Charlie Chaplin: The Actor With The Perfect Comic Timing

By: Barnali Bose, Editor-ICN Group

KOLKATA: “Laughter is the best medicine.How very often we have quoted the saying and heard others do the same!There lived a persona in the silent film era, who added to this by saying, A day without Laughter is a day wasted.” 

Let us see how the stage  was set and the story of his journey to becoming the world renowned comedian unfolded. His stepping into the world of Theatrics was quite by chance. The son of the  London music hall entertainers, at the age of five, young Chaplin was watching a show starring his mother when her voice suddenly cracked. Chaplin was immediately brought on the stage to distract the attention of the spectators by putting on a funny act.

His father passed away when Chaplin was but a child and his mother suffered a nervous breakdown .Chaplin and his older half-brother, Sydney were left to fend for themselves.Homeless, they survived by dancing on the streets of London and collecting pennies in a hat. Presently,they joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a children’s dance troupe.

When Chaplin was 17, he developed his comic skills with the help of Fred Karno’s company, for which his half-brother had already become a popular comedian. Soon,Chaplin ’s bowler hat, out-turned feet, moustache and walking cane became his trademark. He joined the Keystone company and filmed Making a Living, in which he played a mustachioed villain who wore a monocle. It wasn’t long before he was behind  the camera, assisting in the direction of his 12th film and fully directing his 13th, Caught in the Rain.

Chaplin redefined his comical character by giving a rejuvenating  touch to what was soon to become his legacy, the character of Charlie the Tramp. He signed on with the Essanay company in 1915 for $1,250 a week, plus a $10,000 bonus–quite a jump from the $175 that Keystone paid him. The next year, he signed with Mutual for $10,000 a week, plus a $150,000 bonus under a contract that required him to make 12 films annually but granted him complete creative control over the pictures. And in 1918, he signed a contract with First National for $1 million for eight films.

His mastery over comedy as a silent film actor and pantomimist who could elicit both laughter and tears from his audiences has rightly earned him the title of the Legend of Comedy not only in Hollywood but in the arena of world cinema.Chaplin opposed  the introduction of sound in movies. In his first film that featured sound (City Lights in 1931), he only used music. His first proper sound film was in 1940,The Great Dictator, the subject being a mockery of fascism.

Chaplin established United Artists Corporation in 1919 with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith.The comedian never acquired U.S. citizenship, notwithstanding his living in the United States for 42 years.Chaplin was accused of communist ties, which he refuted. Nevertheless,after an overseas tour in 1952, immigration officials denied Chaplin and his wife  entry to the United States.

The couple then settled in Switzerland with their eight children. Charlie Chaplin was however invited to America in 1972 to accept a special Academy Award for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art for and of this century.” He was honoured with knighthood and earned the title, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplinin 1975.

Born: April 16, 1889, Walworth, London, United Kingdom

Died: December 25,1977, Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland