Charlie Chaplin is one of the most famous comedians of all time, and will always be remembered as an icon of the silent film era. The image of his trademark character, the “Little Tramp,” with toothbrush moustache, undersized bowler hat, bamboo cane and unusual walk, is familiar to most American movie fans.
Born Charles Spencer Chaplin in England on April 16, 1889, he was the son of music hall entertainers Charles and Hannah Chaplin. He made his first appearance on stage at a very young age and by age 8, he was touring with a performing group called “The Eight Lancashire Lads,” where he excelled as a tap dancer. He moved on from there into the vaudeville troupe “Fred Karno’s Repertoire Company,” which took him to New York City in 1910.
By 1913, he was signing a contract with Mack Sennett at Keystone Film Company in Hollywood. His first movie was Making a Living, which debuted in February 1914. He became so popular that he quickly moved upward and onward to work with the Essanay Company for a substantial raise in income in 1915, where his popularity continued to soar. Just a year later, he moved on to work with the Mutual Film Company. Soon, he began taking on more filmmaking responsibilities, including writing, directing, scoring, and producing the films that he also starred in. In 1918, he helped to establish the First National Exhibitors Circuit, which was designed specifically to promote his own films. The next year, he got together with fellow actors Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists. But he had to complete his contract with First National before he could start making films with United Artists, and so, in 1921, he released The Kid, which became known as one of his masterpieces and introduced one of the most famous child stars ever, Jackie Coogan.
The first film that Chaplin made for UA was called A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate. This movie, along with the eight other features he made for UA, are considered to be Chaplin’s “masterpieces,” and included: The Gold Rush, The Circus, City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Verdoux, Limelight, and A King in New York.
In 1952, Chaplin left the U.S. for Switzerland, where he spent most of the rest of his life. In 1975, he was knighted by the Queen of England, and two years later, passed away in his sleep. His contributions to Hollywood and American filmmaking will not be soon forgotten, and his presence in American pop culture history is still very much alive and well.