About Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin was one of Hollywood's first movie stars. You might have seen him dressed as a lovable tramp with a baggy suit and a bowler cap on his head. His character was always getting into trouble in ridiculous situations, but Chaplin was anything but ridiculous. He was hard-working and dedicated and made his fame in the classic rags-to-riches fairy tale.
Growing Up on the Streets
Born in London, England, in 1889, life was not easy for young Charlie. His mother, Hannah, was often out of work, and his father, Charles Sr., left the family and refused to support his sons. Eventually Chaplin was sent to the workhouse. He could have easily given up, but Charlie was determined not to live in the workhouse for the rest of his life.
As a boy, Charlie was introduced to theater by his mother. She was an actress and music hall singer. Charlie's mom would sit in a window and mimic people who walked by. Charlie said this is how he learned to express emotions like an actor. When he was 5, his mom even brought him on stage. He always said that without her encouragement he would never have made anything of himself.
By the time he was 13 he was traveling around England dancing at music halls. But Charlie didn't just want to dance. He dreamed of starting a comedy act.
His first break came when he got a small role as a newsboy in a London play. The play was a failure, but people thought Charlie's comedy had potential. He was hired to perform his character in other plays. People started to notice him. He spent his teens improving his comedy.
Hollywood Comes Calling
Chaplin grew up at the same time film was growing up. People were just starting to move to Los Angeles, where the weather was good and there was plenty of light (these were the days before sound stages and expensive lighting, so movies were filmed outdoors). Many actors and actresses in these early films had started in theater, and directors were always looking for new talent.
Lucky for Charlie, his comedy troupe toured the United States, in 1913. He was spotted by a Hollywood producer who offered Charlie a contract. Charlie liked the idea of trying out film and moved to California to be in silent film comedies. (Way back then, there was no audio in films. Usually a piano player or a band would play music in the theater to provide a soundtrack.)
The Lovable Tramp Conquers the Silver Screen
Charlie didn't like the first two films he was in, but his face was out there and critics liked his performances. He realized that he needed to develop a single character so audiences would instantly recognize him.
He came up with his famous “little tramp” character who wore baggy clothes, a tiny bowler hat, a “toothbrush” mustache, and walked with a cane. He was an accidental hero, foiling bank robbers or other villains without knowing what he was doing. The character was a hit.
By 1915, Charlie had become a full-fledged star of film. For the next 25 years Chaplin was everywhere, making some of the most important movies in Hollywood, but his success didn't stop him from trying new things. He also became a great director. Actors said he was a perfectionist (someone who wants every little thing to be perfect).
Although Charlie Chaplin had to deal with many personal struggles early in life and again later in life, he never stopped working as hard as he could to be creative. He loved comedy and he fell in love with film. He is remembered as one of the most important actors and directors in the history of film.
- Charlie won three academy awards, but none of them for acting or directing.
- Six of Charlie's films have been selected by the U.S. Library of Congress to be preserved for future generations.
- Charlie taught himself to play piano, cello, and violin, and he was one of the first directors to use movie soundtracks.
- He spent the last twenty years of his life living in Switzerland.
- His movies took a long time to film because he didn't like to work from a completed script.