Wisdom of Life: Charlie Chaplin, Cultural Icon – Helped the World Live through Some Dark Moments in History

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“I will be eternally grateful to Mack Sennett for giving me my big break in the United States to appear in the silent keystone comedy series. After all, in one year I starred in 40 movies for him, but the speed of these productions hindered my ability to grow personally and develop my talents. Life is about evolving so I made a change, and now I’m glad I did.”

Charlie ChaplinNote: This is me getting into Charlie Chaplin’s head and putting words into his mouth.

Name: Sir Charles Spenser Chaplin
Birth Date: April 1889 – December 1977
Job Functions: Comic Film Actor, Director, Writer and Composer
Fields: Film
Known For: Silent films, wearing a bowler hat, trademark moustache, and out-turned feet
Mentors: Chaplin developed his skill in comedy under Fred Karno. Over a period of three years, Chaplin also learned about acting and stagecraft from William Gillette and Harry Arthur Saintsbury while he played a streetwise kid in Sherlock Holmes.

I decided to profile Charlie Chaplin because he brought entertainment and pleasure to people when they needed it most during periods of history that were dark and turbulent  – World War I, the Great Depression, and the rise of Adolf Hitler. Charlie Chaplin was a cultural icon in the early 20th Century. Chaplin was very accomplished. He starred in 80 films, was awarded an Oscar in 1973 and knighted in 1975 two years before his death.

Charlie Chaplin had a significant impact on the film industry – his art form transcended borders, cultures, ethnicities and races. Two months after he died, his remains were stolen and held for ransom. Fortunately, the kidnappers were found and they revealed where they had hidden Chaplin’s remains.

Four Big Ideas Worth Exploring

  1. Do What you Know: Chaplain had a very difficult childhood. His parents were both artists but his father left when he was an infant. His mother suffered from a mental illness so she was in and out of hospitals. Chaplin and his brother spent time in an orphanage and even when his mother was around they were on public assistance. Chaplin adapted his personal experience into his art, and found comedy in tragedy. He knew what it was like to go to bed hungry. He knew what it felt like to wear tattered clothes that didn’t fit well. He could play these roles, or even write about them convincingly because he lived them.
  2. Know What You’re Worth: Charlie Chaplain was an astute business man and he knew what he was worth. In the year he worked for Keystone Studios, Chaplin earned $150/week. He moved on to Essanay where he made $1250/week plus a $10,000 bonus. Next he made $10,000/week plus a $150,000 bonus at Mutual Film Corporation. He negotiated a $1 million contract with First National Exhibitors’ Circuit to make eight short films with creative autonomy. For many of his films, Chaplin owned them so he was able to later rescore and re-release them.
  3. Keep Evolving: Chaplin’s income kept on increasing, but he kept on evolving as a person. He evaluated his work and made changes to make it better. He did not have much formal education but he learned from others, he observed what they were doing right and integrated that into his work. He also had the foresight to build his own studio and also partnered with Mark Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith to form their own distribution company United Artists to allow them to remain independent.
  4. Perfectionism is a Myth: Charlie Chaplin didn’t have a lot of formal education, but he learned by doing and from those he worked with. Research uncovered suggests that there were limits to his expertise which was seen in some of his work, but that’s what made the man human. And it made him stand apart from most because he had the courage to create art. He had the courage to take action, and he worked hard at becoming better. Perfectionism is a myth, and if there is one thing we can learn from Chaplin, it is to take action and not become immobilized by the perfection trap. If you keep on working on your craft, you will become better at it, but you have to release your art to the world. Sometimes it will be welcomed and other times it will be rejected. But that’s what life is about, to keep on moving, to learn from failures and don’t take things personally. Chaplain became better because he practiced, practiced and practiced some more.


  • Fall down seven times, get up eight.
  • It doesn’t matter where you start out in life, it’s where you end up that counts.
  • Use the tragedies and failures in your life as feedback and lessons learned.
  • Take action and do not let fear cripple you.

How can you use this information?  Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Interesting Links

Charlie Chaplin Archive
The Chaplin Museum
Official Chaplin Website

Sources Referenced:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies
American National Biography
Encyclopedia of World Biography
The Concise Dictionary of National Biography
The Cambridge Biographical Encyclopedia
Great Lives: A Century in Obituaries, The Times

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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