I was born Charles Spencer Chaplin in Walworth, London on April 16, 1889. I have an older brother, Sydney, but he’s only my half brother- same mother, different father. I was named after my father, but he was a drunk. He died when he was thirty-seven. My mother, Hannah, was a music hall entertainer. Both her physical and mental health fluctuated during my youth. One night, when I was five years old, she became sick during a performance. I went out on stage and sang in her place. I knew then that I loved performing, and I loved it when the audience threw money at me.
It was difficult for my mother to make enough money to support me, Syd, and herself. Syd and I had to share a single pair of shoes, taking turns going from place to place. My mother slipped into insanity. We were constantly made fun of and the authorities separated the three of us for a year. By the time I was fourteen, I was forced to have her committed to an institution. I don’t like to remember my childhood.
When I was about seventeen, Syd introduced me to Fred Karno, who led a vaudeville troupe. I succeeded in impressing him, and I subsequently became a member of the troupe. It was during my time in this troupe that I fell in love with a dancer, named Hetty Kelly. I asked her to marry me, but she, being only sixteen, felt that she was too young. I then asked her to wait for me until I returned from the troupe’s planned trip to New York.
While spending time in New York, I started to become fascinated with the movies. I got a telegram one day from Mack Sennett from Keystone Pictures, who offered me a job in California. He promised $150 per week. I was off to Hollywood within the next month. When we I met Sennett, he did not believe that I was Charlie Chaplin. He said that Charlie Chaplin did the best drunk he had ever seen and that I was too young to be him. I immediately went into my drunk routine, which convinced him. He took me and said, “Forget everything you ever learned, you’re not in the theater anymore.”
At first I was terrified by the movies, but it soon became very natural to me. I walked into a room of costumes and tried many different things on. Sennett and the rest of the crew grew angry as they waited for me to get myself dressed. “I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. Everything a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large.” I put white make-up on my face, along with heavy black eye-liner, and finally a thick, black moustache. From this outfit came my infamous character: The Tramp. “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born.”
After making numerous movies with Sennett, and being proclaimed an asset to Keystone Pictures, I decided that I wanted to run my own show; I wanted to direct, and have my own studio. Sennett often doubted me and...