Tag Archive: charlie chaplin


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Charlie Chaplin was the Tramp, befriender of small dogs and helpless children. Charlie’s real life beginning wasn’t that much different from the characters he helped and portrayed. His own parents separated when he was one and at the age of five he and his nine year old half brother Sydney found themselves on the streets of London dancing for their food. Their mother was in the midst of a nervous breakdown and their father had just died. In time they found their way into an orphanage and then on the road with a child troupe of dancers.

Eventually the sun began to shine and the brothers got steadier work. Charlie found himself traveling abroad and in December of 1913 he was signed by Max Sennett to make movies for Sennett’s Keystone comedies. In a year’s time Charlie made 35 films and learned he could not only act in his films but that he could also write and direct them himself.

When he moved to Essanay in 1915 he was able to demand and get $1,250 a week and a bonus of $10,000. This up from the $175 he’d earned at Keystone while he learned the craft. It was here at Essanay that the complete transformation of The Tramp came about. In 1916 he moved to Mutual. Now his salary was $10,000 a week with a signing bonus of $150,000. His contract required him to make 12 films a year and for this he was to have complete creative control. Ever moving forward, Charlie went on to First National in 1918. He was to make 8 two-reelers and be paid over $1,000,000. Next he partnered with his friends Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith to open United Artists Corporation. He was now his own boss in every right.

When silent movies came to an end, Charlie ignored it and continued to make silent pictures. Always they were box office hits. Reluctantly he began to make talkies but there often were years between them. He made his last film in 1967, a span of 54 years. In 1972 he was awarded a special Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art form of this century.” He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 1975.

A List of His Most Memorable Rolls:
The Tramp (1915)
Shoulder Arms (1918)
The Kid (1921)
The Gold Rush (1925)
The Circus (1928*)
City Lights (1931) – Silent
Modern Times (1936) – Silent
The Great Dictator (1940) – Talk

* Special Oscar for versatility & genius (writing, acting, directing & producing)

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Years ago people were known for more than their last picture. Some were academy award winners, some weren’t but they all had something in common. They were remembered for who they were because they were somebodys.

In the teens and 20’s you didn’t always have to say an actors name for someone to know who you were talking about. If you said, ‘the tramp,’ everyone knew you were referring to Charlie Chaplin, just as Buster Keaton came to be known as, ‘the great Stoneface.’ Mary Pickford was, ‘America’s sweetheart,’ and Clara Bow will always remain, ‘the It Girl.’ John Barrymore was known as, ‘the great profile’ and Lon Chaney Sr. was, ‘the man of a thousand faces.

But it wasn’t just nicknames that reminded us of who they were, there were the trademarks. Laurel and Hardy had us rolling with their famous antics regarding their hats. Who would Groucho be without his glasses and cigar or Harpo without his horn? Would we feel the same way about Mae West if she didn’t sashay into the room and tell us to, “Come up and see me sometime.”

There was a mystic in those early years of Hollywood. It was a time when character actors ruled. Though today we might not recognize the names of Edward Brophy, Guy Kibbee, Thelma Ritter, Virginia O’Brian or Nat Pendleton, we will recognize their faces on the silver screen. They’re the ones who brought comedic relief during those staggeringly serious moments.

Where have these treasures disappeared too? Where are the Valentino’s of the world? Will we see another Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire team again? What happened to Mel Blanc’s type of cartoons? Where is the real Hollywood and what do we have to do to get it back?

Nothing is the same as it once was. What once was, is now lost.

___ J. R. R. Tolkien

            What say you? Do you feel cheated? Do you feel had?

If you live in the Chicagoland Area, voice your opinion. Go to the Portage Theater on Milwaukee Ave. for the next 6 consecutive Friday nights. They will be hosting the Silent Film Society of Chicago’s Silent Summer Film Festival. I guarantee a night to remember. Be sure to arrive early and listen to the live jazz bands performing hits of a bygone era. I know you’ll enjoy it and that you’ll have the time of your life when that organ starts pumping to accompany the movie.

Silent Film Society of Chicago

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