Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sir Charles Chaplin - King Of Comedy, Champion Of Downtrodden

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an Academy Award-winning British comedic actor.

Chaplin was nicknamed the King Of Comedy and was also a notable director, composer and musician in early Hollywood cinema.

He was also a champion of the downtrodden. He greatly influenced other performers.

Chaplin acted in, directed, scripted, produced and scored his own films.

His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years.

His high-profile public and private life encompassed both adulation and controversy. With Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith, Chaplin co-founded United Artists in 1919.

Chaplin's principal character was The Tramp, a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman. The character wore a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes and a derby, carried a bamboo cane and had a signature toothbrush moustache.

Chaplin was born in East Street, Walworth, London. He was of British and Indian Iranian descent (his maternal grandmother was Indian Iranian).

His parents, who taught him to sing, were both entertainers in the music hall tradition. They separated before he was three.

Chaplin's father Charles Sr. was an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress.

His father died of alcoholism when Chaplin was 12 in 1901.

A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother Hannah. She later developed a mental illness and was admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum.

Chaplin was subsequently placed in a workhouse with his brother Sydney.

Hannah died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after having been brought to the US by her sons.

Unknown to Chaplin and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother.

The boy, Wheeler Dryden, was raised abroad by his father but later connected with the rest of the family and went to work for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio.

Chaplin first toured America with the Fred Karno (Fred Westcott) troupe from 1910 to 1912.

In the Karno Company was Arthur Stanley Jefferson, who would later become known as comedian Stan Laurel.

Chaplin and Laurel shared a room in a boarding house.

Laurel returned to Britain but Chaplin remained in the United States.

In late 1913, Chaplin's act with the Karno Troupe was seen by film producer Mack Sennett, who hired him for his studio, the Keystone Film Company.

Chaplin's first film appearance was in Making A Living, a one-reel comedy released in 1914.

At Keystone Studios, Chaplin became an instant success.

Chaplin's earliest films were made for Mack Sennett's Keystone Studios, where he developed his Tramp character and quickly learnt the art and craft of film making.

The Tramp was first presented to the public in Chaplin's second film Kid Auto Races at Venice (released 1914).

Chaplin was soon entrusted with directing and editing his own films. He made 34 shorts for Sennett during his first year in pictures.

Chaplin also developed his own company, which included actress Edna Purviance and comic villains Leo White and Bud Jamison.

In 1916, the Mutual Film Corporation paid Chaplin US$670,000 to produce a dozen comedies. He was given near complete artistic control and produced 12 films over an 18-month period. They included Easy Street, One AM, The Pawnshop and The Adventurer.

In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the United Artists film distribution company with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith, all of whom were seeking to escape the growing power consolidation of film distributors and financiers in the developing Hollywood studio system.

This move, along with complete control of his film production through his studio, assured Chaplin's independence as a film-maker. He served on the board of UA until the early 1950s.

All Chaplin's United Artists pictures were of feature length, and they included A Woman Of Paris (1923), The Gold Rush (1925) and The Circus (1928).

After the arrival of sound films, Chaplin made City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936). These were essentially silent films scored with his own music and sound effects.

Chaplin's dialogue films made in Hollywood were The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952).

The best known of several songs he composed was Smile, composed for the film Modern Times and famously covered by Nat King Cole.

This Is My Song from Chaplin's last film A Countess From Hong Kong was a number one hit in several different languages in the 1960s (most notably the version by Dame Petula Clark).

Chaplin's first dialogue picture, The Great Dictator was an act of defiance against the barbaric and genocidal German leader Adolf Hitler and Fascism, filmed and released in the United States one year before the US abandoned its policy of isolationism to enter World War II.

Chaplin's political sympathies always lay with the Left.

Modern Times depicted workers and poor people in dismal conditions.

The final dramatic speech in The Great Dictator was critical of following patriotic nationalism without question.

He also gave the Soviet Union strong support when it joined the Allies in World War II.

After the war, Chaplin criticised the capitalist economy in the 1947 black comedy Monsieur Verdoux.

His following European-made film A King in New York (1957), satirised the political persecution and paranoia that had forced him to leave the US five years earlier.

After this film, Chaplin lost interest in making overt political statements.

During his days in the US, Chaplin was accused by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of being a Communist.

Members of the US Congress even threatened to call him as a witness in hearings.

This was never done, probably from fear of Chaplin's ability to lampoon the investigators.

This was probably a wise decision, as Chaplin said that, if called, he wanted to appear in his Tramp costume.

In 1952, when Chaplin left the US for brief home trip in Britain, his re-entry permit was revoked.

He decided not to re-enter the US and settled in Vevey, near Geneva, Switzerland.

He briefly returned to the United States in April 1972 to receive an Honorary Oscar and was welcomed warmly.

In that year, he won an Oscar for Best Music in an Original Dramatic Score for the 1952 film Limelight, which co-starred Claire Bloom.

Chaplin's final two films were made in London both of which he starred in, wrote, directed and produced: A King In New York (1957) and A Countess From Hong Kong (1967), which also starred Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.

Chaplin, who had a reputation as a playboy, was married several times - to actresses Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Georgia Hale and finally Oona O’Neill.

Chaplin was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom in 1975, during the Prime Ministership of Lord Harold Wilson.

Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977 and was buried in the Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery, Vaud, Switzerland.

Three months later, his coffin was stolen by a small group of Polish and Bulgarian mechanics in an attempt to extort money from his family.

The plot failed, the robbers were captured and the coffin was recovered 11 weeks later near Lake Geneva.

His body was reburied under two metres of concrete to prevent further attempts.

Statues of Chaplin have been erected at the Colosseum Theatre in Oslo, Norway, Waterville in Kerry, Ireland and Leicester Square in London, Britain.

Chaplin received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in the 1970s.

In 1985 he was honoured with his image on a postage stamp of the United Kingdom and in 1994 he appeared on a United States postage stamp.

In 1992, a film was made about Chaplin's life titled Chaplin. It was directed by Oscar-winner Lord Richard Attenborough (of Gandhi fame) and starred Robert Downey Jr (of Iron Man fame) as Chaplin and his daughter Geraldine Chaplin (of Dr Zhivago and Mother Teresa fame) as Hannah.

The film earned Downey a Best Actor Oscar nomination in 1993.

Chaplin was left-handed.

Spencer Dryden, the drummer for Jefferson Airplane from 1967-1970, was the son of Chaplin's half-brother Wheeler Dryden.