Monday, December 7, 2009

Charlie Chaplin in Magazines

One of the great secondary benefits of this blog is meeting a wonderful parade of people who are both interested in magazines and avid devotees of history and authorities about particular individuals or subjects. The lastest is Dan Kamin, a professional comic in his own right who contacted me about his interest in Film Fun magazine, especially the appearances of one Charles Spencer Chaplin.

Dan is interested in obtaining as many different issues of this magazine, or of any other Chaplin magazine appearances, as he can, and can be contacted through his website, . He took me up on my offer to do a guest blog (btw, the same offer holds for others who would like to spread their expertise and enthusiasm) so here it is, followed by a supplement by yours truly to round out the topic. Among Dan's credentials are a 1984 book and the adventure of being coach to actor Robert Downey for his 1993 academy award nominated title role as Chaplin. His new book on Chaplin can be found at

Funny Face--Charlie Chaplin on Early Film Magazines

Charlie Chaplin began making short films for Mack Sennett's Keystone Film Company in 1914. He came up with his now-familiar Tramp character almost at once, and the public found his character compelling and hilarious. By the end of the year his films were in great demand, and the Essanay Film Manufacturing Company hired him away at nearly ten times his original salary. Essanay mounted an extensive publicity campaign to promote their new star, resulting in a bonanza for collectors of early film ephemera. During 1915 Chaplin's image became ubiquitous, appearing on an incredible array of novelty products, including postcards, joke books, games, toys, pocket knives, stickpins, and statuettes. Over twenty-five sheet music songs were published extolling his comical characteristics, especially his funny walk. Several of these songs were presented in vaudeville and musical revues and recorded. Their illustrated covers are evocative. For example, the artwork for Charlie Chaplin's Frolics, a British instrumental, captures the many elements of Charlie's jaunty appeal--he's flirtatious, a bungler, a romantic. March of the Movies, which was distributed free in Pennsylvania movie theatres, is also telling. During this period movie theatres were casting off their lowly and rather disreputable origins and positioning themselves as places of wholesome family entertainment. The well-dressed audience includes both women and children, and even the pianist is laughing at Charlie’s antics.

But nothing reinforced Chaplin's growing fame more than the fan magazines, which both exploited Chaplin's popularlity and contributed to it. In July he was featured on the cover of two important magazines of the period.
The first issue of Film Fun features a seated Charlie delighted at the magazine he's reading- another issue of Film Fun with him on the cover! The magazine on his lap proved to be the August issue, on which Charlie is again enjoying a Film Fun with himself on the cover. This time, the magazine-within-the-magazine is the very same August issue. The company knew a good thing when it saw it, and featured similar covers on the next two issues as well. Charlie's obvious delight reflects the fascination of the public with his image, and the captions reinforce the sense of discovery: "Charlie!" "Here He Is!" "You All Know Him!" and "The Laugh's on Charlie." Chaplin percolates through the pages of the magazine as well, with photo features of Chaplin imitation contests held by movie theatres, along with poetry, articles, jokes, and cartoons about the comedian. Over the next five years Chaplin would appear on more Film Fun covers than any other star. In 1919 he appeared on nine of the twelve issues, which may have been a desperate attempt on the magazine's part to regain the market share it was losing to its many competitors. By 1922, without changing it's name, Film Fun quietly shifted it's focus from comedians to cheesecake, and the covers featured pin-up artwork by Enoch Bolles. The internal content, while still about the film world, now featured racy shots of of starlets in their undies. The new format proved popular, and the magazine lasted until 1942.
From the outset, Motion Picture Magazine, (the first movie fan magazine, edited by Eugene V. Brewster, sl) which began in 1911 as Motion Picture Story Magazine, had more substantial editorial content than Film Fun. It not only featured Chaplin on the cover of the July 1915 issue, but ran the first of a two-part article entitled "Chaplinitis," by Charles McGuirk, an exceptionally insightful and well-written analysis of the Chaplin craze.

What is fascinating is that all this material came out before Chaplin had made a single film that would today be considered a classic. Through these humble relics of popular culture we can track the growth of Chaplin's phenomenal popularity, which is intertwined with the rapid growth of the film industry itself. The illustrators, writers, editors, and composers left an indelible record of how Chaplin broke into public consciousness. These artifacts show us what captivated the very first people to see Chaplin's films, and they provide provide invaluable clues to the source of his enduring appeal.

Those interested in the themes discussed in this article will enjoy Chaplin and American Culture--The Evolution of a Star Image by Charles Maland, an in-depth examination of Chaplin's changing relationship with the American public as reflected in periodical literature.
Dan Kamin

and now, with humility, the promised supplement:
Film Fun was an amalgam of three other magazines published by Leslie/Judge.
Charlie Chaplin is without question the greatest star of the silent film era. His 1936 classic, Modern Times, is considered by film historians to be the last of the genre. His most recognizable character, the tramp, was then and will always be etched in the minds of moviegoers as one of the greatest of all images and personages to ever grace the silver screen.
In 1925, Chaplin was honored as the first entertainer to be featured on the cover of TIME magazine
As noted by Dan, Chaplin covers sold magazines. I have previously discussed this wonderful 1926 image on the first issue of a rare humor magazine that I only recently was lucky enough to obtain:
Here's another of my Chaplin associated favorites, an extremely rare issue of Movie Melody Magazine (the first issue and I've never seen any other than this one) featuring Chaplin's co-star, Jackie Coogan (later Uncle Fester on the 1960's TV show, The Addams Family):
The issue of LOOK from the time of release of the 1940 Chaplin parody of Hitler, The Great Dictator, is a particular favorite.
There are many others
Chaplin's earliest Film Fun covers are scarce and usually sell for in excess of $100 when available.
For more information on one of the world's great comic geniuses see:

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