In time of stress and seriousness of purpose—in the sombre time of war—there is something more than moderately reassuring in the ability to laugh. And, by the same token, we here in America are lucky to be able to laugh at and with Charlie Chaplin. Modes of living may change, monarchies and governments crumble, moral values be revised, but Charlie Chaplin—the universal little guy in the baggy trousers and the trick shoes—goes on, ageless, timeless. Dictators and war-makers will pass on, but the laughter engendered by the antics of Charlie Chaplin will echo down through the centuries. Chaplin made his first film in 1913. Since then there have been major wars, a dozen minor ones, and a host of changes, spiritual and material. At the present time, we are engaged in the greatest war of all—a war for our economy and against terrorists. Yet, in all this time, and through all these events, neither Chaplin nor his adulating audience all over the world has been seriously affected in the region of the funny bone.
The reason is simple. Whatever else has changed, the basis of humor has remained constant. Chaplin has been called a genius, he never took the trouble to deny the charge but more important than that, he is funny, devastatingly funny. He is as funny now as he was when he made his first films, and as funny as his pictures will be one hundred years from now. The amazing thing about Chaplin is his adaptability. Chaplin was a pioneer in motion pictures. Almost more amazing than this is the fact that he had accomplished this feat without basically changing his theory or practice of humor one whit in the passing years. The Chaplin conception of humor was as basic as the conception of humor itself.
It need not, must not, be changed. The critics claimed that in "The Great Dictator" Chaplin changed his style and approach. He had become, they said, a satirist. Chaplin himself laughed at this appraisal. His style and approach have always been confined to one thing—making people laugh. As for the charge that he had become a satirist, what else has he ever been? In "The Rink," he satirized fancy skaters; in "The Bounders" he satirized playboys; in "Easy Street" he satirized the police; in "Shoulder Arms" he satirized war and soldiers; in "City Lights" he satirized the morality of a metropolis; in "Modern Times" he satirized industry. In The Gold Rush, Chaplin's current Blu-ray release, he satirizes man's lust for gold.
The important thing is, that no matter what Chaplin satirizes, he is always funny. Essentially, what Chaplin satirizes is people. He does not depart from this rule in The Gold Rush and as a consequence, he is funny indeed. While being funny, he justifies his purpose—to make people laugh through good times and bad. Charlie had been, and remains, a jester to the empirical follies of his age. Clad in baggy pants and funny shoes in place of the traditional cap and bells, he has been no less a clown to the world than the ancient fool was to his personal monarch. Like the jester he has dared to ridicule his master; like the jester he has hidden a caustic, intelligent mind beneath his clown's motley. And like the jester his principal duty has been to make people laugh! This he continued to do, in war or in peace.
Charlie Chaplin's studio
The history of Charlie Chaplin, even in its most abbreviated form, is a most implausible chronicle. Not because of any novel features contained in it, but for exactly the opposite reason. It is an almost impossible collection of biographical cliches. Even Horatio Alger, the world's most prolific fabricator of tales, would have scorned it. Of coarse, we can hardly blame Chaplin for this triteness. He just had the misfortune to live it. Even his parents were in character. His father was a kindly man but an uncertain provider; his mother a fine woman who had to cope with the trials and privations of small-time English vaudeville and the squalor of the slums of London. Charlie's education, early and late, was sketchy and sporadic and at a tender age he was helping to support his mother. He earned his own living from the time he was nine years old.
By his own admission, his schooling was spasmodic. But even as a very young boy, those who knew him say Charlie was studious. When he joined the Karno Repertoire Company as a lad in his teens, he was never to be found in the "gay spots" when the day's work was done, as did* the other young fellows in the troupe. Instead, he stayed at home and figured out -"funny business" for his routines.He became a printer's devil until he finally decided to go on the stage and joined the Karno Repertory Company. At night, he practiced dance steps" arid acrobatics. That this diligence was worthwhile was proved when he came to this country in "A Night In An English Music Hall." Chaplin's talent was immediately recognized and he was signed by Mack Sennett to make pictures. Sen nett was famous for his creation of the Keystone Cops and making Mabel Normand a star. From that time he was on his way.
The Gold Rush
The Gold Rush, as did all of Chaplin's pictures, represented the exercising by Chaplin of his fullest prerogative: the deliverance of a hearty, side-splitting, uproarious, lusty belly-laugh at human foibles.
Chaplin's voice is heard in The Gold Rush. The phrase "Chaplin's voice" is still something to conjure with. More had been written about the question of whether Chaplin would speak in films than about seemingly weightier problems, That discussion about this point had been world-wide and profound. Chaplin was a world figure, and people took their fun seriously.
From Charlie's own viewpoint, his original decision to talk created more problems than the mere physical one of adding sound equipment to his studio set-up. To start, he was faced with the problem of giving voice to the little tramp, the most self-sufficient pantomimic figure the modern world had ever known. Up until his first talkies, the little tramp had been content with silence, had been more than capable of universal expression in the medium of pantomime. Before "The Great Dictator," Chaplin's voice had been heard only in the famous gibberish song in "Modern Times." The problem was further complicated by the fact that Charlie played a dual role in the former film—a dual role with dual voices. Much of that problem was solved for The Gold Rush.
The mechanical changes were already installed, of course. But, more important, Chaplin had already established the fact that he could serve to give the flavor of the whole. For example, there is the Thanksgiving meal. Inside a shabby little cabin in the Klondike, a pot is boiling. Big Jim, Charlie's huge companion, is delirious for lack of food. Charlie, no better off, diligently stirs the pot as Big Jim watches. With all the nuances of a French chef, Charlie lifts a big boot from the smoking pot, expertly presses a fork against the boot to see if it is done to the proper turn. Then he takes the shoe from the pot, carefully bastes it with gravy, and, when Big Jim passes his plate, delicately wipes it before depositing the shoe on it. Then comes some of the most exquisite pantomime ever conceived, even in a Chaplin picture. To the melody of a salon orchestra playing dinner music, he sharpens his knife professionally. With all the elaborate motions of carving, Charlie separates the upper from the sole, passing the portion with the nails to Big Jim, who resentfully returns it, taking the upper for himself. Charlie, with the extravagant manners of a gourmet, proceeds to devour his portion of the shoe. Then he comes to the shoe laces, which he twirls expertly as one would spaghetti. Finally, nothing left but the nails, which he sucks on as if they were particularly succulent bones. The climax comes when he offers a nail bent in the shape of a wishbone to his companion to "break and wish on."
An unforgettable scene in The Gold Rush is the Oceana Roll. Charlie, takes two buns, a fork stuck in each, and makes them dance on the tablecloth with all the grace, the dexterity and the charm of a Pavlowa and a Fred Astaire combined. Commonly, in Chaplin's pictures, he did not get the girl. The Gold Rush is an exception. For once, he gets his just reward. After suffering the rigors of cold, hunger and hardship during the famous goldrush days, Charlie gets the girl. And not only that, but he ends up a multimillionaire! Lita Grey was originally cast as the leading lady. Chaplin married Grey in mid-1924, and she was replaced in the film by Georgia Hale. Although photographs of Grey exist in the role, documentaries such as Unknown Chaplin and Chaplin Today: The Gold Rush do not contain any film footage of her, indicating no such footage survives. Production on the film including pre-production time was over a year.
U.S. poster style B
The Gold Rush tells of the famous gold rush days in the Klondike where our hero suffers the rigors of cold, hunger and unbelievable hardships and nurses an aching,heart all the while he goes on prospecting for the treasure hidden in the earth's surface. Charlie appears in the role of the Lone Prospector and his supporting cast is headed by Mack Swain, Tom Murray, Henry Bergman, Malcolm Waite and Georgia Hale. Charlie himself wrote and directed The Gold Rush. The setting of The Gold Rush is the Alaska of the Kondike gold rush with its dance-halls and dance-hall girls; with its miners old and young; with toughs and hangers-on; with newspaper correspondents and photographers—a locale that teems with color and excitement, drama, comedy and romance.
Teazer ads meant to start 4 days before the film's opening.
The famed Chilkoot Pass, the gun-sight notch through which gold-seekers passed in the mad rush to the Klondike, is presented in The Gold Rush. The panorama of the pass was filmed near the summit of the high Sierras at an elevation of 9850 feet. Professional ski jumpers were employed to notch out steps of the 2300 foot long pathway and rising 1000 feet up a declivity from a narrow basin, known as "The Sugar Bowl," where a rude mining camp was constructed. Twenty-five hundred extras appear as "sourdoughs" for the crossing of the pass and it is reported, not a single man was hurt when this scene was filmed.
Rare six-sheet U.S. poster art
This was considered remarkable since these men, untrained to "mushing" through deep snows and climbing over frozen ledges, were compelled to take many chances while carrying packs on their backs and hauling sleighs and other equipment over steep, precipitous places. The locale was near the crest of Mt. Lincoln, far above the timber line, on granite ledges, where eternal snows were banked. John Brown, who plays the role of himself, the big brown bear was one member of the company who reveled in the snow country way up high in the Sierras. A rude mining camp and hundreds of shabby cabins for the miners was part of the background. Professional ski jumpers were credited with having cut the pathway 2300 feet long through the deeply banked snow of the high Sierras for the location scenes.
Rare on-set photographs
Of course, the rhumba, La Conga and the boogie had already taken the country by storm with the Samba enjoying a wide vogue. But what about the Oceana Roll? That was the dance created and
featured in The Gold Rush. With the dexterity that puts the Little Tramp's pantomime in a class by itself, Charlie takes two buns, a fork stuck in each, and does a dance with them on the tablecloth with such grace, such incomparable finesse, such outstanding artistry, that it becomes an unforgettable masterpiece.
The Gold Rush was said to be a symbolical autobiography by Chaplin himself. With that genius which was peculiarly his own, and against the background of the old Klondike gold rush days of Chaplinesque conception, he depicts with subtly tender and delicate masterstrokes the struggle of man's eternal hunt for happiness, his heartbreak and tears and his laughter and joy. Charlie, of course, wears the derby, the cane, the baggy trousers, the funny mustache and the genteel cutaway. He waddles instead of walks, he is easily bewildered but he is also easily aroused when the bully is trying to put one over on any little fellow anywhere.
Original coin, poster and stamps
Among the most touching and humorous scenes in the film, Charlie is seen doing the Oceana Roll in his shabby little cabin on New Year's eve, entertaining the lady of his heart—present only in his dream. Later his cabin totters on the edge Of the precipice — and eternity, but the little tramp goes merrily about his business. And when he and his fellow prospector are slowly but surely starving to death, Charlie boils an old shoe and eats the laces with relish as if he were doing away with a plate of steaming-hot spaghetti.
Original hardcover book
Genius, somebody has said, is the word Hollywood gives to success it is unable or unwilling to explain by any other means. There are no unsuccessful geniuses in Hollywood and, conversely, there is nobody who has not, at one time or another, been a genius. It is a convenient expression, but also a misleading one. It is, as a matter of fact, such divine hedging as this that had hidden Charlie Chaplin for so long from the clear-eyed view of the public. His critics so unanimously admitted his genius that it had never seemed necessary, to amplify this statement, and Charlie has remained an almost mythical figure, shrouded in reverential mystery. Nobody was more annoyed by this attitude than Chaplin himself. He was a comedian, not an oracle, and it irritated him to have his laughter taken so seriously. He was, and wanted to be, before everything else, a clown so it was a fitting time to reconsider why he was one of the most famous actors in the world.
The simplest and most likely explanation lies in the fact that Charlie Chaplin represents the Lowest Common Denominator of humor. His humor is the quintessence of all comedy which by its very simplicity is of universal appeal. When the little tramp with the big shoes and the wobbly cane makes his funny pathetic stand against the forces of regimentation, the whole world understands and laughs.
When in "The Gold Rush," Charlie pretends on New Year's eve in his shabby little cabin in the Klondike, that he is playing host to a brilliant assemblage and does his famous dance, the Oceana Roll, with two forks and two buns, his language is universal language. And though there is pathos and heartbreak, too, the inherent humor can be understood by everybody. That is why Will Rogers once said, "Charlie Chaplin is better known among the Zulus than Garbo is in Arkansas."
Alternate French poster
Charlie Chaplin at work
Charlie Chaplin began work on a picture in the same manner as creative artists in other fields begin theirs. He mulled an idea in his mind for many months. Then, finally, he got into the studio for actual production. As the picture progressed, under Chaplin's directorship, he repaired to the cutting room at the completion of each sequence. He ran every foot of film through the "movieola," and assembled the footage with the aid of his film-cutter. Charles was his own supervisor and editor.
Charlie Chaplin maintained a press department of his own. But unlike other studios, instead of a staff, it was manned by one person. And that person's chief job was to suppress publicity rather than further it.
For Charlie believed that fundamentally the public was interested in a star for but one reason —his pictures. If they weren't good, he maintained, all the publicity in the world meant nothing. And to that end, his studios concentrated not on Charlie—what he thinks, eats, wears, likes or dislikes—but the movies he made. Then and only then, did news come from his publicity offices. His publicity department, however, was always flooded with mail, all wanting news or something of King Chariot.
Original promotional newspaper quiz
During the production of each of his pictures, Charlie Chaplin insisted on secrecy. This was merely a sound merchandising principle, which other producers had also tried, but somehow only Chaplin had been able to enforce it. Whether from compulsion or devotion, the people who worked for him guarded the details of each film as zealously as if they were military secrets. This lead in time to espionage. Because every newspaper was anxious to publish a Charlie Chaplin scoop and because every hostess in Hollywood was equally eager to be the first with genuine gossip, spies tried to get in and out of the Chaplin studio during a production. They were, for the most part, extras who were not above selling to the enemy the information they picked up on the set in spite of Chaplin's reiterated warnings. When such fifth columnists were discovered they were dealt with summarily, but on the whole they were unable to do much damage. In his years of making movies, Chaplin had developed a powerful defense against such sabotage. To begin with, Chaplin shot his pictures in such a way that not even the players knew what the story was about until the film was screened for them. For when it came to putting out a picture, Charlie did not believe in taking everybody into his confidence.
Who discovered Charlie Chaplin? The critics? The so-called intelligentsia? Not at all. The general public, and in particular the children, can be credited with the discovery of the comedian. Charlie evolved the costume and character he was to make world-famous after several shorts for Sennett (whose main star was Mabel Normand). Shortly afterward, children all over the country were imitating his famous walk, wearing replicas of the big shoes and baggy pants, and in only a matter of months, the public—convulsed by his antics —made Charlie Chaplin a national figure.
Suggested publicity by United Artists. Note that the days do not correspond with the days on the picture. I chose to present the graphic as it was originally printed.
Charlie always looked upon the little man he created as a clown who knows how to be funny even when he is pitting himself against the powers that be and suffers the heartbreak and frustration common to every one at some time. When Charlie Chaplin was working on a picture, he labored with regularity and conscientiousness. Rarely was he anywhere but the studio into the late hours of the night. His only attention to the clock was in the morning when he arrived at the studio promptly at eight. Some days he left at five, more often at eight, nine, ten, or well after midnight. He was a painstaking worker, and he figured out "business" and "gags" down to the minutest detail.
Rare trade advertisement
Charlie wrote the major portion of the music for his pictures; he did so for "City Lights," for "Modern Times," and "The Great Dictator." He couldn't read music, so he sat at the piano, improvising, as the picture was run before him. An arranger, with blank music sheets before him, performs the function of a musical stenographer. For The Gold Rush reissue, Max Terr scored and conducted the music. Max was born in Russia, but came to the United States before he was two years old. An accomplished pianist, arranger, composer and conductor of choirs, he was not, however, from a musical family. In his early twenties he played at such famous New York landmarks as the Old Waldorf-Astoria, Delmonico's (New York) and Sherry's, the meeting places of the well-known.
Timothy Brock live scoring The Gold Rush. He has re-scored and recorded nearly thirty silent films
When Chaplin composed the musical score for The Gold Rush, he stated that he wanted the music to interpret the action rather than to merely heighten the background, as was usually the case in most pictures. So the score held a more important part in this particular picture. It was Charlie's idea to have the music correlate the picture, that is, speak for the characters and the action, which was an entirely new approach in motion picture technique at the time. Thus, in places where no narration is heard, the music as well as the film footage tells the story. The narration also hits a new note in telling a story. Chaplin himself did the narrating, giving only the essence of story and characterization, the film and music telling the rest. Once, way back, Charlie Chaplin led Sousa's band through two numbers of the old New York Hippodrome. Later, Charlie let others conduct the background music for his pictures.
United Artists would reissue the film in The teen-age youngsters of the 1940's, upon the film's reissue, would have a chance to judge for themselves and to ponder the tributes that have been showered upon Charlie's head by the great and near-great. George Bernard Shaw called him "the only genius in motion pictures." Alexander Woollcott said: "His like has not passed this way before and we shall not see his like again!" The late Will Rogers described him as "the only genius developed in the films since they started."
In the 1940's the contemporary generation, youngsters had their say on the basis of his genius which flowed so richly in The Gold Rush.
Among his accomplishments are two bookplates which he designed for his library and a great many personal sketches which he has distributed among close friends. A self-sketched caricature brought a sizeable sum at an auction sale in a London art gallery when he was making "Modern Times." In The Gold Rush, Charlie plays the role of the Lone Prospector in the mad Klondike gold rush days. He wrote and directed the production and composed most of the music.
Chaplin's personal life
Charlie Chaplin was an expert tennis player, angler, musician and a recognized authority on economics. Although he had talked less for publication than any celebrity, Charlie Chaplin had received more
publicity than anyone in the picture industry. Although Charlie wore the biggest shoes on the screen—size 14—in private life he wore size 5. Fillers were used in the larger shoes to make him more comfortable. Among many of his accomplishments were two bookplates which he designed for his library and a great many personal sketches which he had distributed among close friends. A self-sketched caricature brought a sizeable sum at an auction sale in a London art gallery when he was making "Modern Times."
Chaplin was a fan of fine cuisine, among his favorites was Japanese. He adored Japanese Tempura, saying that it was his favorite dish. Tempura is an Oriental concoction made of fried shrimp. He was extremely fussy about that famous mustache he wore in his films. He made a fresh one each morning himself whenever he was working before the cameras. Charlie was a stickler about everything when picture-making was concerned, because he was practically a one-man organization. During the release of The Gold Rush, he held the record for having been photographed with celebrities. Among his camera companions were Kine Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales), Franklin D. Roosevelt (then Secretary of the Navy), Ramsay Mac-Donald, Mahatma Ghandi, H. G. Wells and G. B. Shaw.
Charlie Chaplin in costume
The famous Derby, Cane And Baggy Pants Were Assembled For his second Film. As varied and fanciful as they were plentiful were the stories concerning the origin of Charlie Chaplin's famous screen costume. But for the authentic explanation, we must go to the brilliant comedian himself. Charlie said in an interview later in his life, "Contrary to general belief, I did not wear the costume so familiar to you all in my first picture, in which I was a newspaper reporter. It was my second. I was hurriedly told to 'put on funny makeup.' I went to the wardrobe and got a pair of baggy pants, a tight coat, a small derby 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.
Original newspaper ad mat
To add a comic touch to my face, I wore a small mustache which would not hide my expression. The clothes seemed to imbue me with a spirit of the character." The original suit, cane, hat and shoes that Charlie Chaplin wore in his early screen appearances were, for many years, on view at the Los Angeles Museum to which he donated them. Also, there was to be seen a replica of Charlie's famous form and figure sculptured to wear the costume. The museum had developed a unique relationship with Chaplin and he was more than happy to help them.
Although he was no linguist by his own admission, Charlie Chaplin could hoodwink foreigners into believing he was talking their language. He did it by clever intonation and was most proficient in deceiving the Chinese. In "The Great Dictator," he exhibited his skill at deception by speaking in a deep, harsh, familiar guttural. Few people knew that his home contained one of the finest libraries in the country. His Napoleonic collection boasted every book ever printed about the "little Corporal." Charlie was a musician of ability, playing the organ, the piano, the cello, accordion and even the humble harmonica. His collection of ancient Japanese prints was the envy of connoisseurs and he had become a collector of old Staffordshire ware. Also, Charlie was an expert deep-sea fisherman and held for many years the button of honor presented by the Tuna Club for a record catch. It is not generally known that the comedian was at one time an amateur long distance runner in England.
Motion Picture Herald advertisement
There are two tenants at the Charles Chaplin studios who got special attention from the master of comics. They were Topaze, the cat, and Teddy, the dog. When Charlie
left Hollywood for work, he left complete instructions at the studio for their care and feeding. His animals, as he put it, "Are my personal being, my family, my support and my love."
U.S. reissue poster style A
The Gold Rush release
The budget for The Gold Rush was $923,000, which when converted to today's dollar, is almost $12 million, not a small undertaking for a man who did most of his own work. Production commenced on February 7, 1924 in such locations as Chatsworth, Sacramento, The San Fernando Valley, Stockton and Truckee, California and in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and concluded on the 15th of April. The film had it's Los Angeles premiere on June 26, 1925. This gave Chaplin two months to completely edit, score and finish the picture after shooting was finished, which is amazing since Chaplin had shot almost thirty times the footage as the running time. The film was shot in 35mm with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio. In its New York premiere, the film was edited to nine reels, where in Los Angeles it would play a full ten reels. I could not find an explanation of why this occurred.
Rare photographs of the original program book
The film was nominated for an Oscar for music, won the Kinema Junpo award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1927. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1992, and in 2004 was nominated for the Golden Satellite Award for Best Classic DVD Release. In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #58 Greatest American Movie of All Time. It is the fifth highest grossing silent film in cinema history, taking in more than $4,250,001 at the box office in 1926. The New York Times wrote, "Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness. It is the outstanding gem of all Chaplin's pictures, as it has more thought and originality than even such masterpieces of mirth as The Kid and Shoulder Arms." Other reviews matched those of the Times and highly praised the picture.
Original herald handed out to theater patrons
The film was was given a major reissue on April 18, 1942 and earned good business at the boxoffice, The reissue was prepared by Chaplin which used his own narration, music score and editing, and ran 72 minutes. All other versions are in the public domain, but this version is the only one which has a copyright owned by the Chaplin Film Company. Chaplin added the sound for the new generation of audiences. In the 1942 version, many shots were used that were alternate takes or alternate views shot with a second camera. At the time of filming, Charles Chaplin and Georgia Hale were having an affair, so that when their finale's lingering kiss was filmed, it was (according to Hale in "Unknown Chaplin" "not acting". By the time of this reissue, Chaplin's relationship with Hale was over, and he trimmed their final scene and cut the long kiss. The original silent version ran 82 minutes, but in 1925, with then-projector frame rates, the film would have been closer to 98 minutes. In this reissue, Chaplin removed all references to United Artists, even though they were distributing the reissue. The Criterion Collection has released a magnificent remastered Blu-ray of the film, now available.
To discuss this and other Silver Screen columns, join us in our "The Silver Screen" forum thread Here
Past Silver Screen columns, including Star Wars, Close Encounters, The Blues Brothers, South Pacific, Charade, The Egyptian, The Ten Commandments, Jurassic Park, My Fair Lady, Mutiny on the Bounty and over 35 more titles are available Here
All materials in this and other Silver Screen columns are copyright their respective studios, Blu-ray.com and the collection of Robert Siegel. Many graphics on this page have been painstakingly corrected and cleaned, and are internet tracked. Please ask for permission to use any graphic by emailing email@example.com. This edition all artwork, publicity and production photos/drawings original copyright Charles Chaplin Estate and United Artists Pictures and are used for informative and promotional use.