A Century of Charlie Chaplin
"Soldiers!!! Don't give yourselves to these brutes - men who despise you - enslave you - who regiment your lives - tell you what to do - what to think and what to feel! Who drill you - diet you - treat you like cattle and use you as cannon fodder! Don't give yourselves to these unnatural men - machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! With the love of humanity in your hearts! Don't hate! Only the unloved hate - the unloved and the unnatural!"
Charlie Chaplin was one of the the bravest men who ever lived. That speech, more than anything else I can think of, was my political awakening. Think about it: The greatest speech in all recorded human history was not made by a politician. It was not made by a king. It was not made by a queen. It was not made by a prince or a princess. It was not made by a preacher. It was not made by a businessman or woman. It was not made by an old soldier or a young one. It was not made by a billionaire. It was not made by a potentate. It was not made by a senator or a congressman. It was not made by a president....
The greatest speech in all recorded human history was made by a little tramp. Go figure.
In January of 1914 - one-hundred years ago this month - an obscure, twenty-four-year-old English music hall comedian named Charles Chaplin walked through the entrance of the Keystone Film Company in Eden, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. He had been offered one-hundred-and-fifty dollars a week by producer Mack Sennett to have a go at the infant movie industry. By year's end he would be one of the most famous men on the planet.
|With Eric Campbell in "The Rink"|
There wasn't much substance to film comedy prior to the moment Charlie Chaplin entered the international consciousness one-hundred years ago. He proved that it could be viewed as great art - something to be taken seriously by audiences and critics alike. By 1917 he (and his Little Tramp) had evolved from the fast-paced, knockabout mayhem of his early Keystone films, to a more subtle and sympathetic character. The tramp by this time was funnier than he had ever been, but there was a passion and soul that had not revealed itself in his earliest films. Each of the twelve films he made for the Mutual Film Corporation in the years 1916-1917 are the cinematic equivalent of precious gems; twelve mini-masterpieces.
Toward the end of the silent era, while the quantity declined, the quality of his films was nearly universally agreed upon. All these decades later serious film critics are still in agreement. Chaplin was an artist. One of the greatest of the twentieth century.
|The Great Dictator (1940)|
"Let us fight for a new world - a decent world that will give men a chance to work - that will give youth a future and old age a security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power. But they lie! They do not fulfill that promise. They never will! Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people."
|On trial, 1942|
No part of his private life was off-limits. When a blood test ordered for a paternity suit proved that he could not be the father of the child he was accused of siring, he was ordered to pay for her maintenance until she reached adulthood nonetheless. On another occasion he was prosecuted for a violation of the "Mann Act". His crime was the fact that he took a grown woman across state lines for the purpose of sex. As Walter Matthau said of the incident many years later, "It was that kind of time in America."
His 1947 film, Monsieur Verdoux, only added to his problems. Henri Verdoux is a former employee of a bank whose job has been eliminated by a faceless bureaucracy. In order to care for his crippled wife and son, he goes into the "business". of marrying rich widows and murdering them for their money. At the film's conclusion, Verdoux is to be executed for murder. As he offers his final words, Chaplin the humanist emerges from behind the mask of Henri Verdoux:
I'll say it again: Charlie Chaplin was one of the bravest men who ever lived.
In September of 1952 he sailed with his family to England for the premiere of his film, "Limelight". While on board the ship he was informed by wire that he would not be allowed back into the United States. Said one nitwit on HUAC, he had yet to prove his "moral worth". Charlie Chaplin became an exile.
|Charlie and wife Oona, 1972|
I always associate Charlie Chaplin with Christmas Day. It was on Christmas Day 1968 that I discovered him. Nine years later, on Christmas Day 1977, it was a bittersweet thing to hear that he had passed away - peacefully and with his family by his side.
In addition to being the centennial of his screen debut, April 16 of this year will also mark the one-hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of his birth. The legacy he leaves us should be treasured and celebrated. We're indeed lucky that he came our way. He's not coming back.
by Charles Chaplin
The best show business memoir ever written. Future scholarship on the man's life would reveal that this book was very accurate and not as self-serving as most autobiographies. A great read - in fact I just might read it again now.
The final scene from The Great Dictator (1940)
In my opinion, the greatest speech of all time. Charles Spencer Chaplin on the mountaintop - at the conclusion of The Great Dictator.