Charlie Chaplin as the "Tramp"
Courtesy Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

A century ago this month, Mack Sennett, head of Keystone Film Company, asked Charlie Chaplin to put on some “comedy makeup.” Little did Sennett know that his simple request would lead to the creation of one of the world’s most famous — and lovable — characters, even 100 years later. Following Sennett’s orders, Chaplin went to the wardrobe department, picked through the various items and emerged with an eclectic set of garments: baggy pants, a tight coat, oversized shoes and a tiny derby hat. He then affixed what became his signature toothbrush mustache and grabbed a bamboo cane, and his character the Tramp — first revealed to cinemagoers in the 1914 short film Kid Auto Races at Venice — was born.

Signature Films

Of the 86 films Charlie Chaplin starred in during his 53-year career, these six rank among the best.

Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914): This marks Chaplin’s film debut of the Tramp.

The Kid (1921): Chaplin’s first full-length film (often considered his most perfect and personal) starred Chaplin as the Tramp and launched the career of child star Jackie Coogan.

The Gold Rush (1925): Features many notable moments, including the famous scene in which Chaplin cooks his boot as if it were a gourmet meal. Upon its rerelease in 1942, it was nominated for two Oscars, and in 1999 the American Film Institute (AFI) ranked it 25th on its 100 Years … 100 Laughs list.

The Circus (1928): It earned Chaplin the honorary award “for versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing” at the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929.

City Lights (1931): Many look to this as the pioneer of romantic comedies; the AFI ranked it No. 1 on its list of Top 10 romantic comedies.

Modern Times (1936): This was the Tramp’s final appearance and the first time Chaplin included speaking in one of his films. The AFI ranked it 33rd in its 100 Years … 100 Laughs list.

Reflecting on the concept of developing the Tramp that day, Chaplin wrote in his autobiography, “I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.”

Over the course of his renowned 53-year career, Chaplin appeared in 86 films — many featuring Chaplin as the Tramp in some form or another. Chaplin also wrote and directed the majority of his films, as well as composed the scores for some of the more popular ones. Though he was a staple of comedy films during the days of silent, monochromatic shorts, Charlie Chaplin remains a legend in Hollywood. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Chaplin in the top 10 of its 100 Years … 100 Stars list. Here are a handful of our favorite 100-year celebratory events. Visit for more information on all things Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin: The Great Londoner

London Film Museum
Located near Chaplin’s childhood home, the London Film Museum’s permanent exhibit creates a timeline of Chaplin’s rise to becoming one of the most influential and recognized actors in cinema history.

The Florida Orchestra Presents: Charlie Chaplin: The Gold Rush

Tampa Theatre, Feb. 28
The Florida Orchestra will accompany a screening of the 1925 classic The Gold Rush with a live performance of the original score by Chaplin.

25th Anniversary Silent Film

Royce Hall, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, June 8
The orchestra celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Tramp with screenings of Chaplin’s first and last films as the iconic character. Modern Times will be accompanied by a performance of the original score, and the orchestra will perform a new score for Kid Auto Races at Venice.

Chaplin’s Back!

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Jan. 30-Feb. 1; Strathmore, Feb. 1
Live performances of scores for several films will be paired with a screening of one of Chaplin’s last short films, The Idle Class, as well as his first feature-length film, The Kid.

Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights

Charlotte Symphony, Belk Theater, April 25-26
A live performance of the score from the critically acclaimed City Lights will accompany a screening of the 1931 classic.