Entertainer Charlie Chaplin was probably the most well-known actor of the early 20th century. After adopting his trademark Little Tramp costume, consisting of baggy pants, bamboo cane, bowler hat, and over-sized shoes, Chaplin became a Hollywood icon. He was the most popular draw in the early days of silent film and, even to this day, when a list of early movie comedians is given, Chaplin is often the first name mentioned.
Chaplin lived a complex life. He could act in a lovable and unassuming manner in his slapstick sketches, or he could be politically defiant, as witnessed in his railing against the rise and rule of Germany’s Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator. He frequently found himself at odds with American political and social mores of the time, which ultimately led to his self-imposed exile to Switzerland, where he died in 1977.
- He was the first actor to appear on Time magazine. Chaplin appeared on the July 6, 1925 issue of Time magazine, a U.S.-based news magazine. He was the first actor ever to appear on the magazine known for its influential cover photo.
- He won only one non-honorary Oscar, and it was 21 years “late”. Chaplin won an honorary Academy Award (“Oscar”) in 1929, during the first presentation of awards. Originally nominated in a couple of categories, his name was withdrawn and he was presented instead with a special award. He also received an honorary award in 1972. The next year, however, he won a Best Music Oscar for Limelight, a film he had made 21 years earlier, yet had not been shown in Los Angeles until 1972, thus enabling his nomination and subsequent award.
- He purposely avoided dialogue in two “talkies”. Chaplin wrote, produced, and acted in two movies in the 1930s, well after conversations were prevalent in the “talkies” (motion pictures in which sound was added). Surprisingly, the actors did not talk in these two movies, relying instead on the musical score to set the tone for the movies, and the few spoken words coming from objects such as a radio.
- He had a fondness for young wives. Chaplin was married for 4 times. He was 29 and his first wife was 16 when they married. His second marriage was to 16-year-old Lita Grey, when he was 35. His third and possibly fictional marriage to Paulette Goddard, was rumored to have occurred when he was 47 and she was 28. He married his last wife, Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, occurred when Oona had just turned 18. Chaplin was 54.
- He was ordered to pay child support for a child that was not his own. In the 1940s, Charlie had a brief relationship with actress Joan Barry. Several months after their breakup, she claimed that Chaplin was the father of the child to which she had just given birth. When blood tests proved that Chaplin was not the father of the child, Barry’s attorney moved to have the tests ruled inadmissible as evidence. Because there was little historical precedent to admit the test results into the trial, the judge did not allow them to be used as evidence of Chaplin’s non-paternity. After a mistrial and a retrial, Chaplin was ordered to pay Barry $75 per week for child support, a respectable amount in those days.
- His corpse was stolen. Three months after Chaplin died on Christmas, 1977, his body was stolen in an effort to extort money from his family. Chaplin’s body was recovered 11 weeks later after the grave-robbers were captured. He is now buried under 6 feet of concrete to prevent further theft attempts.
- He has an asteroid named after him. Four years after his death, Ukrainian astronomer, Lyudmila Karachkina, named an asteroid after him. Ms. Karachkina, discoverer of 131 asteroids, named one of them 3623 Chaplin. It resides in the asteroid “belt” between Mars and Jupiter and appears as a magnitude 12.1 object, making it visible in a moderately strong telescope.
- His daughter portrayed his mother in the movie Chaplin. The accomplished actress, Geraldine Chaplin, is Charlie’s daughter with his last wife Oona. In the 1992 Hollywood movie adaptation of Charlie Chaplin’s life, Chaplin, she portrayed Hannah Chaplin, Charlie’s mother.