The following is a list of great and talented individuals who overcame adversity to become legends. They are those who have inspired me to strive for greatness and not let anything stand in my way. Hopefully their stories can serve as inspiration to you as well.
Chapter I: The Tramp – Charlie Chaplin
Words of Wisdom:
“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself”
“Imagination means nothing without doing.”
“We think too much and feel too little.”
“A day without laughter is a day wasted.”
Life and Upbringing:
Born in London 1889 as Charles Spencer Chaplin, Charlie’s upbringing was a difficult one to say the least. His parents were penniless musicians, his father absent, and his mother committed to an insane asylum when he was only fourteen. He started touring as a musician, actor, and comedian to pay the bills. In the biography, Chaplin, David Robinson calls his life, “The most dramatic of all rags to riches stories ever told.” Imagine, starting from nothing, working in a workhouse as a child, forced to find your way in life with no support whatsoever, to become one of if not the most iconic actor in history!
After touring on the West End in London, he went across the sea and eventually found success in America. He adopted the persona: The Tramp, first in Kid Auto Races at Venice, and later made famous in The Kid and The Gold Rush. With his physical humour and expressive face, he went on to be the greatest star of his time, going on the act in, produce, and direct some of the biggest movies ever made. By twenty-six he was one of the highest paid actors in the world. Rags to riches indeed!
Chaplin was one of the biggest stars of the time, but a huge change was occurring in Hollywood that threatened many silent film actors’ careers: The emergence of talkies. With the arrival of sound and dialogue, many silent film actors found themselves having to adapt or be replaced with fresh faces (see 1952s Singin’ in the Rain). Silent films were becoming a thing of the past. Despite this, Chaplin refused to relent and went ahead to make City Lights and Modern Times, two of the most iconic silent films of all time. They went on to great success and are still considered classics today. Another major plot point in Chaplin’s life was the making of the film The Great Dictator in which he mocks Adolf Hitler at a time when Britain just declared war on Germany. He famously said, “Hitler must be laughed at”. He concludes the film with a five minute monologue denouncing fascism and advocating for peace.
Despite five Oscar nominations for The Great Dictator, many took issue with a film that was so political when all they wanted was a fun comedy. However, Chaplin never shied away from sharing his political views and standing up for what he believed in. This is probably most notable during the Hollywood Blacklist, where anyone who was or was accused of being a communist or a communist sympathizer, was blacklisted from Hollywood, such as screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (see 2015s Trumbo). Like many artists of the time, Chaplin was accused of being communist. Although he denied this, he argued that the government had no right to suppress peoples’ ideologies and openly campaigned against The House of Un-American Activities Committee as well as the trials being held against suspected members of the communist party.
Many smear campaigns were set up against him, and as his reputation was already tarnished after multiple affair trials, it was a difficult time for The Tramp. Still, they were unable to silence him. When Chaplin went back to London for the premier of his film Limelight, his re-entry permit for the United States was revoked. As such, he was unable to return to Hollywood to make any more films. He continued to work in England, and did not return to America for twenty years. In 1972, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave him and honourary academy award for which he received a twelve minute standing ovation, the longest in Oscars history.
What He Taught Us:
When you grow up impoverished, without the same amenities and privileges others take for granted, many tell you that the best you can ever hope for is just to get by. Chaplin did not accept this and neither should we. He worked his hardest and did not allow his current situation to prevent him from achieving greatness. He knew that no matter how tragic the circumstances, you can always find a silver lining. He showed that laughter truly is the best medicine, and he stayed true to his art no matter how much the world tried to tell him to change. An acting coach once told me, “Don’t talk about politics or religion unless you are willing to lose a job over it”. Chaplin lost more than just one job, he gave up a career to stand up for what he believed in. He knew that some things, no matter the cost, are worth fighting for.
Michaud, Julliette. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Flammarion, 2017.
Robinson, David, et al. Chaplin. Taschen, 2006.
“Charlie Chaplin.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Aug. 2018,