Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. was born on East Street, Walworth, London as the son of a dance hall music singer and wife, Hannah, who became a singer after marrying Charles Chaplin Sr., in 1889. His parents divorced when Charlie Chaplin and his half-brother Sidney were quite young after his mother had been found having an affair with a fellow music hall singer, Leo Dryden.
Hannah had a child from this affair which she did not raise. This child, Wheeler Dryden, was not known by the two brothers and the three did not meet for many years until after Wheeler contacted Edna Purviance who was a friend and romantic partner of Charlie’s for a time. She succeeded in connecting the brothers and they all starred in films together many years later in the 1920’s. Wheeler was a competent actor but never quite the star that Charlie Chaplin was to become. Charlie and Sidney were forever to recognize East Street Walworth and especially 3 Pownall Terrace as the home they would identify as their “childhood home” for the rest of their lives. This home was reportedly recreated by Charlie Chaplin in his film “The Kid”.
Family problems, poverty, Charlie Chaplin went through very bad times
With his father no longer providing either emotionally or financially for his family, his mother Hannah, worked as a seamstress and earned barely enough to feed and house the family. His mother became increasingly mentally unstable and Charlie Chaplin and his brother were separated from her at times because of her admission to various mental asylums. Charlie and Sidney were shuffled between several families, were in the work house for a time and in several schools while their mother was institutionalized. Charlie also lived with his father and his stepmother for a time. His father died in 1901 due to health complications from alcoholism at the age of 37.
Sidney finally left home to become a sailor and to leave the grinding poverty of his life for a time. He returned to London and went to work on the stage after his stint as a sailor. Sidney persuaded Charlie to work with him on the stage and this gave Charlie a means to make his way in life. Charlie Chaplin became an actor and he and Sidney provided financially for the family. They were separated from their mother for a time when Charlie and Sidney came to the US at different times to start their vaudeville and then film careers. Their mother’s welfare was forever on their minds for Charlie and Sidney eventually brought her to California in 1921. Charlie Chaplin bought a home for his mother and hired people to care for her in her last years. She died in August of 1928.
Charlie Chaplin, a life devoted to theater and cinema
When Charlie Chaplin was 9 years old he joined a stage company, the 8 Lancashire Lads, where the couple who formed the troop took care of Charlie. This was his first foray into the stage life and provided a way for him to make his own way even at this young age.
By the time Charlie was 16 years of age, his father had died and his mother spent the next 7 years in a mental asylum. Sidney, who had left home again, returned and joined the Karno troupe along with Charlie before the troupe toured the United States playing the vaudeville stages. Charles Chaplin came with the troupe to the US for a second time and decided to stay. Sidney later followed Charlie, worked as an actor for a time and then became Charlie’s business manager. The two brothers stayed close for the rest of their lives.
Keystone Films Studios and Charlie Chaplin’s character “The Little Tramp”
Charlie Chaplin played on the vaudeville stage for two years until he left to join Mack Sennet’s Keystone Films Studios which was to be the start of his film career and the beginning of his lifelong legacy of film.
Charlie played quite a few movies for the studio as a bit player. When his character, The Little Tramp, was introduced, Charlie Chaplin found fame and fortune as a movie star. He became a director when, at the age of 25, he directed his first film-Twenty Minutes of Love.
Charlie Chaplin worked for other companies and met Edna Purviance.
In November the same year he left Keystone Studios and joined Essanay Film Company where he was to have greater control over his films. During this time Charlie met Edna Purviance, who starred in many of Charlie’s films and also in his life off and on. He made many of his short films for which he is most famous.
In 1916 Charlie left Essanay and joined the Mutual Film Company and proceeded to make many more of the short films for which he is famous. At Mutual Charlie Chaplin created and filmed The Pawnshop, Behind the Screen, The Rink, The Vagabond, and The Floorwalker. It was at Mutual that he met and hired Eric Campbell and Henry Bergman, both of whom starred in his short films. Eric Campbell was the “Gentle Giant” who starred with him in many of his films. He also met and hired Tom Harrington to be his personal secretary during his stint at the Mutual Film Company. Tom stayed with Charlie for many years, becoming more than just a secretary to the legendary star.
Charlie Chaplin, after having very many successful films and with numerous years of stage and film experience, decided he would like to have more creative control over his films. He signed with another studio in 1917. He was to have complete control over every aspect of his films. During this time in his life he lost his friend and fellow actor, Eric Campbell, to injuries sustained in a car wreck. Having lost his “gentle giant” he began to make films centered more around his own character. In 1918 he married for the first time to Mildred Harris. He and Mildred had a son. Norman Spencer Chaplin. Unfortunately the baby had several serious birth anomalies which were not conducive to life. The infant died three days later. Charlie and Mildred began to have marital difficulties and finally divorced in 1921.
During 1919, Charlie Chaplin began working on what would be the first full length movie he ever made.
The work on The Kid took over a year to finish and was successful movie for Charlie both professionally and financially.
It is also the film which made Charlie Chaplin a household name and living legend. During 1923, Charlie releases the film A Woman of Paris which was to be a vehicle to showcase Edna Purviance and launch a dramatic career for her. Unfortunately, the film was a box office failure for the simple reason film goers never accepted Charlie as a serious actor but instead as the lovable comedian to which they became accustomed.
Charlie Chaplin joined with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to create United Artists, the studio he stayed with for the rest of his career.
His next movie Gold Rush brought back the box office rewards and also brought Charlie Chaplin his next wife. Lita Grey. Lita was to have been Charlie’s leading lady in the film but instead had to be replaced by another actress. Charlie Chaplin had married Lita Grey and she had become pregnant. Sixteen year old Lita had no difficulties with her pregnancy but Charlie worried incessantly. He feared that the pregnancy would be unsuccessful for he felt he had been to blame for the death of his first child. In 1925 his son, Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. was born. Gold Rush was released the same year and was a great success for Charlie. They went on to have a second son Sidney Chaplin. In 1926 Charlie and Lita divorced and the movie magazines and newspapers of the time had a field day with the public disputes and allegations.
The other important person to whom life introduced Charlie Chaplin to was Mack Swain. Swain’s career was rescued by Charlie when he gave him a role in Gold Rush. He went on to share many more short films with Charlie. He also went on to play many more roles until his death in 1935.
Charlie Chaplin won his first Oscar, a special one, for his work as a director, actor and producer on The Circus. Unfortunately, this is also the year that Charlie and Sidney lost their mother. With his great success firmly in their minds, America waited for Charlie’s next film. He began work on his film City Lights. This film was also Charlie’s first non-silent film. Charlie Chaplin had included all of the music and the sound effects in the film. No one spoke in the film and although “talkies” had become the rule, the film was a great success for Chaplin.
After City Lights was launched, Charlie Chaplin met Paulette Goddard.
He wound up taking a two year hiatus during which he met Paulette Goddard in 1932. Paulette worked in his picture Modern Times which was the last film in which The Little Tramp was seen. He and Paulette married after the film’s release, in secret in the Orient. He then returned to the film studio and made his next movie The Great Dictator which was to be a satire of Adolph Hitler. This was Charlie’s very first talking picture and it became a sensation worldwide.
Paulette and Charlie Chaplin divorced in 1942 with Paulette Goddard going on to be a movie star in her own right.
Charlie met the love of his life, Oona O’Neil.
That same year however, he met a troubled young lady who would cause a great deal of trouble in Charlie’s life. Joan Barry had done a screen test for Chaplin. She didn’t get the part but she did go out with Charlie a few times. However, Joan fell madly in love with Charlie Chaplin and fantasized that he was madly in love with her. She broke into Charlie’s house with a gun but he was able to talk her out of any violence. He called the police after she left and was able to get a restraining order against her. However, it was not the last he would hear from her, she announced she was pregnant and that Charlie was the father. Charlie denied the paternity and married Oona O’Neil.
Even though Oona was many years younger than Charlie, they seemed destined for each other. In the meantime, Joan was still out to make trouble. She continued to name him as father and sued him for child support. A blood test proved that Chaplin couldn’t have been the father but the test was not admissible in the courts in California. He was ordered to pay child support by a jury and continued to do so until the child came of age.
Charlie Chaplin and Oona O’Neil began their family which went on to include 8 children.
They left the US for a vacation and Charlie was denied a reentry permit because he was mistakenly deemed a Communist by the government of the day. Charlie Chaplin remained a British citizen all of his life and had a permit to live in the US. Oona returned to the US and gathered up all of their assets and they moved to Switzerland after all of the issues were settled, where they lived for the rest of their lives.
In 1965 his brother Sidney passed away leaving a hole in Chaplin’s life. But as always before Charlie Chaplin dealt with his grief by working. In 1966 he directed his last film A Countess in Hong Kong. The film starred Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. It was not popular at the box office.
In 1968 Charlie lost his son Charlie Chaplin Jr. He was still planning movies and working on projects even though he grieved for his son. He returned to the US in 1972 to accept a Lifetime Achievement Academy Award and was admitted to the country without problems, the earlier accusations against him forgotten.
Chaplin continued to live in Switzerland with Oona, raising their children and enjoying life. In 1975 he was knighted by the Queen of England and finally left this world in 1977 on Christmas day.
Charlie Chaplin’s films are still looked upon as some of the best work in the world of motion pictures.
He launched many careers and had many friends of the day who went on to become persons of importance in the film industry. Even to this day, Chaplin’s films are viewed as essential viewing in film schools the world over. For a man who started out this life with the hard times he had, Charlie Chaplin managed to become a legend in film.
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