Monday, April 16, 2012

Charlie at 123

123 years ago today, Charlie Chaplin was born. To save you the math,
that makes it 1889. That was the same year the Eiffel Tower opened,
the dam in Johnstown, Pennsylvania broke, and Thomas Edison showed
his first motion picture. 
That’s about as much as I’m going to write about today. The rest of this post is written by Charlie. Actually, his words extracted from various interviews. 

The only thing I’ll add is a couple of photos: one of him at the London Poor Law School at Hanwell, where he stayed in 1896 and ’97; 

and one  of him with the Fred Karno Troupe from England in 1913. Charlie is standing, second from right. Stanley Jefferson is standing, second from left. Stanley later changed his name to Stan Laurel. And that’s Fred Karno seated.

So now I’ll turn this over to Charlie.
(1915) I was born in a suburb of London 25 years ago. I went on the stage because there seemed nothing else to do. In fact, I don’t know anything else. Both my father and mother are on the stage, and so were all my ancestors as far back as I can trace the family tree. The first time I looked at myself on the screen, I was ready to resign. That can’t be I, I thought. Then when I realized it was, I said, “Good-night.” I had always been ambitious to work in drama, and it certainly was the surprise of my life when I got away with the comedy stuff.”
(1918) I want to be myself, that’s all. Why can’t people dissociate an actor from his work, and take the work as it is, and the man for what he is, as they do a business man? I like people. But I like them only when they’re perfectly natural and when they let me be perfectly natural. When in a great bunch of human beings I see on every face only one emotion, curiosity, I want to get away as fast as I can.
(1940) I doubt that at any picture of mine people have said, “This is it. This is the great moment.” Because I don’t spill over. It is better to suggest, to reach almost the  great moment, the final pathos, and then go on. I hate spilling over, and fear it. I am protected by being a charlatan. To be honest, I don’t search for truth. I search for effectiveness. Do you know why most writers fail in the theatre? Because they try to write what is worthwhile rather than what is effective.
(1967) I’ve never been obsessed with friendship. In the first place I’m shy. In the next place I’m busy. People usually think I’m very sad, but I’m not sad. Perhaps I’ve been sad in my youth for want of other companionship, but it was never suitable to me. So I’ve been alone. I’ve lived alone all my life I’d say, with the exception of this family and this last twenty-odd years which have been wonderful. What has always sustained me has been my work.
(1972, Tribute at Lincoln Center upon his return to the U.S.) 
This is my renaissance. I’m being born again. It’s easy for you, but it’s very difficult for me to speak tonight, because I feel very emotional. However, I’m glad to be among so many friends. Thank you.
Thank you, Charlie. 
And Happy Birthday.


  1. Happy Birthday Charlie!
    Thanks for posting!
    Lisa N

  2. 123 years ago a gift arrived on earth that thankfully we will continue to enjoy as long as there is a need to smile. HAPPY BIRTHDAY Charlie!

    Carl S.

  3. Gerry, thanks for keeping Chaplin's spirit alive in all that you do.

  4. Thanks for the good wishes for Charlie. This was a real feel-good experience. I've still got the birthday balloon floating around in my office. Gotta think of another reason to do this again without waiting for a whole year to go by.