Charlie Chaplin will always be regarded as one of the most iconic comedians. He was a pioneer of film comedy; his career spanned more than 75 years, from childhood in the Victorian era until his death in 1977.
His instantly recognizable screen persona named “the Tramp” started the global phenomenon of Chaplinitis in the 1910’s; men from all over the world began coupling the funky Chaplin-esque mustache and a round black hat.
Chaplin’s on-screen anecdotes were endless and hilarious. Although his off-screen life was turbulent, it seems that it was colorful too, if the newspaper articles from the 1920’s were not just a clever hoax designed to attract gullible readers.
Between 1915 and 1921 there was a popular rumor that Chaplin entered a Chaplin look-alike contest and lost. This was not an unbelievable story, as such a stunt would correspond with Chaplin’s on-screen antics. In fact, if Chaplin ever entered such a contest he probably made sure that he didn’t win just so that he could enjoy the absurdity of the situation.
In August of 1920, The Straits Times from Singapore was the first newspaper to publish the story of Chaplin entering a Chaplin look-alike contest and trying to impersonate himself. The article was named “How Charlie Chaplin Failed”:
“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 mustache and his boots. He was a frightful failure and came in twentieth.”
Throughout the 1920’s, similar stories appeared in various newspapers across the world, including New Zealand’s Poverty Bay Herald, Australian Albany Advertiser, and several English and American newspapers. At the time Chaplin was in the U.S., where he was filming dozens of films per year.
He was probably aware of many rumors surrounding his life but never confirmed or denied any of them.