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Chaplin Quotations


All my pictures are built around the idea of getting in trouble and so giving me the chance to be desperately serious in my attempt to appear as a normal little gentleman.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “All my pictures are built around the idea of getting me into trouble and so giving me the chance to be desperately serious in my attempt to appear as a normal little gentleman. That is why, no matter how desperate the predicament is, I am always very much in earnest about clutching my cane, straightening my derby hat, and fixing my tie, even though I have just landed on my head.”




You have to believe in yourself, that's the secret.

Quoted in Charles Chaplin Jr.’s “My Father, Charlie Chaplin”, 1961 : “You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret. Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat to keep alive, even then I though of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without it you go down to defeat.”




To help a friend in need is easy, but to give him your time is not always opportune.

From My Autobiography: “Much nonsense has been written about my profound melancholy and loneliness. Perhaps I have never needed too many friends — celebrity attracts them indiscriminately. To help a friend in need is easy, but to give him your time is not always opportune. At the height of my popularity, friends and acquaintances crowded in upon me excessively. And, being both extrovert and introvert, when the latter prevailed I would have to get away from it all. This might account for those articles written about my being elusive, lonely and incapable of true friendship. This is nonsense. I have one or two very good friends who brighten my horizon, and when I am with them I usually have an enjoyable time.” Related quote from “A Comedian Sees the World”, Part II: “One cannot find time to see all one’s friends, and I cannot make too many plans ahead. So there is only one thing left. If I do not wish to offend them I must pack up and leave.”




The object of art is to intensify feeling, color or sound.

From “A Comedian Sees the World”: I prefer to think the object of art is to intensify feeling, color or sound - if object it has - for this gives a fuller range to the artist in expressing life, in spite of the moral aspect of it.”




[The Tramp] wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won't let him.

From “A Comedian Sees the World”, Part 3: “A hotel set was built for Mabel Normand’s picture and I was hurriedly told to put on a funny make-up. This time I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby hat, and a large pair of shoes. I wanted the clothes to be a mass of contradictions, knowing pictorially the figure would be vividly outlined on the screen. To add a comic touch, I wore a small moustache which would not hide my expression. My appearance got an enthusiastic response from everyone, including Mr. Sennett. The clothes seemed to imbue me with the spirit of the character. He actually became a man with a soul - a point of view. I defined to Mr. Sennett the type of person he was. ‘He wears an air of romantic hunger, forever seeking romance, but his feet won’t let him.’”




Machinery should benefit mankind. It should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work.

From an interview with Flora Merrill, New York World, February 1931: “Unemployment is the vital question … Machinery should benefit mankind. It should not spell tragedy and throw it out of work. Labour-saving devices and other modern inventions were not really made for profit, but to help humanity in the pursuit of happiness. If there is to be any hope for the future it seems to me that there must be some radical change to cope with these conditions…”




Meeting people formally is like viewing a house without going inside.

From “A Comedian Sees the World”, Part IV: “Meeting people formally is like viewing a house without going inside. I shall always remember the interview with the late President Wilson at the White House during the Third Liberty Loan Campaign. There were for of us - Mary Pickford, Marie Dressler, Douglas Fairbanks and myself. We were ushered into the famous Green Room and told to “please be seated.” I’d rehearsed a speech for the occasion and intended telling the President several complimentary anecdotes about himself which I thought amusing. Eventually an official came into the room. “Stand up in line, please.” Then in came the President. “Will you all come a pace forward?” and we were formally introduced. The President was gracious and felt it incumbent to tell a story as we stood lined abreast in front of him. Anxious to brighten the solemnity of the occasion, I laughed before he came to the point which caused the others to glance at me with concern. Then came that moment of embarrassing silence. However, Marie Dressler came to the rescue and also told a story. Not having heard either one at the time I cannot record them now. I only now that I laughed politely. Then Mary found herself and told the President the wonderful spirit and cooperation that was evident throughout the country. Now was my opportunity, so I piped in with, “There certainly is- or are.” I remember the singular and plural worried me at the time. This was my only contribution to the interview and I left the White House pleasantly dazed and proud.”




If a few slapstick comedies could arouse such excitement, was there not something bogus about all celebrity?

From My Autobiography: “The large railroad station in Kansas City was packed solidly with people. The police were having difficulty controlling further crowds accumulating outside. A ladder was placed against the train to enable me to mount it and show myself on the roof. I round myself repeating the same banal words as in Amarillo. More telegrams awaited me: would I visit schools and institutions? I stuffed them in my suitcase, to be answered in New York. From Kansas City to Chicago people were again standing at railroad junctions and in fields, waving as the train swept by. I wanted to enjoy it all without reservation, but I kept thinking the world had gone crazy! If a few slapstick comedies could arouse such excitement, was there not something bogus about all celebrity? I had always thought I would like the public’s attention, and here it was — paradoxically isolating me with a depressing sense of loneliness.”




Laughter is very close to tears and vice versa.

Charles Chaplin, 1931: “The cane is very important for my character. It’s my whole philosophy. I keep it not only as an emblem of respectability but, with it, I defy fate and adversity. The poor, small, frightened, frail and undernourished man I am on the screen is never the prey of the ones who torment him. When his hopes, his dreams, his aspirations vanish, he only shrugs his shoulders and turns on his heel. It is rather a paradox to admit that this tragic mask has created more laughs than any other character on the screen or stage. This proves that laughter is very close to tears and vice versa.”




I did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain.

From My Autobiography: “I will not attempt to sound the depths of psycho-analysis to explain human behaviour, which is as inexplicable as life itself. More than sex or infantile aberrations, I believe that most of our ideational compulsions stem from atavistic causes — however, I did not have to read books to know that the theme of life is conflict and pain. Instinctively, all my clowning was based on this. My means of contriving comedy plot was simple. It was the process of getting people in and out of trouble.”




Our existence is a half-dream ... it is difficult to know where the dream ends and reality begins.

From My Autobiography: “There are mystics who believe that our existence is a half-dream and that it is difficult to know where the dream ends and reality begins. Thus it was with me.”




Our tragedies are only as big as we make them.

From “A Comedian Sees the World” : “Upon my arrival there [New York] 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.’”




People's affection hurts me but it's a beautiful pain.

From ‘A Comedian Sees the World’: “Crowds are waiting at the hotel. Again I am stirred. People’s affection hurts me but it’s a beautiful pain.”




It is always the unexpected that happens, both in moving pictures and in real life.

From a letter that Charlie Chaplin wrote to Hetty Kelly, July 18, 1918: “Dear Hetty, It is always the unexpected that happens, both in moving pictures and in real life. You can imagine what an unexpected pleasure it was for me when I discovered your letter on my desk this morning…”




The pursuit of happiness can only be had from within ourselves and the interest of others.

From a letter that Charlie Chaplin wrote to Hetty Kelly, July 18, 1918: “Do you remember, Hetty, I once told you that money and success were not everything. At the time I had not had the experience of either, but I felt it was so, and now I have experienced both. I find that the pursuit of happiness can only be had from within ourselves and the interest of others.”




I have that priceless quality of being curious about life and things which keeps up my enthusiasm.

From a letter that Charlie Chaplin wrote to Hetty Kelly, July 18, 1918: “I suppose I have arrived at the pessimistic age of youth, but still there is hope, for I have that priceless quality of being curious about life and things which keeps up my enthusiasm.”




Because of humour we are less overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life.

From My Autobiography: “My own concept of humour is slightly different: it is the subtle discrepancy we discern in what appears to be normal behaviour. In other words, through humour we see in what seems rational, the irrational; in what seems important, the unimportant. It also heightens our sense of survival and preserves our sanity. Because of humour we are less overwhelmed by the vicissitudes of life. It activates our sense of proportion and reveals to us that in an over-statement of seriousness lurks the absurd.”




Fortune and ill-fortune drift upon one haphazardly as clouds.

From My Autobiography: “I have been cosseted in the world’s affections, loved and hated. Yes, the world has given me its best and little of its worst. Whatever were my ill vicissitudes, I believe that fortune and ill-fortune drift upon one haphazardly as clouds. Knowing this, I am never too shocked at the bad things that happen and am agreeably surprised at the good. I have no design for living, no philosophy — whether sage or fool, we must all struggle with life. I vacillate with inconsistencies; at times small things will annoy me and catastrophes will leave me indifferent.”




Whether sage or fool, we must all struggle with life.

From My Autobiography: “I have been cosseted in the world’s affections, loved and hated. Yes, the world has given me its best and little of its worst. Whatever were my ill vicissitudes, I believe that fortune and ill-fortune drift upon one haphazardly as clouds. Knowing this, I am never too shocked at the bad things that happen and am agreeably surprised at the good. I have no design for living, no philosophy — whether sage or fool, we must all struggle with life. I vacillate with inconsistencies; at times small things will annoy me and catastrophes will leave me indifferent.”




There is a fraternity of those who passionately want to know.

From My Autobiography: “There is a fraternity of those who passionately want to know. I was one of them. But my motives were not so pure; I wanted to know, not for the love of knowledge but as a defence against the world’s contempt for the ignorant. So when I had time I browsed around the second-hand bookshops.”




Cold, hunger and the shame of poverty are more likely to affect one's psychology.

From My Autobiography: “Unlike Freud, I do not believe sex is the most important element in the complexity of behaviour. Cold, hunger and the shame of poverty are more likely to affect one’s psychology.”




If a gag interfered with the logic of events, no matter how funny it was I would not use it.

From My Autobiography: “I was beginning to think of comedy in a structural sense, and to become conscious of its architectural form. Each sequence implied the next sequence, all of them relating to the whole […] As simple and obvious as these slapstick comedies were, a great deal of thought and invention went into them. If a gag interfered with the logic of events, no matter how funny it was, I would not use it.”




All children in some form or another have genius; the trick is to bring it out in them.

From My Autobiography, on working with Jackie Coogan : “They say babies and dogs are the best actors in movies. Put a twelve-month-old baby in a bath-tub with a tablet of soap, and when he tries to pick it up he will create a riot of laughter. All children in some form or another have genius; the trick is to bring it out in them.”




The transition from slapstick to sentiment was a matter of feeling and discretion in arranging sequences.

From My Autobiography: “Gouverneur Morris, author and short-story writer who had written many scripts for the cinema, often invited me to his house. `Guvvy,’ as we called him, was a charming, sympathetic fellow, and when I told him about The Kid and the form it was taking, keying slapstick with sentiment, he said: ‘It won’t work. The form must be pure, either slapstick or drama; you cannot mix them, otherwise one element of your story will fail.’ We had quite a dialectical discussion about it. I said that the transition from slapstick to sentiment was a matter of feeling and discretion in arranging sequences. I argued that form happened after one had created it, that if the artist thought of a world and sincerely believed in it, no matter what the admixture was, it would be convincing. Of course, I had no grounds for this theory other than intuition. There had been satire, farce, realism, naturalism, melodrama and fantasy, but raw slapstick and sentiment, the premise of The Kid, was something of an innovation.”




Acting essentially requires feeling.

From My Autobiography: “I do not believe acting can be taught. I have seen intelligent people fail at it and dullards act quite well. But acting essentially requires feeling.”




One cannot do humour without a great sympathy for one's fellow man.

“Ageless Master’s Anatomy of Comedy: Chaplin, An Interview”, interview with Richard Meryman, Life Magazine, March 10, 1967




I am an emotional cuss.

From My Trip Abroad, 1921: “It is five o’clock. I decide to take a Turkish bath. Ah, what a difference travelling first class after the experience in the steerage! There is nothing like money. It does make life so easy. These thoughts come easily in the luxury of a warm bath. I feel a little more kindly disposed toward the first-cabin passengers. After all, I am an emotional cuss.”




I am an artist, not a politician.

From My Trip Abroad, 1921




I am an artist. I am interested in life.

From My Trip Abroad, 1921




To live in order to reason or to reason in order to live; there is the question.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Men who think deeply say little in ordinary conversations.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Beauty is the object or the consciousness which amplifies the feeling of universality in man.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




That is all there is in life — beauty. You find that and you have found everything.

From an interview with Henry Carr, “Chaplin Explains Chaplin”, Motion Picture Magazine, November 1925: “I like tragedy; it is beautiful. The only comedy that is worthwhile is when it has beauty. That is all there is in life — beauty. You find that and you have found everything. Only it is hard to find.”




“As I see it, the purpose of story telling is to express the beauty of life, condensing its high spots, for purposes of entertainment. For after all, it is only beauty we seek in life, whether it be through laughter or tears. And beauty lies in everything, both good and evil, though only the discriminating, such as the artist and the poet, finds it in both.

Quoted in “Chaplin Makes Plea For Sincerity,” Exhibitor’s Trade Review, October 1923




You can do anything if you don't have a vulgar mind.

Chaplin told Martha Raye during the shooting of Monsieur Verdoux, “You can do anything if you don’t have a vulgar mind. Have a little pixyishness. Let them have fun, it won’t be vulgar. Some can swear, others can’t. It’s like another gift, a talent. It’s there or it isn’t. You have to be what you are naturally.” (Quoted in Charles Chaplin Jr.’s “My Father, Charlie Chaplin”




Doing something with the public in mind is doing something without your own mind.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Humor is kindly. Wit is caustic.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




How awful the thought of oneness—the yoga idea. One merging into all and all merging into one. Just think of merging into Herbert Hoover.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Education is the path to revelation. Teach the alphabet and you sow the seeds of rebellion. The free thinker travels light along the road to truth.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly!

The ending of The Great Dictator: “Hannah, can you hear me? Wherever you are, look up Hannah! The clouds are lifting, the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world, a kindlier world, where men will rise above their hate, their greed and brutality. Look up Hannah. The soul of man has been given wings and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow, into the light of hope, into the future. The glorious future that belongs to you, to me, and to all of us! Look up Hannah, look up!”




Most all our worldly troubles are only drifting bubbles. Most all our cares and sorrows are gone with our tomorrows.

From “Sing a Song”. Music and Lyrics by Charles Chaplin, Abe Lyman and Gus Arnheim: “Most all our worldly troubles are only drifting bubbles. Most all our cares and sorrows are gone with our tomorrows. So don’t you let them fret you or some day they will get you. When skies are grey, stop work and play, and laugh your cares away…”




I don't want to create a revolution - I just want to create a few more films.

In response to journalists for comments on United States Attorney-General’s announcement to revoke his re-entry visa, September 23, 1952. Quoted in The Guardian: “I am not a political man and I have no political convictions. I am an individual and a believer in liberty. That is all the politics I have. On the other hand I am not a super-patriot. Super -patriotism leads to Hitlerism - and we’ve had our lesson there. I don’t want to create a revolution - I just want to create a few more films.”




Action is more generally understood than words.

From “Pantomime and Comedy” by Charlie Chaplin, The New York Times, Jan. 25, 1931: “Action is more generally understood than words. The lift of an eyebrow, however faint, may convey more than a hundred words. Like the Chinese symbolism, it will mean different things, according to its scenic connotation… Pantomime, I have always believed, and still believe, is the prime qualification of a successful screen player. A truly capable actor must possess a thorough grounding in pantomime.”




Deep down we all have a sense of our own inadequacy about coping with life. It is something that all of us hide from the world yet it feeds the soul and endows our personality with charm.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




If only the old and young could be the same age.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes in the archives




Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest and richest themes: love, pity and humanity.

From “My Autobiography”, Charlie Chaplin remembering his mother, Hannah Chaplin: “I remember an evening in our one room in the basement at Oakley Street. I lay in bed recovering from a fever. Sydney had gone out to night school and Mother and I were alone. It was late afternoon, and she sat with her back to the window reading, acting and explaining in her inimitable way the New Testament and Christ’s love and pity for the poor and for little children. Perhaps her emotion was due to my illness, but she gave the most luminous and appealing interpretation of Christ that I have ever heard or seen. […] Mother had so carried me away that I wanted to die that very night and meet Jesus. But Mother was not so enthusiastic. ‘Jesus wants you to live first and fulfil your destiny here,’ she said. In that dark room in the basement at Oakley Street, Mother illuminated to me the kindliest light this world has ever known, which has endowed literature and the theatre with their greatest and richest themes: love, pity and humanity.”




When I’m not making pictures, I’m thinking of them, and when I’m not thinking of them, I’m dreaming of them.

From “Spotlight”, May 5, 1917




I am successful because I work hard and pay attention to detail. I think of my work constantly. I can’t even read a book or have a conversation without trying to find a good comic effect in the most serious part of it.

From “Charlie Chaplin tells Chronicle Correspondent He Never Wanted to be a Famous Funnyman” by Elizabeth Peltret, Paterson Chronicle, February 4, 1917




The desire for peace is universal. [...] Let us try to understand each other’s problems, for in modern warfare there is no victory.

Chaplin accepted an award from the World Peace Council on May 27, 1954, and told the assembled press: “The desire for peace is universal. I do not assume to know the answers to the problems which threaten peace, but this I do know: that nations will never solve them in an atmosphere of hate or suspicion; nor will the threat of dropping hydrogen bombs solve them. The melancholy grooming of people to the acceptance of hydrogen warfare, with all its attendant horrors, is a crime against the human spirit and has created world infirmity. Let us therefore absolve ourselves of the miserable, cancerous atmosphere. Let us try to understand each other’s problems, for in modern warfare there is no victory.”




America has changed [...] The gigantic scale of industrial institutions, of press, television, and commercial advertising has completely divorced me from the American way of life. I want the other side of the coin, a simpler personal sense of living.

After he had left America, Chaplin wrote in his autobiography: “Friends have asked me if I miss the United States - New York? In candour I do not. America has changed, so has New York. The gigantic scale of industrial institutions, of press, television and commercial advertising has completely divorced me from the American way of life. I want the other side of the coin, a simpler personal sense of living - not the ostentatious avenues and towering buildings which are an ever-reminder of big business and its ponderous achievements.”