Charlie Chaplin, byname of Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, (born April 16, 1889, London, England—died December 25, 1977, Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland), British comedian, producer, writer, director, and composer who is widely regarded as the greatest comic artist of the screen and one of the most important figures in motion-picture history.
Early life and career
Chaplin was named after his father, a British music-hall entertainer. He spent his early childhood with his mother, the singer Hannah Hall after she and his father separated, and he made his stage debut at age five, filling in for his mother. The mentally unstable Hall was later confined to an asylum. Charlie and his half-brother Sydney were sent to a series of bleak workhouses and residential schools.
Using his mother’s show-business contacts, Charlie became a professional entertainer in 1897 when he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing act. His subsequent stage credits include a small role in William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes (1899) and a stint with the vaudeville act Casey’s Court Circus. In 1908 he joined the Fred Karno pantomime troupe, quickly rising to star status as The Drunk in the ensemble sketch A Night in an English Music Hall.
While touring America with the Karno company in 1913, Chaplin was signed to appear in Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedy films. Though his first Keystone one-reeler, Making a Living (1914), was not the failure that historians have claimed, Chaplin’s initial screen character, a mercenary dandy, did not show him to best advantage. Ordered by Sennett to come up with a more workable screen image, Chaplin improvised an outfit consisting of a too-small coat, too-large pants, floppy shoes, and a battered derby. As a finishing touch, he pasted on a postage-stamp moustache and adopted a cane as an all-purpose prop. It was in his second Keystone film, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), that Chaplin’s immortal screen alter ego, “the Little Tramp,” was born.
His 35 Keystone comedies can be regarded as the Tramp’s gestation period, during which a caricature became a character. The films improved steadily once Chaplin became his director. In 1915, he left Sennett to accept a $1,250-weekly contract at Essanay Studios. It was there that he began to inject elements of pathos into his comedy, notably in such shorts as The Tramp (1915) and Burlesque on Carmen (1915). He moved on to an even more lucrative job ($670,000 per year) at the Mutual Company Film Corporation. There, during 18 months, he made the 12 two-reelers that many regards as his finest films, among them such gems at One A.M. (1916), The Rink (1916), The Vagabond (1916), and Easy Street (1917). It was then, in 1917, that Chaplin found himself attacked for the first (though hardly the last) time by the press. He was criticized for not enlisting to fight in World War I. To aid the war effort, Chaplin raised funds for the troops via bond drives […]
He was always known for his perfectionist spirit and bothered a lot of people because he wanted to repeat the same scene dozens of times until he got it right. He even destroyed the negatives of The Sea Gull (1933), even before its release, because he was disappointed with the performance of the protagonist Edna Purviance. In short, Charlie Chaplin has marked film history forever.