Charlie Chaplin, a comic actor and filmmaker of genius, died in his sleep early yesterday at his home at [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Vevey, Switzerland. He was 89.
Chaplin in created "The Tramp" and play the part for 30 years. "The Tramp" had a tooth-brush mustache, a derby hat, baggy pants, and shoes that were too big. He carried a cane and often wore a flower on his lapel. His walk was a kind of animated waddle. He was a figure of fun and he was funny. He was ridiculous in his pretentions, but sublime in his humanity. He was a loser who refused to admit that he had lost. The world loved him.
Through the medium of "The Tramp," Chaplin made some of the classics of the cinema. He wrote and directed some of them as well as starring in them. There was "The Kid," which incidentally made Jackie Coorgan the best-known child actor of his day. "The Gold Rush," with the famous scene in which Chaplin eats a boiled shoe as if it was the most delicious meal ever prepared, "City Lights," a silent film made after the introduction of sound in the film industry and a sucess for all of that, "Modern Times," a story about a little man struggling against a production line in the modern industrial age, and "The Great Dictator," a satire of Nazism.
If the world loved "The Tramp," it did not always love Chaplin. His private life was chronicled in lurid detail through three devorces and in a celebrated paternity suit which he eventually lost. He was arrogant and egocentric. Mary Pickford, the actress who was known as "American's Sweetheart" during the 20s and a former business partner of Chaplin, once said:
"Charlie was the greatest of all comedians. He was also a stinker."
In 1952, while he was visiting his native Britain, the U.S. government revoked Chaplin's permit to re-enter this country. The grounds were alleged moral turnipitude and sympathy for communism. THe condition for his return was that he submit to a hearing on these questions. He refused and call the charges "vicious propaganda and lies."
"I'm not touting any ideology," he once said. "I'm for the progress of the human race. I'm for the little man."
In his autobiography, he wrote, "My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a nonconformist. Although I am not a Communist, I refused to fall in line by hating them . . . In an atmosphere of powerful cliques and invisible governments I engendered a nation's antagonism and unfortunately lost the affection for the American public."
From the incident in 1952 until the end of his life, Chaplin made his home in a villa on a 37-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He lived with his fourth wife, the former Oona O'Neill, the daughter of the late American playwright Eurene O'Neill. The couple were married in 1943, when Chaplin was 54 and Miss O'Neill was 18, and they had eight children. Eugene O'Neill was so opposed to the match that he disinherited his daughter.
As age advanced, so did infirmaties. Chaplin had been confied to a wheel-chair for the past two years and his sight, speech and hearing were failing.
His last years also were marked by new honors. In 1975, Queen Elizabeth II dubbed him a knight. In 1972, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded him a special Oscar fir the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century."
"This is an emotional moment for me," Chaplin said in response to the cheers that greeted the award. "Words are so futile, so feeble. I can only say thank you for the honor of inviting me here. You're wonderful sweet people. Thank you."
At his death, Lady Chaplin and seven of their eight children were at his bedside.
"My husband died peacefully in his sleep during the night," Lady Chaplin said. The funeral will be private and restricted to the immediate family."
She added, "All the presents were under the tree. Charlie gave so much happiness and although he had been ill for a long time it is so sad that he should have passed away on Christmas Day."
Dr. Henru Perrier, the family physician, said, "Sir Charles died peacefully in his sleep from old age."
Chaplin 's death brough tributes from near and far.
The Swiss government sent a telegram to the family that said that "he awoke human love and sought to stress human dignity." Tass, the officical news agency of the Soviet government, said Chaplin's creativity had always been imbued with profound humanism."
Actor Sir Laurence Olivier said, "I believe that Charlie Chaplin will now be remembered as the greatest comedian ever."
Jacques Tati, the French film comedian, said Chaplin was "the master ways modern, are eternal, and his contribution to the cinema and to his century irresplaceable."
Bob Hope said Chaplin was "the original great one in our business.
We're fortunate to have been alive in his time." George Burns, another giant of Hollywood, said, "Not only was he the funniest, no only could he make you laugh, but he could make you cry, too. He made everything up, the "Little Tramp," the costume, the cane, hitting his hat and turning around, all the little comedy routines that everybody's been doing for years and will be doing as long as there's comedy."
President Valery Giscard d'Estaing of France said Chaplin "expressed better than anyone the sweet and bitter melcancholy of out times."
Rene Clair, a French film director who is an authority on Chaplin's work, called him "a monument of the cinema, in all countries and for all time."
Although he regarded Chaplin's appeal was universal. Clair regarded the nature of Chaplin's art as personal.
"If Chaplin had not crossed the threshold of the Keystone Studios in December. 1913," he said during a festival of Chaplin films a few years ago, "the movies, as we know them, would undoubtedly have been the same, even had he never made a single picture, because his work is so personal that it could hardly be linked with the evolution of the art which it illustrates.
The gigantic industry would have flooded all the continents with the same deluge of sequences, the same prefabricated heroes would have been offered for the same public cults. But we would have wanted for a friend, would not have the silent dialogue . . . between him and millions of unknown people."
The "silent dialogue" between Chaplin and his audiences was carried out through the character of "The Tramp." It was a character who might have represented tha aspirations - or at least the insistence on dignity, on the importance of one's self - of a boy born in bitter poverty in a poor district of London. That is how Chaplin began life.
Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in the slums of London on April 16, 1889. His parents, Hannah and Charles Soencer Chaplin, were music hall performers. He had two half-brothers, Wheeler Dryden and Sydney, who later assumed the Chaplin name.
When Chaplin was 2 and Sydney was 5, the family broke up. Mrs. Chaplin tried to support the children with her meager earnings. Her health failed and she put them into a poor house. Chaplin spent about two years in various ophanages and poor houses. He remembered the phase of his life with horror.
When he was 9, Chaplin's father returned. He put Charles and Sydney into a company called "The Eight Lancashire Lads." Charles also worked as a lather boy in a barbr shop, helped sweep out a music hall, and played bit parts in vaudeville.
When he was 14, he played "The Showshine Boy" in a touring production of "The Painful Prediacament of Sherlock Holmes." He joined the Fred Karno vaudeville troupe in 1906 and four years later became the comic star of a Karno company.
Mack Sennette, the head of Keystone Films in the United States, saw Chaplin playing drunk in a production called "A Night in an English Music Hall" and offered him a contract at $150 a week, or three times what Chaplin ever had made before. Within five years, Chaplin had become a millionaire and a major figue in the entertainment world.
Out of this background grew the character of "The Tramp." His debut came in Mack Sennet one and two reelers. "Tillie's Punctured Romance," a two-reeler, appeared in 1914. It was one afabout 50 movies Chaplin made for Keystone. By the end of his first year, he was doing his won writing and directing as well as starring in the films.
In 1915, he moved to the Essanay Company, where he made "Charlie's Night Out," "Champion Charlie," and "Charlie the Tramp" as well as a dozen other movies. In 1916, he made 12 films for the Mutual Film Company. In 1917, he made his first contract for truly big money. He agreed to do eight pictures for the first National Exhibitor's Circuit. Chaplin would produce them and star in them. In return, he would recieve $15,000 for signing the contract and half of the profits.
Among the results of this arrangement were "A Dog's Life," "Shoulder Arms', "Sunnyside," "Play Day," and "The Kid.'
By this time, "The Tramp" had reached maturity as a character. Chaplin once described his creation in these words:
"This fellow was many-sided: a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player. However, he is not above picking up cigarette butts, or robbing a baby of its candy. And of course, if the occassion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear - but onlu in extreme anger."
How did Chaplin develop "The Tramp"? He told an interviewer during the period of his first great successes that "to make comedy a success there must be an ease, a spontaneity in the acting that cannot be associated with seriousness."
"Even in slapstick there is an art. If one man hits another in a certain way at exactly the right psychological moment, it is funny. If he does it a moment too late, it misses the mark . . .
"Even funnier than the man who has been made ridiculous is the man who, having had something funny happen to him, refuses to admit that anything out of the way has happened, and attempts to maintain his dignity.
"Perhaps the best example is the intoxicated man who, though his tongue and walk give him away, attempts in a dignified manner to convince you that he is quite sober. He is much funnier than the man who, widlyhilarious, is frankly drunk and doesn't care a whoop who knows it . . .
"For that reason all my pictures are built around the idea of getting me into trouble and so giving me the chance to be desperately serious in little attempt to appear as a normal little gentleman. This is why, no matter how desperate the predicament, I am always very much in earnest about cluching my cane, straightening my derby hat, and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on hy head.
"I am always aim for economy of means . . . One of the things I have to be most careful about is not to verdo a thing, or to stress too much any particular point. I could kill laughs more quickly by overdoing something than by any other method. If I made too much of my peculiar walk, if I went to excess in anything at all, it would be bad for the picture. Restrait is a great word, not only for actors but for anybody to remember."
In 1972, Chaplin discussed his work with another interviewer. What he said could stand as a footnote to the principles he had outlined more than 50 years earlier.
The real hard work is in thinking just thinking," he said. "For several days I would be in agony - then the word would go around the studio: 'Fine! Charlie's got it!' It would probably be a very small idea - but something that could be elaborated while we were doing it until it turned into a good, inventive gag. It doesn't matter how serious the story is - it all amounts to a bit of business or a gag.'
If the application of these ideas in his professional life was making Chaplin famous, his private life was making him notorious.
His first wife was Mildred Harris, whom he married in 1918 when she was 16 and he was 29. They were divorced two years later.In 1924, he married Lita Grey, who was 16 at the time. They had two sons. They were divorced in 1927.
The divorce proceedings were reported in great detail and Chaplin decided to leave Hollywood for New York. There were other problem.He was unable to leave the United States for a visit Britain because the U.S. government claimed he owned $1 million in back income taxes. These difficulties caused him to interrupt the production of "The Circus," a film about a clown's unrequired love for a circus girl.
When a move finally was released in 1928, it won Chaplin the first of his two Oscars. The citation that went with the award hailed his "versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing, and producing" the film.
Like his other great hits of the 1920s, "The Circus" was released through United Artiests. Chaplin had founded the film in 1919 with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, her husband, and D. W. Griffith, the great director. Pickford, Chaplin and Fairbanks had become friends during a Liberty Bond drive on which they had working during World War I. They were in the biggest box-office names in the country.
The careers of the three flourished through the 1920s. Then came talking pictures, and then whole industry changed.
Not chaplin. He stayed with the silent movies. His first production affter "The Circus" was "City Lights," which appeared in 1931. In it "The Tramp" meets a millionaire who is drunk and promises to help "The Tramp." When sober, the millionaire does not remember the meeting. But "The Tramp" suceeds in getting some money form the millionaire. He uses it to help a blind flower girl to regain her sight.
The film had a soundtrack that carried synchorinized music and some "sound" gags. But Chaplin's voice was heard only in a passage of gibberish at the beginning, a devince by which he meant to satirize the "talkies."
His next movie was "Modern Times," (1936) a commentary on the soullessness of working on amodern production line. Paulette Goddard, whom Chaplin had married in 1935, was in the film. But its most memorable sequence was one in which the factory foreman speeds up the production line and "The Tramp" tries to keep pace with it. In the end, frustration overcomes "The Tramp" and he causes the production line to shut down.
"The Great Dictator," which appeared in 1940, was Chaplin's first true talking film - and the last in which "The Tramp" appeared. It was a movie that satirized Hitler. Chaplin played Adenoid Hynckel, dictator of Tomania. He also played a Kewish barber who just happened to look like Hynckel. At one point, Hynckel is examinig a baloon that represents the world. The baloon burst and Hynckel goes into a rage. The film ends with a monologue by Chaplin in which he appeals for peace.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called "The Great Dictator" a superlative accomplishment by a great and true artist . . . unquestionably the most significant film Chaplin has ever made."
That assessment has not stood the test of time. For the essence of Chaplin's art was in his pantomine. His later films, all conventional films were less successful than anything he had done earlier. He was most eloquent with his body. When he spoke his effectiveness faded.
W.C. Fields may have had this in mind when he paid Chaplin a famous double-edged compliment. "The son of a bitch is a ballet dancer," said Fields. "He's the best ballet dancer that ever lived, and if I get a good chance I'll kill him with my bare hands."
By the 1940s, others were beginning to share this view for other reasons. Chaplin's divorce from Paulette Goddard ended that marriage in 1941. In June, 1943, Joan Berry, 24, filed a paternity suit against Chaplin. The U.S. government indicted him for violating the Mann Act by tansporting Miss Berry across state lines for immoral purposes. Chaplin was acquitted of the Mann Act violations, but the paternity suit dragged on through two trials. At the end of the second one, the jury found in Miss Berry's favor despite evidence from blood tests that Chaplin could have not been the child's father.
Chaplin was ordered to pay for the support of the child until she reached the age 21.
In 1947, Chaplin produced and starred in "Monsier Verdoux." The film is about a bank clerk in France who murders his wives for profit. It met with mixed reviews. James Agee hailed it as a triumph, but Robert Warshow had this to say of it: "They will cut off (verdoux's) head, and the one thing (Chaplin) has failed to do will all his talk is to establish a single reason why they should not."
Chaplin's next film was "A King in New York," which he made in England in 1956 and which was the period of his intensely anti-American phase following the refusal of the government to allow him to return to this country in 1952. In 1955, he sold his 25 percent interest in United Artists.
His final film was "A Countess in Hongkong" (1966), which starred Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren and in which Chaplin cast himself in a bit part.
As the years of retirement lengthened, Chaplin and the world forgave each other for their antigonism.In 1958, he paid almost $500,000 in back taxes to the U.S. government. In 1971 he said. "The unpleasant things have faded. They don't mean much any more." And in 1975, he said, "My wife and children are more important to me than all the publicity in the world. Life is marvelous, a wonderful thing but as you get on, you always think of moments past - and you always think of death."
Chaplin's survivors include the eight children he had by his last marriage. They are Geraldine, 33, an actress of note in her own right who was in Spain at the time of her father's death; Michael, 31; Josephine, 28, and Victoria, 26 - all born in the United States - and Eugene, 24; Jane, 20; Annette-Emily, 18, and James, 15, all born in Switzerland.