Fool #2: Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp

While researching Gelsomina I learned that her character was partly inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. The Tramp debuted in 1914; a fascinating bumbler, a childlike vagrant who wanted very much to be taken for a gentleman.  Gelsomina is doomed, but city-lights-charlie-chaplin-14440701-1600-1213the Tramp turns the tables and makes fools out of the non-fools.

            Charlie Chaplin said, “Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

Chaplin at Keystone: The Tramp is Born

By Jeffrey Vance, adapted from his book Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (New York, 2003) © 2009 Roy Export SAS

Building on traditions forged in the commedia dell’arte which he learned in the British music halls, Charles Chaplin brought traditional theatrical forms into an emerging medium and changed both cinema and culture in the process. The birth of modern screen comedy occurred when Chaplin donned his derby hat, affixed his toothbrush moustache, and stepped into his impossibly large shoes for the first time at the Keystone Film Company. The comedies Chaplin made for Keystone chart his rapid evolution from music hall sketch comedy artiste to master film comedian and director.

It would be easy to mistake the story of how Chaplin stumbled into his first motion-picture contract as the plot of a Chaplin comedy, were it not true. Alfred Reeves, manager of the Fred Karno theatrical company touring in America, received a telegram at the Nixon Theatre in Philadelphia on May 12, 1913, which read, “IS THERE A MAN NAMED CHAFFIN IN YOUR COMPANY OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT STOP IF SO WILL HE COMMUNICATE WITH KESSEL AND BAUMANN 24 LONGACRE BUILDING BROADWAY.” (1)

Reeves, believing the telegram must be referring to Chaplin, showed it to him. When Chaplin discovered that the tenants of the Longacre Building were mostly attorneys, he imagined that his great-aunt, Elizabeth Wiggins, had died and left him an inheritance. He immediately arranged a day trip to New York City.

Chaplin was disappointed to discover that the telegram had been sent by Adam Kessel Jr. and Charles O. Baumann, owners of the New York Motion Picture Company, who wanted to sign him as a comedian with the Keystone Film.

The rest, as we know …

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