The original screen character Chaplin hastily improvised for this first Keystone film derived his immediate inspiration from a specific theatrical genre that Charlie knew like the back of his hand. Bearing a striking resemblance to Ella Shields’ famous stage character (Burlington Bertie), Chaplin’s original film persona also was shirtless, penniless, wore a monocle, sported a cane, pleaded an empty belly and projected the false façade of a man of the world to the world at large. (See Chaplin A Life, Chapter XIV for a frame-by-frame analysis of this sequence in Making A Living.)
Viewed from the historical perspective of the working class comedy traditions of British music hall, both of these gents were tongue-in-cheek send-ups of a down-and-out lion comique stage character.
The world-famous tramp character which Chaplin then proceeded to invent in his very next Keystone film, Kid Auto Races, would evolve gradually (during the next few years) into that same type of homeless and penniless, has-been or would-be comic dandy that Ella Shields had portrayed.
In the sense of their sharing a common theatrical lineage, Bertie and Charlie were “first cousins.” Like fastidious cousin Bertie, Charlie also would carefully hand-select his panetellas on “the Strand”--by scooping up other peoples’ cast-off cigar butts with panache--in films like The Kid and City Lights.
For a very short clip of Chaplin’s first screen appearance strolling, strutting and preening as the little tramp