Charles Chaplin: Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. KBE (16 April 1889 – 25 December 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an English comedy actor. Chaplin became one of the most famous performers as well as a notable director and musician in the early to mid Hollywood cinema era. He is considered to be one of the finest mimes and clowns ever caught on film and has greatly influenced performers in this field.
Chaplin was also one of the most creative and influential personalities in the silent film era. He acted in, directed, scripted, produced, and eventually scored his own films. His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years, from the Victorian stage and music hall in England as a child performer, almost until his death at the age of eighty-eight. Chaplin's high-profile public and private life encompassed highs and lows with both adulation and controversy.
His principal character was "The Tramp" (known as "Charlot" in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Turkey). "The Tramp" is a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman. The character wears a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes, a derby, carries a bamboo cane, and has a signature toothbrush moustache.
Charlie Chaplin was born on 16 April 1889, in East Street, Walworth, London. His parents were both entertainers in the Music Hall tradition and separated before Charlie was three. The 1891 census shows that his mother, the actress Lily Harvey (Hannah Harriet Hill), lived with Charlie and his older brother Sydney on Barlow Street, Walworth. As a child Charlie also lived with his mother in various addresses in and around Kennington Road in Lambeth, including 3 Pownall Terrace, Chester Street, and 46 Methley Street. His father Charles Chaplin Senior was of Roma ancestry. He was also an alcoholic and had little contact with his son, though Chaplin and his brother briefly lived with their father and his mistress Louise at 287 Kennington Road (which address is now ornamented with a plaque commemorating Chaplin's residence here). The brothers resided there when their mother was on a bout of mental illness and had been admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum at Coulsdon. The father's mistress sent the young Chaplin to Kennington Road school. Chaplin's father died when Charlie was twelve in 1901. At the time of the 1901 Census, Charles resided at 94 Ferndale Road, Lambeth with the The Eight Lancashire Lads that was led by John William Jackson (the 17 year old son of one of the founders).
A larynx condition ended the singing career of Chaplin's mother. Hannah's first crisis was when she was performing "La Cantina" at the Aldershot theatre. The theatre was mainly frequented by rioters and soldiers, and it was one of the worst places to perform. Hannah was badly injured by the objects the audience mercilessly threw at her, and she was booed off the stage. Backstage, she cried and argued with her manager. In the meantime, Chaplin went on stage alone and started singing a very well known tune at that time ("Jack Jones").
Hannah Chaplin was again admitted to the Cane Hill Asylum. Chaplin had to be left in the workhouse at Lambeth, London, moving after several weeks to the Central London District School for paupers in Hanwell. The young Chaplin brothers forged a close relationship to survive. They gravitated to the Music Hall while still very young, and both of them proved to have considerable natural stage talent. Chaplin's early years of desperate poverty were a great influence on his characters. Themes in his films in later years would re-visit the scenes of his childhood deprivation in Lambeth.
Unknown to Charlie and Sydney until years later, they had a half-brother through their mother, Wheeler Dryden, who was raised abroad by his father. He was later reconciled with the family and worked for Chaplin at his Hollywood studio. Chaplin's mother died in 1928 in Hollywood, seven years after being brought to the U.S. by her sons. Although baptised in the Church of England, Chaplin was an agnostic for most of his life.