What do you know about Charlie Chaplin?

We were talking about this at the end of last year, around Xmas time. It was interesting to hear what other people said, apart from “who?” that is:

  • silent film star
  • slapstick
  • sentimental, maudlin
  • liked very young girls
  • had lots of wives and children
  • was a communist
  • wrote slushy tunes
  • not funny, never funny

Well, some bits of this are slightly true and some bits are just opinion, probably from people who had never seen a Chaplin film as it was intended to be seen, on a big screen in a cinema with an audience.

So let’s clarify a few things. There are good books, articles and even TV series about Chaplin, so this is not anything like even a partial biography.

Chaplin was born in a very poor area of south London in 1889. His parents split not long after. He was devoted to his mother, but she had serious mental problems. There’s no doubt Charles Chaplin had a tough childhood.

After a period working in theatres as a comedy actor, he went with Fred Karno’s army to the USA and eventually began a movie career. His short films were hugely popular around the world and Chaplin was possibly the most famous and recognisable person on the planet for a time, and very highly paid. The films were massively successful.

He formed the company United Artists with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and produced some of his greatest work, including “The Gold Rush”, “The Circus” and “City Lights”.

It has become popular to say Chaplin was not funny. Very many of his films had a very serious side, especially “The Kid”, where he drew on his difficult childhood. There are some wildly inventive and funny scenes, great story telling and if you ever get a chance to see some, do.

Admittedly, Chaplin liked to revisit his works over the years, re-edit them, add unnecessary commentary, none of which was an improvement. He made more political films, “Modern Times” and “The Great Dictator” which people did not like. After all, here was a movie star getting involved in world politics. He went into sound, and one theory says that he became less popular in the USA when they realised he had an English accent, a sarf Landan one even. Not even an American.


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