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This Day in History

Born on this day

Tuesday, April 16, 1889. :   Actor, writer, director, producer, composer and choreographer, Charlie Chaplin, is born.

     Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr, was believed to be born on 16 April 1889 in either London or Fontainebleau, France, but there is some doubt as to both his birthplace and his date of birth. His parents separated soon after he was born, and his somewhat unstable mother eventually suffered a mental breakdown, living out the remainder of her years in an asylum. Chaplin performed on the stage from the age of five, and after his mother's breakdown, he secured the role of a comic cat in the pantomime Cinderella at the London Hippodrome. In 1903 he appeared in 'Jim, A Romance of Cockayne', followed by his first regular job as the newspaper boy Billy in Sherlock Holmes, a part he played into 1906. This was followed by Casey's 'Court Circus' variety show and, the following year, he became a clown in Fred Karno's 'Fun Factory' slapstick comedy company. He immigrated to the United States with the Karno troupe in 1912.

Ultimately, he became an actor, writer, director, producer, composer and choreographer, whose main legacy was some 80 mostly silent films. He is best remembered for his "Little Tramp" character, with his toothbrush moustache, bowler hat, bamboo cane and his idiosyncratic walk. Chaplin's first dialogue picture, The Great Dictator (1940), was an act of defiance against Adolf Hitler and fascism, which ridiculed Nazism and highlighted the plight of the persecuted Jews. However, after the extent of the holocaust became known, Chaplin commented that he would never have been able to make such jokes about the Nazi regime had he known about the actual extent of the genocide.

Chaplin died on 25 December 1977 in Vevey, Switzerland, where he had lived for decades, and was buried in Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery. On 1 March 1978, his body was stolen in an unsuccessful attempt to extort money from his family. The robbers, a 24-year-old Polish mechanic and his Bulgarian accomplice, were captured. Chaplin's body was recovered in its unopened coffin, 11 weeks after it was initially taken, near Lake Geneva. After Chaplin's coffin was returned to Vevey, it was reinterred, sealed in concrete.

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