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Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

That's Sir Charles Chaplin we should say. The famous "Little Tramp" character was just that: a fictional character. The real Charles Spencer Chaplin was a sophisticated writer, producer, and director as well as one of the silver screen's pioneering comedy actors. His private life and politics, though, did not meet the criteria of J. Edgar Hoover's idea of family values, and it wasn't until 1975 after his return to England and the controversies of his life had receded into the past that Charlie received his knighthood. He died two years later at age 88.

One of Sir Charles' most notable and least known accomplishments was the help he gave to a struggling young author named John Steinbeck. In the 1930's John had a few books published and the royalties kept him afloat but he was by no means well off. Then one day a chauffeur driven limousine pulled up to John's front door and out stepped a handsome gray haired and distinguished looking gentleman. It was Charlie Chaplin, looking nothing like his most famous character.

Charlie had discovered John's books and enjoyed them so much he would even drive around the region locating the areas described in the novels. One day he decided to meet the author of Cup of Gold, To a God Unknown and Tortilla Flat and just drove to John's house. Charlie's friendship brought John into contact with some of the rich and powerful of the entertainment world, and although you can say John was already on the path to fame, fortune, and a Nobel Prize, it certainly doesn't hurt to have the most famous man in the world as one of your biggest fans.

Charlie lived in the United States until 1952, when on a trip back to England, he was denied a reentry permit. He returned to the United States only once more. That was in 1972 to receive a lifetime achievement Oscar.

Charlie's last film - both as a director, producer, writer, and an actor - was A Countess from Hong Kong starring Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren . That was in 1967. Charlie had a small walk on role as a sea sick steward. Unlike so many of Charlie's films, this picture was not a success.