Our Inductees: Charlie Chaplin

Biography

The 5th inductee into the Official National Comedy Hall of Fame® was CHARLIE CHAPLIN. He was an English comic actor, filmaker and composer who rose to fame in the era of silent film. He became a worldwide icon through his screen personal “The Tramp”.

Stage comedy and vaudeville

Chaplin soon found work with a new company, and went on tour with his brother – who was also pursuing an acting career – in a comedy sketch called Repairs.[43] In May 1906, Chaplin joined the juvenile act Casey’s Circus,[44] where he developed popular burlesque pieces and was soon the star of the show. By the time the act finished touring in July 1907, the 18-year-old had become an accomplished comedic performer.[45] He struggled to find more work, however, and a brief attempt at a solo act was a failure.

The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company of Chicago sent Chaplin an offer of $1,250 a week with a signing bonus of $10,000. He joined the studio in late December 1914,[78] where he began forming a stock company of regular players, including Leo White, Bud Jamison, Paddy McGuire and Billy Armstrong. He soon recruited a leading lady – Edna Purviance, whom Chaplin met in a cafe and hired on account of her beauty. She went on to appear in 35 films with Chaplin over eight years;[79] the pair also formed a romantic relationship that lasted into 1917.

Chaplin asserted a high level of control over his pictures and started to put more time and care into each film.[81] There was a month-long interval between the release of his second production, A Night Out, and his third, The Champion.The final seven of Chaplin’s 14 Essanay films were all produced at this slower pace.

 Chaplin also began to alter his screen persona, which had attracted some criticism at Keystone for its “mean, crude, and brutish” nature.[84] The character became more gentle and romantic;[85] The Tramp (April 1915) was considered a particular turning point in his development.[86] The use of pathos was developed further with The Bank, in which Chaplin created a sad ending. Robinson notes that this was an innovation in comedy films, and marked the time when serious critics began to appreciate Chaplin’s work.[87] At Essanay, writes film scholar Simon Louvish, Chaplin “found the themes and the settings that would define the Tramp’s world.”[88]

During 1915, Chaplin became a cultural phenomenon. Shops were stocked with Chaplin merchandise, he was featured in cartoons and comic strips, and several songs were written about him.[89] In July, a journalist for Motion Picture Magazine wrote that “Chaplinitis” had spread across America.[90] As his fame grew worldwide, he became the film industry’s first international star.[91] When the Essanay contract ended in December 1915,[92][note 9] Chaplin – fully aware of his popularity – requested a $150,000 signing bonus from his next studio. He received several offers, including Universal, Fox, and Vitagraph, the best of which came from the Mutual Film Corporation at $10,000 a week.[94]

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