Photo Essays
1. Exile’s Return
2. Chaplin’s Parents
3. Hannah Chaplin’s Femmes Fatales
4. Playing Dress-Up  In The Land of Make Believe
5. Teenage Girls and Fear of Aging
6. Chaplin’s Three Teenage Wives
7. Mildred Harris
8. Lita Grey
9. Oona O’Neill
10. Chaplin’s Father
11. A Royal Lion
12. Vesta Tilley as Bertie
13. Ella Shields as Bertie
14. Making A Living
15. The Lion Comique’s Son: Dressed Like A Bum
16. Monsieur Verdoux as a Lion Comique
17. Calvero as a Lion Comique
18. The Lion Comique’s Son in the Limelight
19. Charlie as a Child
20. The Kid’s Lucky Break
21. Syd Chaplin
22. A Family Album of Theatrical Drunks
23. Chaplin’s Family Romance
24. Edna Purviance
25. Purviance’s Influence on Chaplin’s Character
26. Essanay
27. Chaplinitis
28. Chaplin’s Predecessors
29. Eye Contact: Audience-Performer Intimacy
30. Chaplin the Auteur
31. Chaplin’s Two Autobiographies
32. Going It Alone
33. The Circus
34. Autobiographical Starvation Scenes From The Gold Rush
35. Autobiographical Madness Scenes in Modern Times
36. Two British Music Hall Traditions and Topical Comedy
37. The Great Dictator
38. Fatal Attraction: Joan Barry
39. Monsieur Verdoux: Guillotine or Hatchet Job?
40. Limelight
Chaplin: A Life In Film
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 The Circus
In ONE A.M. Charlie played a drunk in evening clothes. Childhood memories of his actor father (above right) were the basis for that portrayal.


As a small boy, Charlie frequently hung around this pub hoping to catch a glimpse of his alcoholic actor father who he sorely missed and desperately yearned to get to know.

Jeffrey Vance Collection Scene from One A.M.

Instead of sporting his signature film costume, Chaplin did a brilliant solo turn dressed in the formal tuxedo which was his father’s signature stage costume. During an emotionally painful two month period that father and son actually lived together, Charlie Chaplin Sr. would routinely weave his woozy way home after a hard night’s “work” which--in his peculiar profession—regularly required a hard night’s drinking.

Alcoholism was an occupational hazard of his profession. Despite the glamour and fame of his dangerous night job which came with lucrative “hazard pay” (which was earmarked to be spent socializing with fans and admirers at the theatre bar), a lion comique’s life was a death sentence. Nearly every one of the members of that doomed fraternity of hard-drinking, elegant swells died young of severe alcoholism (the 19th century version of our 20th century drug addiction and drug overdose casualties in modern rock star cults).

Jeffrey Vance Collection
©Roy Export
Touring in music hall as a featured performer in a Karno troupe,
Charlie earned his ticket to Hollywood by playing a comic 
drunk in A Night in an English Music Hall where
Mack Sennett first discovered him.
  Charlie as a member of a “father-son” duo of comic drunks  in his masterpiece  City Lights.

“Tragedy is a close-up, comedy is a long shot,” Chaplin once remarked. The  rogues gallery  portraits of alcoholics he created during the course of his   career as a filmmaker  illustrates   his concept of the spectrum between comedy and  tragedy. In One A.M. (1916), he did  a  broad “far-shot”  caricature   of a  lion comique. In City Lights (1930)—a bittersweet comedy--Chaplin  gave us a   more tightly focused, “medium-shot” study  of his ambivalent  relationship with a moody and boozy     “millionaire” father figure. In Limelight, he  finally gave us a tragic “close-up,”  portrait of an aging  actor as a washed-up alcoholic    comedian who has fallen on hard times.  (As an impressionable   young child, Charlie    probably thought of  his own father as a  wealthy “millionaire” because he had   once been capable of earning  as much as 40 pounds per week  for a one-week theatrical engagement in his all-too-brief heyday: roughly the 2006 CPI equivalent of $4,500 per week).

Attempting  to figure out  what went wrong in his parents’  marriage in his unpublished   novel Footlights (which he later used  as the   screenplay treatment for Limelight), Chaplin wrote of  his mother’s “tragic promiscuity” and his father’s “febrile hilarity.” He was haunted by the question  of who was to blame.    Did his father drink too much because his wife was unfaithful to him? Or was  his mother unfaithful     because his father  drank too much?

Chaplin  had already approached this  unresolvable question about his parents’ marriage much more humorously in an earlier film The Idle Class (see next essay).
© 2008 All Essay Rights Reserved.

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