Charlie Chaplin

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Sir Charles Chaplin
Charles Spencer Chaplin
BirthplaceLondon, United Kingdom (unverified)
Actor, film director, film producer, screenwriter, editor, composer

Chaplin, Charlie

Chaplin, Charlie (Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin), 1889–1977, English film actor, director, producer, writer, and composer, b. London. Chaplin began on the music-hall stage and then joined a pantomime troupe. While on tour in the United States, he was recruited by Mack Sennett. Chaplin merged physical grace, disrespect for authority, and sentimentality into a highly individual character he created for the Keystone film studios. In appearance, his Little Tramp wore a gentlemen's derby, cane, and neatly kept moustache with baggy trousers and oversized shoes. He affected a unique, bow-legged dance-walk. Chaplin skipped from one studio to another in search of greater control over his work, finally cofounding United Artists in 1919 with D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford.

Chaplin's features include The Kid (1920), The Gold Rush (1924), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). He enjoyed immense worldwide popularity, though this was tempered by his refusal to use sound until 1940. His political sympathies and various personal scandals contributed to his declining popularity. In 1952, he was barred on political grounds from re-entering the United States and lived thereafter in Switzerland. In 1975 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. His fourth wife was Oona O'Neill, the daughter of Eugene O'Neill. He won an Academy Award in 1972 for his score to Limelight.


See his My Trip Abroad (1922) and autobiography (1964); biographies by C. Chaplin, Jr. (1960), P. Tyler (1947, repr. 1972), and P. Ackroyd (2014); G. D. McDonald et al., The Films of Charlie Chaplin (1965); K. S. Lynn, Charlie Chaplin and His Times (1997); J. Vance, Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (2003).

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Chaplin, (Charles Spencer) Charlie

(1889–1977) movie actor, producer, screenwriter, director, composer; born in London, England. The son of music hall entertainers, his mother had a nervous breakdown and his father died when Charlie was five; he became a street urchin, along with his half-brother, Sydney, dancing for pennies in the street. After a time in an orphanage, he joined a troupe of child dancers and later had small roles on the London stage. At age 17 he joined a troupe of players that toured the United States, where in 1912 he joined the Keystone company to appear in his first movie, Making a Living (1914). Chaplin made 35 films in one year at Keystone, many of which he also wrote and directed, meanwhile honing his character of "The Little Tramp"; despite the appearance of spontaneity and improvisation, he worked out every last detail of his films. He joined Essanay in 1915, making his first masterpiece, The Tramp, that year. He became one of the founders of United Artists in 1919. At First National, he made The Kid in 1921, which made him an international star. He went on to make his major works—City Lights (1928), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Limelight (1952)—after which there was a distinct falling off. Over the years he had been criticized for his many romantic affairs, often with younger women; he also had never applied for U.S. citizenship. In 1952, on a ship to England, he was informed that he might not be permitted back into the States because of his alleged leftist views, so he settled in Switzerland with his wife Oona, daughter of Eugene O'Neill, with whom he had eight children. He did not return to the U.S.A. until 1972 when he accepted a Special Academy Award. In 1975, by then regarded as one of the few individuals to be a true genius of motion pictures, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.