TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Eight — Charlie Chaplin

The man behind the tramp.

I feel like I’ve always been aware of the existence of Charlie Chaplin, and that I’ve been seeing clips from his films for as long as I can remember. But I didn’t see my first Charlie Chaplin film, from start to finish, until a few years ago, at the TCM Film Festival.

And that’s when I truly became a fan.


Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 16, 1889, in South London. His parents were music hall entertainers, but his father abandoned Charlie and his half-brother, Sydney, not long after Charlie was born. Charles Chaplin, Sr., died several years later, at the age of 37, and Charlie’s mother was institutionalized, which left Charlie and his brother to fend for themselves.

But by then, Charlie already had plans for his future. He’d made his first public appearance at the age of five when his mother lost her voice during a performance. Little Charlie was ushered onto the stage as a replacement, receiving a shower of coins from the audience when he sang a popular song called “Jack Jones.” During his teenage years, he earned money through a variety of methods, including performing with a local clog-dancing act, The Eight Lancashire Lads, appearing in a play at the London Hippodrome, and playing an office boy in a long-running stage production of Sherlock Holmes.

Young Charlie.

When Charlie was 17, his brother got him a job with Fred Karno and his “speechless comedians,” who would travel from theater to theater, performing various sketches. Two years later, Karno tapped Chaplin to tour the United States in “A Night at an English Music Hall.” When Karno sent Chaplin to the U.S. on a second, longer tour in 1912, Chaplin was spotted by Adam Kessel and Mack Sennett of the Keystone Company, who invited the young man to join their company. Chaplin arrived in Los Angeles in December 1913, and never looked back.


  • One of Chaplin’s fellow performers with the Fred Karno players was named Stanley Jefferson. Like Chaplin, Jefferson also moved to America. The two men wound up as roommates – and Jefferson changed his name to Stan Laurel.
  • To distinguish himself from the other players in the Mack Sennett troupe, Chaplin decided to play a single character, and he created “The Little Tramp,” clad in a small hat, big shoes, baggy pants, and a tight jacket. He debuted the character in the 1914 comedy short Kid Auto Races at Venice.

    Chaplin with his United Artists partners.

  • Between 1914 and 1919, Chaplin worked for Essanay Studios, Mutual Studios, and First National Studios, before building his own studio and then teaming with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and D.W. Griffith to form United Artists Studios.
  • Chaplin was married four times and had 11 children. His fourth wife was Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. The two were married when Charlie was 54 years old and Oona was 18. Charlie and Oona would go on to have eight children, including future actress Geraldine Chaplin.
  • Suspected of having Communist ties because of his aid to Russia during World War II, Chaplin was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in September 1947, but he never appeared. When Chaplin and his family traveled to London for a movie premiere in 1952, he was denied re-entry to the United States. He returned to the U.S. until 1972, when he was awarded a special Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art for and of this century.” When he took the stage at the Academy Awards ceremony, he received a 12-minute standing ovation, and was visibly moved by the reception.


A laugh and, perhaps, a tear.

I have to be honest. The first Charlie Chaplin film I’ve ever seen is also the only Charlie Chaplin film I’ve ever seen: The Kid (1921). Still, it’s so funny, and and touching, and beautifully made, I like to think it would still have been my pick (or at least in the running) for Charlie Chaplin Day, even if I’d seen a dozen others. In it, Chaplin – in character as the Little Tramp – becomes the guardian of an abandoned baby (played by Jackie Coogan). The simple plot involves the growing love the two have for each other, and the circumstances that transpire to separate them. It was Chaplin’s first full-length film as a director.

Did I mention that this is a silent movie?

I know that silents aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t recommend this one strongly enough. If you’ve never seen a silent movie, or if you’re not especially fond of them, do yourself a favor and tune in to The Kid. You won’t be sorry.

And join me tomorrow for Day 9 of Summer Under the Stars!

~ by shadowsandsatin on August 7, 2020.

5 Responses to “TCM Summer Under the Stars: Day Eight — Charlie Chaplin”

  1. Thanks for the Chaplin post! “The Kid” is truly great. If you’ve not seen any other Chaplin film, I highly recommend “City Lights”. It’s his masterpiece.

  2. Oh yes, The Kid is a fabulous movie. It always makes me laugh – and cry.

  3. […] Day 8: Charlie Chaplin […]

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