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April 17, 2023

Charlie Chaplin Posing With His Tramp Doll, 1917

Here are some vintage photographs of Charlie Chaplin with a puppet doll of the Tramp in Hollywood, Ca., in 1917. Chaplin originated the Tramp character in the 1914 silent film, Kid Auto Races at Venice.

The character of the Tramp was originally created by accident while Chaplin was working at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, when dressing up for the 1914 short film Mabel’s Strange Predicament starring Mabel Normand and Chaplin. In a 1933 interview, Chaplin explained how he came up with the look of the Tramp:

“A hotel set was built for Mabel Normand’s picture Mabel’s Strange Predicament and I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul—a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won't let him.”

That was actually the first film featuring the Tramp but a different film, shot later but with the same character, happened to be released two days earlier. The Tramp debuted to the public in the Keystone comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice (released on February 7, 1914; Mabel’s Strange Predicament, shot earlier, was released on February 9, 1914). Chaplin, with his Little Tramp character, quickly became the most popular star in Keystone director Mack Sennett’s company of players. Chaplin continued to play the Tramp through dozens of short films and, later, feature-length productions.


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