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Chaplin Quotations


There are more valid facts and details in works of art than there are in history books.

From “My Autobiography” : “His [Sergei M. Eisenstein] film Ivan the Terrible, which I saw after the Second World War, was the acme of all historical pictures. He dealt with history poetically — an excellent way of dealing with it. When I realize how distorted even recent events have become, history as such only arouses my scepticism. Whereas a poetic interpretation achieves a general effect of the period. After all, there are more valid facts and details in works of art than there are in history books.”




I am an individual and a believer in liberty.

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: https://www.theguardian.com/century/1950-1959/Story/0,,105162,00.html): “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.”




Anyone who caters to the public has got to keep his knowledge of "what people like" fresh and up to date.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “Very often I hear a slight ripple at something I had not expected to be funny. At once I prick up my ears and ask myself why that particular thing got a laugh. In a way, my going to see a movie is really the same as a merchant observing what people are wearing or buying or doing. Anyone who caters to the public has got to keep his knowledge of ‘what people like’ fresh and up to date.”




I always try to do the unexpected in a novel way.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “I not only plan for surprise in the general incidents of a picture, but I also try to vary my individual actions so that they, too, will come as a surprise. I always try to do the unexpected in a novel way. If I think an audience expects me to walk along the street while in a picture, I will suddenly jump on a car. If I want to attract a man’s attention, instead of tapping him on the shoulder with my hand or calling to him, I hook my cane around his arm and gently pull him to me.”




It is a matter of simple knowledge that the human likes to see the struggle between the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the successful and the unsuccessful.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “Another point about the human being that I use a great deal is the liking of the average person for contrast and surprise in his entertainment. It is a matter of simple knowledge, of course, that the human likes to see the struggle between the good and the bad, the rich and the poor, the successful and the unsuccessful. He likes to cry and he likes to laugh, all within the space of a very few moments. To the average person, contrast spells interest, and because it does I am constantly making use of it in my pictures.”




Restraint is a great word, not only for actors but for everybody to remember.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “Restraint is a great word, not only for actors but for everybody to remember. Restraint of tempers, appetites, desires, bad habits, and so on, is a mighty good thing to cultivate. One of the reasons I hated the early comedies in which I played was because there wouldn’t be much “restraint” in hurling custard pies! One or two custard pies are funny, perhaps: but when nothing but custard pies is used to get laughs, the picture becomes monotonous.”




I have studied human nature, because without a knowledge of it I could not do my work.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “There is no mystery connected with “making people laugh.” All I have ever done is to keep my eyes open and my brain alert for any facts or incidents that I could use in my business. I have studied human nature, because without a knowledge of it I could not do my work. And, as I said at the very beginning of this article, knowledge of human nature is at the foundation of almost all success.”




Because of a glance, a few words at the beginning [...], in a matter of minutes the whole aspect of life is changed, all nature is in sympathy with us, and suddenly reveals its hidden joys.

From “My Autobiography”. Chaplin on young love: “At sixteen my idea of romance had been inspired by a theatrical poster showing a girl standing on a cliff with the wind blowing through her hair. I imagined myself playing golf with her — a game I loathe — walking over the dewy downs, indulging in throbbing sentiment, health and nature. That was romance. But young love is something else. It usually follows a uniform pattern. Because of a glance, a few words at the beginning (usually asinine words), in a matter of minutes the whole aspect of life is changed, all nature is in sympathy with us, and suddenly reveals its hidden joys.”




Life is an expression of want.

From My Autobiography: “Life is an expression of want, no one is ever satisfied.”




Wisdom usually grows up on us like calluses when we are old, gnarled and bent.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




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.’”




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.”




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.”