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Charlie Chaplin

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Born on 16 April 1889 in London, England, Charles Spenser Chaplin was a versatile English comic actor, composer, and film director of the silent film era. He was the son of Charles Chaplin, a vocalist and actor and an attractive singer and actress called Hannah. It is asserted that Chaplin never knew who his real father was because he deserted his family when Chaplin was only two years old. Chaplin spent most of his childhood in poorhouses, shabby furnished rooms and an orphanage. Despite the fact that Chaplin pursued his education passionately, he left school when he was 10 because of poverty. To make ends meet, Chaplin had to work as a roustabout and mime on the British vaudeville circuit (Douglass 34). Before the end of World War I, Chaplin was arguably the most famous actor in the entire world. He used slapstick, mime and other visual comedy routines to entertain his fans. Despite the fact that most of his films had decreased in frequency by the 1920s, they did well throughout the silent film era and the talkies era. 

Having inherited natural talents from his parents, Chaplin took to the stage at a very early age. He made his acting debut when he became a member of a juvenile group known as ‘the Eight Lancashire Lads,’ where he immediately became popular as an outstanding tap dancer (Douglass 34). When Chaplin was about 12, he got his first chance of acting in a legitimate stage show. In this show, the young Chaplin appeared as page boy named ‘Billy’ in William Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes (A­+E Television Networks 1).  When he was through with this engagement, he started a career as a comedian in Vaudeville.  In 1910, this career took him to the United States as a featured player in the Fred Karno troupe. Chaplin was an instant hit in America, especially with his characterization in a sketch called "A Night in an English Music Hall" (Douglass 34). In 1912, the troupe came back to the United States for a repeat tour and the budding Chaplin was given a motion picture contract.

In November 1913, Chaplin appeared before the cameras in an act that was seen by Mack Sennett, who ended up hiring him as a replacement for Ford Sterling in his Keystone Film Company. This marked his entrance into the cinema world with an initial salary of $150 every week. It is argued that Chaplin’s performance as an actor suffered because he experienced some difficulties in adjusting with the demands of film acting (A­+E Television Networks 1). In fact, Sennett felt that he had made a huge mistake after the appearance of Chaplin’s first film called “Making a Living”. It is believed that Mabel Normand, a film director at Keystone Film Company persuaded Sennett to give Chaplin another chance. Sennett handed him over to Normand, who wrote and directed some of his earliest films. Soon, Chaplin’s pictures became very successful, and he became one of the most sought out stars at Keystone (Douglass 35).

At the end of his contract at Keystone, he moved to Essanay Company in 1915. Due to his growing demand, Chaplin signed for Mutual film Corporation the following year for a much larger sum. At this firm, Chaplin made 12 two-reel comedies including, "The Vagabond", "The Floorwalker" "The Count", “The Fireman”, "Behind the Screen", "The Pawnshop", "The Cure", "The Immigrant", "Easy Street",  "The Rink" and "The Adventurer” (A­+E Television Networks 1).  In a desire for greater leisure and more freedom in making his movies, Chaplin became an independent producer when his contract with Mutual film Corporation expired in 1917. In the initial months, Chaplin was busy constructing his own studios, which were situated at La Brea Avenue, Hollywood. 

In 1918, he made his first agreement as a producer with First National Exhibitors’ Circuit, which was specifically formed to exploit his pictures. Chaplin’s initial work under this deal was a film called “A Dog’s Life.” Thereafter, Chaplin began a national tour, which supported the war efforts. During these tours, Chaplin made a film called “The Bond,” which was used by the U.S government to popularize the Liberty Loan Drive. Later that year, Chaplin produced “Shoulder Arms”, which was a comedy that dealt with war. (Douglass 34) This comedy became a sensation at the U.S box office and contributed immensely to Chaplin’s popularity. In 1919, Chaplin followed this with "A Day’s Pleasure" and "Sunnyside."

In April 1919, he joined hands with D.W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to form the United Artists Corporation.  However, Chaplin could not assume his new responsibilities immediately because he had to complete his contract with First National. Other films that Chaplin produced include “The Kid” (1921), “A Woman of Paris” (1923), “The Gold Rush” (1925), “The Circus”  (1928), “City Lights” (1931), “Modern Times” (1936), “Lime Light” (1952) and “A King in New York” (Douglass 35).

It is apparent that Charlie Chaplin was among the most influential and creative personalities in the silent and post-silent-film era. His film and acting career, which spanned for over 75 years began in the music hall and Victorian stage as a child performer in the U.K until his demise at the age of 88. Chaplin’s high-profile private and public life was full of both controversies and adulations. Due to his accomplishments, he was ranked tenth greatest male screen legend by the American Film Institute (Douglass 35). It goes without saying that few individuals have given human beings so much pleasure, entertainment and relief when they needed it most like Charlie Chaplin. Apart from producing and acting, Chaplin’s extended his versatility to sports, music and writing. He authored several books including “My Life in Pictures,” “My Autobiography,” “My Trip Abroad” and “My Life in Pictures.” He was also an accomplished, self-made musician who played various musical instruments such as the cello and violin with equal skill. He was also a composer who published and composed many songs such as “With You Dear Bombay” and “Sing a Song”. Charlie Chaplin died on December 25, 1977, survived by nine children.

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