Saturday, June 22, 2013
The year was 1889 and an event took place that would become a worldwide phenomenon. Toiling away in a secret lab in West Orange, New Jersey, a lone engineer worked on a contraption that would allow the general public to see a recorded event for the first time. The contraption was called the kinetiscope and had been designed by Thomas Alva Edison and this lone engineer. Edison, whose lab was responsible for so many inventions, including the dynamo, the phonograph, the light bulb and so many other miracles of the day, was away in Europe at an exhibition. Upon his return, he entered his secret photographic lab and was given a demonstration by his engineer of a short movie projected on a small screen. While he did not immediately see the commercial possibilities, this would soon change. Once the general public got a taste of his new invention over the next few years, the thirst for anything on film would extend worldwide.
As if on cue, across the Atlantic, in London, in that same year, a child was born who would later define comedy on film and take Edison’s invention to every corner of the world with his artistry. Charles Spencer Chaplin was born to stage parents, Charles Senior and Lily Harley (Hannah Chaplin). It would be 24 years before “Charlie”, as he would come to be known, would see his first film. Charlie, upon seeing his first movie, would become obsessed with learning everything he could about this new form of entertainment. It would allow his talents to be seen beyond a live audience.
Charlie Chaplin was thrust into the world of the performing arts and would learn the trade, mostly from his mother because his father ran off and would eventually die from “the drink”. This strong maternal influence would define Charlie’s life and become part of his movie themes. His childhood was marked by wretched poverty, workhouses, the mental illness of his mother and the strong influence of his older half-brother, Sydney.
As a young boy, Charlie was forced through circumstance to fend for himself for food, shelter and a livelihood. After his mother’s breakdown on stage when Charlie was five, he made his first stage appearance to a tough, but appreciative crowd. He realized from that point on that he could make people laugh. He loved it and would soon be part of a travelling show called the Lancashire Lads.