15 Things You Should Know About Charlie Chaplin

The Little Tramp in a scene of City Lights
The Little Tramp in a scene of 'City Lights' | © Breve Storia Del Cinema Flickr
Andrea Fiorini

Born in London in 1889, Charlie Chaplin first visited the United States at the age of 21. It was here that he broke into the cinema industry thanks to his lively personality and endless talent.

With Chaplin’s much-beloved character ‘Little Tramp’, he is considered to have been one of the best actors and directors of the silent-film era. Behind the art, however, there are many curious things you didn’t know about Chaplin himself.

A photographic portrait of Charlie Chaplin as a young man, Hollywood

He started performing as a child

Both Chaplin’s parents were in the entertainment industry. It is reported that, at age five, Chaplin replaced his mother (who was suffering from laryngitis) at a music-hall show, singing his first song Jack Jones in front of a crowd of soldiers. At age 12, he appeared as ‘Billy the page boy’ in a rendition of Sherlock Holmes.

The Little Tramp in a scene of City Lights

He didn’t win a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest

In 1915, Chaplin took part in the Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest. Unbelievably, the judges and audience didn’t realise that he was the real one! It is reported that, instead of winning, he took home third place.

He was the first actor to appear in Time Magazine

Chaplin was the first actor ever to appear in Time Magazine in the 6th July 1925 issue. The magazine is famous for its influential and controversial covers and this was a big step for the actor.

Chaplin playing the cello in 1915

He was a great musician and composer

Chaplin composed the music for many of his own movies, despite never having had proper music training. In 1972, Chaplin actually won an Oscar for the music in Limelight (1952), which he helped compose.

Little Tramps behind the camera

He became richer than the president of the United States

During this time, the president of the United States was paid $75,000 per year. In 1916, after Chaplin signed a contract with the Mutual Film Corporation of New York, his salary increased to $670,000.

The Little Tramp in a scene of Modern Times

He refused the Talkies

Becoming one of the most iconic representatives of silent cinema, Chaplin refused to adopt audio and dialogue for a long time, even though sound technology in the film industry was becoming increasingly popular. He continued with his own idea of cinema, convinced that sound would ruin the Little Tramp. However, he gradually introduced music and other sounds as a device in his later movies, including City Light (1931), Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940).

He never became a citizen of the United States

Chaplin never became an American citizen, despite having lived in the United States for almost 40 years. After the movie Modern Times, he gained a reputation as a communist sympathiser. In 1952, the U.S. government revoked his permit, meaning Chaplin was not allowed to return to the United States after a holiday to England. As a result, Chaplin moved to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. He only returned to the United States in 1972, to accept his honorary Oscar.

Chaplin with his fourth wife Oona and six of their eight children

He had four younger wives and 11 children

Chaplin’s first marriage was with Mildred Harris in 1918. After their divorce, he married the actress Lita Grey in 1924. When the actor was 47, he married his third wife, Paulette Goddard. His fourth and final marriage was with Oona O’Neill in 1943, when Chaplin was 54. She gave birth to 8 of the 11 Chaplin children, and they lived together until Chaplin’s death.

He saved Disney

In 1937, Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its first feature-length animated movie. Walt Disney was unsure about how well the movie would do, but Chaplin reportedly encouraged the filmmaker to complete and distribute Snow White. The two became business associates and Chaplin played an important role in the spread of Disney’s name.

He had blue eyes

The audience had always believed that Chaplin had brown eyes. This is due to the black and white cinema era; most people were not able to recognise that Chaplin had fabulous blue eyes!

Chaplin and Albert Einstein at the City Lights premiere

He knew Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was a guest of honor during the premiere of Chaplin’s movie City Lights in Los Angeles on the 2nd February 1931.

Chaplin receiving an Honorary Academy Award from Jack Lemmon

There is an asteroid called Charlie Chaplin

When Lyudmila Karachkina discovered a main-belt asteroid on the 4th October 1981, four years after the death of the actor, she decided to call it 3623 Chaplin. Not many actors can say they have had the same honour!

His daughter interpreted his mother in his film biography

In 1992, Geraldine Chaplin portrayed the role of her grandmother Hannah Chaplin in the movie Chaplin, the adaption of the actor’s life.

Chaplin with Gandhi in Canning Town, London

He met Gandhi in London

On the 22nd September 1931, Chaplin met the pacifist leader in Canning Town, East End Dock — one of the poorest London boroughs — before Gandhi attended a conference.

Chaplin’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

He only received a star on the Walk Of Fame in 1972

The only time Chaplin returned to the United States after his exile was in 1972, when he finally received his first Oscar and a star on the Walk of Fame. The project to give him a star had begun 20 years prior to release, but was initially refused due to his political views.

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