I remember seeing the film Chaplin for the first time in 1992. I, like most Charlie Chaplin fans worldwide, had been eagerly awaiting opening night since learning about the Robert Downey, Jr. production several months earlier.
I took a friend to the film who knew nothing about Charlie Chaplin more than his iconic image. At the beginning of the movie, Robert Downey, Jr. as Chaplin, enters his dressing room in the Little Tramp’s costume and greasepaint. I remember hearing my friend’s audible gasp when Downey looked into the mirror, pulled off his fake moustache, and wiped the stage makeup from his face, revealing a 25-year-old underneath. Until that moment, my friend had no idea that Chaplin’s aged look was created for the screen. From that moment, a fan was born.
As I pointed out recently, this week marks the 97th anniversary of the “birth” of Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” character, known internationally as “Charlot,” which he hastily created for the one-reeler Kid Auto Races at Venice.
I say “hastily created,” but in reality, while the actual costuming of the character was assembled in a rush, the characterization of the homeless little man trying to make his way through life, while keeping his dignity intact, had been percolating in Chaplin’s mind since his days as a street waif in Victorian London.
The Little Tramp would live on until 1936, when Chaplin retired the iconic character at the conclusion of Modern Times.
To kick off the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest in Newhall this Friday evening, we will be screening Chaplin, which was partly filmed in nearby Fillmore, California.
On hand for the screening will be props used in the film, as well as a visit from David Totheroh, who appeared as his grandfather Rollie’s assistant in the film. (Rollie Totheroh was Chaplin’s cameraman for forty years.)
Incidentally, David’s father Jack, who still lives in the Santa Paula area, recently set a world record for having the longest film career ever, having appeared in a Broncho Billy Anderson film when he was six-months old in 1914, and again a couple of years ago in a movie made in Niles, California.
The screening of Chaplin is intended as a primer for those people who, like my friend back in 1992, have little knowledge of Charlie Chaplin, the man. With any luck, we will be creating some new Chaplin fans that night.
We will recognize them by their gasps when the greasepaint comes off.