Thursday, April 3, 2014



Sir Charles Spencer “Charlie” Chaplin, KBE, English comedian, filmmaker and composer, born, 16 April 1889, died 25 December 1977. 

I have always enjoyed the silent films of Charlie Chaplin and I knew that as well as being a comic, he was also a filmmaker and composer of music. I've reveled in the crazy chaos of his movies and the seeming half-assedness of silent movies in general of the era. What I did not know is that he is the personification of the rags-to-riches story. Sent to a work house at the age of 9, the son of parents who were both entertainers in the thriving West End of London, he rose to become one of the most influential names in Arts and Letters, with a few bumps along the way, but that seems to be the norm for anyone who lives to a fairly ripe old age of 88.

"Making A Living" is a 12-minute harum-scarum mish-mash of Charlie trying to steal Henry's (Henry Lehrman, Director, on the right) camera, selling a picture from that camera to a newspaper that apparently just chucks papers out the back of the warehouse to passing newsboys, as they race by. Somewhere in this madness, Henry finds time to roll around with a lady mistakenly in her bed, fall down stairs, and they all get chased by the Keystone Kops. That's the whole movie! 

During the movie, Charlie treats the cane as an elaborate prop, whirling it around and occasionally turning it upside down and pretending to fall is it slips out from under. It's frenetic and funny and amazing what can be conveyed with no dialogue. 

Rather than focus on his life and controversies, I decided to look closer at the beginnings of his career and how he got started, because he shares a commonality with the Marx Brothers, who made some of the funniest movies that have endured for decades. Although, Chaplin worked in silent film, even after “talkies” came into vogue in 1927, he got his start in burlesque, as did the Marx Brothers, and they all transferred easily to the silver screen. The difference being that, the Marx Brothers incorporated elaborate sight gags, songs based on operas and witty puns that became more and more complex as they improved and often improvised, while filming.

But Chaplin was the first, and in watching him on screen, I began to wonder how he came up with the idea for his much beloved character the “Little Tramp” who endured for decades, as one of the funniest and most poignant characters in filmdom. Although the final costume was not decided upon until his second film, he described it thusly,
"I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large... I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born."

 "The Pest" readying himself for another round of bothering people! The whole film is spent with Charlie being chased in front of and away from the front of rickety-looking autos, as they "speed" by. The chaser is again, Henry Lehrman, the director of this short film.

Later, one of his biographers noted that this was not strictly true and that it took him a year or so to perfect and hone this character and he would do so the rest of his career. You can see this in movies such as "Gold Rush" and his later movies, but since I'm trying to keep this short and sweet for the A-to-Z challenge, I leave you with this little gem. His second released film was "Kid Auto Races at Venice" or, more appropriately as "The Pest," is the true debut of his "Little Tramp". In this 6-minute film, there is a second camera, which actually breaks the "fourth-wall" in that it invites the audience in on the joke. The same guy, Henry Lehrman, who is at odds with Charlie in "Making a Living" spends the entire 6 minutes chasing the Little Tramp around during an actual Junior Auto Race at Venice, California in 1914!

I had a terrific amount of fun researching just these two movies. Chaplin went on to have a long and storied career and his physical comedy would be matched only by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. The Marx Brothers took the physical and added verbal word play to it, on a par of sophistication with the Algonquin Round Table. But that aside, the physical comedy of Chaplin, Lloyd and the Keystone Kops speaks to an innocence of that time; 1914, before the First World War and the Depression.


Diana Jillian said...

I haven't actually watched any Charlie Chaplin movies, but I was once on this silent film kick. I was watching Valentino and Clara Bow movies and such. I can't wait to see tomorrow's blog. :)


Judy Phillips said...

Great subject and blog, Mary!
My daughter won the high school pantomime state title in Drama 2 years in a row, and she loves Chaplin, as well as the Marx brothers. She had me watch a lot of their work during her high school years. I was always a big fan of the art of black and white film-making, but she taught me to appreciate silent films.
Chaplin was so gifted.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Mary - I love Chaplin's films, as too the Marx brothers ... I'd forgotten his background and the poor house aspect.

He must have been very good at what he was doing .. he really changed the industry and learnt so much from others ..

Fascinating .. and the Silent Movie era is special ..brought so many smiles and laaughter to us - cheers Hilary

Andrea said...

I think I have only seen a few clips here and there. I should change that!

Anna Tan said...

Ah, Charlie's a famous one!

Deeply Shallow

Anabel Marsh said...

My grandfather claimed that, when he was young, he looked like Chralie Chaplin. Having seen old photos, I think he did! I don't remember him being so funny though, but he was still lovely of course.

Anabel's Travel Blog

Debra said...

Love Chaplin. I watched Modern Times recently and was surprised at how fresh it seemed.

Chippy said...

Charlie Chaplin is one of the greats. I actually prefer the Marx Brothers (make that love The Marx Brothers) and Laurel & Hardy but Chaplin is a goodie.

Stopping by on the A To Z Challenge :)

Viola Fury said...

@Diana, I love to watch silent movies, and went on a German "expressionism" kick several years ago; "Nosferatu" and all that! But Valentino and Clara Bow were primo! Chaplin is just so funny! The movies are short and can be rather choppy as to plot, but hey! It's the beginning of the film industry and it's fun to watch!. Thanks for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


Thanks Judy! That is awesome about your daughter! I, too am fascinated by the Marx Bros as well as Chaplin. There seems to be such a heavy tradition of vaudeville. The black and white era, and the silent era are two of my favorites!

Viola Fury said...


I was first introduced to the Marx Bros when I was about 12 and just fell in love. I would stay up late and watch these old movies on the telly, along with some great Bing Crosby and Ginger Rogers flicks on Friday nights.

But, Chaplin was a pioneer, and Henry Lehrman, the man who is in both of the shorts I presented in my post, were more concerned with presenting a story through movement and expression. Chaplin disdained talkies and his "The Great Dictator," made in response to the rise of Adolf Hitler is one of the few movies in which he speaks.

Viola Fury said...


You should definitely check out some of his early stuff! Just 6 and 12 minutes long; I laughed like a hyena, but then, people say I'm easily amused. Thanks for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


I hope you enjoyed him. He's one of my favorites. Never fails to make me "smile" which is one of my favorite songs of his! Thanks for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by; your grandfather sounds like a lovely man! My father looked like John Wayne, but didn't act like him, thankfully! :) Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


I haven't seen "Modern Times" in a while. I need to watch it again! Thanks so much for stopping by! Mary xoxo

Viola Fury said...


Thanks for stopping by! I adore the Marx Bros. The whole package, zany comedy, music, witty badinage, it's just so appealing and fun! We used to go to Marx Bros festivals when I was in high school, in the summers, and if I catch one of their movies on the TV, I watch it! Thanks again! Mary xoxo

Andi-Roo TheWorldForRealz said...

Modern Times is the only one I've seen, and I was super impressed with it. I should check out the rest of his work. Thanks for the lovely suggestion, Mary! I'm learning so much here thanks to this challenge!

I'm participating in AtoZ, too.
See you around!

Kristen Dyrr said...

This is the perfect C! I love reading all the history too, this is great!

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