British actor and director. A legendary figure in his own lifetime, he was knighted in 1975.
Born in London to music-hall parents, Charlie Chaplin and his brother Sydney were placed in an orphanage at a very early age. Becoming a vaudeville performer, he joined Fred Karno's company in 1906. On tour in the USA Chaplin was spotted by Mack Sennett, who signed him up for the Keystone Studio in 1913. He made his film debut in Making a Living (1914) and introduced the famous seedy and soft-hearted gentleman-tramp routine, which became his hallmark. Numerous films for various studios brought him world fame, all based on his mastery of pathos and slapstick acrobatics.
As well as acting, Chaplin also wrote and directed and in 1919 co-founded United Artists with D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford. In the twenties came some of his best feature films, including The Kid (1920) and The Gold Rush (1925). Reluctant to come to terms with sound, he merely added music and effects to City Lights (1931) and Modern Times (1936), with a minimum concession to dialogue in The Great Dictator (1940). By the 1940s a silent film had a certain novelty value, but it failed to bring in the audiences, even though Chaplin was a household name throughout the world. The bowler-hatted tramp had had his day: Monsieur Verdoux (1947) never quite established Chaplin as a talkie star, although he was more successful with Limelight (1952).
In the late forties Chaplin came to the attention of the Un-American Activities Committee; despite his denials, in 1952 he was banned from the USA as a communist sympathizer. He settled in Switzerland with his fourth wife, Oona O'Neill (1926–91; daughter of Eugene O'Neill) but in 1973 returned to the USA to receive his second special Academy Award (his first had been awarded in 1928). His third wife was the film actress Paulette Goddard (1911–90).