Chaplin, Charles (Charlie) Spencer
(1889-1977)
   One of the greatest performers in silent films, Charlie Chaplin was born in London, England, where he performed in music halls and plays in his early teens. In 1913, he signed a contract with the Keystone Studios in the United States. Chaplin first appeared in a motion picture in 1914, and he made 35 films with Keystone and 14 with Essanay before moving to the Mutual Film Corporation in 1916. He quickly established his film persona in such movies as The Tramp (1915), The Vagabond (1917), and The Immigrant (1917). As the little tramp with his distinctive walk, little moustache, bowler hat, and large shoes, Chaplin effectively combined slapstick with pathos. By 1917, he was a huge star and had signed a 1-million-dollar contract with the First National Exhibitors’ Circuit to make eight films. In 1919, he joined Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D. W. Griffith to establish United Artists to produce their own films. Chaplin scored critical and box office success with The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925). His first sound film was City Lights (1931), which had a musical score but no dialogue. Chaplin turned to social comment in the 1930s again without dialogue in Modern Times (1936), and in his first real dialogue film, The Great Dictator (1940), Chaplin parodied Adolf Hitler.
   During the 1940s, Chaplin’s reputation was damaged by revelations concerning his personal life and charges of immorality following a paternity suit and possible charges under the Mann Act. His marriage to 17-year-old Oona O’Neill in 1943 further tarnished his name. Chaplin’s support for the Soviet Union during and immediately after World War II also led to criticism from conservative groups. He was called to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, but the hearings were cancelled. His next two films, Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952), did badly. In 1952, Chaplin, still a resident alien, applied for a reentry permit to the United States prior to a visit to Europe. Shortly after he set sail, his permit was revoked, and it was announced that he would not be readmitted until he answered questions about his political views and moral behavior. Chaplin then took up permanent residence in Switzerland. He made only two more films, one of which, A King in New York (1947), was a satirical comment on McCarthyism and his recent experiences in the United States. Despite the objections of J. Edgar Hoover, he was able to return to the United States in 1972 when he was awarded a special Oscar for his contribution to film. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in 1975. He died in Switzerland.
   See also Cinema.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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