Lines to Love: Happy Birthday, Charlie!


Happy Monday, dear readers. If the title hasn’t already informed you, then let me. Today is the birthday of the massively talented Charlie Chaplin. To say that he was simply the actor who purveyed the still recognizable icon of The Tramp to the world would be doing him a great disservice. Charlie Chaplin was a vast deal more. In fact, not only did he act in nearly every movie that he made, he also directed and produced them, not to mention, for a majority, he composed the score and wrote the scripts. He was a talented actor, yes, but he was also a brilliant musician, having taught himself how to play both the violin and the cello (left-handed, no less) as well as several other musical instruments, not to mention an author of four books, to say nothing of the copious scripts he wrote, too. 

Did you know that the Nat King Cole classic, Smile, was an original composition by Chaplin? 

For a man so instantly identifiable with comedy, Charlie Chaplin was not the happy-go-lucky sort. He was a man of deep feeling, strong beliefs, and, at his core, high ideals for the future of humanity. What set Chaplin apart from so many, in my opinion, was his ability to fuse his art with his beliefs, using his platform to encourage his audiences toward, in his own words, kindness and gentleness. 

Of course, one of his most iconic films would be The Tramp which introduced the bowler wearing vagabond who wore his coat two sizes too small and his pants two sizes too big. After its release in 1915, Chaplin had worldwide recognition. Off of that success, Charlie launched into a career that spanned decades. Of note, The Kid (1921), his first directorial debut as well as the launching pad for Jackie Coogan, one of the industries most successful child actors; The Circus (1929), even though this film resulted in an Academy Award for him, it was one of Charlie’s most fraught films as it coincided with a very public and nasty divorce in his personal life and one disaster after another in his production life; City Lights (1931), Charlie’s massively successful surrejoinder to the charge that silent films held no integrity in the full blown landscape of the talkies; Modern Times (1936), one of my favorite films by Chaplin, it provides a look at the trials that beset the modern generation of the 1930s with a unique conclusion of a utopian ideal. I must also mention The Great Dictator (1940), but I have already spoken about this one in my post, An Homage to the Moustache


He fathered ten children: two from his first, short-lived marriage, eight from his second, long, happy marriage. While many of his children joined him throughout his career, the most notable one to follow in his footsteps was Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya in the epic Dr. Zhivago).

To celebrate The Tramp’s birthday, I thought it would be quite fun to select several of my favorite quotes- which is ironic in that he’s best known for miming his way across the silver screen.

Well, let’s start with Charlie in his own words. 

From his book My Autobiography:

Like everyone else I am what I am: an individual, unique and different, with a lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings; a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, all of which I am the sum total.

Of course, as I’m a great believer in imagination (see post here), I think it only right to include Charlie’s perspective on this most important faculty.

I neither believe nor disbelieve in anything. That which can be imagined is as much an approximation of truth as that which can be proved by mathematics. 

Charlie’s friend (he attended the L.A. premiere of City Lights as Chaplin’s guest), Albert Einstein, felt much the same way (see post here). There’s also this one:

Imagination means nothing without doing.

And, as we were speaking of imagination, here’s a little life advice:

Life can be wonderful is you’re not afraid of it. All it takes is courage, imagination… and a little dough. 

Last Friday’s post dealt completely with rainbows, so this one feels apropos. 

You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down. 

For the misanthropes in the audience, there’s even a Chaplin for you. To be honest, I think we all of us have been here at some point in our lives:

Life would be wonderful if people would leave me alone. 

However, the more I learn about this man, who was orphaned at twelve and forged a future for himself and his brother from vaudvellian boards to 35mm celluloid, the more I realize that Charlie Chaplin was a tenderhearted fellow. He survived a bevy of bad press, mistreatment, and ostracism. Yet, through it all, he maintained an indefatigable hope. And, he never forgot the least of these. 

The most sweet hearted people are the most mistreated. 
A statue of Charlie Chaplin near the lakeside promenade at his home in Switzerland.

A statue of Charlie Chaplin near the lakeside promenade at his home in Switzerland.

My pain may be the reason for somebody’s laugh. But my laugh must never be the reason for somebody’s pain.

And to conclude, I’ll end with his famous speech from The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s attempt to undermine the grievous horror of Adolph Hitler with satire, where Charlie drops character and directly addresses the audience. His monologue was meant to marshal people to positive action in the face of such hate. These words have echoed through the years and continue to today, resounding truth with each recall:

We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in;
machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.
Our knowledge has made us cynical,
our cleverness hard and unkind.
We think too much and feel too little.
More than machinery, we need humanity,
More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness. 

May we strive toward this. 

Is there a favorite Charlie Chaplin quote I forgot to include? 

Post Script: I tried my best to fact check the sources for these quotes. To the best of my knowledge, Charlie Chaplin said each of these. If I’m mistaken, I offer apology.