Sunday, August 5, 2007

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Sierra Club


I have no further use for America. I wouldn't go back there if Jesus Christ was President.


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The most famous actor in early Hollywood cinema, and later also a notable director. His principal character was "The Tramp"--a lower class character with a tight coat, oversized pants and shoes, a derby hat, a wooden cane, and his signature square mustache. Chaplin was one of the most creative personalities in the silent film era. He directed, acted, wrote his stories, and was even known to write his movie scores.

Born in poor circumstances, in 1906 he started his artistic career as a music hall performer (a clown in Fred Karno's Mumming Birds company). With Karno he visited the US in 1913 and here met Mack Sennett who let Chaplin join his Keystone studio. In 1919 he founded the United Artists studio with with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and David Griffith.

Although "talkies" (movies with sound) became the dominant mode of moviemaking soon after they were introduced in 1927, Chaplin resisted making a talkie all through the 1930s. It is a tribute to Chaplin's versatility that he also has one film credit for choreography for the 1952 film Limelight, and one credit as a singer for the title music of the 1928 film The Circus. The best-known of several songs he composed is Smile.

His first sound picture, The Great Dictator (1940) was a brave act of defiance against Adolf Hitler and fascists everywhere. Chaplin played a fascist dictator, clearly modeled on Hitler (also with a certain physical likeness), and at the same time a Jewish barber cruelly persecuted by the nazis.

Although Chaplin had his major successes in the United States, he refused to accept U.S. citizenship; he was born in Britain and proudly retained his British nationality. During the era of McCarthyism, Chaplin was accused of "unamerican activities", and his lifelong enemy J. Edgar Hoover, who had instructed the FBI to keep extensive files on him, tried to remove his residency rights. In 1952 in fact, Chaplin left the United States for a trip to England; Hoover learned about it and negotiated with the INS that his reentry permit would not be honored. Chaplin decided then to stay in Europe and made his home in Switzerland with his second wife, Oona O'Neill (he had previously been married to Hollywood star, Paulette Goddard). He returned briefly for an award ceremony in 1972. Charlie Chaplin never won an Oscar in the normal way. Although he did receive an Oscar for the Best Music in an Original Dramatic Score for the 1952 film Limelight, this did not happen until 1973. Because of Chaplin's difficulties with McCarthyism the film did not open in Los Angeles when it was first produced. This criterion for nomination was not fulfilled until 1972.

Chaplin did, however, win the honorary award twice. When the first Oscars were awarded on May 16, 1929, the voting audit procedures that now exist had not yet been invented, and the categories were still very fluid. When it became apparent that Chaplin, who had been nominated for Best Actor and Best Comedy Direction, would fail to win either award for his movie The Circus, the Academy decided to give him a special award "for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus". The other film to receive a special award that year was The Jazz Singer. Chaplin's second honorary award came 44 years later in 1972 and was "For the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century". He came out of his exile and collected his award less than a month before the death of J. Edgar Hoover. Chaplin was also nominated without success for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Original Screenplay for The Great Dictator (1940), and again for Best Original Screenplay for Monsieur Verdoux (1947). His latest work was A Countess from Hong Kong (1966), starring Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.

In 1975, after many years of self-imposed exile from his native country, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Charlie Chaplin died December 25, 1977. Two months later, his corpse was stolen from the cemetery in Switzerland, in an attempt to extract money from his relatives. The plot failed, the robbers were captured and the corpse returned. [This article in part is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Charlie Chaplin.]

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