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Chaplin Quotations


Simplicity is a difficult thing to achieve.

From an interview with Richard Meryman, 1966




Imagination means nothing without doing.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Life can be wonderful if you're not afraid of it. All it needs is courage, imagination ... and a little dough.

Calvero (Charles Chaplin) says this to Terry (Claire Bloom) in Limelight (1952)




Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease from pain.

From “Mr. Chaplin Answers His Critics”; The Comedian Defends His Ending of ‘The Great Dictator’ by Charles Chaplin, The New York Times, 27 October 1940.




You’ll never find rainbows if you’re looking down.

From the lyrics to “Swing Little Girl”, the song at the beginning of The Circus, which Chaplin himself sang for the film’s 1969 rerelease.




Let us strive for the impossible. The great achievements throughout history have been the conquest of what seemed the impossible.

From “To Support the President’s Rally for a Second Front Now!”, Madison Square Park, July 22, 1942. Quoted in My Autobiography:
“Let us aim for victory in the spring. You in the factories, you in the fields, you in uniforms; you citizens of the world, let us work and fight towards that end. You, official Washington, and you, official London, let us make this our aim - victory in the spring.
If we hold this thought, work with this thought, live with this thought, it will generate a spirit that will increase our energy and quicken our drive.
Let us strive for the impossible. Remember the great achievements throughout history have been the conquest of what seemed the impossible.”




Perfect love is the most beautiful of all frustrations because it is more than one can express.

From My Autobiograpy: “Schopenhauer said happiness is a negative state — but I disagree. For the last twenty years I have known what happiness means. I have the good fortune to be married to a wonderful wife. I wish I could write more about this, but it involves love, and perfect love is the most beautiful of all frustrations because it is more than one can express. As I live with Oona, the depth and beauty of her character are a continual revelation to me. Even as she walks ahead of me along the narrow sidewalks of Vevey with simple dignity, her neat little figure straight, her dark hair smoothed back showing a few silver threads, a sudden wave of love and admiration comes over me for all that she is — and a lump comes into my throat.”




A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure.

From Chaplin’s My Autobiography: “The secret of Mack Sennett’s success was his enthusiasm. He was a great audience and laughed genuinely at what he thought funny. He stood and giggled until his body began to shake. This encouraged me and I began to explain the character: ‘You know this fellow is many-sided, a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo-player. However, he is not above picking up cigarette-butts or robbing a baby of its candy. And, of course, if the occasion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear—but only in extreme anger!’ I carried on this way for ten minutes or more, keeping Sennett in continuous chuckles. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘get on the set and see what you can do there.’”




I am a citizen of the world.

”‘Why haven’t you become a citizen?’ said another voice. ‘I see no reason to change my nationality. I consider myself a citizen of the world,’ I answered.” - Charlie Chaplin quotes this dialogue in “My Autobiography” from the press conference for Monsieur Verdoux, which took place right after its premiere in New York. Rather than directing their questions at the film itself, the hostile journalists interrogated Chaplin about his political sympathies, patriotism, tax affairs and refusal to adopt American citizenship.

Chaplin is also quoted in “My Father, Charlie Chaplin” by Charles Chaplin Jr.: “I consider myself a citizen of the world, an internationalist… I just happen to have been born in London, England. It could have been Burma or China or Timbuktu, I’d still be the way I am. I’d keep my first citizenship because, being an accident of birth, it wouldn’t have any real significance. But wherever I live I’ll conform to the rules, laws and regulations of that country.”

In a 1942 speech at “Artists’ Front to Win the War” at Carnegie Hall, Chaplin declared, “I’m not a citizen, I don’t need citizenship papers, and I’ve never had patriotism in that sense for any country, but I’m a patriot to humanity as a whole. I’m a citizen of the world. If the Four Freedoms mean anything after this war, we don’t bother about whether we are citizens of one country or another.”

And in a response to an interrogator from the Immigration and Naturalization Service in 1948, Chaplin said, “I consider myself as much a citizen of America as anybody else and my great love has always been here in this country […] at the same time I don’t feel I am allied to any one particular country. I feel I am a citizen of the world. I feel that when the day comes and we have the barriers down and so forth so the people come and go all around the world and be a part of any country, and I have always felt that about citizenship.”




Life is a beautiful magnificent thing, even to a jelly fish.

From a scene in Limelight




Nothing is permanent in this wicked world – not even our troubles.

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux.




We think too much and feel too little.

From Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator.




I hope we shall abolish war and settle all differences at the conference table.

In response to journalist for his views on the future of mankind at his 70th birthday, April 16, 1959. “I hope we shall abolish war and settle all differences at the conference table… I hope we shall abolish all the hydrogen and atom bombs before they abolish us first.”




If you're really truthful with yourself, it's a wonderful guidance.

From 1966 interview with Richard Meryman




The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury.

From My Autobiography : “The saddest thing I can imagine is to get used to luxury. Each day I stepped into the Carlton was like entering a golden paradise. Being rich in London made life an exciting adventure every moment. The world was an entertainment.”




All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.

From “My Autobiography”:
“‘The public doesn’t line up outside the box-office when your name appears as they do for mine.’
‘Maybe,’ said Sennett, ‘but without the support of our organization you’d be lost.’ He warned: ‘Look what’s happening to Ford Sterling.’
This was true, for Ford had not fared very well since leaving Keystone. But I told Sennett: ‘All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl.’ As a matter of fact I had made some of my most successful pictures with just about that assembly.’




I suppose that’s one of the ironies of life – doing the wrong thing at the right moment.

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux.




The deeper the truth in a creative work, the longer it will live.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




What a sad business, being funny

From Limelight (1952): Terry (Claire Bloom) to Calvero (Charles Chaplin) after he tells her of his downfall in show business.




We must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature — or go insane.

From My Autobiography, on the creation of The Gold Rush: “In the creation of comedy, it is paradoxical that tragedy stimulates the spirit of ridicule; because ridicule, I suppose, is an attitude of defiance: we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature — or go insane.”




Simplicity of approach is always best.

From My Autobiography: “The intellectualising of line and space, composition, tempo, etc., is all very well, but it has little to do with acting, and is liable to fall into arid dogma. Simplicity of approach is always best.”




What do you want meaning for? Life is desire, not meaning!

From a scene in Limelight




One murder makes a villain, millions a hero. Numbers sanctify.

Henri Verdoux says this to a reporter before being led to the guillotine in Monsieur Verdoux




In this world there is room for everyone, and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.

From Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator.




We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that.

From Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator.




I am at peace with God. My conflict is with man.

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux




The world is not composed of heroes and villains, but of men and women with all the passions that God has given them. The ignorant condemn, but the wise pity.

Charlie Chaplin: Prefatory title to A Woman of Paris, 1923 (archive reference: ECCI00313430, chm241001)

Chaplin is quoted in “A Woman of Paris Next Chaplin Film” in the Atlanta American, October 21, 1923: “I have tried to make a story of life as I see it—a life that is not composed of heroes and villains, but of men and women with all their passions given to them by God. My sole purpose is that of entertainment, but if a moral has crept into it, it is a preachment for tolerance and understanding for those who have made mistakes, to invite your pity for human weakness, for after all, none is perfect. It is so easy to condemn—so hard to understand, and forgive.”

He is also quoted in “Chaplin Tries Something He Never Tried Before” in the Taunton Daily Gazette, April 3, 1923: Human beings are neither heroes nor villains, neither good nor bad, and are not to be held personally accountable for actions resulting in tragedy. They are straws swayed from the outside by the social entity to which individuals are chained, and by public opinion. I don’t necessarily mean press or church, state or mob, but the influence of any person, group, custom, tradition or social gesture.”




Whomever lives, gambles with life.

Full quote: The mystic urge to gamble is as deep in man as the instinct to survive. It is as much a part of him and as unavoidable as breathing, for whomever lives, gambles with life. (From manuscript notes in the Charlie Chaplin archives)




Machinery should be a blessing to mankind and not a curse.

Paper, Charles Chaplin, An Idea for the Solution of War Reparations , 1932: “We can produce in abundance food and materials, and manufacture in mass production all the essentials and luxuries of life. Machinery should be a blessing to mankind and not a curse. Therefore, let us have shorter hours of labor and cheaper money. The purchasing power comes through wages. Then let us raise them to where each man can enjoy the blessings and the glory of science, which were not created for profit alone, but to serve humanity also.”




All artists experience a lull in their work. It is a period of replenishing the soil – of plowing in and turning under our past experiences and watering them afresh with new ones.

From “A Comedian Sees the World”: After the premiere of City Lights, “My friends convinced me that I had a success and after the ordeal of that first night in Los Angeles I made plans to leave the following evening for New York. Upon my arrival there I invited the late Ralph Barton, the famous caricaturist and writer, to come as my guest to Europe. He confessed to me that he had been feeling depressed, and that recently he had attempted suicide. Poor Ralph! I remember I tried to appeal to his ego.
‘Life could never defeat me,’ I said. ‘Nothing matters, only physical pain. Our tragedies are only as big as we make them.’
Ralph was creatively exhausted. This, I think, preyed on his mind and was partly the cause for his later killing himself.
I tried to cheer him up. ‘All artists experience a lull in their work. It is a period of replenishing the soil–of plowing in and turning under our past experiences and watering them afresh with new ones. But later you’ll reap a creative harvest,’ I laughed. ‘What you need is adventure, so come to Europe.’ He accepted my invitation, and we sailed for England on the Mauretania.”




Over the years I have discovered that ideas come through an intense desire for them; continually desiring, the mind becomes a watch-tower on the look-out for incidents that may excite the imagination – music, a sunset, may give image to an idea.

From My Autobiography: “Interviewers have asked me how I get ideas for pictures and to this day I am not able to answer satisfactorily. Over the years I have discovered that ideas come through an intense desire for them; continually desiring, the mind becomes a watch-tower on the look-out for incidents that may excite the imagination – music, a sunset, may give image to an idea.
I would say, pick a subject that will stimulate you, elaborate it and involve it, then, if you can’t develop it further, discard it and pick another. Elimination from accumulation is the process of finding what you want.”




The persecution of any minority is inhuman and unnatural. That belief is timeless and beyond change.

Speaking of his film The Great Dictator Charlie Chaplin is quoted in John S. Truesdell’s “Chaplin’s Great Dictator Now Ready for Release”, Detroit Michigan Free Press, August 25, 1940: “My reason for producing this film is that I believe the persecution of any minority is inhuman and unnatural. That belief is timeless and beyond change. The tone of the picture is, of course, anti-militaristic. Our ammunition is laughs, and our target the vanities of men who set themselves above other men.”




How does one get ideas? By sheer perseverance to the point of madness.

From “My Autobiography” : “Interviewers have asked me how I get ideas for pictures and to this day I am not able to answer satisfactorily. […] How does one get ideas? By sheer perseverance to the point of madness. One must have a capacity to suffer anguish and sustain enthusiasm over a long period of time. Perhaps it’s easier for some people than others, but I doubt it.”




Beauty is the spirit of all things, an exaltation, a psalm of life and death, of good and evil, of vileness and purity, of joy and pain, of hate and love—all of it incarnate in the object we see or hear. It is an empathy, a feeling into art or nature that we observe—all of it a singing harmony to our senses.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes (“Thoughts and Ideas.” June 2, 1955. ch00372002)




My happiest days are those in which I do good work.

From “Sh-s-s-h! Chaplin is Forced to Reveal Comedy Secrets!” in The Photoplayers’ Weekly, August 5, 1915: “Whatever the good people want I shall try to give them. My happiest days are those in which I do good work. Sometimes I have taken a whole day on a few scenes so as to get the right comedy situations. I realize all the time that every gesture of my fingers and arms and every contortion of my facial muscles will be witnessed by many millions of people seeking entertainment.”




Making fun is serious business.

From an article by Chaplin called “Making Fun” in the December 1916 issue of The Soil: “Making fun is serious business. It calls for deep study, for concentrated observation. It is the business of a funny man to know what makes people laugh and why it makes them laugh. He must be a psychologist before he can become a successful comedian.”




I hope that the entertainment I give has some lasting effect on people. I hope they see the beauty that I myself am seeking. I am trying to express a beauty that embraces not only physical characteristics and scenes, but the true fundamental emotions of humanity. Beauty. Beauty is what I am after.

From “A Window in the New World”, Toronto Star Weekly, May 14, 1921




Remember, you can always stoop and pick up nothing.

Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) says this in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)
Also, in My Autobiography, Chaplin recounts: “Mother had a saying: ‘You can always stoop and pick up nothing.’ But she herself did not adhere to this adage, and my sense of propriety was often outraged.”




That which is apparent ends. That which is subtle is never-ending.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




A man is what a woman makes him and a woman makes herself.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference.

Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) says this in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)




I am what I am: an individual, unique and different.

In “A Writer’s Notebook”, Somerset Maugham attributes Chaplin’s profound melancholy and loneliness to his impoverished days back in London and comments that Chaplin is nostalgic to those days: “Charlie Chaplin… his fun is simple and sweet and spontaneous. And yet all the time you have a feeling that at the back of all is a profound melancholy. He is a creature of moods and it does not require his facetious assertion ‘Gee, I had such a fit of the blues last night I didn’t hardly know what to do with myself’ to warn you that his humour is lined with sadness. He does not give you the impression of a happy man. I have a notion that he suffers from a nostalgia of the slums. The celebrity he enjoys, his wealth, imprison him in a way of life in which he finds only constraint. I think he looks back to the freedom of his struggling youth, with its poverty and bitter privation, with a longing which knows it can never be satisfied. To him the streets of southern London are the scene of frolic, gaiety and extravagant adventure…I can imagine him going into his own house and wondering what on earth he is doing in this strange man’s dwelling. I suspect that the only home he can ever look upon as such is a second-floor back in the Kennington Road. One night I walked with him in Los Angeles and presently our steps took us to the poorest quarter of the city. There were sordid tenement houses and the shabby gaudy shops in which are sold the various goods that the poor buy from day to day. His face lit up and a buoyant tone came into his voice as he exclaimed, ‘Say, this is the real life, isn’t it? All the rest is just sham.’” In “My Autobiography”, Chaplin is annoyed by Maugham’s “attitude of wanting to make poverty attractive” and retorts that he does not know any poor man who has nostalgia for poverty. He concludes: “In spite of Maugham’s assumptions, like everyone else I am what I am: an individual, unique and different, with a lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings; a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, all of which I am the sum total.”




This is a ruthless world and one must be ruthless to cope with it.

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux




The world cannot be wrong if in this world there's you.

From “This is My Song”. Music and lyrics by Charles Chaplin for The Countess from Hong Kong




Life could be wonderful if people would leave you alone.

Hannah (Paulette Goddard) says this to the Barber (Charles Chaplin) in The Great Dictator (1940)




I have yet to know a poor man who has nostalgia for poverty.

From My Autobiography: “I have yet to know a poor man who has nostalgia for poverty, or who finds freedom in it …
I found poverty neither attractive nor edifying. It taught me nothing but a distortion of values, an over-rating of the virtues and graces of the rich and the so-called better classes.”




The basic essential of a great actor is that he loves himself in acting.

From My Autobiograpy: “The basic essential of a great actor is that he loves himself in acting. I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. Often I have heard an actor say: ‘How I’d love to play that part,’ meaning he would love himself in the part. This may be egocentric; but the great actor is mainly preoccupied with his own virtuosity […] Just a fervent love of the theatre is not sufficient; there must also be a fervent love of and belief in oneself.”




I'm an old weed. The more I'm cut down, the more I spring up again.

Calvero says this in Limelight




Time heals, and experience teaches that the secret of happiness is in service to others.

Screen title in A Woman of Paris (1923)




I'm an old sinner. Nothing shocks me.

From Limelight (1952): Calvero (Charles Chaplin) to Terry (Claire Bloom) as he tries to learn if she has a venereal disease.