World’s greatest clown rose from rags to riches | Sunday Observer

World’s greatest clown rose from rags to riches

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin

Most of us know Charlie Chaplin as a comedian who acted in silent films, but his life-story itself is good material for a film.

Charlie Spencer Chaplin was born in London in 1889. His father was an alcoholic and his mother was going insane. As a result, he spent his childhood in orphanages where he became the butt-end of ridicule and humiliation. When he took up acting, he was a penniless street urchin. By sheer dint of hard work and dedication he became one of America’s first movie-star millionaires. Not only was he an actor but also a director and producer of silent films at the beginning of the 20th century.

Chaplin made his mark acting in, The Little Tramp, The Kid, City Lights, The Gold Rush, and Modern Times. When he died at the age of 88, he was worth $20 million. He is remembered for having brought more joy and more laughter to more people than anyone else who ever lived.

Modern entertainment

Chaplin acted in 80 films. Some of them are still exhibited commercially as modern entertainment. According to a rough estimate, 300 million people have seen his films. In his autobiography he says he became a child actor at age five because of his mother’s condition. She used to act in dramas produced to entertain soldiers. When she could not speak properly on stage, the soldiers laughed at her and made catcalls. Then she left the stage in disgust. The stage manager who had noted Chaplin’s acting abilities allowed him to act in his productions. His first performance on stage was singing a well-known song. When he made the audience happy they threw money on to the stage as a mark of appreciation. When he said, “I’d pick up the money first then sing later,” the viewers started laughing loudly again.

Encouraged by their response, Chaplin started dancing and mimicking some well-known characters in society. He even imitated his mother singing a song. His acting prowess had a hectic impact on the audience. The viewers again threw money on to the stage and his mother came to carry him away. It created more laughter. It was his first appearance on stage and his mother’s last.

Chaplin launched his movie career as The Little Tramp after immigrating to America. In fact, the Tramp was born in 1914. Mack Sennett, Chaplin’s new producer, had the difficult task of finding a suitable costume for him and a mould into which he could be put. While looking around the dressing room, Chaplin saw a pair of big pants left behind by an actor. He picked it up and tried to wear it. However, he had to tie the waist with a piece of string. Then he saw a small jacket on a hook and a small Darby hat. After wearing them he decided to wear a false moustache. Finally, he selected a pair of shoes too big for him and wore them putting the left shoe on the right foot and vice versa.

Many-sided tramp

Although he had no idea of what he was going to do, he told the manager, “This fellow is a many-sided tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, or a polo player. However, he is not above picking up cigarette butts or robbing a baby of its candy. And, of course, if the occasion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear – but only in extreme anger!” On hearing this Sennett started laughing until his body began to shake.

“The Tramp,” released in 1915, is considered the first Chaplin classic. In the film Chaplin saves a girl from a gang of robbers. As a reward he gets a job on her father’s farm. When the robbers try to rob the farmer he chases them away but is shot in the leg. Then the girl marries him. However, true to his character, he leaves the farm looking for another job.

In all his films he evoked sympathy and pathos to a great extent. Above all, the films appealed to a large segment of the audience because Chaplin could make them laugh with his brilliant performance. In 1916 he signed a $670,000-a-year contract but he did not change his life-style. With all his money he could have led an extravagant life, but he did not do so. He had no fear of being poor again. His strange behaviour surprised other Hollywood actors.

Three divorces

Although he made people laugh, Chaplin had to go through three divorces and he also lost a paternity suit. In 1952 he decided to return to Britain and the U.S. Government revoked his permit to re-enter the country. He was accused of moral turpitude and sympathy for communism. In his autobiography he wrote, “My prodigious sin was and still is, being a nonconformist. Although I am not a communist, I refuse to fall in line by hating them.”

In 1952 Chaplin moved to a villa overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland and lived with his fourth wife – Oona O’Neill – the daughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill. At the time of his marriage in 1943, he was 54 and O’Neill was 18. They had eight children. Chaplin remained a strict disciplinarian as far as his children were concerned.

Max Eastman in “Ladies’ Home Journal” said, “Chaplin’s life had been filled with what most lives consist of yearning after – wealth and fame and creative play and beautiful women – but he does not know how to enjoy any of them.”

In his last stages of life Chaplin was confined to a wheelchair. His sight, speech and hearing were failing. However, Queen Elizabeth II conferred on him a knighthood in 1975. He also received the coveted Oscar Award from Hollywood in 1972.

On December 25, 1977 Charlie Chaplin died peacefully in his sleep.

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