It’s odd, there’s just some knowledge that you can take for granted, for instance I always knew Charlie Chaplin was one of the first movie stars and that his films revolutionised how films or at least comedy was made…I think. But I didn’t know he spoke out against the Nazis while they were still popular in America, just like a couple of comic book writers did. *see, proof that I can fit a Captain America reference anywhere* Or that he was actually booted out of America for apparently being a communist.
Rather akin to Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady Robert Downey Jr’s Chaplin shone a new light onto a subject that I sort of knew about but really never showed much interest in. So here are the top ten things I learned about Charlie Chaplin, some from the film it’s self and others from deeper research.
11. His mother was sent to an asylum when he was nine *although the film made him look a lot older*
10. In 1892 his mother had a third son fathered by music hall entertainer, who was taken away at six months old by his father and who Chaplin did not see again until thirty years later. *Oddly enough he was left completely out of the film*
9. His first stage appearance came at five years old,when he took over from his mother one night after she was booed off the stage *She never sung again after that*
8. In 1919 Chaplin along with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith founded Artists United. They’re intention was to control their own interests rather then depending upon the powerful commercial studios. *Ironic when you think who controls the company now*
7. Chaplin’s first and only child with first wife Mildred Harris, a son named Norman Spencer Chaplin was born malformed and died three days latter. Inspiring Chaplin’s film The Kid , the first of his movies to last over an hour of screen time
6. In his lifetime Charlie Chaplin had four marriages; Mildred Harris, Lillita McMurray, Paulette Goddard and Oona O’Neil and around eleven children: Norman Spencer Chaplin, Charles Chaplin Jr., Sydney Chaplin, Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Chaplin, Josephine Chaplin, Victoria Chaplin, Eugene Chaplin, Jane Chaplin, Annette Chaplin and Christopher Chaplin.
5. In 1941 Chaplin started an affair with expiring actress Joan Brady, offering her a contract with his studio. Both the contract and the affair ended a year later after Brady started displaying signs of severe mental illness.
A year after their separation,she filed a paternity suit against Chaplin. Although blood tests proved Chaplin was not the father, they were disregarded in court proceedings and Chaplin was ordered to support the child. The injustice of the ruling later led to a change in California law to allow blood tests as evidence.
4. On 21 March 1944 Chaplin was tried for violating the Mann Act which prohibited transporting Women over the border for sexual purposes. Chaplin was finally aquited on 4 April that year.
3. During World War II, , an FBI investigation was opened on Chaplin under the premise that he was a potential threat to national security. *Or as they called it back then being a communist.
Chaplin denied being a communist, but felt the government’s effort to suppress the ideology was an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties. Unwilling to be quiet about the issue, he openly protested the trials of Communist Party members and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Calls were made to have the film Star deported, with Representative John E. Rankin of Mississippi telling the House in June 1947:
“Chaplin has refused to become an American citizen. His very life in Hollywood is detrimental to the moral fabric of America. If he is deported … his loathsome pictures can be kept from before the eyes of the American youth. He should be deported and gotten rid of at once.”
Two years later after returning from the London premiere of his film Limelight
Chaplin was denied access back into the country and decided to throw up his hands and cut ties with America.
“Whether I re-entered that unhappy country or not was of little consequence to me. I would like to have told them that the sooner I was rid of that hate-beleaguered atmosphere the better, that I was fed up of America’s insults and moral pomposity”
2. There were strong similarities between Chaplin and Hitler; being born in the same year a mear four days apart and raised in very similar circumstances. It was widely noted that Hitler wore the same toothbrush moustache as the Tramp and it was this physical resemblance that formed the basis of Chaplin’s most political film.
1. Greatley disturbed by the surge of militaristic nationalism in 1930s world politics, Chaplin found that he could not keep these issues out of his work:
“How could I throw myself into feminine whimsy or think of romance or the problems of love when madness was being stirred up by a hideous grotesque, Adolf Hitler?”
The Great Dictator– a “satirical attack on fascism” took two years to develop simply the script and began production in September 1939 and was released in 1940 a year before America would finally enter the war.
Deciding it was the best choice and admitting defeat against it at last Chaplin submitted to using dialogue. Making a comedy about Hitler was seen as highly controversial, but Chaplin’s financial independence allowed him to take the risk.
“I was determined to go ahead,” he later wrote, “for Hitler must be laughed at.”
Chaplin replaced the Tramp with “A Jewish Barber”, a reference to the Nazi’s belief that the comedian himself was Jewish. In a dual performance he also plays the dictator “Adenoid Hynkel”, a parody of Hitler.
The film was a resounding success and was one of the biggest money makers that year. The critics however were less enthusiastic, many considering the ending, a six minute speech in which Chaplin stared strait at the camera and spoke his personal beliefs, inappropriate. some have identified the speech as triggering Chaplin’s decline in popularity, and writes,
“Henceforth, no movie fan would ever be able to separate the dimension of politics from the star image of Charles Spencer Chaplin.”
The Great Dictator received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor.