Charles Chaplin Biographical Chronology

The following chronological biography, based on that of Wes D. Gehring, draws upon time lines included in these sources: Marcel Martin's Charlie Chaplin (1966), Asplund's Chaplin's Films (1973), Sobel and Francis's Chaplin: Genesis of a Clown (1977), and Lyons's Charles Chaplin: A Guide to References and Resources (1979).

  • April 16, 1889: Born East Lane, Walworth (London), to music hall performers Charles and Hannah Chaplin.

  • January 1894: First music hall performance, as unplanned substitute for his mother. By this time Charles Sr. had permanently left home.

  • June 1896: Young Charles and brother Sydney, with their mother, enter Lambeth Workhouse (for the poor). Within a few weeks the boys will be sent to Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children.

  • 1898: Hannah has a mental breakdown. Charles and Sydney live for a time with Charles Sr. and his mistress. Young Charles first appears with the Lancashire Lads.

  • December 26, 1900: Young Charles is controversially comic as a cat in a production of Cinderella at the London Hippodrome.

  • May 13, 1901: Charles Sr. dies.

  • 1901: Hannah enters Cane Hill Asylum; she never will permanently recover her sanity.

  • 1903: Chaplin appears for the first time as Billy in Sherlock Holmes. He will play the part in various productions into 1906.

  • 1906: Chaplin stars in the variety show Casey's Court Circus.

  • 1907: Chaplin begins performing for the Karno Troupe, joining his brother Sydney, who is largely responsible for Charles's placement.

  • September 1910: Chaplin leaves with a Karno Troupe for a tour of the United States and Canada.

  • October 3, 1910: He opens in the Karno production The Wow Wows at the Colonial Theatre in New York City.

  • Spring 1912: Chaplin returns to England with the Karno Troupe.

  • October 1912: Chaplin leaves with the Karno Troupe for a second tour of the U.S. and Canada.

  • May 1913: He accepts an offer from the New York office of Kessel and Bauman, the parent organization for Mack Sennett's Keystone Comedy Company. But his Karno commitment will hold him until November

  • December 1913: Chaplin arrives at the Keystone Studio in California.

  • February 2, 1914: His first film, Making a Living, appears. The amazing total of thirty-five films will be made in this first year.

  • February 7, 1914: His second film, Kid's Auto Race, opens. It marks the first appearance of a semblance of the tramp character.

  • November 14, 1914: He stars in Tillie's Punctured Romance, generally considered to be the first feature-length comedy.

  • November 1914: He signs a contract with Essanay Films, where he will make fourteen films in the next year. Essanay will later construct a fifteenth film Triple Trouble (1918), from other Chaplin works.

  • April 1915: The Tramp, the first Charlie film with real pathos, appears.

  • February 27, 1916: Chaplin signs contract with Mutual Films, where he will make twelve celebrated short subjects in 1916 and part of 1917.

  • 1916: After Chaplin leaves Essanay, it puts together The Essanay-Chaplin Revue, one of the first Chaplin film anthologies. Innumerable Chaplin cavalcades have since appeared.

  • January 22, 1917: Easy Street, generally considered his best Mutual film, appears.

  • June 7, 1917: Chaplin signs contract with First National, for which he will do eight films.

  • April 1918: A Dog's Life.

  • October 1918: Shoulder Arms is a critical and commercial success, though its World War I theme is controversial.

  • October 23, 1918: Chaplin marries Mildred Harris.

  • 1919: With Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, and Mary Pickford founds United Artists. But Chaplin will not be free of his First National contract until 1923.

  • June 1919: Sunnyside.

  • December 1919: A Day's Pleasure.

  • November 1920: Divorced by Mildred Harris.

  • February 1921: The Kid is the first feature he directs.

  • 1921: Chaplin provides his mother with a California home.

  • September-October 1921: Triumphantly returns to Europe.

  • September 1921: The Idle Class.

  • 1922: Chaplin's account of his 1921 trip appears as a book, My Trip Abroad.

  • April 1922: Pay Day.

  • February 1923: The Pilgrim.

  • October 1, 1923: Chaplin's first United Artists production -- A Woman of Paris -- opens. Chaplin writes and directs but does not star in this critically acclaimed excursion into drama.

  • March 1924: Chaplin marries Lita Grey.

  • August 16, 1925: The Gold Rush quickly becomes his most acclaimed film.

  • August 22, 1927: Divorced by Lita Grey. Seemingly every stage of the proceedings has been played out in the newspapers since Grey's original filing for divorce in January.

  • January 1928: The Circus is a great, though often neglected, Chaplin feature.

  • August 28, 1928: Hannah Chaplin dies.

  • May 16, 1929: At the first Academy Award ceremony, Chaplin is honored with a special Oscar "for versatility and genius in writing, acting, directing and producing The Circus."

  • February 1931: City Lights finds Chaplin defying the sound era with this critical and commercial success. There is a second triumphant return to England, which eventually takes him around the world.

  • June 1932: Chaplin returns to the United States.

  • 1935: Chaplin secretly marries Paulette Goddard, though mystery still surrounds the event.

  • February 5, 1936: Modern Times is released: Chaplin successfully defies sound once again.

  • March-April 1936: Chaplin and Goddard visit the Far East.

  • March 16, 1936: The Screenwriters and Actors Guild awards Chaplin outstanding actor honors.

  • October 15, 1940: The Great Dictator sees Chaplin enter the sound era with a controversial parody of Hitler. It grosses more than any previous film by the comedian.

  • December 30, 1940: The New York Film Critics vote Chaplin the best actor of the year award. Chaplin declines the honor.

  • April 18, 1942: The Gold Rush is reissued with soundtrack and some very short deletions. Chaplin's spoken narration replaces titles.

  • May 1942: Chaplin, as a last-minute substitute for former ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies, gives a Second Front speech at an American Committee for Russian War Relief rally in San Francisco.

  • Summer 1942: Divorced by Paulette Goddard in Mexico.

  • July 22, 1942: Gives Second Front speech, via telephone, to a Madison Square Garden rally sponsored by the CIO.

  • December 1942: The Joan Barry scandals begin, with damaging new twists periodically occurring through the spring of 1945.

  • June 16, 1943: Chaplin Marries Oona O'Neill.

  • April 11, 1947: The controversial Monsieur Verdoux opens.

  • April 12, 1947: Chaplin is the victim of a witch-hunting press conference, save for support of James Agee.

  • 1950: Successful revival of City Lights surprises Chaplin's critics. Life magazine calls the 1931 production the best picture of 1950.

  • September 1952: Chaplin and family leave New York by ship, bound for Europe. Chaplin will show his young family the English haunts of his youth. While at sea, Chaplin, still a British subject, has his U.S. reentry permit cancelled. If the comedian decides to return, he will have to face more witch-hunting questions on politics and morality before any possible reentry.

  • October 23, 1952: Limelight will be Chaplin's last great film. Several conservative groups all but negate its American movie theater engagements.

  • 1952: Limelight makes the New York Times annual "Ten Best" list.

  • January 1953: Chaplin purchases an estate, the Manoir de Ban, in the village of Corsair in Switzerland. This will be his last home.

  • March 1953: The Foreign Language Press Film Critics poll selects Limelight as its best film.

  • September 12, 1957: A King in New York provides Chaplin's last starring role.

  • September 1959: A Chaplin Revue is compiled from A Dog's Life, Shoulder Arms, and The Pilgrim, with an added soundtrack.

  • September 1964: My Autobiography is published.

  • April 16, 1965: Brother Sydney Chaplin dies.

  • 1965: Chaplin's oldest child by Oona, Geraldine, becomes a film star in her own right with the release of Doctor Zhivago.

  • November 1966: A Countess from Hong Kong is Chaplin's final film.

  • April 10, 1972: Chaplin is awarded a special honorary Oscar "for the incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century."

  • September 3, 1972: The Venice Film Festival awards Chaplin its Golden Lion statuette.

  • March 27, 1973: Chaplin wins an Oscar (with Raymond Rasch and Larry Russell) for Best Original Dramatic Score for 1972, from Limelight. The 1952 film was eligible for belated consideration because a Los Angeles theater had never previously shown the film -- an Academy rule.

  • 1974: My Life in Pictures, Chaplin's final book, comes out.

  • March 4, 1975: Chaplin is knighted by Elizabeth 11, Queen of England.

  • 1976: Chaplin composes music for the soundtrack of his 1923 production A Woman of Paris.

  • December 25, 1977: Chaplin dies at his estate in Switzerland.

  • April 16, 1981: On what would have been Chaplin's ninety-second birthday, a larger-than-life statue of the comedian as Charlie is unveiled in London's Leicester Square, the heartland of the capital's cinemas. The statue stands just a few yards from one of William Shakespeare.


    Text retyped by David A. Gerstein