Friday, October 15, 2010

Tell It to the "Chaplin!" ~~ A "Sepia Saturday" Post

If I ask you, "Who is the man pictured in the above photo?" what will be your reply?

"Charlie Chaplin," you say, right?

"Nope," I reply. "It's definitely NOT Charlie Chaplin!"

"Okay," you say, "So maybe it's one of the many Chaplin 'wannabes' who sprang up in silent films after Chaplin -- and his famous "Little Tramp" character -- had burst upon the scene (such as the gent pictured in the following stereographic photo, issued circa 1925)?" (Please excuse the "eBay" text partially obscuring this and some of the other scans in this post, by the way. I'll explain about that later!)

"Nope!" I reply again.

"Okay, Mr. Fox! Maybe you did a little bit of computer voodoo with a still pic of Robert Downey, Jr. portraying Chaplin in the 1992 eponymous biopic? Or maybe you did that with a shot of someone else playing the role of Chaplin?"

Nope! (I'm enjoying this far too much, by the way.)

Here's a little background, fellow babies:

Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889-1977) had barely begun his film career when his second film premiered in early 1914. This film was the very first to introduce the character known as the Little Tramp.

Here's Chaplin's own tale of how the look of the character came to be: "[On] the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression."

The use of this superb illustration of Charlie Chaplin's
Little Tramp has been graciously permitted by its artist,
Jason Pruett. His blog is here, and his website is here!

Yep. That's how Chaplin himself explained the look of the character, and its origins.

"Fine. Whatever!" you say. "So who is the guy on the freakin' postcard?"

Postcard? Yes, it's a postcard. I actually own it. And the reason that the stereographic photo of the Chaplin impostor above and two of the scans below have "eBay" superimposed on 'em is because I (unsuccessfully) tried selling them as a pair several years ago, on eBay. That's when I made the scans. I would have made new scans for this post, but I'll be damned if I know where the freakin' postcard is right now!

Okay, let's take a look at the entire front view of the card (and note that the hat is normal-sized, and that the coat is somewhat baggy, not tight, and also note the absence of a cane)...

And a close-up of the front view (Sure looks like ol' Charlie, dunnit? But it isn't!)...

And now, the back view...

And a close-up of the back view...


"Wait a minute, Foxy!" you say. "1909? WTF?!?" (Or maybe you say "WTH," if you're so inclined. Heh.)

Yeah, 1909. Five years before the Little Tramp showed up on-screen, and one year before Chaplin ever set foot in the USA!

So, is this a remarkable coincidence? Maybe. Or did Chaplin see this outfit on the very same postcard -- well, another one just like it, I mean -- and decide to improve upon it? Maybe.

And is this li'l ole century-old postcard a one-of-a-kind, mouth-watering collector's item? Maybe.

It's also for sale... if and when I can ever find the damned thing, that is!

By the way... I hope you're not too disappointed by the fact that after all of my exposition, I've only told you "what" it is, and not who it is. 

I really don't know who it is, y'see... just that it's not Charlie Chaplin!

Thanks for your time.

P.S. ~~ Attention, fellow babies! If you've ever read the "Pleasantview" series on the Simpson/Lynch Studios blog which I share with my writing partner, Skip Simpson, you're probably going to want to read this post! Trust me!


  1. interesting to ponder was this his inspiration...

  2. Hmmmmm... Well, Chaplin was trying to look like Everyman, and the guy on the postcard certainly is that. Not coincidence, but rather the prevalence of an archetype in popular culture, which both the postcard artist and Chaplin tapped into. So, by the way, did Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. That "everyman in the ill-fitting clothes" was pretty pervasive in the early 20th Century, I guess.

  3. I'm just as fascinated with the backside of the postcard...the turn of the century handwriting, 2 cent stamp, postmark.

    South Dakota? Maybe Senator Kyle's family originally owned it? :) Small world.

  4. @Roy: Very good point! The little mustache made me wonder, though, since Chaplin was travelling in that general area at about the same time.

    @Betsy: Yeah, I've been fascinated by a few "backsides" myself, actually...

  5. I like mystery stories, anyway... They leave the ending wide open...

  6. I don't think the guy on the card looks like Chaplin. He resembles him but not enough. As for inspiration, probably did get it from someone like this. I like Roy's response, the "Everyman" response. He tipped his hat to Laurel and Hardy and that was pretty observant. Roy is a wise man.

  7. @California Girl: Well, the resemblance is what I was pointing out, since I knew it couldn't be Chaplin. And yes, Roy -- a wise man, indeed, no joke -- made a very good point... and I love Laurel & Hardy!

  8. OK, Roy, is your head swelling yet? LOL! Aww...I agree, you always have something interesting to add. I usually just say, "Oh that's cute" or "I love that!" haha.

  9. A fun post, I enjoyed it but I haven't a clue if it is Charlie or not ;-)

  10. I love the fact you can't find the original..the freaking thing. Fun post!

  11. It's particularly interesting to read Chaplin's own explanation of how the character came into being.

  12. Everything Has To Come From Somewhere...even if we dont know where that somewhere IS!

  13. How very neat! Roy's deconstruction was, I think, right on the money. And yes, I certainly did identify the pic as Charlie Chaplin.

  14. Yes it does resemble CC but cannot be as you described. I enjoyed the info about how he came to take on this character. I have just become interested in postcards since blogging. Everyone seems to be very into originality for today's posting. Great idea.

  15. I've always loved Charlie and found his words fascinating. Your little mystery was a very enjoyable read.

  16. I think it's interesting to note exactly what parts of the Tramp stick with us. Most of us probably identified the bowler and the moustache with Chaplin's Tramp but didn't realize we missed the small coat and big shoes. It makes me realize how some things stand out more than others, no matter how often we might see them. (That's not to say that I watch Charlie Chaplin movies every day but that I've probably seen most of them.) Interesting post.

  17. Interesting. But be careful - Alan may be your customer for the card... if you ever find it again. :)

  18. As the saying goes, "It's a mystery." Fun to read this bit of pop culture history.

  19. It's always interesting to ponder an artist's influence. Very interesting card.

  20. a great mystery

    and a great postcard.

    can't help loving old stuff

  21. To All: Thanks for your comments. When my schedule permits, I'll be visiting all of your Sepia Saturday posts and commenting!


I strongly urge you to sign up for follow-up comments, because I (usually) reply to your comment! Comments left for me more than two weeks after a post is published will not appear until I approve them, but they will be answered eventually!


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