Profiles in Time: Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, a Silent Film Star

It’s hard to imagine a time when films were silent. It’s even more challenging to imagine a comedy without words. Yet somehow, even in the silent film era, Charlie Chaplin had an incredible knack for making people laugh.

Chaplin first took the stage in 1894 at the age of five. He had a panache for performing and was determined to make a name for himself. In 1908, at the age of nineteen, he joined a touring group called the Fred Karno Pantomime Troupe. Chaplin quickly became one of the stars of the show.

by Strauss-Peyton Studio, bromide print, circa 1920

The First Film: The Little Tramp

Chaplin’s work with the pantomime troupe eventually brought him to the United States, where he was picked up and signed by a film producer named Mack Sennett. In 1914, at the age of 25, he made his film debut, and his now iconic character, “The Little Tramp” was born.

Over the next year, Chaplin made dozens of films and achieved unprecedented stardom. Despite this, he never let his wealth or fame derail him from his craft. He was a perfectionist, which often made him grueling to work with. However, his attitude and approach produced results.

Chaplin’s career flourished well into his 30s. In 1919, he co-founded his own production studio, United Artists. Chaplin continued to make movies in the new era of film, which incorporated sound. By this time, he’d moved away from his original comedic style and moved toward political commentaries.

The shift made Chaplin more controversial. Ultimately, he returned to England, his home country, and was not permitted to return to the United States. Nearly two decades later, shortly before his death, Chaplin made one final trip back to the U.S. to accept an honorary Academy Award.

Over the course of his somewhat unconventional career, Chaplin owned two unconventional watches—a rare, left-handed Rolex and a pink gold IWC. The Rolex Oyster was one of a few left-handed models produced by the brand at the time. In 2013, the watch was auctioned and sold by Antiquorum for $51,250, over four times its high estimate. The IWC automatic timepiece in a unique 18-karat pink gold case was also auctioned by Antiquorum in 2007 along with a letter of authenticity from one of Chaplin’s sons. It goes without saying that these uncommon timepieces are a perfect match for Chaplin’s one-of-a-kind personality.

Check out other Profiles in Time, like Robert Redford 

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