Section A:
Charlie Chaplin
He was born in a poor area of south London. He wore his mother's old red stockings cut down for ankle socks. His mother was temporarily declared mad. Dickens might have created Charlie Chaplin's childhood. But only Charle Chaplin could have created the great comic character of " the Tramp ", the little man in rags who gave his creator permanent fame.
Other countries — France, Italy, Spain, even Japan and Korea — have provided more applause (and profit) where Chaplin is concerned than the land of his birth. Chaplin quit Britain for good in 1913 when he journeyed to America with a group of performers to do his comedy act on the stage where talent scouts recruited him to work for Mack Sennett, the king of Hollywood comedy films.
Sad to say, many English people in the 1920's and 1930's thought Chaplin's Tramp a bit, well, " crude ". Certainly middle-class audiences did; the working-class audiences were more likely to clap for a character who revolted against authority, using his wicked little cane to trip it up, or aiming the heel of his boot for a well-placed kick at its broad rear. All the same, Chaplin's comic beggar didn't seem all that English or even working class. English tramps didn't sport tiny moustaches, huge pants or tail coats: European leaders and Italian waiters wore things like that. Then again, the Tramp's quick eye for a pretty girl had a coarse way about it that was considered, well, not quite nice by English audiences — that's how foreigners behaved, wasn't it? But for over half of his screen career, Chaplin had no screen voice to confirm his British nationality.
Indeed, it was a headache for Chaplin when he could no longer resist the talking movies and had to find "the right voice" for his Tramp. He postponed that day as long as possible: in Modern Times in 1936, the first film in which he was heard as a singing waiter, he made up a nonsense language which sounded like no known nationality. He later said he imagined the Tramp to be a college-educated gentleman who'd come down in the world. But if he'd been able to speak with an educated accent in those early short comedy movies, it's doubtful if he would have achieved world fame. And the English would have been sure to find it "odd". No one was certain whether Chaplin did it on purpose but this helped to bring about his huge success.
He was an immensely talented man, determined to a degree unusual even in the ranks of Hollywood stars. His huge fame gave him the freedom — and, more importantly, the money — to be his own master. He already had the urge to explore and extend a talent he discovered in himself as he went along. "It can't be me. Is that possible? How extraordinary," is how he greeted the first sight of himself as the Tramp on the screen.
But that shock roused his imagination. Chaplin didn't have his jokes written into a script in advance; he was the kind of comic who used his physical senses to invent his art as he went along. Lifeless objects especially helped Chaplin make "contact" with himself as an artist. He turned them into other kinds of objects. Thus, a broken alarm clock in the movie The Pawnbroker became a "sick" patient undergoing surgery; boots were boiled in his film The Gold Rush and their soles eaten with salt and pepper like prime cuts of fish (the nails being removed like fish bones). This physical transformation, plus the skill with which he executed it again and again, are surely the secrets of Chaplin's great comedy.
He also had a deep need to be loved — and a corresponding fear of being betrayed. The two were hard to combine and sometimes — as in his early marriages — the collision between them resulted in disaster. Yet even this painfully-bought self-knowledge found its way into his comic creations. The Tramp never loses his faith in the flower girl who'll be waiting to walk into the sunset with him; while the other side of Chaplin makes Monsieur Verdoux, the French wife killer, into a symbol of hatred for women.
It's a relief to know that life eventually gave Charlie Chaplin the stable happiness it had earlier denied him. In Oona O'Neill Chaplin, he found a partner whose stability and affection spanned the 37 years age difference between them that had seemed so threatening that when the official who was marrying them in 1942, turned to the beautiful girl of 17 who'd given notice of their wedding date and said, "And where is the young man?" — Chaplin, then 54, had cautiously waited outside. As Oona herself was the child of a large family with its own problems, she was well-prepared for the battle that Chaplin's life became as unfounded rumors of Marxist sympathies surrounded them both — and, later on, she was the center of rest in the quarrels that Chaplin sometimes sparked in their own large family of talented children.
Chaplin died on Christmas Day 1977. A few months later, a couple of almost comic body-thieves stole his body from the family burial chamber and held it for money: the police recovered it with more efficiency than Mack Sennett's clumsy Keystone Cops would have done. But one can't help feeling Chaplin would have regarded this strange incident as a fitting memorial — his way of having the last laugh on a world to which he had given so many.