His father abandoned him when he was just 1 year old and his mother was sent to a mental institution when he was 14 years old.
Who is he, who's known for his The Tramp character, his eccentric acting style, comedy, baggy trousers, big shoes, and a mustache? Yes, Charlie Spencer Chaplin. He is that one person who made way for dark comedies in this world today, where he addressed sufferings as a phase that would pass with just a few laughs, if one knew how to enjoy it.
However, the first comedian who taught the world the art of laughing at our miseries and watching them go by, learned it himself through some tragic experiences of his own. Chaplin was just a year old when his father Charles Chaplin Sr. walked out on his family and took all the financial security along with him. Chaplin's mother, Hannah Hall was left all by herself to take care of her sons, according to Charlie Chaplin.com.
Even though for Hall, who was a singer and character comedian, money was always an issue, she made sure that her sons didn't feel the pressure of it. There was never a lack of laughter in their house. However, things changed when Hall lost her voice during a performance due to laryngitis and a five-year-old Chaplin had to take the stage.
Soon Chaplin had to be admitted to his first workhouse at the age of 7 because Hall's means of income had all gone, according to British Magazine. He dubbed his life at the Central London District School for paupers, assigned to him by the council, as a “forlorn existence." When Chaplin was 14, his mother was admitted to a mental institution. Even though he and his brother, Sydney were reunited with Hall, after two years, they had to be sent back to the school after their mum was readmitted to the institution.
The brothers were then sent to live with their estranged father who passed away within two years of their moving into his house due to problems caused by alcoholism. Chaplin tried staying with his mum as much as he could but her frequent visits to the institution left the young comedian homeless quite often. Once he spent days searching for one time's meal and a shelter to sleep.
He was saved by his brother who had just returned from the navy. He once said, “There was nothing we could do but accept poor mother’s fate." Hall spent the rest of her life in the institution, until her death in 1928.
While going through all this struggle, Chaplin somehow developed a taste for drama and comedy. He became a professional entertainer in 1897 through contacting a few of his mother's contacts and joined the Eight Lancashire Lads, a clog-dancing act, reported Britannica. He became a star after his role as The Drunk in the ensemble sketch A Night in an English Music Hall. Recalling his mother, he once said that it was she who “imbued me with the feeling that I had some sort of talent.”
Chaplin became an overnight sensation in 1914 after making his debut in a one-reeler, Making a Living. He then performed in front of the camera dressed as the Tramp which would become his identity for life in Mabel’s Strange Predicament. From here on, there was no looking back for the actor.
The actor had no plans for how he'll portray the Tramp “but the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born,” the British Magazine reported him saying.
The actor who once was struggling to find ways to satisfy his hunger and sleep had signed a contract with Mutual Film for $670,000 a year, even before he turned 26. With this contract, according to his biographer, David Robinson, he became one of the highest-paid people in the world.
In the later years, he established himself as both an actor and a director with his notable classics like The Kid, The Gold Rush, and A Woman of Paris. Chaplin's ability to improvise, and his subtleties during acting along with finding humor in the darkest of hours made him the man who is remembered even today.
Chaplin received an academy award in 1972 for “the incalculable effect he has had on making motion pictures the art form of this century.” As per Britannica, he was quite moved by the 12-minute standing ovation that he received at the Oscars.
Alistair Cooke described the moment. "He was very old and trembly and groping through the thickening fog of memory for a few simple sentences. A senile, harmless doll, he was now—as the song says—easy to love, absolutely safe to admire."
He made his last public appearance in 1975 when he was knighted, and he passed away in 1977. He once said, "Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles." Guess he proved just that with his incredible life story.