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Charlie Chaplin DIRECTOR


Charlie Chaplin, one of Hollywood’s earliest and greatest stars, helped shape the film industry for the better.  An immensely gifted director, he is one of the most famous names when it comes to movies, even today.  The multitalented actor, director, and screenwriter was born Charles Spencer Chaplin in a poor district of London, England on April 16, 1889.  He endured an impoverished childhood.  Both parents were music hall performers, though his father, an alcoholic, left the family when Chaplin was only three.  This left him alone with his mentally unstable mother and older half-brother. 

By age five Chaplin was on the London stage, and very quickly he began appearing in more and more shows.  At eighteen he joined Fred Karno’s troupe’s 1910 U.S. tour.  In December of 1913, the young actor arrived in Los Angeles at Keystone Studio, where he had signed a one-year contract with the company’s comedy director, Mack Sennett.  He appeared in thirty five films over the next year, but after his eleventh, he expressed a desire to sit in the director’s chair. 

With $1,500 insured in case of the movie’s failure, Sennett allowed Chaplin to direct his own picture, Caught in the Rain (1914).  The film turned out to be one of Keystone’s most successful features, and the actor proceeded to direct every other short for the studio that he acted in.  Directing approximately one film a week, Chaplin later recalled that this time at Keystone in which he was both in front and behind the camera was one of the most exciting times in his career. 

At the end of his contract with Sennett the filmmaker joined the Essanay Film Company, who offered him a much higher salary than Keystone.  Here he was also virtually in total creative control over the fourteen features that he made.  After making one film, His New Job (1915), Chaplin moved from the studio’s Chicago branch to their small studio in Niles, California.  Here he was able to develop his skills thoughtfully and more slowly than before – there was a month between the release of his second movie for the studio, A Night Out (1915), and his third The Champion (1915).  The director also began infusing more emotion, starting with The Tramp (1915), which is sometimes referred to as Chaplin’s first classic.  As well, he was becoming more ambitious with his pictures, even blowing up a small schooner in Shanghaied (1915) for dramatic effect.  One of his most important discoveries during his stay at Essanay, however, was actress Edna Purviance.  For the next eight years she would be the leading lady in many of his films.

After making A Burlesque in Carmen (1915) for Essanay, the now highly in demand Chaplin signed on with the Mutual Film Corporation to create twelve two-reel comedies.  Over the next sixteen months he worked to make the shorts, with a salary that made him one of the highest paid people in the world.  Some of his best work came out during these months, including One A.M. (1916), The Rink (1916), The Vagabond (1916), Easy Street (1917), and The Immigrant (1917). 

Chaplin created a distribution agreement with First National Distributors in 1917, in order to satisfy his ambition of having his own studio, called Chaplin Studios.  His contract called for twelve films in one year, although he only actually delivered eight films in a span of five years.  His first picture for them, A Dog’s Life (1918), proved to be the longest (three reels) and richest feature he had ever created.  Film critic Louis Delluc even described it as “cinema’s first total work of art”.  He followed with another three-reeler, Shoulder Arms (1918).

In September 1918 the director married seventeen year old actress Mildred Harris.  Shortly after, in January of 1919, due to dissatisfaction with First National, Chaplin teamed up with Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith, William S. Hart, and Mary Pickford, to form a new distribution company - United Artists. 

Back with First National he released his first disappointment Sunnyside (1919).  It was followed by another box office miss, A Day’s Pleasure (1919).  Only months before Chaplin’s divorce with Harris (although they had been separated for one and a half years prior, probably caused by a child they had together that died at three days old), he put out his full length feature debut.  The Kid (1921), which took over a year to produce, was an enormous success.  It turned into the second highest grossing film until that time, only beaten by D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).  It was with this picture that Chapin turned into an international success.

The director then worked hard to resolve his contract with First National, completing The Idle Class (1921), Pay Day (1922), his last two-reeler, and The Pilgrim (1923).  By this point, Chaplin and the distributing company had finally worked out his contract, and he was free to begin working with his own distribution company United Artists. 

The director’s first feature for United Artists was A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate (1923), Chaplin’s first serious drama.  Unfortunately, it failed at the box office.  His next, however, the comedic The Gold Rush (1925), became a classic.  While filming the picture, Chaplin’s wife (as of 1924) and leading lady, sixteen year old Lita Grey, became pregnant and had to be replaced by Georgia Hale. 

The next year he began working on his subsequent picture, The Circus (1928).  During filming, he divorced his second wife, who bore one more child during their marriage.  On the upside, the movie earned Chaplin his first Academy Award, called an Honorary Award. 

Even though sound had arrived, the director decided to make his next film, City Lights (1931), a non-talkie.  However, he composed the entire score for the picture, astonishing the press and audience.  The premieres for this movie were also astounding – one of the guests was even Albert Einstein.  He took a vacation after the release of the film, where he met his future wife, Paulette Goddard.  She co-starred in his next film, Modern Times (1936), the same year they married.  The movie became his first to feature spoken sound, although the solitary talking scene encompassed only gibberish.  Four years later he directed The Great Dictator (1940), his first talkie.  The film, which was an act of defiance against Nazism, earned three Oscar nominations. 

While working on his next picture the director divorced Goddard and married eighteen year old Oona O’Neill, whom he would remain with until his death.  His film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947), was about the career of a French murderer who pulled philosophical contrasts between his own murders and the murders licensed by war.  The movie was condemned by the American Legion of Decency, although many movie critics, especially those in Europe, praised it. 

His last American film was Limelight (1952), a nostalgic tribute to his youth in the theaters of London.  After the picture, Chaplin went on vacation in Europe, and was told his attempts to re-enter the U.S. would be challenged due to accusations of un-American activities.  Following his exile his sold his American possessions and settled down in Vevey, Switzerland.  He made his last two films in London; A King in New York (1957) and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). 

In 1972 he returned to the United States, greeted by the Americans with open arms.  He was given an Honorary Award at the Academy Awards for the incalculable effect he had made in making motion pictures the art form of the century, as well as a star for motion pictures on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (which he actually has two of).  A year later he picked up an Oscar for his film Limelight, which had not been played in Los Angeles prior to 1972.  In 1975 Queen Elizabeth II of England named him Knight Commander of the British Empire, and he became Sir Charles Chaplin.  

In the early morning of December 25, 1977, while at his home in Switzerland, eighty-eight year old Chaplin passed away in his sleep.  He was surrounded by his wife and seven of their eight children when he died.  A film about the great director’s life was released in 1992, called Chaplin.


1914   Caught in the Rain 

1914   Dough and Dynamite  

1914   Gentlemen of Nerve  

1914   Getting Acquainted  

1914   His Musical Career  

1914   His New Profession   

1914   His Prehistoric Past  

1914   His Trysting Place  

1914   Laughing Gas  

1914   Mabel's Married Life   

1914   Recreation   

1914   The Face on the Bar Room Floor   

1914   The Masquerader   

1914   The New Janitor  

1914   The Property Man   

1914   The Rounders

1914   Those Love Pangs  

1914   Twenty Minutes of Love   

1915   A Burlesque on Carmen  

1915   A Jitney Elopement  

1915   A Night in the Show  

1915   A Night Out  

1915   A Woman  

1915   By the Sea  

1915   His New Job  

1915   In the Park 

1915   Shanghaied  

1915   The Bank  

1915   The Champion  

1915   The Tramp  

1915   Work  

1916   Behind the Screen  

1916   Burlesque on Carmen 

1916   One A.M.  

1916   Police  

1916   The Count  

1916   The Fireman  

1916   The Floorwalker  

1916   The Pawnshop  

1916   The Rink  

1916   The Vagabond  

1917   Easy Street  

1917   The Adventurer  

1917   The Cure 

1917   The Immigrant  

1918   A Dog's Life  

1918   Chase Me Charlie 

1918   How to Make Movies   

1918   Shoulder Arms 

1918   The Bond  

1918   Triple Trouble  

1919   A Day's Pleasure  

1919   Sunnyside  

1919   The Professor  

1921   The Idle Class  

1921   The Kid 

1922   Nice and Friendly  

1922   Pay Day  

1923   A Woman of Paris: A Drama of Fate 

1923   The Pilgrim 

1925   The Gold Rush 

1928   The Circus 

1931   City Lights 

1936   Modern Times 

1938   Charlie Chaplin Carnival 

1938   Charlie Chaplin Cavalcade 

1938   The Charlie Chaplin Festival 

1940   The Great Dictator 

1947   Monsieur Verdoux 

1952   Limelight 

1957   A King in New York 

1959   The Chaplin Revue 

1967   A Countess from Hong Kong  

Matinee Classics - A Night in the Show starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance and Charlotte Mineau
Matinee Classics - A Dog's Life starring Charlie Chaplin in his first Million Dollar Picture
Matinee Classics - By the Sea starring Charlie Chaplin, Billy Armstrong and Margie Reiger
Matinee Classics - Shanghaied starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance and Wesley Ruggles
Matinee Classics - Mabel's Married Life starring Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand and Mack Swain
Matinee Classics - Modern Times starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard
Matinee Classics - Musical Tramp starring Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain
Matinee Classics - Recreation starring Charlie Chaplin, Charles Bennett and Helen Carruthers
Matinee Classics - One A.M. starring Charlie Chaplin and Albert Austin
Matinee Classics - The Idle Class starring Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance and Mack Swain

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