Film Corporation that got him $670,000 a year. Following the contract, he made a deal with First National for over $1 million in return for making eight comedies.

In 1919, he founded his own studio partnering with other Hollywood icons. He once said in an interview, “I went into the business for money, and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can’t help it. It’s the truth.”

7. He Failed to Win a Charlie Chaplin Look-a-Like Contest.

According to legend, somewhere between 1915 and 1921, Chaplin decided to enter a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest, and lost, badly. He came in 20th place.

8. Chaplin Thrice Married Teenagers.

Charlie Chaplin with his fourth wife Oona and six of their eight children.

In 1918 Chaplin hastily tied the knot with 17-year-old actress Mildred Harris, a decision he would soon come to regret, saying they were “irreconcilably mismated.” Following the divorce, he married 16-year-old Lita Grey, another actress with whom he had a bitter breakup.

And then in 1943, while in the middle of a high-profile paternity suit, 54-year-old Chaplin married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill, to whom he had been introduced by a Hollywood agent. O’Neill’s father, playwright Eugene O’Neill, was so upset by the match that he disinherited her. But unlike Chaplin’s other relationships, this one would last. The two stayed together until Chaplin’s death at age 88 and had eight children.

9. Chaplin Was Essentially Exiled From the U.S.

Charlie Chaplin in 1952.

Despite living in the United States for almost 40 years, Chaplin never became an American citizen. Due to the role he played in Modern Times, Chaplin was thought of as a communist sympathizer. During the McCarthy era, the FBI put him under surveillance, and a Mississippi congressman called for his deportation.

In 1952, when traveled to England for the premiere of his film Limelight, the U.S. government revoked his re-entry permit and asked him to appear before the immigration officials. Chaplin got so upset and disheartened, he refused to appear before the officials and decided that would never go back to the U.S. Consequently he along his family moved to Switzerland.

10. His Coffin Was Stolen.

The legend passed away on December 25, 1977, at the age of 88 in Switzerland. Only a few months after his death, two thieves dug up his grave and stole his coffin from the cemetery. After that, they sent Chaplin’s wife a letter and asked for a $600,000 ransom in return for his remains.

When his wife refused to pay, the thieves threatened his kids too. Thankfully, the perpetrators were caught and the coffin was recovered. Chaplin’s remains were sent back to the cemetery and this time he was reburied in a theft-proof well-cemented grave.


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