Charlie Chaplin in character as the Tramp (Getty Images / Hulton Archive)
Charlie Chaplin wore many hats in his life: actor, director, comedian, writer, producer, mogul and pariah. But the most beloved of his hats was a simple bowler that transformed Chaplin into his beloved, timeless Little Tramp.
Born April 16, 1889 – 125 years ago today – Chaplin made the Tramp (or "Little Fellow" as he described him) a worldwide phenomenon through dozens of short films and features. The good-natured misfit and quintessential underdog struck a chord with audiences who fell in love with him and similar characters portrayed by Chaplin.
The man behind the mustache was as much an underdog as any character he ever played. The youngest son of two English performers, Chaplin and his brother were thrust into a Dickensian world of workhouses and residential schools after the death of their father and subsequent mental breakdown of their mother. At 8 Chaplin used his parents' contacts in the performing world to join a clog dancing group, which led to legitimate work in theater and vaudeville. In 1910 his vaudeville career took him to America, and soon he was under contract to appear in films for the Keystone Film Company, headed by cinema pioneer Mack Sennett.
Chaplin was an instant hit with audiences, constantly turning out films with various studios before founding United Artists in 1919 with fellow stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith. It marked the first time artists had taken charge of the production process, maintaining ownership, both creatively and financially, of their films. The studio remained in business until the late 1980s.
Through his years with United Artists, Chaplin created a series of classic films including The Gold Rush, City Lights, The Great Dictator and Modern Times.
Chaplin weathered a series of scandals in his life, including two divorces, one of which resulted in the largest financial settlement for a divorce in American history. Thanks to his liberal politics and refusal to denounce communism, he ran afoul of anti-communist fervor in the U.S. in the 1950s and found himself unable to re-enter the country after leaving to promote his 1952 film Limelight. But Chaplin, who died Dec. 25, 1977, at his home in Switzerland at age 88, remained popular with fans throughout his life and continues to charm audiences today.
Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.