Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Charlie and a Scotsman, 1918

Original photo reads 'OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHS TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT. Horse show, behind the lines - Charlie Chaplin talking to a Scot.'

Photo: The National Library of Scotland.

Russian Commercial

Ronnie Collis, 1928-2000

While researching Charlie Chaplin impersonators online, I came across the photo below, which piqued my interest, and I knew I had to research performer Ronnie Collis further.

Having seen footage of his routines online, I can say Ronnie was a truly top-notch Charlie. I spoke briefly with Mr. Collis's widow, Belinda, via email, and she granted me permission to reprint a biography and a few photos of the late Chaplin impersonator.

(From the Chaplin Stage School website)
Born in the East End of London on 5th August 1928, it wasn't long before Ronnie realised he had a particular aptitude for tap dancing. When his father took him to a dance school aged only 6, the teacher took one look at Ronnie's tapping and declared, "I'm going to make him a champion". And he was. Ronnie won the All England Tap Dance Championship in 1937 & 1938, which was followed by the British Championship. Ronnie entered show business at the age of 14 and during his career he appeared at almost every major theatre in Britain as well as touring abroad. he appeared alongside many stars of the theatre including Max Miller, Roy Castle, Bob Monkhouse, Harry Secombe, Ken Dodd, Des O'Conner, Jimmy Tarbuck and his close friend Engelbert Humperdink.

He was particularly well known for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin, a routine which he perfomed on many occasions both in the theatre and on television.

In 1986 together with his young wife, Belinda, he founded Chaplins Stage School, named after his variety act. Ronnie could always be found doing things around the school and was well loved by all the children, whom Ronnie loved in return.
Ronnie helped Belinda run the Stage School until his untimely death on 9th October 2000.
More information about the Chaplin Stage School of Dance can be found here.
Many thanks to Belinda Collis for allowing me to share photos of this versatile performer.

Patty Carreras

I've had the pleasure of chatting with Patty via Facebook. I really enjoy her unique take on the tramp character. As you can see, we share a love of baggy pants, derby hats, and floppy shoes.
I asked her to share her background and influences:

Hailing from a vaudeville family in NYS, I fell in love with Charlie when I was a small child. I started impersonating Charlie when I was about 15 years old. I waltzed into a college campus on Halloween that year and walked away with First Prize. I started to read any info on him I could get--including books of gossip and his ex-wives. I was also highly influenced by Lucille Ball, having grown up inside her home County of Chautauqua--near Jamestown--in a town called Fredonia. I did my senior HS Thesis on Chaplin's Influence to Modern Day Comics, and received honors. I began college as a filmmaker and did a tribute to Charlie called TRAMPS in my Junior year. Film became very expensive for this poor Lil tramp, and so I created 'Three Piece Suit', a pantomime group that brings Chaplin films to life. I now have incorporated many productions in my one man band.

Thank you, Patty!

Patty, age 15.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Gisele MacKenzie & Dorothy Collins for Lucky Strike, 1957

Can't find any information on who is playing Charlie in this bizarre musical number, but I like his extra-tattered tramp outfit.
(Embedding for this file has been disabled, so you'll have to click on the Youtube link)

Universal Studios, Florida

Actor unknown, early 1990's.

'Charlie at the Sydney Show', 1918

Australian Chaplin impersonator Ern Vockler.
(my favorite is the one with the monkey).

Monday, August 9, 2010

"This Was Burlesque" 1985

Charlie Naples, vaudeville comic, in Ann Corio's 'This Was Burlesque'.

Billy Barr

Early Chaplin impersonation.

Cherry Blossom shoe polish

Japanese shoe polish commercials featuring a Charlie AND an Eric Campbell impersonator:

Michael Jackson

As one can see, Michael Jackson had a lifelong obsession with Charlie Chaplin. In 1995, he recorded the song 'Smile', written by Chaplin in 1936, for his album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book 1. It was canceled days before its release date. Only a few copies from the Netherlands, Germany, and South Africa were saved.
Michael Jackson's brother, Jermaine Jackson, sang 'Smile' at his memorial service on July 7, 2009, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, shortly after Michael Jackson's friend Brooke Shields mentioned it had been Jackson's favorite song. Although many credit Chaplin with this song, only the instrumental version was used in the movie Modern Times. John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons added the lyrics in 1954. It was recorded by Nat King Cole the same year.
Jackson was a huge fan of pantomime and classic movement artists, having learned his famous 'moonwalk' from mime Marcel Marceau.

Side note: I performed as Charlie Chaplin at an outdoor festival in Kansas a month or so after Jackson's death. A group of teenagers found me, and asked if I was 'really Charlie Chaplin', and if I was going to sing 'Smile' anytime that day. They were very excited and wanted my autograph. After chatting with them a bit, I realized they had no idea who Chaplin was, and thought I was appearing at the festival as a tribute to Michael Jackson. They had just heard the song on the televised footage of his funeral, and recognized the Chaplin name. It's amazing how cultures collide.
~Mr. D