Charlie Chaplin

WHEN SIR CHARLES SPENCER CHAPLIN died in Switzerland on Christmas Day, the world lost one of its most lauded and loved figures. Charlie Chaplin's long film career defined the art of cinematic comedy, yet people saw more in his movies than just calculated gags. The Little Tramp, Chaplin's most famous character, was funny, but he won the hearts of world-wide audiences with his pathos and down-at-the-heels dignity. Chaplin had a rare sense of humanity that dominated his work, and though he sought laughter with a perfectionist's intensity, it is this sensitivity that is the most memorable thing about his legacy.

Chaplin's career began at the age of five on the stage of a London music hall. He traveled around Europe and America in various vaudeville troupes until, in 1913, he stopped in Hollywood, intrigued with the infant film industry. At first he played bit parts in chaotic one-reelers, but within two years he became Hollywood's leading star. In his most productive period, before the advent of talkies in 1927, he turned out such brilliant films as The Gold Rush, The Kid and The Tramp. Soon he was the most recognized celebrity in the world.

In the Thirties and Forties, Chaplin made fewer films, partially because he no longer needed the money, and also because he retreated after a spate of adverse publicity concerning his rather legendary sexual appetite, which shocked most of America. Still, he wrote, directed, produced and starred in City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator, possibly his greatest films. His messages were unmistakable; after Josef Stalin saw The Great Dictator, Chaplin films were never again seen in the Soviet Union.

Chaplin's naive, humanitarian, and decidedly leftist politics got him into trouble in the United States in the early Fifties, and when he refused to alter his stance he was denied re-entry into the country after a European vacation. Insulted, he purchased a villa in Switzerland, where he lived until his death last month at the age of 88. He rarely left his retreat, coming to America once, two years ago, to receive a special Academy Award, and going to England several years ago to be knighted.

Charlie Chaplin was one of the most recognizable symbols of the twentieth century, a goal to which he certainly did not aspire and felt uncomfortable with. He did, however, try to make a lasting contribution to the world of comedy. The laughter and warmth that will always accompany his films bear witness to his greatness. A world that sorely needs to laugh will surely miss him.

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