- Chaplin, along with his mother and siblings, were sent to the dreaded Victorian workhouse when he was aged just 7. After the breakdown of his parents marriage, his mother struggled to keep the family from destitution but without any help from his father she was unable to keep them out of the workhouse. Parents were separated from their children on entering and from then on lived totally segregated lives. The Chaplin children were sent on to a poor school in another part of London a few weeks later, and within 2 months his mother had suffered a complete breakdown and been committed to a mental asylum.
- Chaplin’s beginnings in extreme poverty make his story the most metioric rags to riches story in Hollywood’s history. He went from being a homeless, penniless workhouse child to having a multi-million dollar fortune.
- When he first started on the stage aged 10 he was part of a clog dancing group called Eight Lancashire Lads.
- He first started directing his movies in 1914 at which time he was making one short film each week for Keystone.
- By 1915 he had appeared in numerous full length movies and had become cinema’s first global movie icon. He had a line of merchandise, covered magazines and even had his own cartoon strips.
- In 1916 he signed a contract with the Mutual Film Corporation for a huge $670,000 per year. This made him one of the highest paid people in the world. In contrast the US president was paid around $75,000 at this time.
- His new contract certainly made him work for his money, and stipulated he needed to release a new 2-reel movie every 4 weeks.
- Chaplin was criticised in the British media for not fighting in the First World War, but despite this he remained a favourite with the troops. He signed up for the US draft but was never called up for action by either America or Britain.
- His second marriage was to teenage actress Lita Grey, who he married when they discovered she was pregnant. As she was just 16 at the time (Chaplin was 35) he could have been charged with statutory rape so they married quietly in Mexico to avoid trouble. They divorced within 2 years and she created a huge scandal by accusing him of having “perverted sexual desires”.
- Charlie Chaplin was also a keen musician and composer. He had no music training and couldn’t read or write sheet music but he composed music for many of his movies with the help of other musicians and composers. One of his most famous compositions is the song ‘Smile’, which was a huge hit for Nat King Cole in 1954.
Above: Charlie Chaplin (lying horizontally) with his feet on Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Image source and copyright: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. 6, This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice. 7, This work is in the public domain in that it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1977 and without a copyright notice.