Happy 128th Birthday, Charlie Chaplin!

The immortal Charlie Chaplin was born Charles Spencer Chaplin 128 years ago today. There is no official record of his birth, but Chaplin said he was born on East Street in South London. Here are 10 CC Did-You-Knows:

  • Chaplin’s childhood was a difficult one. His alcoholic father was largely absent (and died at 37, when Charlie was just 12), and his mother was committed to a mental asylum when he was 14.
  • For some time, even after becoming very successful, Chaplin continued to live in a cheap hotel room.
  • Chaplin was married four times, with a greater disparity between his age and his wife’s with each new union (12 years, 19 years, 21 years and 37 years). He had 11 children with those four wives; he was 73 years old when his youngest, Charles, was born in 1962.
  • Stan Laurel was once Chaplin’s understudy during their years on the English stage. Later, when they had both emigrated to the United States, they roomed together in a boarding house. No cooking was allowed there, so when Laurel was making dinner on a hot plate, Chaplin played the violin to cover the sound of the frying.
  • Chaplin was the first actor to appear on the cover of Time magazine (the July 6, 1925 issue).
  • Contrary to popular belief, Chaplin’s eyes were a striking shade of blue.
  • Chaplin received no screen credit for his early films for Keystone (it was that studio’s policy not to credit actors); it wasn’t until 1915 that Chaplin finally received a screen credit, when he made his first film for Essanay.
  • In addition to his many other accomplishments, Chaplin was a composer. He wrote more than 500 songs, including the beloved hit “Smile,” and later in life scored some of his early films when they were reissued.
  • In 1947, Chaplin was subpoenaed by—but never appeared before—the House Un-American Activities Committee. He sent HUAC a telegram, reading: “I am not a Communist, neither have I ever joined any political party or organization in my life.” That seems to have satisfied them.
  • Chaplin was a cofounder of United Artists, along with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith.

Happy birthday, Charlie Chaplin, wherever you may be!

a young Charlie Chaplin

Happy 113th Birthday, Cary Grant!

The great Cary Grant was born Archibald Alexander Leach 113 years ago today in Horfield, a suburb of Bristol, England. Here are 10 CG Did-You-Knows:

  • Grant’s parents worked in the garment industry—his father as a tailor’s presser; his mother as a seamstress. His older brother, William, died very young of tuberculous meningitis.
  • Grant showed an interest in performing at a very early age, and his mother, who was otherwise very cautious regarding his upbringing after the death of his older brother, encouraged him in pursuing this interest.
  • When Grant was just nine years old, his father had his mother placed in a mental institution, telling Grant she was away on holiday. He later told Grant that his mother had died—she had not. Grant didn’t learn she was still alive until twenty years later.
  • By his early teens, Grant was performing as a stilt walker with a touring group of acrobats. When he was 16, the troupe traveled to New York City, where it enjoyed nine-month run at the Hippodrome—at that time the largest theatre in the world—before touring the country in vaudeville.
  • When the time came for the troupe to return to England, Grant and a few of his fellow performers decided to remain in the U.S. Grant returned to NYC and continued to work, first in vaudeville and then the legitimate theatre, which eventually led to a contract with Paramount Pictures. He made his debut in 1932 in a comedy called This Is the Night that also starred Lili Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Thelma Todd.
  • Douglas Fairbanks was a key role model for Grant, who shared the star’s good looks and athleticism (Grant had met Fairbanks aboard ship when he first crossed the Atlantic bound for NYC).
  • Ian Fleming is said to have based the character of James Bond in part on Grant (we think he’d have made a great Bond), and Raymond Chandler once wrote, “If I had ever an opportunity of selecting the movie actor who would best represent [Philip] Marlowe to my mind, I think it would have been Cary Grant.”
  • A telephoned complaint from Grant, who was staying at the Plaza Hotel in NYC, to Conrad Hilton, who was in Istanbul at the time, convinced the hotel czar that the Plaza should serve two full English muffins with room service breakfasts, rather than the one-and-a-half they had been serving.
  • Grant donated his entire salary of $137,000 from The Philadelphia Story (1940) to the British War Relief Fund. Four years later, he donated his salary of $160,000 for Arsenic and Old Lace to British War Relief, the USO and the Red Cross.
  • Grant was a big fan of Elvis Presley and can be spotted in the audience and backstage in Presley’s concert documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is (1970).

Happy birthday, Cary Grant, wherever you may be!

Cary Grant

Happy Birthday, Janet Gaynor!

Janet Gaynor, born Laura Gainor 109 years today in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is not as well remembered today as she should be. (Yes, we old movie buffs know her and love her, but the general public has largely forgotten her.)

There were few bigger stars in 1920s and early ’30s, and her screen partnership with Charles Farrell had fans dreaming that he’d leave his wife for her.

Janet Gaynor made any number of terrific films, but our two favorites are F. W. Murnau‘s silent masterpiece, Sunrise (1927), and the first A Star Is Born (1937), directed by the great William Wellman (A Star Is Born can be viewed for free by Amazon Prime members).

A few TV appearances aside, Janet Gaynor retired in 1938, but she left an indelible mark on the motion picture industry (she won the very first Best Actress Oscar on May 16, 1929, about which she said, “Naturally, I was thrilled, but being the first year, the Academy Awards had no background or tradition, and it naturally didn’t mean what it does now. Had I known then what it would come to mean in the next few years, I’m sure I’d have been overwhelmed. At the time, I think I was more thrilled over meeting Douglas Fairbanks.”

Here’s wishing you a happy birthday, Ms. Gaynor, wherever you may be.

Janet Gaynor quote