The story of Charles Chaplin: one of the greatest figures in cinema

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Charlie Chaplin became not only a talented actor, but an extraordinary musical director, producer and composer.

Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

Charlie Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889 in South London, his parents Hannah and Charles Chaplin Sr., were music hall entertainers. When they parted ways, Chaplin and his half-brother Sydney spent their childhoods in workhouses and almshouses after his mother was committed to a workhouse in 1903.

At age 10, Chaplin joined a troupe of clog dancers called The Eight Lancashire Lads.. They toured England.

Chaplin got roles in several plays and joined a burlesque troupe called Casey’s Circus. With his older brother Sydney, also an actor, he joined The Karno Co., a well-known vaudeville touring and comedy theater group.

As a member of the theater group The Karno Co., Chaplin toured the United States, where he came to the attention of the New York Motion Picture Co. In 1913, he landed a contract with the Keystone Film Co. earning $150 a week.

The first film starring Charlie Chaplin was “Making a Living” in 1914. Sporting a large mustache, Chaplin played a charming con man named Edgar English.

Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character first appeared in the 1914 film “Kid Auto Races At Venice.” Chaplin’s character was a spectator who interrupted a go-kart race. The film was shot at a real race, with the actors improvising with real spectators from the race.

Among the comedy shorts that Chaplin made in 1914, “Twenty Minutes of Love” was his first directorial effort.. Of another 1914 comedy, “Her Friend the Bandit,” no known copy survives. The now-lost film starred Chaplin and Mabel Normand, and they also co-directed.

In “The Tramp,” made in 1915 for Essanay Studios and directed by Chaplin, his iconic creation began to transform into the most familiar character audiences know well. The “little bum” became less buffoonish and became more touching and affectionate.

By signing a $670,000-a-year contract with the Mutual Film Company, Chaplin became the highest-paid film actor in the world. He made a dozen short comedies for Mutual, including “The Floorwalker,” the first film to employ the “running stairs” joke in which actors run down an escalator, or vice versa, and get nowhere.

In October 1918, at the age of 29, Chaplin married 16-year-old Mildred Harris, a popular child actress. They had a son in 1919 who lived only three days and they separated that same year. When they divorced in 1920, Harris got some property and a $100,000 settlement.

In his final appearance as the “Little Tramp,” Chaplin made the 1936 film “Modern Times.” The film is considered a commentary on the unemployment and poverty faced by millions of people during the Great Depression.

While traveling through London in 1952, Chaplin learned that the US immigration officials would not allow him to return home to America after he openly criticized House Un-American Activities Committee hearings and government officials suspected that he had Communist sympathies. He moved to the city of Corsier-sur-Vevey in Switzerland.

Chaplin died in Switzerland on Christmas Day 1977 after suffering from ill health for several years.

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