Charlie Chaplin

On this date in 1889, actor and film director Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London. Abandoned as a toddler by his vaudeville father, he and a brother largely grew up in workhouses due to the instability of their actress mother. By age 10 he had entered the vaudeville circuit. His first trip to America was in 1910.

By 1916, after three years in silent pictures, Chaplin was earning $10,000 a week, making him the highest-paid actor in the world. Known as the “Little Tramp,” Chaplin starred, produced, directed, wrote, scored and edited his movies, including “The Kid” (1920), “The Gold Rush” (1924), “City Lights” (1931) and his talkie, “The Great Dictator” (1940).

A beloved figure, he was admired by many prominent freethinkers, including George Bernard Shaw and Bertrand Russell. In 1919 he co-founded United Artists films with D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. His fourth wife, Oona O’Neill, was the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. Public sentiment turned against him after a paternity suit in the 1940s and his marriage in 1943 to O’Neill when she was 18 and he was 54. They remained married until his death and had eight children over 18 years.

Although Chaplin had never belonged to the Communist Party, J. Edgar Hoover managed to collect a nearly 2,000-page dossier on him. He was denied reentry to the U.S. in 1952 and settled in Switzerland. He received a special Oscar in 1972. He died of a stroke at age 88. (D. 1977)

PHOTO: Chaplin c. 1920; public domain photo by Strauss-Peyton Studio

Freedom From Religion Foundation