Charlie Chaplin was an English actor, filmmaker and composer famed for his iconic character “The Tramp.” This journal celebrates Charlie Chaplin, commemorating both the 100th anniversary of The Kid, his first feature-length film, and the cultural impact of The Great Dictator, by reproducing the final speech.
Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889–1977) was an English actor, filmmaker and composer whose onscreen persona, “The Tramp,” was an international icon. Chaplin’s career spanned more than 75 years, from his early days touring music halls through his rise and fall in the 1920s to 1950s and, finally, his emotional comeback later in life.
Known for writing, directing, producing, editing, composing and starring in most of his films, Chaplin’s financial independence allowed him to pursue his art. He co-founded United Artists to give himself and his co-founders freedom in the distribution of their films and even built his own studios to have complete control over his own vision. The Kid (1921), his first feature-length film, was one of the earliest Hollywood films to combine comedy with drama in one film.
Over the course of his career, Chaplin became increasingly preoccupied with socio-economic problems and his work reflected that. Disturbed by the international rise of militaristic nationalism in the 1930s, he set out to create a film that would allow people to laugh in the face of even the most dangerous of political leaders. The Great Dictator, released in 1940, the final speech of which is reproduced on this cover, satirized Adolf Hitler and played up the resemblance of Chaplin’s mustache to that of the Fascist leader. The film was hugely popular critically and commercially; however, the final five minutes, in which Chaplin made a direct and impassioned plea to the audience to choose peace and democracy over war and fascism, courted controversy.
The 1940s marked a period of decline for Chaplin, as he was blacklisted from Hollywood for being an alleged communist sympathizer and in 1952, he relocated to Switzerland, his re-entry permit to the United States having been rescinded. He spent the next two decades re-editing and scoring some of his early films, writing his autobiography and working on new projects. Even in declining health, having suffered a series of minor strokes, Chaplin’s tenacity did not leave him, and he continued to write and compose. Eventually the world took notice once again, and in 1972 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extended an olive branch in the form of an honorary Oscar award. Accepting the sign of America wanting to “make amends,” Chaplin returned stateside one last time to receive a 12-minute standing ovation and his honorary Academy Award. In 1977, Chaplin died at home in Switzerland in his sleep.
Though Chaplin rose to fame in the silent film era, it is his singular artistic voice and passion that solidifies his legacy as one of the most important figures in the history of film. Artists and performers like Marcel Marceau, Raj Kapoor and Walt Disney all cited Chaplin as an influence, and today his films continue to be enjoyed and studied around the world. In spite of his reputation for slapstick comedy, real human pathos and social commentaries run through many of his best-known works. It is our honour to celebrate Charlie Chaplin with this commemorative design.