Key Personality: Charlie Chaplin

Leaving Cert > Dictatorship and Democracy in Europe > Key Personalities

Charlie Chaplin as his famous Tramp character.

Chaplin is a Key Personality for:
Anglo-American Popular Culture in Peace and War

  • Charlie Chaplin was born in London. He began his entertainment career in English music halls and theatres, before being offered a film career in the United States. He was the first actor to secure a $1 million deal.
  • Chaplin starred in several silent films. He developed a character called the Tramp, which was popular as he was an underdog character and his films mixed humour and sadness. His early successes include The Kid, The Gold Rush and The Circus.
  • When "talkies", films with sound, arrived, Chaplin at first refused to depart from silent films, and he kept the Tramp character for a little longer. Eventually, he did perform in "talkies". One of his most famous later films is The Great Dictator, which premiered in 1940. In this film, he parodies and mocked Hitler. The film drew controversy because people thought Chaplin wanted to encourage American involvement in the war.
  • More controversy surrounded Chaplin because of his politics. He hated authoritarianism and supported the poor and the workers. This led some to believe he was anti-capitalist, perhaps even a communist. When he voiced his support for Russian War Relief, he was called before US Senator Joe McCarthy's Senate Committe on Un-American Activities. Chaplin was able to prove he was not a communist, but a few years later while on holiday with his family in Europe, he was informed he would not be allowed to enter the United States again.
  • Chaplin spent the rest of his life living in Switzerland, where he re-married. In 1972 he was allowed back in to the US to accept an honorary Oscar. He died in Switzerland in 1977.

In short...

  • Background:
    • Born in London, music halls and theatres, offered a deal in the US.
  • Career:
    • Silent films - "the Tramp".
    • Refused at first to do "talkies".
    • Last major film was The Great Dictator - controversy.
  • Controversies:
    • Suspected communist.
    • Called before Joe McCarthy's hearings, proved he was not a communist.
    • Later forbidden from re-entering the US.
    • Spent the rest of his life in Switzerland.

A rare photo of Chaplin's Tramp character in colour.


Charlie Chaplin in later years.