Famous for his character “The Tramp,” the sweet little man with a bowler hat, mustache and cane, Charlie Chaplin was an iconic figure of the silent-film era and one of film’s first superstars, elevating the industry in a way few could have ever imagined.
Born Charles Spencer Chaplin in London, England, on April 16, 1889, Charlie Chaplin’s rise to fame is a true rags to riches story. His father, a notorious drinker, abandoned Chaplin, his mother and his older half brother, Sydney, not long after Chaplin’s birth. That left Chaplin and his brother in the hands of their mother, a vaudevillian and music hall singer who went by the stage name Lily Harley.
Chaplin’s mother, who would later suffer severe mental issues and have to be committed to an asylum, was able to support her family for a few years. But in a performance that would introduce her youngest boy to the spotlight, Hannah inexplicably lost her voice in the middle of a show, prompting the production manager to push the five-year-old Chaplin, whom he’d heard sing, onto the stage to replace her.
Chaplin lit up the audience, wowing them with his natural presence and comedic angle. But the episode meant the end for Hannah. Her singing voice never returned, and she eventually ran out of money. For a time, Charlie and Sydney had to make a new, temporary home for themselves
in London’s tough
Armed with his mother’s love of the stage, Chaplin was determined to make it in show business himself, and in 1897, using his mother’s contacts, landed with a clog-dancing troupe named the Eight Lancashire Lads. It was a short stint, and not a terribly profitable one, forcing the go-getter Chaplin to make ends meet any way he could.
In 1914 Chaplin made his film debut in a somewhat forgettable one-reeler called Make a Living. To differentiate himself from the clad of other actors in Sennett films, Chaplin decided to play a single identifiable character, and “The Little Tramp” was born, with audiences getting their first taste of him in Kid Auto Races at Venice.
Over the next year, Chaplin appeared in 35 movies, a lineup that included Tillie’s Punctured Romance, film’s first full-length comedy. In 1915 Chaplin left Sennett
to join the Essanay Company, which agreed to pay him $1,250 a week. It is with Essanay that Chaplin, who by this time had hired his brother Sydney to be his business manager, rose to stardom.
Until tomorrow: The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
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