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Chaplin Quotations


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