Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin, KBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977) was an English comic actor, film director and composer best known for his work during the silent film era. He became the most famous film star in the world before the end of World War I and used mime, slapstick and other visual comedy routines.
The victim of a witch-hunt during the McCarthy era in the United States, Chaplin was already in his 60s when, in 1953, he chose to live in exile in Switzerland with his family. But the artist did not retire. He continued to make films, composed the musical scores to accompany re-releases of his silent movies and wrote his autobiography.
In 1918 he quickly married 16-year-old Mildred Harris. The marriage lasted two years, and in 1924 he wed again, to another 16-year-old, actress Lita Grey, whom he'd cast in The Gold Rush. The two split in 1927.
In 1936, Chaplin married again, this time to a chorus girl who went by the film name of Paulette Goddard. They lasted until 1942. In 1943, Chaplin married 18-year-old Oona O'Neil, the daughter of playwright, Eugene O'Neil.
Though Chaplin films were immensely popular in Great Britain during the First World War, many of his countrymen never forgave the comedian for not serving. This also became an issue in America after the United States joined the conflict in April 1917. Chaplin's studio claimed that the prominent film star had attempted to enlist but failed his physical.
Chaplin's features include The Kid (1920), The Gold Rush (1924), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). He enjoyed immense worldwide popularity, though this was tempered by his refusal to use sound until 1940. His political sympathies and various personal scandals contributed to his declining popularity.
Chaplin also had an ability to use humour to confront afflictions that plagued him in real life. As an adult he drank little, because of what alcohol had done to his father, but gained critical acclaim for his portrayal as a comic drunk in music-hall. Embarrassed by having to wear ill-fitting clothes as a boy, Chaplin used this knowledge to costume a character that became a cinematic icon. Initially threatened by the film-making process, Chaplin quickly mastered this medium by satirizing it.
Chaplin merged physical grace, disrespect for authority, and sentimentality into a highly individual character he created for the Keystone Film Company. In appearance, his Little Tramp wore a gentlemen's derby, cane, and neatly kept moustache with baggy trousers and oversized shoes. He affected a unique, bow-legged dance-walk.
Starting in movies as a comic performer at Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios in 1913, the lithe and graceful performer whose Harvard was the English music hall soon usurped other roles in movie production. By 1919, besides his status as perhaps the world's most famous movie star, he had claimed the roles of writer, director, producer, studio owner, and cofounder of United Artists. For good measure, when sound films were introduced in the late 1920s, he also added composer to his list. The eighty-one movies he made between 1914 and 1967, when his last film, A Countess from Hong Kong, appeared, constitute one of the most remarkable bodies of work in American film history.
Chaplin made his professional debut as a member of a juvenile group called "The Eight Lancashire Lads" and rapidly won popular favour as an outstanding tap dancer. When he was about twelve, he got his first chance to act in a legitimate stage show, and appeared as "Billy" the page boy, in support of William Gillette in "Sherlock Holmes".
His father, a notorious drinker, abandoned Chaplin, his mother and his older half-brother, Sydney, not long after Charlie's birth. That left Chaplin and his brother in the hands of their mother, a vaudevillian and music hall singer who went by the stage name of Lily Harley. But in a performance that would introduce her youngest boy to the world of performance, Hannah [Chaplin] inexplicably lost her voice in the middle of a show. This prompted the stage manager to push the five-year-old Chaplin, whom he'd heard sing, onto the stage to replace her.
Charlie Chaplin once lost a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest. As "Chaplinitis" swept across America around 1915, Charlie Chaplin look-alike contests became a popular form of entertainment. His final standing is not recorded, although it was noted that he "failed even to make the finals."