(born April 16, 1889, London, England—died December 25, 1977, Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland) British comedian, producer, writer, director, and composer who is widely regarded as thegreatest comic artist of the screen and one of the most important figures in motion-picture history.
Named after his father, a British music hall entertainer, Chaplin spent his early childhood withhis mother, the singer Hannah Hall. He made his own stage debut at age five, filling in when his mother lost her voice in mid-song. The mentally unstable Hall was later confined to an asylum,whereupon Charlie and his half-brother Sydney were sent to a series of bleak workhouses and residential schools. Using his mother's show-business contacts, Charlie became a professional entertainer in 1897when he joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing act. His subsequent stage credits included a small role in William Gillette's Sherlock Holmes and a stint with the vaudeville act Casey's CourtCircus. In 1908 he joined the Fred Karno pantomime troupe, quickly rising to star status as The Drunk in the ensemble sketch A Night in an English Music Hall.
While touring America with the Karnocompany in 1913, Chaplin was signed to appear in Mack Sennett's Keystone comedy films. Though his first Keystone one-reeler, Making a Living (1914), was not the failure that historians have claimed,Chaplin's initial screen character, a mercenary dandy, did not show him to best advantage. Ordered by Sennett to come up with a more workable screen image, Chaplin improvised an outfit consisting of atoo-small coat, too-large pants, floppy shoes, and a battered derby. As a finishing touch, he pasted on a postage-stamp mustache and adopted a cane as an all-purpose prop. It was in his second Keystonefilm, Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914), that Chaplin's immortal screen alter ego, “the Little Tramp,” was born.
In truth, Chaplin did not always portray a tramp; in many of his films his character was...