10 Interesting Facts About Charlie Chaplin

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Charlie Chaplin Colorized 1916

Charlie Chaplin is probably one of the most recognizable faces in film history. His comedic on-screen character known as The Tramp is considered as one of the most memorable and one that defined the silent film era. You may be familiar with some of Chaplin’s movies, but how much do you really know about this comedic genius? In this article, we are going to look at 10 interesting facts that you may not know about the legendary British actor.

1. Chaplin had a complicated childhood.

Chaplin as a child
Charlie Chaplin (highlighted), photographed as a child at the age of 7 in 1897 at the Central London District School in Hanwell, England.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Chaplin was born in 1889 to Hannah Chaplin and Charles Chaplin Sr. Although his parents never divorced, the couple became estranged by 1891, when Chaplin was just 2 years old. His mother suffered from psychosis and was committed to a mental institution. Chaplin and his brother were sent to a public boarding school where they would be educated but suffer from continuous chastisement. Chaplin’s father would die at the age of 37 due to alcoholism, having done very little in his children’s upbringing.

2. Chaplin became rich very quickly.

In 1914 Chaplin made his first film. One year later he would sign with Essanay company for $1,250 a week and $10,000 as a bonus. A year later he would sign for $10,000 a week and a bonus of $150,000. By 1918, Chaplin would have already been considered a rich person, but his fortune would grow bigger with his signing with First National for a million dollars. Chaplin would eventually become a co-founder of United Artists and reach stardom all while becoming a very rich man.

3. Chaplin was a composer.

Although Chaplin will always be remembered as the brilliant actor behind The Kid, City Lights, and Modern Times, he was also an accomplished musician and a talented composer. He developed a love for music from a young age, learning to play the piano, violin, and cello. Chaplin, who had no formal training in music, would go on to score a great number of his films with the help of trained musicians, one film — Limelight — would even earn him his only competitive oscar.

4. Chaplin was married three times to teenagers.

Oona O'Neill
Chaplin’s fourth wife Oona O’Neill the year they got married, 1943.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Chaplin was known to be a popular man among the ladies. He was married four times, all with women younger than him, and three even being teenagers. In 1918 he married 17-year-old Mildred Harris, but the couple would divorce just two years later. In 1924 he would tie the knot with 16-year-old Lita Grey, but the marriage would only last until 1927. And finally in 1943, a year later after ending his brief marriage with Paulette Goddard, Chaplin would marry 18-year-old actress Oona O’Neill, with whom he would live the rest of his life.

5. Chaplin opposed using sound in films.

An icon of the silent era of cinema, Chaplin would live the transition from silence to the controversial “talkies”. He would be noted for refusing to transition into the new technology, doubting that his characters would perform the same as in silent films. Nevertheless, after dabbling with sound in some of his films by adding music, Chaplin would eventually fully give in to sound in his 1940 movie, The Great Dictator.

6. Chaplin was a perfectionist.

Chaplin is known to have been a talented man in most things that he did, but his talent was always accompanied by a borderline obsession with perfectionism. He is noted for his insistence on doing everything that he could by himself. In the film City Lights, actress Virginia Cherrill had to say just two words, “Flowers, sir”, but Chaplin’s perfectionism made him repeat the take 342 times. In many other instances, Chaplin recorded thousands of feet of film for what were supposed to be just a few minutes.

7. Chaplin was accused of being a communist.

Chaplin was surrounded by controversies all throughout his life, but few are as political as when he was accused of being a communist. In a now-infamous incident, Chaplin was accused of being a communist and U.S.S.R. sympathizer by none other than George Orwell. The so-called “Orwell’s List”, was a list of names arranged by Orwell that according to him, were unsuitable to write anti-communist propaganda for the British. The complicated altercation is relatively insignificant yet it was sufficient enough to stain Chaplin’s name.

8. Chaplin returned to the United States in 1972 after being banned for 20 years.

Charlie Chaplin Oscar
Charlie Chaplin (right) receiving an Honorary Academy Award from Jack Lemmon, April 1972.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The lovable characters created by Chaplin can often lead us to overlook his more rebellious persona. Considered by some as an outright communist, Chaplin was undoubtedly a controversial figure. Following his politically active life and the infamous controversy with “Orwell’s List”, Chaplin was essentially banned access into the United States, with most of his films also being banned in the country. He would return some 20 years later, in 1972, when the actor was awarded an honorary Oscar for his life’s work.

9. Chaplin’s body was stolen after his death.

In 1977, at the age of 88, Charlie Chaplin passed away in Manoir de Ban, Switzerland. Almost a year later after being put to rest in a Swiss cemetery, a pair of robbers stole Chaplin’s coffin with his remains inside and attempted to extort his widow with 600,000 dollars in ransom. The thieves were eventually caught and Chaplin’s remains were returned to the cemetery, only this time his coffin was buried surrounded by concrete so as to avoid any other such robbery.

10. Chaplin’s home was converted into a museum.

Many years after his death, the grounds of Manoir de Ban, Chaplin’s estate, would give a home to his legacy. Chaplin’s World museum opened in 2016, with a tour of Chaplin’s life and work all throughout his childhood to his later years. The estate was restored to its authentic form, preserving the look created by Chaplin and his family.

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