We are all familiar with Charlie Chaplin’s costume of the Tramp. Maybe you have never thought about it, but this costume is full of contradictions: the trousers are too baggy, the jacket is buttoned too tightly, the hat too small and the shoes too big and worn on the wrong feet. But all of this is not made without some hidden intentions. These elements were combined to help define Chaplin’s personality and his social pretensions.
How was the Tramp costume invented?
You will be surprised to find out that Chaplin designed the costume himself. And the costume is still alive, many years after Chaplin’s death. One of the stories claim that while Chaplin was spending his time in the Keystone Comedy Studio – in the male dressing room while waiting for the rain to stop – he was putting on various different parts of clothes belonging to other comedians. He was taking Fatty Arbuckle’s trousers, star performer Ford Sterling’s shoes and so on. His mustaches were intended for a villain, but he cut it down a bit. And the Tramp style was born! As simple as that.
Another theory about Tramp style was that the costume was a collage of elements dating back to late-Victorian music-hall routines. It has Dan Leno’s ill-fitting jacket, Little Tich’s boots, George Robey’s small hat and something resembling an umbrella.
Chaplin, in his 1964 autobiography, recalls the key moment when studio head Mack Sennett asked him to get into a funny outfit in a hurry:
“I had no idea what make-up to put on… However, on the way to the wardrobe, I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat… I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born… Gags and comedy ideas went racing through my mind.”
On February 7, 1914, the short movie Kid Auto Races at Venice was released showing Charlie Chaplin as the Tramp for the first time. A largely improvised movie of just 20 shots was filmed in not more than 45 minutes. Its setting was a backdrop of a real-life rally of boys hurtling down a slope in soapbox cars. The Tramp keeps ruining the set-ups by entering the shot and self-consciously playing up to the camera by doing little comedy routines.
The reaction of the audience was such that at first, they didn’t know what to make of this, but they soon began to roar with laughter. And afterward, the reaction of the audience was the same for every movie Chaplin appeared as the Tramp.
Six months later, Chaplin wrote to his half-brother Sydney: “I am a big box-office attraction. It is wonderful how popular I am in such a short time.”
The most popular Tramp movies
After 1914 and his first Tramp movie called Kid Auto Races at Venice, a multitude of short silent movies followed portraying a little tramp dealing with the hardships of life.
- The Vagabond (1916)
In this story, the Tramp plays the violin to raise money, falls in love with a woman living with gypsies and rescues her from the abuse in the gypsy caravan. There is more or less the same love story in all of his movies.
- The Immigrant (1917)
The Trump is an immigrant to the United States. This movie shows Charlie’s attitude towards money – he didn’t care much about it, but still he was well aware the real needed for it.
- Chase Me Charlie (1918)
This is a collage of the excerpts from his several movies. They were combined in a new, highly interesting way to be seen as a completely new movie.
- A Dog’s Life (1918)
Chaplin’s main companion here is Scraps, the dog. This dog helps Charlie and Edna to find a better life. This was the first movie in which the two Chaplin brothers were on the screen together.
- The Gold Rush (1925)
This is perhaps the most popular movie on this list. Maybe because of the gold itself, and maybe because it was an excellent portrayal of those tragic characters who would do anything to get some gold. A story about the sad human nature of always wanting more and more (money). This was Charlie’s favorite Tramp movie. Do you remember the scene where he eats his own shoe? It is the unforgettable one, right?
- Modern Times (1936)
Modern Times has much already said in the title itself – it is about the modern times. Even though the movie was made back in 1936, it shows the influence the common man experiences from the development of the new technologies which are taking over people’s jobs.
- The Great Dictator (1940)
This movie is mostly famous for being full of words of wisdom. Here is one such quote:
Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost…