9 Surprising Facts About Charlie Chaplin’s Life and Work

9 Surprising Facts About Charlie Chaplin’s Life and Work
Charlie Chaplin by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Charlie Chaplin, whose full name was Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, was a British comedian, writer, producer, composer, and director. He is widely known as one of the greatest comic artists on the screen, and one of the most influential figures in motion-picture history.

He was born in London in 1889, and he died in 1977 in Coesier-Sur-Vevey in Switzerland at the age of 88. Charlie Chaplin was the person who completely revolutionized the cinema, both during the era of silent movies, as well as the talkies. One of his best-known characters is the tragicomic “Little Tramp.”

One century after the movies Modern Times, The Kid, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush were made, they are still considered essential cinematic works. However, it’s not only his amazing directing and acting skills that drew the attention of the public eye. It’s also his controversial personal life. Chaplin had a fondness for marrying teenage girls, and he had 11 children. He was also very outspoken about his political views, which would eventually force him out of America in 1952.

While you might’ve heard about some of the most important facts about Charlie Chaplin, you probably never heard a lot about his personal life. Don’t worry, we got you covered!

Here’s a list of some interesting facts about Charlie Chaplin you probably never heard about!

1. Charlie spent a part of his childhood in an orphanage

Both of Chaplin’s parents were musicians, and both of them had a lot of their own issues that kept them from properly taking care of their children. His mother suffered from violent headaches, and had stages of madness even before Charlie was born. Over the years her health was becoming worse and worse.

Charlie’s father often toured across North America and suffered from alcoholism. In 1896, Charlie and his older half-brother were sent off to a public boarding school for “orphans and destitute children.” They spent a year and a half there, and this was the longest period of schooling Charlie would ever receive. During his time at the school, he learned how to read and write, but he was also bullied by his peers.

2. Charlie hated his first movie

When Chaplin was touring his second vaudeville in the United States in 1913, he was noticed by the Keystone Studios. They hired him for $150 per week, and he made his first appearance in the following year. He played an out-of-work swindler in a movie called “Making a Living.” His character wore a mustache, a top hat, and a monocle. He got into a few funny situations while fighting the movie’s hero, a journalist who interviews a man trapped beneath the car instead of helping him out.

Charlie hated his performance in the movie and said that he was way too stiff. Later he said, “I took all the surprise out of the scenes by anticipating the next move.” Chaplin also accused the director of cutting out some of his best scenes because he was jealous.

3. Chaplin was a perfectionist

Charlie did everything by himself – he acted, directed, produced, and created music for his films. While some might say that he was simply a multitasking genius, the truth about why he took all the tasks on himself is a tad different. Chaplin was an absolute perfectionist, and he didn’t want to let anyone else “ruin” his works.

For the movie City Lights, he hired the actress Virginia Cherrill to say only 2 words. While this might’ve seemed like an easy task, Virginia had to repeat “Flower, sir” 342 times, until it was just perfect!

When Charlie filmed The Immigrant, he shot 40,000 feet of film – for a movie that lasted for only 20 minutes.

Hooman Mehran, the author of Chaplin’s Limelight and the Music Hall Tradition, once told: “He knew exactly what he wanted and he would have preferred not to have any other actors in his films – he even tried making a film once where he was the only person in it.”

4. Charlie was a co-founder of a big-time movie studio

Charlie Chaplin and three other filmmakers, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks formed United Artists. The purpose of it was to finance their own movies and to keep the creative power over their own works. They released their first movie, His Majesty, the American, in 1919.

Soon enough, the studio took off. They eventually built a chain of movie theaters. The studio was working well for almost four decades but in 1955, movie attendance plummeted. That’s when Charlie decided to sell his shares.

The studio went on to become very successful, and in 1963, they released the first James Bond movie. Today, the studio is still active and the MGM is the United Artist’s parent company.

5. Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest once – and lost!

One of the most surprising facts about Charlie Chaplin is that he once entered a C. Chaplin look-a-like contest, and lost. Let’s be honest – you probably wouldn’t recognize him either without his mask and attire. However, it’s still really odd that none of the judges, nor the audience or contestants managed to recognize the comedian.

6. He became a millionaire in a very short period of time

After his first job for the Keystone Studios, Chaplin landed a higher-paying job in less than a year. His new employer, Essanay Studios, paid him $1,250 per week, plus a $10,000 bonus. After that one, his earnings skyrocketed when he signed with the Mutual Film Corporation for $670,000 a year, and soon enough he agreed to film 8 comedies for First National for over $1 million.

For comparison – during this time, the president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was paid $75,000 a year. This means that Charlie became a millionaire who’s richer than the US president before he turned 30 years old.

In 1919, he co-founded the United Artists studio, which leveled up his fortune to a whole new level. Chaplin often spoke openly about earning money, and he once said “I went into the business for money, and the art grew out of it. If people are disillusioned by that remark, I can’t help it. It’s the truth.”

7. Even though he lived in the US for 40 years, he never became a citizen of the United States

Chaplin lived in the United States for almost 4 decades, but he never became a citizen. After he made the movie Modern Times, he quickly gained an unpopular reputation as a communist sympathizer, which he never recovered from. He went on a holiday in England in 1952, and while he was there, the US government revoked his permit. Charlie was no longer allowed to go back to the United States, and he moved to Switzerland where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Angry at the time, Charlie said he would never go back to the States. However, 20 years later, he received an honorary Oscar. Chaplin attended the ceremony with his wife, Oona O’Neill, and received an extraordinary standing ovation.

8. He was married four times and had eleven children

Charlie married his first wife, Mildred Harris, in 1918 when he was 29 years old. Mildred, on the other hand, was only 17 years old at the time. The couple had one child together and got divorced after only two years of marriage.

Charlie went on to marry another actress, Lita Grey, in 1924. Chaplin was 35 years old, and Lita only had 16 years. The two of them had two kids and were married for 3 years.

His third wife was a bit older than the previous two, but Charlie was still a lot older than her. Paulette Goddard, another actress on Charlie’s list, was 26 years old when she married the 47-year-old Chaplin. The two of them were married for six years.

Finally, right after his divorce from Paulette, the 54-year-old Charlie once again married a woman much younger than he was. Oona O’Neill, the 18-year-old actress, had 8 children with Chaplin and stayed with him until his death 34 years later.

9. Chaplin’s body was stolen by grave robbers who asked for ransom to give it back

This one is probably one of the most intriguing facts about Charlie Chaplin. Just three months after Chaplin was interred near his home in Switzerland, the thieves dug up the grave and took his body. They asked for $600,000 to return the body. Oona O’Neill’s phone lines were tapped, and quickly enough the investigation led to two men, Gantsho Ganev and Roman Wardas.

The two of them confessed to the crime and led the police to the place where they buried Charlie’s body – a cornfield near his original grave. They were arrested and were asked to write apology letters to Oona, who eventually decided to forgive them.

That’s all, folks! Those were some of the most interesting facts about Charlie Chaplin you can find out there. Now tell us – which ones are your favorite ones? Leave a comment below!

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out some of Charlie Chaplin’s most inspiring quotes!

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charlie-Chaplin
  2. http://www.workhouses.org.uk/Chaplin/
  3. https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/11/16/this-is-charlie-chaplins-first-movie-and-apparently-he-hated-it/
  4. https://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/10/showbiz/gallery/perfectionist-charlie-chaplin-342-takes/index.html
  5. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/08/charlie-chaplin-peter-ackroyd-review-simon-callow
  6. https://www.indiewire.com/gallery/united-artists-100-years-best-movies/
  7. https://www.openculture.com/2016/06/when-charlie-chaplin-entered-a-chaplin-look-alike-contest-and-came-in-20th-place.html
  8. https://www.celebritynetworth.com/articles/entertainment-articles/the-fascinating-life-and-wealth-of-charlie-chaplin/
  9. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/only-in-britain/charlie-chaplin-barred-from-us/
  10. https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/220-Charlie-Chaplin-s-Wives
  11. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/grave-robbers-steal-charlie-chaplins-body

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