“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.”
When you think of Charlie Chaplin, your mind might go to silent films and his signature bowler hat. And don’t forget that mustache! But there’s a lot more to this silent comedian than meets the eye (and ear). Here are 42 not-so-silent facts about this charming man.
42. A Star Is Born
Chaplin was born in 1889, but his parents split up when he was still very young, with his father moving away from England to New York. His mother, Hannah, tried to get her career on stage going again after this, but her voice often failed her. In these instances, the stage manager sent a five-year-old Chaplin out to sing for the crowd.
Frst row, third from left
41. Is He or Isn’t He?
There’s a rumor that Chaplin is actually Jewish. Some say his real name is Israel Thornstein and that he was born in France. Because immigration records back in those days was scant, no one can really say for sure where he was born or under what circumstances.
40. A Twist of Fate
Who would have thunk that going to a sumo wrestling match could save a person’s life? For Chaplin, it did. The Japanese Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi had sent his assassins out to kill Chaplin. In an interesting twist of fate, Chaplin went to a sumo match with none other than the PM’s son, and narrowly escaped the gruesome fate.
39. Creating a Career
Though he first appeared on stage when he was five, Chaplin was eight when he really started his career. He toured with the Eight Lancashire Lads, and when he was 18 he toured with a vaudeville troupe. From there, he went to California in 1913 where he signed with Keystone Studios, and went on to star in and direct 35 of their films. He even had Syd come on as his manager.
38. No Rest for the Busy
His career then seemed to take off. In 1914, he went to Essanay and starred in 15 more films, before moving on to Mutual in 1916 where he made 12 films. He left Mutual in 1917 for First National Studios, and would later establish Chaplin Studios.
37. The Role of a Lifetime
His most well-known role was that of The Little Tramp. Over a period of 26 years, The Tramp was the star of about 70 movies, shorts, and features. One of his daughters, Geraldine, said that her father was so afraid he wouldn’t be remembered after he died, he even let The Tramp appear on products in the 1970s.
36. Play That Funky Music
Keep this in mind next time you find something and decide you want to test it out: Chaplin was fired from his job as a butler because he found a trumpet in his employer’s attic and started to play it.
35. The Courts, Not the Greens
He was a big fan of tennis, and even played the sport until he was in his 70s. One sport he hated? Golf. He called it a “game I can’t stand.”
34. Taking Things Into Their Hands
Together with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith, Chaplin created United Artists in 1919. United Artists was formed as a means to finance their own movies and keep their creative control. Chaplin sold his shares in the company in 1955, just eight years before the company released the first James Bond film.
33. Unnaturally Right
Chaplin was naturally a lefty. You’ll notice in his films he does things with his left hand, like playing the violin or throwing rocks. However, like other lefties, he was forced to learn to write with his right hand because of the writing tools at the time. In a film documenting the formation of the United Artists, you’ll see him writing with his right hand.
32. Learning From a Pro
One of Chaplin’s friends, Granville Redmond, helped teach the comedian how to pantomime techniques for use on camera. Redmond was the perfect man for the job since he was deaf.
31. If You’re Not With Us, You’re Against Us
During World War I, the English accused Chaplin of being a coward. He also had never applied to be an American citizen, but insisted he was a “paying visitor” to the country. Even the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, thought Chaplin was suspicious, and believed Chaplin was spreading Communist propaganda by way of his films.
30. Politically Declined
The House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, subpoenaed Chaplin in 1947 for his suspected ties to Russia and Communists. They believed he had helped the Russians during World War II. HUAC eventually halted their call for Chaplin’s testimony, but he was still denied re-entry to the US in 1952 after he had gone to London for a movie premiere. It was at that time that Chaplin and his family moved to Switzerland.
29. Cementing His Fate
Although he had his handprints, footprints, and signature preserved in cement at the Chinese Theater, no one knows where that chunk of cement is now. After his fall from grace, it was removed and has never been found.
28. Irish Eyes Are Smiling
There is a place where you can honor the actor though–you just need to travel to Ireland. The village of Waterville, where Chaplin and his family used to spend their summers in the 1960s, started the Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival in 2011, and it’s held every August. There are film competitions and a bronze statue of the man himself!
27. Life on Display
If you’d rather visit Switzerland instead, there’s a museum in his old home in Corsier-sur-Vevey that’s been open since 2016. You can watch his movies, check out wax figures, and even eat at the restaurant aptly named “The Tramp.”
26. The House That Hollywood Built
Chaplin designed his home in Beverly Hills on his own, and it was named “Breakaway House.” It was built by studio carpenters, though, and after a while it started to fall apart. His guests still loved it, and Chaplin continued to entertain and hold screenings of his films there.
25. At the End of the Day
He also quite enjoyed spending 45 minutes in his sauna after a long day of work. Sometimes, if he was feeling refreshed enough, he would get dressed up and go out for dinner. But, if he was too tired, he would just go to his room and have his staff bring him his dinner there.
24. You Are Not the Father, But…
Chaplin had a brief relationship with a 22-year-old named Joan Barry, but it didn’t exactly end well. After they had broken up, she told Chaplin she was pregnant and that the baby was his. Though he took a paternity test that proved he wasn’t the father, these tests weren’t admissible in court at the time, and he was forced to pay $75 every week until Barry’s child turned 21.
23. Spreading That Chaplin Vibe
Despite that drama, Chaplin did actually have kids of his own–11 to be exact! And with four different wives. Sadly, his first child died only a few days after birth, and that first marriage to Mildred Harris lasted only two years. His fourth wife, Oona, gave him eight children!
22. House of Stark
One of his granddaughters, also named Oona, is an actress in her own right. You might recognize her from such places as Game of Thrones, where she played Talisa Stark. Of her grandfather, she said “when people say [Charles Chaplin] I still think now of the guy in the mustache and bowler hat and funny walk—I don’t think of an old man who was my grandfather.”
21. Sugar Daddy
Chaplin was quite a bit older than all four of his wives. In fact, his fourth wife Oona was only 17 when she married the 54 year old Chaplin.
20. Credit Where Credit is Due
He had a couple of firsts in his time. He was first actor to grace the cover of Time (in 1925), and he was the first actor to have a comic strip written about him; Pa’s Imported Son-In-Law was released in 1916 by Ed Carey.
At the 44th Annual Academy Awards, Chaplin received an honorary Oscar and returned to the States from his decades-long self-imposed exile. It was very emotional for him: “Thank you so much,” he said. “This is an emotional moment for me. Words seem so futile and so feeble. I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here and you are all wonderful, sweet people. Thank you.”
18. The Honor Is All Theirs
When he was honored at the Oscars, Chaplin received a 12-minute-long standing ovation–the longest in Academy Awards history.
17. Do It Right, or Not at All
Chaplin was quite the perfectionist and wouldn’t release any of his films until he was 100% satisfied with them. He never used a working script though, and would go off ideas in his mind, working and reworking the story, which often led to hours of footage that wouldn’t be used.
16. Show Him the Money
Chaplin’s earnings rose very quickly in a short five-year span. In 1913, he was making as low as $150 per week, but by 1918 he was making upwards of $150,000 per film.
15. Charming Charlie
It was long believed that Chaplin and Buster Keaton had a feud, but when all was said and done, there was an obvious respect for each other. Keaton’s career declined after he signed with MGM in 1928, and he was flat broke when Chaplin hired him for the film Limelight. Keaton said that Chaplin was “the greatest silent comedian of all time.”
14. Mutual Distaste
Marlon Brando had mixed feelings about Chaplin. The pair worked together on the film A Countess From Hong Kong. Brando, despite calling the comedian talented, also called him “the most sadistic man” he’d met. For his part, Chaplin said that it was impossible working with Brando.
13. You Can’t Make This Stuff Up
Have you heard of The Cat’s Meow? It’s based on a real-life incident involving Chaplin, William Randolph Hearst, Thomas H. Ince, and Marion Davies. Long story short (and spoiler alert), the story goes that, while on Hearst’s boat, Hearst caught his lover, Davies, having sex with Chaplin in a cabin. Hearst took chase, and Chaplin ran onto the deck. Heart brandished a gun and shot Ince instead, killing him. But that’s just one version of the story.
12. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E
Chaplin had big ties with Disney, to the point where Mickey Mouse was partially based off of him! He also worked for the film company as a distributor.
11. Meeting a Murderer
Chaplin may have had an inadvertent run-in with someone who could have been Jack the Ripper. When Chaplin was 13, he stopped by a place called the Crown Public House to ask the landlord for a glass of water. That landlord was George Chapman–a man who killed three of his wives by poisoning them and who was also a candidate for the identity of the infamous London serial killer Jack the Ripper.
10. All the Better to See You With, My Dear
What color were his eyes? Well, looking at his black and white films, with his eyes covered in makeup, you’d think they were brown. Not true! They were actually blue. He wrote in his autobiography that people were always struck by that fact.
9. Just One More Take, I Can Do It!
Actors go to far lengths sometimes in their roles, and Chaplin is no exception. He ended up in hospital once for insulin shock. Why? Well, he reshot one scene for The Gold Rush 63 times, and had to eat a prop boot made of black licorice over and over again.
8. Who Wore It Better?
The mustache. Chaplin is pretty well known for it, but so is Adolf Hitler. The latter was incorrectly told that Chaplin was Jewish, so he automatically disliked him. Oh, and Chaplin’s mustache? It was a fake!
7. The One Exception to Trusting Your Gut
Chaplin almost decided to pull the plug on his film The Great Dictator. He worried that people wouldn’t find his mockery of Hitler funny, or that it would just be banned. President Franklin D. Roosevelt actually called Chaplin up, telling him to go forward with it. The comedian ended up spending the modern equivalent of $25 million from his own money to help make the film.
6. Top Three, at Least
Does Charlie Chaplin look like Charlie Chaplin? Well, judges of one contest thought so. Sort of. There’s a story that’s gone around that Chaplin entered a lookalike contest for himself, and came in either second or third, depending on the version of the story you believe.
5. Will the Real Charlie Chaplin Please Stand up?
There’s a saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that may be the case here. A strange genre of film came up in the latter half of the 1910s where actors pretended to be Chaplin. The actors, who ranged from Billie Ritchie, Stan Jefferson, and Billy West, were made up to look exactly like Chaplin, and the film distributors were adamant that they actually were him when promoting the films.
4. Lost in a Letter
Well after his death, the nature of Chaplin’s birth came into question when his family found a letter in 2011. This letter, locked away in a drawer, was written by a man named Jack Hill. Hill states that Chaplin was born in a gypsy caravan that belonged to Hill’s aunt, who also happened to be the Gypsy Queen at that time.
3. Momma Knows Best
Chaplin’s interest in comedy can be partially attributed to his mother. He had become very ill as a child, having to spend weeks in bed. While recovering, his mother sat beside the window and re-enacted anything she saw for her son.
2. Not the Best of Childhoods
Unfortunately, Chaplin’s mother suffered through a mental health battle, and was eventually committed to Cane Hill Asylum in 1903, where she stayed until Chaplin moved her to California in 1921. Because of all this, Chaplin and Syd, his half-brother, spent a lot of time in charity homes and workhouses.
1. The Case of the Body Snatchers
After Chaplin died, graverobbers dug up his body and held it ransom. The thieves demanded $600,000 for his return, but Chaplin’s widow Oona out-smarted them: she had her phones tapped. Police found the two men responsible, and they confessed to it all. After that, Chaplin was reburied in a vault surrounded by cement.
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