1. Charles Spencer Chaplin was born on April 16th, 1889 in London, England. His parents, Charles and Hannah, were both performers. A great heartbreak of Chaplin’s life was his mother’s mental illness. Her consistent stints in asylums forced Chaplin to be raised by his alcoholic father (with, at a certain time, his father’s mistress.) Chaplin’s daughter Geraldine, an actress, would portray her own grandmother in the 1992 biopic directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Robert Downey Jr., in an Oscar-nominated leading role.
2. It wasn’t until several years after their mother’s death in 1928 that an adult Chaplin and his brother Sydney discovered the existence of a half-brother, Wheeler Dryden, who was being raised by their father. Wheeler’s son Spencer was the drummer for the famed rock band Jefferson Airplane from 1967-1970.
3. Chaplin had a penchant for marrying his much younger leading ladies. When he wed his first wife, Mildred Harris, in 1918, he was 29 and she, a popular actress of the time, was only 16. Chaplin’s second wife, Lillita McMurray, was only 12-years-old when he met her on the set of his 1920 film “The Kid,” they married four years later. Chaplin and Paulette Goddard, a leading actress in several of his films, “secretly” married in 1936. His fourth and last wife, Oona O’Neill, daughter of famous playwright Eugene, was 18 to Chaplin’s 54 when they wed in 1943. She and their eight children would be by his side until his death.
4. If at all true, there’s simply no excuse for Charlie Chaplin coming in third place in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest. During his time, his famous mug was absolutely everywhere, including in nearly 80 films. If that wasn’t enough, on July 6, 1925, he became the first actor ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
5. Chaplin was in excellent company when he founded, in 1941, The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers (SIMPP), dedicated to protecting independent producers at a time when powerful major studios reigned in Hollywood. His seven co-founders were: Walt Disney, Samuel Goldwyn (of MGM fame), filmmaker Alexander Korda, “America’s Sweetheart” actress Mary Pickford, “Gone with the Wind” producer David O. Selznick, producer Walter Wanger, and screen legend Orson Welles.
6. When Chaplin came out of his retirement to accept an honorary Oscar in 1972 for “the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century,” he received the longest standing ovation in Oscar history—five minutes. Chaplin’s greatest honor came in 1975 when he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.
7. Chaplin’s star on Hollywood Boulevard is nestled between Ella Fitzgerald’s and Ozzy Osborne’s.
8. Chaplin Avenue is a street named after the star in the San Fernando Valley, very close to Clark Gable’s old ranch. Chaplin also had a small planet named after him in 1981.
9. When Sotheby’s auctioned off Charlie’s trademark bowler and cane on December 11, 1987, the take-home price was $151,246.00.
10. In 1953, at a time of McCarthyism and intense anti-communism, Chaplin’s re-entry visa to the United States was revoked. He and Oona made their home in Switzerland, where Chaplin would die of natural causes on December 25, 1977, at the age of 88.
Playwright, essayist, and frequent contributor to Discover magazine’s popular “20 Things You Didn’t Know About…” column.