The Time When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest & 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.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in ear­ly 2016.

via France Cul­ture/Stack Exchange

Relat­ed Con­tent:

65 Free Char­lie Chap­lin Films Online

The Char­lie Chap­lin Archive Opens, Putting Online 30,000 Pho­tos & Doc­u­ments from the Life of the Icon­ic Film Star

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


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