Friday, April 20, 2007

Feast of Saint Charlie

Brothers, Sisters, and Transgendered Comedists Everywhere,

This week we saw the birthday of one of the greatest physical comedians in history, the one and only Charlie Chaplin. Born in London, Chaplin's mother was institutionalized and he grew up poor becoming a performer at a very young age to support himself and his brother. He joined a comic troup with Stan Laurel that toured America and was seen by Max Sennett who signed him to a film contract.

The master of the silent comedy, Chaplin's character, the little tramp, was incredibly deep allowing him to do the silliest of sight gags, heart wrenching sadness, sly scams, and always with an incredible sense of humanity.

He was one of the first true superstars, ultimately using his fame, power, and wealth to become one of the founding members of United Artists, a studio formed to give artists more control over their work. At UA, he made his last great silent The Gold Rush and his two masterpiece talkies, City Lights and Modern Times.

These last two films clearly displayed his left-leaning political sympathies, which, coupled with his agnosticism, landed him on the wrong side of McCartyism. His power and stardom kept McCarthy from calling Chaplin before the committee, but when he returned back to England for a visit, J Edgar Hoover had his visa revoked and he never returned to the States.

To prove that Einstein can be worked into any conversation, one of my favorite stories about Chaplin comes from Einstein's arrival in the United States after fleeing Germany with the rise of the Nazis. Einstein's general theory of relativity had made him famous and when he came to California to speak at Cal Tech, he met Charlie Chaplin. When the car with the two of them arrived, it was mobbed, surrounded by screaming fans of the actor and the physicist. Einstein was flabbergasted and looked at Chaplin and asked, "What does this all mean?" Chaplin smiled and said, "Nothing."

So great was the admiration, that when he met Groucho Marx and told him how much he loved the Marx Brothers' movies, Groucho was humbled to receive such praise from the master. This was no mere clown, this was Chaplin.

In his honor, use this holiday to date someone half your age.

To the little tramp or great dictator in all of us,

Live, love, and laugh,

Irrevend Steve