Those who heard it will never forget Jermaine Jackson’s version of Smile, which he sang as a touching tribute to his brother Michael at his memorial service at Staples Center in July 2009.
The song he sang that day is a haunting melody that’s familiar to all, but few know where it originated.
In 1936, multi-talented Charlie Chaplin composed the music for Smile as the theme for his epic silent masterpiece Modern Times. The song is heard during the film’s final scene in which the Little Tramp encourages his crestfallen companion Paulette Goddard to “smile.” The revitalized couple then amble off together down the highway in search of a new day.
John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added lyrics to the melody in 1954 for Nat King Cole. Since then, it has been covered by dozens of artists, including Michael Jackson on his HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I album in 1995. Jackson later said that Smile was his favorite song.
The final scene of Modern Times was in actuality the end of the entire silent era. Chaplin had resisted talkies for a full decade, fearing that once his Little Tramp’s voice was heard, the magic of the character – which had enchanted the world for over two decades – would be gone.
The bittersweet strains of Smile set the proper tone for Chaplin to bid farewell to his Little Tramp character, just as it did for Jermaine Jackson to say goodbye to his little brother.
In February, Kimi and I will be helping host the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest in Newhall, California to honor the 75th anniversary of the release of Modern Times. The highlight of the festival will take place on Saturday, February 5, when we will place a plaque at the site of the final scene of Modern Times, which was filmed nearby.
To learn more about the festival, click here: 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest
To see the final scene of Modern Times, click here: Modern Times finale
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