Charlie Chaplin

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Chaplin in the role of the tramp (1915)
Charlie Chaplin outside of his tramp role (1920)
Chaplin's signature

Sir Charles Spencer "Charlie" Chaplin Jr., KBE , (born April 16, 1889 in London , † December 25, 1977 in Corsier-sur-Vevey , Switzerland ) was a British actor , director , screenwriter , editor , composer , and film producer Comedian .

Chaplin is considered the first world star of the cinema and is one of the most influential comedians in film history. His most famous role is that of the " tramp ". The invented by him figure with two-finger mustache (also Chaplinbart called), oversized pants and shoes, tight jacket, bamboo stick in his hand and small watermelon on his head, with the manners and dignity of a gentleman , became a film icon . The close connection between slapstick comedy and elements from serious to tragic became characteristic of his films . The American Film Institute ranked Chaplin 10th among America's greatest male film legends.

He began his career as a child with performances in the music hall . As a comedian in the early silent film comedies , he soon enjoyed great success. As the most popular silent film comedian of his time, he gained artistic and financial independence. In 1919 he founded the film company United Artists together with Mary Pickford , Douglas Fairbanks and David Wark Griffith . Charlie Chaplin was one of the founding fathers of the US film industry - the so-called Hollywood dream factory . Suspected of being close to communism , he was refused to return to the USA after a stay abroad in 1952 during the McCarthy era . He continued his work as an actor and director in Europe. In 1972 he received his second honorary Oscar : he had received the first in 1929 for his work in the film The Circus , and the second for his life's work. In 1973 he received the first "real" Oscar for the best film music on the spotlight .


Childhood and adolescence

Chaplin's mother, Hannah, ca.1885
Chaplin as Page Billy in the play Sherlock Holmes , between 1903 and 1906
Chaplin, youth photo

Charles Chaplin was born in London to Charles Chaplin Sr. (1863-1901) and Hannah Harriet Chaplin (1865-1928). Both were artists at the British Music Halls, the father a singer and entertainer , the mother a dancer and singer. Shortly after Charles was born, his parents separated. Charles and his four years older half-brother Sydney (1885-1965) grew up with their mother, who from 1896 could no longer pursue her profession due to psychological problems . As Chaplin Sr. regularly evaded child support, the family lived in great poverty and repeatedly had to seek refuge in the poorhouses of London. Charles Chaplin spoke Cockney , a London dialect , as a child .

Chaplin was given the chance to perform in front of an audience for the first time in 1894 with a vocal performance. At the age of nine he was hired on the recommendation of his father for the music hall group The Eight Lancashire Lads . Chaplin received board and lodging and a simple school education while touring the Lancashire Lads . When his father died in 1901 as a result of his alcohol addiction , the two half-orphans Chaplin and Sydney only had their mother as a family reference person. He became a half-orphan , and that is why almost all biographies speak of "Dickens' youth". And similar to the children's fates that Charles Dickens had described in the 19th century, Charlie Chaplin found his way. Sydney now provided for the maintenance of his brother and mother, who were repeatedly admitted to asylums and declared insane in 1905. Chaplin was almost entirely on his own, was put in an orphanage with his half-brother for the first time at the age of six , and later roamed the streets and got to know the lowest social milieu, which he carefully observed. He left school for good at the age of 13. He hired himself as an errand boy, newspaper seller, printer, toy maker and glass blower to make a living.

After his engagement with the Lancashire Lads ended , Chaplin found engagements on the London stages. In the summer of 1903 he played his first major role in the less than successful play Jim, A Romance of Cockayne . This was followed by the role of the errand boy Billy in the stage version of Sherlock Holmes written by William Gillette . This production was a great success. Chaplin toured a total of four times with this play by 1906. Sydney Chaplin also played in the ensemble, but left the theater company again when he was signed with Fred Karno . Charles followed his brother and signed a two-year contract with Karno in 1908.

Rise to stage star

Chaplin in the early 1910s

With Fred Karno, who continued the tradition of comic pantomime with his theater troupes, Chaplin quickly rose to become one of the leading actors. His first success with Karno was the role of the drunkard Swell in the play Mumming Birds. In 1910, Chaplin took on the lead role in the new production Jimmy the Fearless, which brought him positive reviews in the newspapers for the first time. The Yorkshire Evening Star described him as an "aspiring actor" whose appearance showed him to be a born comedian.

Karno then offered Chaplin to tour North America with an ensemble. From June 1910 to June 1912, Karnos played in the United States and Canada. Especially Chaplin's antics in A Night in an English Music Hall, a revival of Mumming Birds, thrilled the audience and the press. After only five months in England, Karno sent his ensemble with Chaplin on a second tour to America.

This tour was not as successful as the first, which is why Chaplin responded gratefully to the interest of the American film industry. In May 1913, Adam Kessel and Charles O. Baumann, the owners of the New York Motion Picture Company , first contacted Chaplin. On September 25, 1913, Chaplin finally signed a contract with which he signed for a year as a film actor with Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios , the comedy specialists of the New York Motion Picture Company . Chaplin was a salary of 150  dollars pledged in the week. He then left the Karno troops on November 28, 1913.

Keystone Film Studios

In early January 1914, Chaplin began his new job at the Keystone Pictures Studios of film producer Mack Sennett . In the first few weeks, he struggled to cope with the chaotic working conditions at Keystone. From his time at Karno, Chaplin was used to rehearsing the sketches for months until every gesture and every punch line was perfect. Mack Sennett, on the other hand, mostly worked without a script , and his productions were shot quickly. Sennett's star was Ford Sterling , whose wild grimaces were in stark contrast to Chaplin's rather subtle comedy.

Chaplin was not used in a film until the end of the month. The one-act play Making a Living was directed by Henry Lehrman , who also played the hero of the story. Chaplin was the villain whose demeanor was reminiscent of the character from Karno's A Night in English Music Hall .

Dissatisfied with this role, Chaplin developed a new character for the following films. Legend has it that he borrowed an old pair of Ford Sterling shoes and oversized Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle trousers , a bowler hat from Arbuckle's father-in-law, an under-sized jacket from Charles Avery and a fake beard from Mack Swain . Similar costumes could already be found among the comedians of the English music halls. The "Tramp" first appeared in early February 1914 in the films Kid Auto Races at Venice and Mabel's Strange Predicament .

As a tramp in Mabel's Busy Day , 1914

After Chaplin could not get along with either Henry Lehrman or George Nichols, Sennett tried to use Chaplin in the films directed by Mabel Normand . When there was an uproar between himself and Normand while filming Mabel at the Wheel , Chaplin already believed his days at Keystone were numbered. But the great demand for films with Chaplin forced Sennett to continue to give him a free hand. Chaplin was supposed to test direct a film. His directorial debut Caught in the Rain was released on May 4, 1914 and became one of Keystone's most successful films to date. For the last six months of his contract with Keystone, Chaplin directed all of his appearances except Tillie's Troubled Romance , Sennett's first full-length feature film starring Chaplin in a villain.

The first Keystone films with Chaplin opened in the UK in June 1914 . Chaplin was hailed by the local press as "the born screen comedian". Given its soaring market value, Chaplin demanded Sennett $ 1,000 a week if the contract was to continue. However, no agreement was reached, so Chaplin's engagement with Keystone was ended in late 1914 after 35 films.

The acclaimed silent film comedian later put the riddle of the recipe for success for his tramp character into simple words: “All of my films are based on the idea of ​​getting me into trouble so that afterwards I can desperately try hard as a normal smaller one gentleman occur. "at least according bumpy career start, the baby was Chaplin, in his role, always as the good guy, the cute, perceived that but still did not let it get and finally has nothing except his dignity. Even the common worker with his everyday worries could easily find himself in it. The funny idea of ​​getting yourself into trouble and then triumphing over them to prove your dignity and honor is a thoroughly, in the traditional sense, foolish approach.

Essanay film company

In November 1914, Charles Chaplin signed a contract with the film company Essanay , run by the film pioneers George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson , which guaranteed Chaplin a one-off payment of $ 10,000 in addition to a weekly fee of $ 1,250.

Chaplin made his first film, His New Job, in the outdated Essanay studios in Chicago in January 1915 , but then moved back to California . There he put together his own regular cast, which included Leo White , Billy Armstrong , Bud Jamison , John Rand and the later director Lloyd Bacon . In addition, Ben Turpin and Snub Pollard, later also known as solo artists, appeared in a few films . While looking for a female lead, Chaplin discovered 19-year-old Edna Purviance , who eventually starred in 35 of his films and with whom he also had a private relationship until 1917. Chaplin increasingly settled on the role of the vagabond , who even became the title hero in his sixth essay film The Tramp . Slapstick predominated in Chaplin's early films , while kidnapping (A Jitney Elopement) and The Tramp had romantic elements, which in The Bank even led to a sad ending.

The first seven films for Essanay were made in just four months, Chaplin tried in the following months to assert his independence as a filmmaker by saying goodbye to the usual assembly line method and taking significantly more time for the next projects. His last two of a total of 14 works for Essanay were published in the spring of 1916, when Chaplin was already under contract with Mutual Films .

Chaplin's popularity first peaked in 1915:

“In addition to talking about the war and the lack of ammunition, Dr. Leonhard Williams in the Daily Mail , the main topic of conversation is a slim, dark-haired, brown-eyed young man whose excellent skills ensure him the income of a prime minister. His agility, humor and facial expressions have won him countless admirers and whose name can be read on all street corners, on all advertising pillars and in front of all cinema theaters. This new star in the cinema sky is called Charlie Chaplin and I would like to see the person who does not burst into roaring laughter when Charlie, as everyone calls him, with his shoes that are three times too wide and too long for him, his top hat, the falls over his ears, and the ill-fitting suit, which seems to consist only of folds, appears on the canvas and pleases itself in the most amazing contortions and the most incredible movements. What a roar when Charlie jumps around on one leg and leans on a stick that bends over and brings the jack of all trades into the most unpleasant situations. [...] The wonderful thing about it is that Charlie seems infinitely funny, but never demeans himself to a clown. It is astonishing that C [h] aplin has a downright shocking effect even in serious roles. […] Currently, Charlie is the darling of the visitors of 32,000 cinemas in England, France and America and all movie actors who have won the favor of the audience have to hide from him because he has become the absolute lord and lord of the cinema. "

- Report in the Kinematographische Rundschau of August 29, 1915

Chaplin became the center of an extensive marketing campaign that included Chaplin dolls, newspaper comics and songs about the little tramp (with no share of the income). The Motion Picture Magazine diagnosed a severe case of "Chaplinitis" for the entire United States. In France, the tramp was worshiped as a chariot . In order to benefit from “Chaplinitis” even after Chaplin's departure, Essanay had Chaplin's Burlesque on Carmen extended to double the duration with previously unused film material. Chaplin sued the release of this film unsuccessfully.

"The walking stick stands for human dignity," said Chaplin once about his idea of ​​the tramp, "the mustache for vanity, and worn shoes for worry."

In his official biography he reports that in preparation for his third film (Making a Living) he put on a mustache because he wanted to look older. He should be small so that his facial expressions are not hidden. He told his son that his hitchhiker costume was created on a London stage when he was supposed to stand in for a comedian who was much taller than him and simply put on his clothes. His typical gait was therefore the consequence of his large shoes.

Mutual film company

Chaplin as a tramp, around 1917

The new contract with Mutual Films , which guaranteed him a weekly salary of $ 10,000 plus a bonus of $ 150,000 on signing, made Chaplin one of the highest paid actors. Its popularity remained unbroken; When he took the train to New York at the end of February 1916 to sign the contract, huge crowds were waiting for the star to arrive.

A new studio was set up for Chaplin in Los Angeles. Edna Purviance, Leo White and Lloyd Bacon followed Chaplin from Essanay to Mutual . Roland Totheroh , who had already operated the camera on several Essanay films, was hired by Chaplin. He remained Chaplin's chief cameraman until 1952 . The cast was completed by Albert Austin and the gigantic Eric Campbell , who played the villain in most of the Mutual films. In the course of the year the crew was supplemented by Henry Bergman , who was to accompany Chaplin, as a versatile supporting actor and assistant, until his death in 1946.

Chaplin's contract with Mutual called for twelve films to be produced within twelve months. In fact, the first eight films were completed by the end of 1916, but it took Chaplin ten months to finish the last four. Some of the Mutual films are ranked among Chaplin's best films today. While Chaplin with the roller rink in The Rink (The Rink) and an escalator in the store supervisor (The Floor Walker) again pointed out the comic potential of unusual venues, applies The pawnshop (The Pawnshop) as a prime example of Chaplin's "comedy of transposition " in the Objects take on a completely new function. His best-known films from the time at Mutual , the 1917 completed two-act play Easy Street (Easy Street), a parody of the Victorian correctional melodramas , and the tragicomedy The Immigrant (The Immigrant). In retrospect, Chaplin called this time the happiest of his entire career.

At the end of 1916, the unauthorized biography Charlie Chaplin's Own Story caused a sensation , the appearance of which could only be prevented with the help of the courts. However, as a result of the dispute in the British newspapers, a campaign against Chaplin began, as a clause in the contract with Mutual Films prohibited him from volunteering as a soldier in the First World War . Chaplin felt compelled to express his patriotic sentiments in a press release in August 1917 .

At the same time, Chaplin had to defend himself against numerous imitators and imitators. In November 1917, he sued several film studios that had produced numerous films with Chaplin impersonators. The most famous impersonator was Billy West, who appeared in around 50 films. Chaplin's former colleague at Karno, Stan Jefferson, who later became Stan Laurel , also appeared on stage as a tramp .

First National film distribution and production

The Loan , film sequence, 1918

After the contract with Mutual expired , Charles Chaplin was looking for a new partner who would give him not only the financial, but also the time independence to complete his films. Sydney Chaplin, who has been running his half-brother's business since the fall of 1915, found this partner in First National , which wanted to compete against the dominant position of Paramount Pictures with the commitment of Chaplin . A contract for eight films was signed for which First National paid more than $ 1 million upfront. Chaplin became his own producer, kept the rights to his films and had a studio built in Hollywood according to his own ideas.

On 15 January 1918, began filming A Dog's Life (A Dog's Life), which ended only after two months. Immediately after graduation, the filmmaker went on a tour of the United States with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford to promote the purchase of war bonds . Chaplin's next film should then also have the First World War on the topic: The bond (The Bond). After some effort to find a suitable storyline (he still worked without a script), Gewehr über (Shoulder Arms) emerged, which became one of the greatest financial successes of his career.

Chaplin was less fortunate in his private life. At the beginning of 1918 he met the 16-year-old actress Mildred Harris , with whom he entered into a scandalous relationship. Chaplin and Harris married on September 23, 1918. The unfortunate course of the marriage crippled Chaplin's creative power, the shooting of the next two films On the Sunny Side (Sunnyside) and Charlie's Picnic was delayed and interrupted several times. Sunnyside was finally completed in April 1919, Charlie's Picnic initially remained unfinished. Chaplin's son Norman Spencer was born on July 7, but he died three days after he was born.

Chaplin's creative crisis ended when he discovered the four-year-old Jackie Coogan in a theater . Chaplin developed a new film project in which Coogan would play at his side. Chaplin realized that this film should be significantly longer than his previous ones. The desire of First National meet after the imminent release of a new Chaplin film, he attacked during a production break on the material from Charlie's picnic back, turned some new scenes and finally published in December 1919 under the title Hilarious hours (A Day's Pleasure ) a two-act film that was in the tradition of his films for Essanay and Mutual .

Chaplin eagerly continued work on the film with Jackie Coogan, which had now received its final title The Kid . Deeply absorbed in work, Chaplin was surprised by his wife's divorce charges. Since Mildred refused a severance payment of 100,000 dollars, the film, which was finally shot after a year, threatened to be seized. In August 1920 all of The Kid's negatives were secretly taken to Salt Lake City , where Chaplin made a first rough cut. Shortly thereafter, the divorce process began, which ended in an amicable settlement on November 19, 1920. Nothing stood in the way of the premiere of The Kid on January 6, 1921. Chaplin's first feature film became a huge success, and was distributed in around 50 countries over the next three years.

Since First National had shown little cooperative in the remuneration of The Kid , Chaplin wanted to fulfill his contractual obligations as quickly as possible, especially since he now had his own film distribution company as a co-founder of United Artists . The two-act film The Idle Class was created within five months . The shooting of the next film, payday (Pay Day), interrupted Chaplin after a few days to start in September 1921 a European tour that took him the first time in nine years to his homeland. Chaplin was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm for himself. He recorded his experiences in the book My Trip Abroad .

In November 1921, he resumed work on Payday , which was to be his last two-act act. Payday premiered on April 2, 1922. Chaplin's last film for First National, the Vierakter The Pilgrim (The Pilgrim), was completed in only 42 days of shooting. However, renewed disputes with First National about the marketing delayed the premiere until February 1923.

First work with United Artists

Chaplin signs the founding agreement of United Artists ( photomontage )
With Churchill , Hollywood, 1929

After his contract with First National expired, Chaplin was finally able to prepare his first contribution for United Artists . As early as January 1919, Chaplin, the actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford as well as the director DW Griffith , decided to found an independent film distributor in order to counter an impending monopoly of the established studios. On February 5, 1919, the contracts for the formation of United Artists were signed. Chaplin was not only a founding member, but also one of the four partners in the company, which was not yet listed on the stock exchange.

With his first project for United Artists , Chaplin fulfilled a long-held desire to make a serious dramatic film. The film was also intended to open a new career in more mature female roles for Edna Purviance in her first independent leading role, as Chaplin no longer saw her as an ideal comedy partner. His acquaintance with Peggy Hopkins Joyce , who became famous through her numerous marriages and love affairs, inspired Chaplin to that in Paris settled history of love drama The A Woman (A Woman of Paris), he from November 1922 to June 1923 with Edna Purviance and starred Adolphe Menjou . Chaplin himself only presented himself in a cameo that lasted a few seconds , disguised as a porter.

While filming The Nights of a Beautiful Woman , Chaplin's relationship with Pola Negri was the focus of public interest. He had met the actress during his European tour in Berlin and met her again in October 1922 as she was preparing for her Hollywood debut. They both announced their engagement in January 1923, but the relationship broke up a few months later.

The premiere of The Nights of a Beautiful Woman on October 1, 1923 was critically acclaimed; the restrained, subtle play of the protagonists, which Chaplin painstakingly worked out, was glorified as a "departure from previous screen habits" and thus became a model for numerous directors in the late 1920s. The audience, however, could not get used to the melodrama, which is atypical for Chaplin . A Beautiful Woman's Nights became his first flop.

To avert a major social scandal, he married sixteen-year-old Lita Gray in 1924, who was slated for his next production Gold Rush (The Gold Rush) as his film partner . Lita was pregnant at the time. Charles Chaplin junior was born in May 1925. The second son, Sydney Earle , was born in March 1926, before the marriage was divorced in a spectacular process in 1927. Gold Rush, the tragic comedy about the exertions of gold seekers in the hunt for wealth, was one of Chaplin's greatest successes in 1925 and he himself said "[...] with this film I want to be remembered." In 1928 Chaplin made the comedy Der Circus , which is considered a smaller classic in his work. The filming of The Circus was overshadowed by numerous problems.

City lights and modern times

Visit to Germany in 1931 (the Reichstag building in the background )

At the end of the 1920s, the end of the silent film in Hollywood, added to the consequences of the Great Depression. That led to drastic changes in Hollywood. B. suddenly no longer asked many other slapstick comedians. Despite warnings from his colleagues, Chaplin made another silent film, Lights of the Big City, in 1931 because, in his opinion, the Tramp could only function in silent films. However, the film was not completely silent, there was a musical soundtrack that Chaplin composed himself, which is why he became the composer of his films for the first time. Once again Chaplin slipped into the role of the tramp, who falls in love with a blind flower girl here in a cold city. The risk was worth it and the romantic comedy with socially critical undertones became a massive hit with critics and audiences.

In 1931 Charlie Chaplin was enthusiastically received on arrival at the train station in Berlin. He was on a promotional tour for city ​​lights. But at the Friedrichstrasse train station , a few dozen Nazis chanted loudly "Down!" He gave interviews with left-wing circles and was heavily absorbed by them. Chaplin denied it and described himself as apolitical. The right-wing press made a front against him. Chaplin thought the Weimar democracy was stable, but nevertheless worried about politically motivated bans on showing his new film. The film was a success and the Nazi hostility in the run-up to the premiere seemed to have faded away. In several German cities, the SA tried to keep visitors away from the cinemas. After Hitler came to power at the end of January 1933, Chaplin films were not shown in the German Reich for twelve years .

Although the sound film was now already firmly established, brought Chaplin Modern Times (Modern Times) in 1936 yet another silent film in theaters. But he worked with sound effects, also to parody the popular sound films that Chaplin was skeptical of. He feared the vagabond might lose its popularity if he spoke in a certain voice. Only at the end of the film does the tramp sing a song in a fantasy language, as if to prove that no words are needed to tell a story. The box office success confirmed Chaplin's preeminent position as a film comedian. Since Chaplin criticized the excesses of industrialization and capitalism in modern times , conservative circles in the USA accused him of an anti-capitalist and communist attitude. In private he was now in a relationship with his film partner Paulette Goddard , whom he secretly married in 1936.

1940: the great dictator

On October 15, 1940, the premiere of Chaplin's first sound film was The Great Dictator (The Great Dictator). Chaplin's satirical parody of fascism was symbolically directed against US state power and militarism in general. At first, the US censors did not want to approve this anti-Hitler film. The granddaughter Laura Chaplin gave the reason that the Germans had threatened economic sanctions. The American Conservatives initially underestimated Hitler's mania for power and saw him as a great politician, as an ally in Europe against Stalin's Bolshevism . Chaplin's film didn't fit into their concept. President Roosevelt himself wanted the film; for Chaplin, an acute threat of a ban on the strip would have been too risky in the end. The film was particularly successful for Chaplin economically. Famous is Charlie Chaplin's passionate speech towards the end of the film, an urgent appeal to the soldiers and the whole world for democracy, peace and humanity.

Chaplin was mistaken for a Jew by the National Socialists . As an entry in his diary shows, Joseph Goebbels referred to him privately as such as early as 1928. By 1931 at the latest, Chaplin was openly dubbed a Jew by the Nazi press. Chaplin refrained from denying this misinformation during the 1930s and 1940s in solidarity with those persecuted by National Socialism, and only corrected it much later. His friend Ivor Montagu suggested that this claim was why Chaplin produced The Great Dictator ; because he had previously drawn his attention to a Nazi pamphlet with the sentence: "This little Jewish stand-up man is as disgusting as it is boring".

In the early 1940s, Chaplin discovered the young actress Joan Barry and wanted to make a film with her. They started a brief affair with each other. After the relationship ended, Barry showed increasing mental health problems and harassed and threatened Chaplin. After giving birth to their child in 1943, she stated that Chaplin was the father and sued him. A blood test spoke against his paternity, but Barry's lawyer was able to convince the court of the doubtfulness of the tests. Chaplin lost the lawsuit and had to pay money to Barry and her child. The scandal significantly worsened Chaplin's reputation among the American public.

In 1942, the marriage with Paulette Goddard was divorced. Shortly thereafter, Chaplin and Oona O'Neill (1925–1991), daughter of the playwright Eugene O'Neill , met. On June 16, 1943, Charlie Chaplin and eighteen-year-old Oona O'Neill were married. In 1944 the eldest of their eight children, their daughter Geraldine, was born. In 1946 the son Michael Chaplin followed .

1947–1952: Political persecution and problems with re-entry into the USA

In October 1947 had Chaplin repeated before the House Un-American Activities Committee (House Un-American Activities Committee) testify. The FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover , a fierce opponent Chaplin, tried his residence permit to withdraw. In December 1947, the film star published the article "I declare war on Hollywood and its people!" In the English Sunday newspaper Reynold's News .

Although Chaplin achieved his greatest successes in the United States, he retained his British nationality. He saw himself as a citizen of the world. Charles Chaplin was liberal , critical, and later a pacifist, and thus did not fit into the popular image that the government expected of a movie star. People also took offense at his way of life.

Chaplin also clandestinely parodied American society and thus became suspect of the state apparatus . He was accused of a lack of constitutional loyalty. In the 1930s and 1940s, people in the USA could already make themselves suspect as Marxist or Communist by mockingly questioning the prevailing social order. In 1949 and 1951 the Chaplins had two more children: Josephine Chaplin and Victoria Chaplin .

Chaplin's Swiss domicile (1953–1977), since 2016 Chaplin's World - The Modern Times Museum

On September 17, 1952, Chaplin left the United States for a brief visit to England . The occasion was the world premiere of his film playing there spotlight (Limelight). It was the beginning of the McCarthy era , and as the FBI under Hoover suspected him of "un-American activities", the FBI chief at the Immigration and Naturalization Service obtained the revocation of Chaplin's re-entry permit to the one day later, on September 18 United States.

At first he received a re-entry permit from the US authorities. But then a telegram was sent to him stating that on his return, like a new immigrant, he would first have to go to Ellis Island for questioning, where a final decision on his entry would be made. The Ministry of Justice relied on a paragraph according to which entry could be refused on grounds of "morality, health or insanity, or in favor of communism or association with communists or pro-communist organizations".

Chaplin then decided to stay in Europe. He moved to Switzerland in December 1952 and settled in the Manoir de Ban estate above Corsier-sur-Vevey on Lake Geneva , which he bought shortly afterwards.

His previously suspected place of birth, London, was revealed to be unproven when his British secret service files were released. The MI5 chief of defense wrote in the final report to the Americans: "It is strange that we cannot find an entry about Chaplin's birth, but I find it difficult to imagine that this is significant for our security."

It was not until 1996, or more precisely in 2003, that it became known that George Orwell, for the sake of an acquaintance, had given the Information Research Department (IRD), a special department of the British Foreign Office established in 1948 to combat communist infiltration, a list of 38 writers and artists in 1949 , which he accused of pro-communist tendencies. This list mainly contained the names of journalists, but it also included Chaplin.

In 2005, Philipp Bühler certified Chaplin's film Moderne Zeiten, which “seems to summarize the entire 20th century in one image”, “unmistakably Marxist omens”. However, according to Bühler, Chaplin was by no means a communist. “Chaplin wanted to know how it is possible not to become a communist in these times.” As early as December 1935, the Motion Picture Herald said: “He [Chaplin] is certainly a philosopher too, not overly optimistic, but he is First and foremost a showman - as his great civil fortune proves. "

His 1928 hand and footprints outside the TCL Chinese Theater have been removed. The concrete slab with its imprints has been lost to this day. There was controversy about the award of a star to Chaplin on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and this honor was denied for political reasons until 1972.

1953–1957: A King in New York

In 1953 and 1957, his children Eugene Anthony Chaplin and Jane Cecil Chaplin were born.

In 1957 Chaplin processed in the satire A King in New York (A King in New York) the bitter experiences he had made in dealing with the United States. In this film, he also denounced early obscurantism in the USA. Chaplin said: "America is so terribly grim in spite of all that material prosperity."

The film was only shown in the USA in 1973.

1959–1977: The Countess of Hong Kong and Chaplin's final years

Charlie Chaplin on his birthday ( Vevey in Switzerland, 1961)
Chaplin with his wife Oona at Schiphol Airport (Amsterdam), 1965

Annette Emily Chaplin and Christopher James Chaplin were born in 1959 and 1962 . In 1967, Chaplin made the film The Countess of Hong Kong (A Countess from Hong Kong), in which he was seen in a small supporting role as a ship steward . The film with Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in the leading roles received only mixed reviews. Only the film song This Is My Song , composed and written by Chaplin, became an international chart success in the version by Petula Clark . Chaplin wrote the song Smile for Modern Times as early as 1936, which has been covered many times over the decades and has become an evergreen . In 1970 he published Der Zirkus von 1928 again with a new film music composed and partly sung by him, followed in 1971 by The Kid from 1921, also with a new film music and a newly edited version. His last work was a new composition for his silent film drama The Nights of a Beautiful Woman (1923) in 1976 .

In 1972 he returned to the United States at short notice to be awarded an honorary Oscar . His daughter Geraldine later recalled: “They only gave him a ten day visa - we just couldn't believe it. But we were wrong: it gave him new courage to face life. He even said cheerfully: Americans are still afraid of me. ”At the Academy Awards, he received twelve-minute applause from the audience, a record in Oscar history .

After completing The Countess of Hong Kong , Chaplin began to experience more and more physical complaints from the late 1960s; his former robust health has given way to increasing frailty in recent years. Charlie Chaplin died on December 25, 1977 at the age of 88 at home in Corsier-sur-Vevey , Switzerland.

After death

Graves of Chaplin and Oona

On the night of March 1 to March 2, 1978, Chaplin's body was stolen from the cemetery in Corsier-sur-Vevey (Switzerland). The perpetrators wanted to extort 600,000 Swiss francs from the bereaved  . The plan failed, they were caught, and Chaplin's remains were reburied.

“It was surreal, but it also had funny sides,” reported his daughter Geraldine. “We drove my mother's Rolls Royce to hand over the money. There was a policeman hidden in the footwell, a 007 guy with a gun. He was prone to motion sickness and vomited in the middle of an operation. ”“ A post officer overheard the radio traffic. He was on his lunch break and thought: Action! He clung to us with the mail truck. All around us there were plainclothes policemen who immediately got the postman out of the car. Concerned Swiss citizens took it for a mail robbery, noted down the numbers of the civil strife and chased the local police on to their own colleagues. It was like one last Chaplin film. "

His wife then had a 2 m thick layer of concrete put in place. After the death of his widow Oona, the grave was concreted over in 1991. Based on this, the play Kidnappin 'Chaplin by Martin Kolozs was created in 2008 , which premiered on June 15 of the same year as part of the 4th  Tyrolean Dramatists Festival in Austria .

On the promenade in Vevey on Lake Geneva there is a sculpture of Chaplin made by the English sculptor John Doubleday .

In 2004 a Chaplin's walking stick sold for £ 47,800 at a movie props auction in London. A mustache to the movie The Great Dictator grossed just under £ 12,000, another around £ 18,000.

After 66 years of oblivion, a novel with the title Footlights by Chaplin appeared in the Cineteca di Bologna .

The silent film star, who long ignored the beginning of the sound film era, was also a film composer. Today you can often hear his short pieces in classical concerts.

The mansion in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Chaplin's last place of residence, is now a Swiss cultural heritage and has been open to the public as a museum under the name Chaplin's World (also Chaplin's World by Grévin ) since April 2016 .

Classification and working method

Chaplin, 1912

With Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, Chaplin is one of the most famous comedians of the silent film era. Chaplin liked to stage romantic love stories in which women are consciously staged as idealized objects of longing. In addition, his films are not lacking in pathos. Another characteristic feature of Chaplin is the use of largely unknown actors, whose participation he in many cases - e. B. Henry Bergman , Albert Austin and Al Ernest Garcia  - some of them trusted for decades. He had one of his longest partnerships with his permanent cameraman Roland Totheroh , who accompanied him on almost all films between 1916 and 1947.

Regarding camera work and tricks in his films, Chaplin commented: “Personally, I detest all tricks: a shot through the fireplace from the point of view of a piece of coal or the driving shot with which the actor is accompanied through the hotel lobby, as if someone is on a bicycle behind him bring here; Something like that seems cheap and too thick to me. ”Such“ pompous effects ”are boring and are wrongly referred to with the much overused word“ art ”. The camera should not play itself in the foreground, but should follow the movements of the actor. "The cardinal virtue in filming is still the right economy of time", that is, with quick cuts and a good resolution of a scene. Against the criticism that his camera work is old-fashioned and not moving with the times, Chaplin defended himself in his autobiography that the technology was the result of his own thinking about logic and conception. “If art has to move with the times, Rembrandt would be nothing more than a forerunner of Van Gogh ”.

Chaplin was one of the founding fathers of the dream factory and of comedy film in general, but he wasn't the Hollywood star he's often referred to as: Hollywood didn't even exist while he was already a star. In his autobiography, for example, Chaplin distanced himself greatly from the later Hollywood with its studio system . As a filmmaker, artistic independence was particularly important to him, which hardly existed in the studio system. It is also not true that his films always promote the “good in people”. There was brutality in his early works and a Charlie who wasn't nice. In one film, he gives a child a gun without knowing it. About acting, he said that a great actor - even if it sounds self-centered - would love himself in this particular role. Chaplin was not fundamentally bad about acting techniques like method acting , but criticized that such a thing could not be taught: "If it is necessary to perform mental operations on a student, it proves that this student should give up acting."

Chaplin, 1965

Chaplin set milestones in film history. “The Kid” is a previously unseen combination of film comedy and social drama. The television magazine Prisma writes in its short biography of Chaplin that he was the first "world star of film" and that his importance for the arts of the 20th century can only be compared with that of Pablo Picasso.

As early as 1929, the philosopher and literary critic Walter Benjamin emphasized the special role of humor in film, as a trigger for an “affect of collective laughter”: “Chaplin's films”, Benjamin noted even before modern times, “were at the same time most international and the most revolutionary affect of the masses, laughter. ”According to his theory, this laughter can, under certain circumstances, have a healing effect; especially when, as with Chaplin, a relativization and exposure of existing conflicts in society precedes on a sensual level.


After 66 years of neglected storage in a film archive at the Cineteca di Bologna , a novel with the title Footlights by Chaplin emerged. The story of a dancer and a clown later formed the basis for the script for Limelight. The cinematheque gained fame in advance through the Chaplin project. The Cineteca was given the task of restoring Chaplin's entire cinematic oeuvre .

Born into a poor family, he had already performed vocal performances in the Soho district (London) as a teenager , before he was an actor on stages with non-electric lighting. At the beginning of the second third of the 19th century, the kerosene and gas lamps in the limelight were supplemented or replaced in many places by Drummond's light (English term Limelight, often translated as "limelight"). Chaplin called his novel in the design Footlight, for traditional, glistening bright " limestone lights ": foot lights that are below and on a stage for lighting.

According to the film historian David Robinson , the filmmaker was inspired for the storyline by a "brief but decisive encounter with the Russian choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in 1916". According to the Cinematheque of Bologna, the writing style of the script is reminiscent of the novelist Charles Dickens , mainly due to the sophisticated elaboration of the novel's characters. The Kinemathek is one of the leading institutions for film reconstructions worldwide. The family of the deceased gave her his estate. It contained several typed versions of the manuscript. The now published fragments of the novel are illustrated in the book Footlights with The world of limelight with documents and photos from the artist's estate. Robinson acted as co-author, the Cineteca di Bologna as editor.

Prizes, honors and awards

Films in the top 250 of the IMDb
place Movie
39 modern times
42 City lights
57 The great dictator
101 The vagabond and the child
151 Gold rush


The hobby boxer



  • 1915: Charlie Against All (His New Job)
  • 1915: A Night Out
  • 1915: The Champion (The Champion)
  • 1915: In the Park
  • 1915: Kidnapping (A Jitney Elopement)
  • 1915: The Tramp (The Tramp)
  • 1915: By the Sea (By the Sea)
  • 1915: His Regeneration ( cameo )
  • 1915: Work
  • 1915: A Woman
  • 1915: The Bank (The Bank)
  • 1915: Kidnapped (Shanghai)
  • 1915: A Night in the Show
  • 1916: Police (Police)
  • 1916: Burlesque on Carmen
  • 1918: Triple Trouble (edited from unfinished Chaplin films)


First National

United Artists

Charlie and Sid Grauman filming in winter (The Gold Rush) .

English productions

  • 1957: A King in New York (A King in New York)
  • 1959: The Chaplin Revue (compilation of A Dog's Life, Gun Over! And Charlie Chaplin - Haunted Innocence / The Pilgrim )
  • 1967: The Countess of Hong Kong (A Countess from Hong Kong), cameo


  • My autobiography. Simon & Schuster, 1964.
    • The story of my life. S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1964 (edition expanded by one image section: Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt 1998, ISBN 3-596-14061-7 ).
  • The roots of my comedy. In: General independent Jewish weekly newspaper. Marx, Düsseldorf March 3, 1967. ISSN  0002-5941 .


Films about Charles Chaplin


2008: Kidnappin 'Chaplin by Martin Kolozs , premiere June 15, 2008, commissioned work for the 4th Tyrolean Dramatists Festival, Austria .

Feature and radio play

  • The man in the Moon. A radio ballet with Charlie Chaplin. Feature by Evelyn Dörr . Director: Claudia Leist. WDR 2002.
  • Charlie's Ascension. Detective radio play by Sabine Bohnen and Bernd Breitbach. Director: Wolfgang Rindfleisch. Deutschlandradio Kultur 2005 (the piece takes up the story of the desecration of the graves).


Web links

Commons : Charlie Chaplin  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Matthias Gretschel: The Charlie Chaplin secret service file. Hamburger Abendblatt , February 18, 2012, accessed on February 18, 2012. Compare also KV 2/3700 ( Memento of April 5, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) in the British National Archives .
  2. Pierre Chessex: Chaplin, Charlie. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland .
  3. American Film Institute's list of the 50 Greatest American Screen Legends ( Memento from July 16, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  4. ^ Charles Chaplin, Sr. in the Find a Grave database . Retrieved April 29, 2016.
  5. Charles, the only one. In: Der Spiegel 41/1952. October 8, 1952. At:
  6. The first world star of the film. Charlie Chaplin. ( Memento of February 24, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). In: Frankfurter Rundschau. 2013.
  7. G. Prause: Geniuses in School. Legend and truth. Lit Verlag, Berlin 2007.
  8. Charles Chaplin. Universal Lexicon 2012.
  9. Quoted in: David Robinson: Chaplin. His life, his art. P. 114.
  10. David Robinson: Chaplin. His life, his art. P. 145.
  11. Charles Chaplin: The Story of My Life. P. 151.
  12. ^ The Cinema. 1914. Quoted in: Ted Okuda, David Maska: Charlie Chaplin at Keystone & Essanay: Dawn of the Tramp. iUniverse, Lincoln 2005, ISBN 0-595-36598-1 , p. 21.
  13. Charlie Chaplin was born 125 years ago. ( Memento from April 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). On:
  14. A rising movie star. In:  Cinematographische Rundschau and Schausteller-Zeitung “Die Schwalbe” / Neue Kino-Rundschau , August 29, 1915, SS 8, p. 60 (online at ANNO ).Template: ANNO / Maintenance / kir
  15. Charles J. McGuirk: Chaplinitis. Motion Picture Magazine 9, No. 6 (July / August 1915), p. 87.
  16. A strange loiter. ( Memento from December 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) On:
  17. ^ Wolfram Tichy: Chaplin. Rowohlt Verlag, Hamburg 1974, pp. 23-24.
  18. ^ For example, in Kyp Harness: The Art of Charlie Chaplin: A Film-by-Film Analysis. McFarland, Jefferson 2008, ISBN 978-0-7864-3193-9 , p. 58; Jeffrey Vance: Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema. Abrams, New York 2003, ISBN 0-8109-4532-0 , p. 56.
  19. David Robinson: Chaplin. His life, his art. P. 214 f.
  20. ^ Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography. Simon & Schuster, 1964, p. 188.
  21. David Robinson: Chaplin. His life, his art. P. 315.
  22. Jack Spears: Hollywood: The Golden Era. Barnes, South Brunswick 1971, ISBN 0-498-07552-4 , p. 235.
  24. "My grandfather was prevented for years by the US government from filming the Great Dictator because the German government threatened economic sanctions if there was a satire about Hitler."
  25. Annette Langer : Chaplin Documentation: "Excellent accounting with Hitler". On: Interview with Michael Kloft .
  26. Closing speech “The great dictator” on:
  27. Elke Fröhlich (editor): The diaries of Joseph Goebbels , Vol. 1 / II, 2005, p. 340. Entry from March 15, 1928: "[...] seen the Chaplin film" Cirkus ". Sometimes laughable. Very funny Grotesque. The last thing is missing. The Jew is not creative. "
  28. First, probably in The Attack , Goebbels' Zeitung, in March 1931 on the occasion of Chaplin's visit to Berlin from March 9th, among others. with Albert Einstein , literally: Jewish Filmaugust, online ( memento of July 13, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), accompanying material, Vienna 2010, p. 14; and in the anti-Semitic propaganda film, The Eternal Jew, shot in 1940 .
  29. Chaplin on this, decades later: “I've never tried to deny it, but I'm not. All great geniuses had Jewish blood in their veins. No, I'm not a Jew, but I must have a drop of it in my blood. I hope so at least. ”Accompanying material Vienna 2010, a. a. O, p. 14.
  30. Quoted from Martin Krauss: The love of celluloid. In: Zs. Jungle. Supplement to jungle world , 32, August 12, 2010, p. 17.
  31. ^ Art and Culture - Chaplin versus Hollywood . In: Arbeiter-Zeitung . Vienna December 11, 1947, p. 4 , column 1 below ( - the open online archive - digitized).
  32. ^ Deutsches Filminstitut : Charles Spencer Chaplin - a chronology.
  33. ^ Wolfram Tichy: Chaplin biography. Rowohlt, 1974, 157 pages.
  34. The Charlie Chaplin Secret Service File. On:
  35. Timothy Garton Ash: Orwell's List. In: The New York Review of Books . Volume 50, Number 14, September 25, 2003.
  36. Philipp Bühler: Modern Times - Man against Machine. ( Memento of March 7, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) In: Der Fluter. (Magazine of the Federal Agency for Civic Education ). December 1, 2005.
  37. a b Seven bizarre facts from the life of Charlie Chaplin. On:
  38. a b The Path of Fame - Hollywood's Walk of Fame. ( Memento from April 19, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) On:
  39. ^ Daily Bleed. On:
  40. 125 years of Charlie Chaplin: Hollywood's first big star. On:
  41. - biography and filmography by Charlie Chaplin ( Memento from February 13, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  42. A star with a stick and mustache. ( Memento from April 19, 2014 in the Internet Archive ). On:
  43. ^ The Telegraph: Charlie Chaplin's honorary Oscar award stolen in Paris.
  44. This is how Chaplin's corpse was stolen - daughter Geraldine: It also had funny sides. On:
  45. auctioned cane from Charlie Chaplin for 106,000 francs - ( Memento of January 8, 2006 in the Internet Archive ).
  46. Chaplin's novel “Footlights” appears as a book. On:
  47. The most famous man in the world. On:
  48. ^ Opening of "Chaplin's World By Grévin" in Corsier-sur-Vevey on April 16, 2016. At: Retrieved April 21, 2014.
  49. Autobiography: The Story of My Life. S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1964, p. 255.
  50. Autobiography: The Story of My Life. S. Fischer, Frankfurt 1964, p. 260.
  51. Interview with a film expert. "Charlie Chaplin was one of the founding fathers of the dream factory". ( Memento from April 21, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) On:
  52. Chaplin biography in the television magazine Prisma.
  53. The world of screwdriving. On:
  54. "spotlight" template: Unpublished Chaplin novel appears. On:
  55. ^ "Footlights": Charlie Chaplin's only novel is published. On:
  56. The Top 250 of the IMDb (as of April 26, 2020)
  57. Secret papers: Charlie Chaplin too frivolous for accolade. At:
  58. Accolade for Charlie Chaplin - The most important award of his life. Retrieved on March 3, 2020 (German).
  59. ^ Honorary Members: Charles Chaplin. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed March 8, 2019 .
  60. ^ Lexicon: Freemasons., archived from the original on February 2, 2011 ; Retrieved July 28, 2012 .
  61. Famous Non-Freemasons. Edward L. King, accessed August 5, 2012 .
  62. No Masons are. Dr. phil. Roland Müller, accessed on August 5, 2012 .
  63. ^ Famous Moose Members. (No longer available online.) Moose International, archived from the original on October 11, 2012 ; Retrieved October 10, 2012 .
  64. news! On: