Upper left photo: earliest photograph of Charlie (in center) at grammar school. Upper right photo: Charlie and Jackie as a pair of streetwise tricksters “dodging the bobbies” in the film, The Kid. Bottom photo, Charlie and Jackie Coogan on the set of The Kid (ca.1920).
“There is something about that boy that always makes me feel like crying. I don’t know why, for he seems so happy and gay”: Chaplin told Sam Goldwyn.
Like Charlie at roughly the same age, Jackie Coogan was a precocious mimic and son of two semi-successful vaudevillians. As the result of the virtuoso performance that Chaplin lovingly coaxed out of Coogan in The Kid, Jackie immediately became the most famous and beloved child actor in the world.
What made Chaplin, the grief-stricken director, feel like crying as he worked daily with this gifted child actor were the recent loss of his own infant son and the fact that Jackie reminded him so much of himself and the London childhood they re-lived together in this film. As an onscreen pair of urban hustlers struggling to survive, Charlie and Jackie relived Chaplin’s nostalgically romanticized recollections of his picaresque boyhood adventures as a South London slum urchin tagging along as the sidekick and boon companion to his streetwise big brother Syd, who looked after him and taught him the ropes.
Those hilarious experiences were followed abruptly, in real life, by Charlie’s traumatic experience of being shipped off to a charity orphanage where he was institutionalized for eighteen months (from the age 7 to 8 ½).
(See Chaplin A Life for details).
After completing this first feature-length film, Chaplin--the former Cockney ragamuffin and grammar school dropout who had clawed his way up from the slums of London--returned triumphantly to England to premier his autobiographical masterpiece and to re-explore nostalgically his old neighborhood haunts.
From the moment the conquering hero and native son set foot on English soil, he received a greeting fit for a king from unprecedented mobs of adoring well wishers—as well as banner headlines in the London tabloids hailing him as King Charles--the undisputed king of comedy.
LOST IN THE CROWD, CHAPLIN IN CENTER OF PHOTO Jeffrey Vance Collection