When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest and Came in 20th Place

chaplin contest

Char­lie Chap­lin start­ed appear­ing in his first films in 1914—40 films, to be precise—and, by 1915, the Unit­ed States had a major case of “Chap­lini­tis.” Chap­lin mus­tach­es were sud­den­ly pop­ping up every­where–as were Chap­lin imi­ta­tors and Chap­lin look-alike con­tests. A young Bob Hope appar­ent­ly won one such con­test in Cleve­land. Chap­lin Fever con­tin­ued burn­ing hot through 1921, the year when the Chap­lin look-alike con­test, shown above, was held out­side the Lib­er­ty The­atre in Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton.

Accord­ing to leg­end, some­where between 1915 and 1921, Chap­lin decid­ed to enter a Chap­lin look-alike con­test, and lost, bad­ly.

A short arti­cle called “How Char­lie Chap­lin Failed,” appear­ing in The Straits Times of Sin­ga­pore in August of 1920, read like this:

Lord Des­bor­ough, pre­sid­ing at a din­ner of the Anglo-Sax­on club told a sto­ry which will have an endur­ing life. It comes from Miss Mary Pick­ford who told it to Lady Des­bor­ough, “Char­lie Chap­lin was one day at a fair in the Unit­ed States, where a prin­ci­pal attrac­tion was a com­pe­ti­tion as to who could best imi­tate the Char­lie Chap­lin walk. The real Char­lie Chap­lin thought there might be a chance for him so he entered for the per­for­mance, minus his cel­e­brat­ed mous­tache and his boots. He was a fright­ful fail­ure and came in twen­ti­eth.

A vari­a­tion on the same sto­ry appeared in a New Zealand news­pa­per, the Pover­ty Bay Her­ald, again in 1920. As did anoth­er sto­ry in the Aus­tralian news­pa­per, the Albany Adver­tis­er, in March, 1921.

A com­pe­ti­tion in Char­lie Chap­lin imper­son­ations was held in Cal­i­for­nia recent­ly. There was some­thing like 40 com­peti­tors, and Char­lie Chap­lin, as a joke, entered the con­test under an assumed name. He imper­son­at­ed his well known film self. But he did not win; he was 27th in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Did Chap­lin come in 20th place? 27th place? Did he enter a con­test at all? It’s fun to imag­ine that he did. But, a cen­tu­ry lat­er, many con­sid­er the sto­ry the stuff of urban leg­end. When one researcher asked the Asso­ci­a­tion Chap­lin to weigh in, they appar­ent­ly had this to say: “This anec­dote told by Lord Des­bor­ough, who­ev­er he may have been, was quite wide­ly report­ed in the British press at the time. There are no oth­er ref­er­ences to such a com­pe­ti­tion in any oth­er press clip­ping albums that I have seen so I can only assume that this is the source of that rumour, urban myth, what­ev­er it is. How­ev­er, it may be true.”

I’d like to believe it is.

via France Cul­ture/Stack Exchange

Relat­ed Con­tent:

65 Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online

Char­lie Chap­lin Gets Strapped into a Dystopi­an “Rube Gold­berg Machine,” a Fright­ful Com­men­tary on Mod­ern Cap­i­tal­ism

Char­lie Chap­lin Does Cocaine and Saves the Day in Mod­ern Times (1936)

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Comments (20)
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  • Avi says:

    Reminds me of this, when Adele com­pet­ed in an Adele looka­like con­test: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQM3XUhiXbQ

  • Matt says:

    Also rem­i­nis­cent of peo­ple who’ve turned up as sur­prise guests for their own trib­ute acts -

    * I believe the Gal­lagher broth­ers went on stage at a ‘No
    Way Sis’ gig in Cam­den

    * Mick Fleet­wood joined ‘Rumours of Fleet­wood Mac’ for an encore at Sal­is­bury City Hall

  • Bob Berkman says:

    I’d say we should use an old jour­nal­ists’ apho­rism here:

    “That’s a sto­ry too good to fact check!”

  • Jeffrey Vance says:

    I address the myth in CHAPLIN: GENIUS OF THE CINEMA (Har­ry N. Abrams, 2003).
    I unearthed an unpub­lished com­ment Chap­lin made dur­ing the course of a lengthy inter­view. Chap­lin stat­ed emphat­i­cal­ly in the 1966 inter­view that the leg­end was not true and had no basis in fact. “In the first place,” Chap­lin explained. “I’m work­ing hard all day. I cer­tain­ly don’t want to do that.”

  • I have the hots for Britt Ekland says:

    One of the great­est peo­ple of all time.

  • Donald Trump says:

    FAKE NEWS baby.

  • Obama says:

    As always, only white peo­ple were allowed.

  • The O says:

    20th place? I heard he came in 3rd place.

  • Brutal truth says:

    As always, only white peo­ple are blamed.

  • Simon says:

    Fun­ny how oth­er peo­ple can pre­tend to be one self than even the real us.

  • spore13 says:

    spore13 is gay

  • bruhan says:

    Would love for this sto­ry to be true, but the tell is the sup­posed fact that he came in “20th place”. What kind of a light-heart­ed con­test like this ranks com­peti­tors all the way down to 20th? Of course they would­n’t; they would just give an award to the top 3 and be done with it.

  • UR MUM says:

    Y are u gay?

  • Abbia Udofia says:

    Hilar­i­ous myth this

  • FredEdwards says:

    The sto­ry is like­ly true as there exists a signed hand­writ­ten note from Chap­lin to pro­mot­er Albert Deane, dat­ed May 2, 1915 (a month after The Lit­tle Tramp came out), in which Chap­lin writes… “I was indeed glad to hear that a repli­ca of myself was the one to win in the con­test.”

  • wtf says:

    It’s a look-a-like con­test for a white per­son. So no shit… Stop look­ing at race in every­thing.

  • Brando Romano says:

    So he did­n’t win 20th place , he did infact win 3rd place in 1975 when in the look alike con­test. Please do more research and prop­er­ly tell his sto­ry for he is a icon and should receive his sto­ries to be writ­ten cor­rect­ly and with alot more dig­ging on the man’s life!!!
    Thank you

  • Brando Romano says:

    So he did­n’t win 20th place , he did infact win 3rd place in 1975 when in the look alike con­test.

  • coughing baby says:

    *cough* *cough* *cough*

  • Hydrogen Bomb says:

    Hey, wan­na do a rap bat­tle?

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