My Mother by Charlie Chaplin
Charles Spencer Chaplin (1889-1977), known popularly by his screen name Charlie Chaplin endured himself to millions of hearts by his very creative and novel way of creating hilarious plots in the screen. He was knighted by the Queen for his contribution to the world of entertainment. In the world that didn’t know the talking, high-tech, and action-packed movies we see today, Charlie Chaplin used ingenuous tools and tricks to make the viewers laugh to their hearts’ content. As a comedian, his face, and style will remain etched in the minds of cinema goers.
The story … Charlie Chaplin’s father didn’t make much impression on the boy during the early growing up years. As a man he was quiet, brooding, with a baritone voice. He was a stage performer too. He earned about 40 pounds a week, considered a good enough earning in those days. Sadly, his addiction to liquor created considerable friction in the family leading to the divorce of the couple.
Drinking was a common professional practice for stage actors in those days. Every theater had a bar attached to it, where the stage performers were expected to share drinks with the customers after the play. Thus, Charlie’s father, a vaudevillian (a stage comedian) became addicted to drinks. Strangely, theater owners made more profit from their bars than from the stage performances. Some performers were paid large sums of money, so that they can spend the same to buy drinks for the customers. It was a wicked way to entice customers to come to the theater regularly.
Alcohol created terrible health problems for his father. He succumbed to some alcohol-related diseases at the early age of 37. Charlie’s mother often ruefully narrated the strange ways of her husband under the influence of liquor.
On one occasion, Charlie’s father created quite a raucous in the house and began to attack his mother. She left the house and went to Brighton with her friends. He sent her a telegram demanding to know what she was doing there. She replied in a rather vulgar and hurtful way.
She often spoke of him, but never with any venom or rancor. Possibly, she still loved him, and understood his predicament, and the addiction caused by his profession. In later years, when she was angry with Charlie for whatever reasons, she used to curse him saying, “You will end up in the gutter like your father.
Charlie Chaplin was just a year old when his parents were separated. His father’s drinking was obviously the problem, but Charlie never knew if there was any other trigger. His mother was a star singder earning twenty five pounds a week. Since she was well-off, she didn’t ask for alimony.
When bad times came, she was forced to seek relief through legal steps.
His mother was a professional singer, but she suffered from chronic infection of her vocal cord. She suffered from bout of laryngitis too often. She couldn’t continue singing on the stage because of this impairment. Finally, she had to leave, when the audience began to mock her.
Think it out … a. What does Chaplin speak about his father?
Charlie was too young when his father and mother were separate. So, his knowledge of his father was limited to what his mother narrated to him. His father was a stage entertainer who had become an alcohol addict. He used to create raucous in the family, and times flew into a terrible rage to attack his mother. Otherwise, he was a quiet man with a baritone voice. He died of an ailment caused by excessive drinking.
- What account of the vaudevillians you get from the story?. … The vaudevillians were supposed to entertain the customers on the stage, and later entertain them with drinks in the bar attached to the theater. Such routine drinking made them addicted in due course, ruining their lives.
- What was the mother’s attitude towards Charle’s father? His mother was, no doubt, vexed with his addiction, and the disturbance it caused in the house, but she perhaps loved him too.
- Why did her mother’s theatrical engagements fall off? She suffered from bouts of vocal cord infection too often making her voice broken and hose. It was not to the liking of the customers, who began to boo her. The fall-out was her decision to leave professional singing.
Charlie Chaplin appeared on stage at the tender age of just five. His mother had been unwell of and on. Her voice had deteriorated so much that she could hardly be a professional stage singer. The family was having a tough time trying to make both ends meet.
His mother used to come to the theater at night. She brought Charlie with her because leaving him alone in the room was not safe for a young child. The theater where she worked at that time was named ‘Canteen’. It was situated in Aldershot. Drunk, boisterous solders patronized this place regularly. The shows were marked by unruly scenes and drunk soldiers talking and joking in very boorish language. For a lady artist, it was certainly not the right place, but his mother had to work here to make some money to feed herself and her children. Things became worse for her as her voice used to crack at the middle of a song inviting derisive laughter and taunts from the audience.
On one occasion, the worst happened. Charlie’s mother was singing on stage when her voice failed and the audience became jittery, throwing taunts and insults at her. The manager of the theater had seen the young Charlie performing in front of her mother’s friends. To save the show, he brought Charlie to the stage and explained that he would deputize for his mother. Charlie was formally introduced to the audience by the manager.
Charlie looked at the audience and remained unfazed. He began to sing the popular song Jack Jones. The orchestra took a moment to catch up.
The unruly soldiers in the audience were so amused to see Charlie singing Jack Jones with such finesse that the soldiers, instead of booing, threw coins at the stage. Quite nonchalantly, young Charlie told the audience that he was stopping his song for a while to collect their coins, and would resume soon. The audience burst into peels of laughter at the young lad’s innocence. The manager came in with a handkerchief to help Charlie gather the coins. Charlie thought he would pocket the money. So, he followed the manager backstage to ensure he handed over the coins to his mother. Charlie resumed his singing, much to the delight of the audience. He sang the same song that his mother had discontinued. It was the Irish March song. At one point, he mimicked the crackling of her mother’s voice. He did it so naturally, and with such effortless ease that the audience could barely keep quiet. They burst out in applause and threw more coins to the stage.
It was a watershed moment in Charlie’s life. From then on, he came to the stage as a star performer and his mother retired from professional singing.
Fate shows no mercy to humans. Fate was very harsh with Charlie’s mother too. From then on, her voice went downhill. She could never regain it.
The family’s fortune went downhill too. Her mother’s tiny savings didn’t last long. She pawned her small jewelry items to keep going, but that too soon dried up.
Think it out ..
- How and why Charlie went to the theater? His mother worked in Canteen—an entertainment joint for soldiers. She felt it unsafe to leave the young Charlie behind, and brought him to the theatre. Later, he would deputize for her and save her from embarrassment. In the process, he won the heart of the audience.
- Why dd his mother walk off the stage? Her voice crackled when she was singing on stage. It led to unbearable taunts being flung at her by the audience. She had to leave the stage.
- How did Charlie make his debut on stage? After his mother walked off, the manager brought Charlie on stage to mollify the shouting and jeering audience. He was asked to sing which he did with great aplomb.
- How did the audience respond …… The audience were amused and enthralled to see Charlie singing with such ease and flourish.
- How did his mother make a living … His mother found it very hard to make both ends meet. She spent off her savings, and later pawned her ornaments to collect some money. This was also not sufficient.
Charlie Chaplin’s mother had to endure a lot of hardship s her professional income vanished. She couldn’t sing any more due to her impaired vocal organs. To cut costs, the family moved from a three-room house to a two-room house, and finally to an one-room cramped one. They got rid of furniture and lived with the bare minimum.
His mother sought divine help to regain her voice. She went to church located in the Westminister Bridge Road regularly. She took Charlie along. He found the time in the church utterly boring. He had to sit through Bach’s organ music, and listen to the words of the Reverend F. B. Meyer. His ornations did impact his mother emotionally. At times, he saw tears rolling down her eyes.
Charlie Chaplin remembers the Holy Communion on hot Summer days, and the grape juice that ws offered to the members of the congregation. His mother signaled him not to drink more of it. When the Reverend finally closed the Bible, Charlie would be relieved because he knew the ceremony would end soon.
The family went through terrible times as poverty ravaged their lives. Life was so hard that one day appeared ike one year. His mother forgot her acquaintances in the theater after she began to go to church. She was not skilled in anything other than singing, so she couldn’t find any job. Only some part time nursing jobs were available, but that brought relief only temporarily. Other jobs were either very low-paid, or were hard to come by. The society was divided into two extreme groups, the ultra rich, and the extreme poor. Charlie’s family was in the latter group. There was a small window of opportunity to make a little money. During her days in the theater, she used to stitch her own attires. She knew the trade. In the church, she did some sewing work, and earned a paltry amount, but that was too little for the whole family.
Think it out …
- Why did Charlie’s mother turn to religion? .. She sought solace in religion during those hard days. She thought she could regain her voice through God’s grace.
- How did Charlie remember …. Charlie was restless in the church. The long sessions when he had to sit quietly made him miserable. It was not a very pleasant experience for him.
- Give an account of his mother’s suffering. Carlie’s mother’s misfortune started from the day she was separated from her husband. She thought she could manage her expenses from her professional income as a singer, but these days soon ended when her vocal organs developed a debilitating disease. Her voice deteriorated, and so did her income as a singer. Finally, she stopped earning altogether, and her savings vanished too. After that, she struggled very hard to earn some thing, but was very scantily successful. Life became insufferable.