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May 31, 2011 > Our man Charlie

Our man Charlie

By Julie Grabowski

"A day without laughter is a day wasted." So said the man known for his comedic uniqueness and multitude of talents, whose film legacy includes a stop in Fremont's own Niles District. The historic town fosters fun and laughter each year with its annual Charlie Chaplin Days when it's all about Charlie.

Charles Spencer Chaplin was born in London on April 16, 1889 to vocalist and actor Charles Chaplin and singer and actress Lily Harley. By necessity he took to the stage at a young age and was a hit right from the start. A member of "The Eight Lancashire Lads," he appeared in his first stage show around the age of 14 as the page boy in "Sherlock Holmes." Chaplin's involvement as a comedian in Vaudeville took him to the U.S. in 1910 performing with the Fred Karno Repertoire Company. During a second U.S. tour in 1912 he was offered a contract by the Keystone Film Company and movie history was off and running.

He joined Chicago-based Essanay Company in 1915 for the unheard of salary of $1,250 a week and filmed several movies at their studio in Niles, most notably "The Tramp," before signing with the Mutual Film Corporation the next year. When his contract expired in 1917, Chaplin became an independent producer and went on to found United Artists Corporation with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith in April 1918.

Not only notable in front of the camera, Chaplin was also a writer, director, self-taught musician and composer. In addition to movie scripts Chaplin penned the books "My Trip Abroad," "A Comedian Sees the World," "My Autobiography," and "My Life in Pictures." In the musical world he composed numerous scores and songs such as "Sing a Song," "With You Dear in Bombay," "There's Always One You Can't Forget," "Smile," "Eternally," and "You are My Song."

His bumpy personal life finally became stable and happy when he married his fourth wife Oona in 1943, the 18-year-old daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. They had eight children and remained together until Chaplin's death on Christmas Day 1977.

Niles' Chaplin Days is a long standing tradition that delivers hundreds of "Charlies" in every form and fashion throughout town, as well as live versions roaming the streets. You might even catch him riding the Sunday steam train through Niles Canyon. Kids will enjoy penny carnival games like Bean Bag Toss and Cupcake Walk, and of course, there's no forgetting the movies.

On both days, for a suggested donation of a mere 50 cents, attendees can see five short films made in Niles in 1915 at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum's Edison Theater, located at 37417 Niles Boulevard. On Saturday only, the lineup will be followed by a free showing of "The Boot Cake" at 4 p.m. This 2008 documentary film visits Adipur, India where Chaplin's birthday is celebrated every year.

There will also be a Saturday evening screening of one of Chaplin's most famous films "The Kid" (1921) at 7:30 p.m. with Judy Rosenberg at the piano. Opening shorts include Google's Chaplin Doodle released on April 16, 2011 to celebrate Chaplin's birthday. Creators will be on hand for a Q & A. Tickets are $5 (suggested donation) and seating is limited. To assure your spot buy tickets in advance online at

Attendees can break out their inner star on Sunday to take part in a Charlie look-a-like contest. If baggy pants, moustache, and cane aren't your style, dazzle as another movie star. The contest will take place at 2 p.m. at the silent film museum with prizes being awarded.

Don't miss out on the fun and fanfare as Niles pays homage to one of its most famous faces!

Charlie Chaplin Days
Saturday, June 4 and Sunday, June 5
11 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Old Town Niles, Fremont
(510) 494-1411

Movie Schedule:
11:30 a.m. "A Night Out"
12:30 p.m. "In the Park"
1:30 p.m. "The Champion"
2:30 p.m. "A Jitney Elopement"
3:30 p.m. "The Tramp"
4 p.m. (Saturday only) "The Boot Cake"
7:30 p.m. (Saturday only) "The Kid"

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