The making of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid

Charlie Chaplin was widely recognized as one of the greats among comedians and silent movie stars of the 20th century. He was best known for his character, the awkward and endearing "Little Tramp." Chaplin's first feature length film and his directorial debut, The Kid, was financed for $250,000 by Bank of America in 1919. At a time when many banks considered film to be a risky investment, Bank of America held a different opinion. Convinced the film industry was sound, we offered the same financing rates to filmmakers as we did to commodities dealers.

Chaplin wrote, produced, directed and starred in the silent comedy-drama film, which featured Jackie Coogan as his adopted son and sidekick. When Chaplin saw Jackie Coogan singing and dancing on stage as a vaudeville performer, he knew the boy had star quality and wrote The Kid with Coogan in mind. Chaplin was right. The film made Coogan into the first major child star of the film industry. Later, as an adult, Coogan played Uncle Fester in the successful TV show The Addams Family.

The Kid was Chaplin's most autobiographical film. Much of the film's setting resembles where Chaplin grew up, including the attic room with the sloping roof where John and the Little Tramp live. Chaplin was raised by a single mother until he was separated from her at a young age to be sent to a school for orphans and destitute children. The Kid features a number of pompous doctors and orphanage officials as characters.

The Kid was the first feature length comedy film that was also a drama. It combined slapstick with sentiment, something no other director had attempted before. In his autobiography, Chaplin wrote that he had been warned that mixing the two forms simply would not work, but his instincts told him otherwise. History has proved both Chaplin and Bank of America right. On the movie’s release in 1921, audiences and critics were united, and The Kid was proclaimed a tragicomic masterpiece.

The Library of Congress later selected The Kid for its National Film Registry because of the movie’s significance culturally, historically and aesthetically. In the end, The Kid grossed $250 million, and the loan was paid back in just six weeks after the film premiered. Today, The Kid is widely considered one of the greatest films in cinematic history.

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