Random Excerpt: Chaplin on “The Kid”

From “The Marvelous Boy Of The Movies,” by Charlie Chaplin, Vanity Fair, January 1921

It was by pure accident that I met this remarkable child actor. He was with his parents in a Los Angeles hotel sleeping, as a child will, in a chair. He was roused in order to meet me. He rubbed his eyes, jumped up,  made his politest bow, and promptly went back to sleep. 

However, in that instant, I had seen the rare quality of Jackie Coogan, a quality so lovable that I followed him up, induced his parents to let him become a member of my company and shortly set about a picture which might express something of my feeling–which, I believe, will not prove a purely individual reaction–toward the child. 

What first attracted me to the boy was a whimsical, wistful quality, a genuineness of feeling. He is the lovable child carried to the nth power, yet endowed with not a little of the self-consciousness of an artist and with a hundred resources as an actor….

In this initial stages of his training, however, my chief difficulty was to overcome his inattention, or rather that inability to concentrate the attention, which is, of course, a common characteristic of all children. One quality he has, which is extraordinary in a child: his ability to repeat a scene without losing interest. I have seen him pick up an object after a dozen rehearsals, with a wonder and attention, which would make you believe he was looking at it for the first time in his life….

Now that The Kid is about to be released, I suppose another picture made by myself and Jack Coogan is scarcely probable. What the boy will do, I don’t know, but then neither do I know what I shall do, I shall probably go on wearing a trick moustache and carrying a cane too small for me, until at last I meet the undertaker. 


  1. I love that this movie came up so soon after my previous comment. Why? I'll tell you…my sister said she was embarrassed on a plane traveling with my 3 year old niece, because the child was watching "The Kid" on her portable DVR (yes, of course I gave her the DVD – the movie is her favorite Chaplin) and telling the poor man in the seat next to her the entire plot of the movie as it was happening.I told her, you should be proud! I know I was. Like I said before, I have my nieces and nephews well trained. They've been watching these since they were toddlers, and these anecdotes are from the youngest 2 of the 12 of them!

  2. My little cousin often sees the posts that I put on Facebook. She said she wants to watch a Charlie movie with me at some point….I am debating between the Gold Rush and the Kid? Thoughts?

  3. The Kid first – it's shorter, and it centralizes on a kid – all my niece and nephews were started on The Kid – then Gold Rush, then Circus, then Modern Times, then City Lights and most recently, now that they are older…The Great Dictator. They've seen some of the Mutuals as well, but the kids LOVED Gold Rush and The Kid the best. And Modern Times comes in third with them.I show these with the original Our Gangs and early Little Rascals, and WB cartoons. I refuse to watch Disney Channel crap with them! Now they age from 3- 15 and they are all Chaplin fans. I recently showed some of the older ones The General, and they could not get into it at all – too much set up time I guess in Keaton's humor.

  4. Jordan, I don't know how old your cousin is, but I find that my children (7 and 9) and my upper elementary students always like A Dog's Life. My children also love the feeding machine in Modern Times, The Idle Class and parts of the Gold Rush and The Circus. I watched The Kid with my 7 year old and he kind of liked it but had a lot of questions. He didn't really get it. Have fun, whatever you choose! Nothing is better than hearing kids laugh out loud at Charlie!

  5. I always show them the films at home first – never introduced them in a big theater setting, because they will always ask what's going on. They are so used to the dialogue and fast pace of their cartoons and Disney shows. So watching at home allows them to ask the questions (why are they poor, what are they eating, where is he going, why is he doing that,etc) and I found after 2 viewings they stop and get it. I was surprised when my 8 and 10 year old nieces, upon watching the dinner scene in the Gold Rush, both commented about how mean those girls were to tease Charlie and not show up. I didn't think they'd get that plot point!

  6. You know, this "Marvelous Boy of the Movies" article is really bedeviling me as I research the night Charlie and Jackie met. There are so many different versions of their meeting at the Alexandria! In his bio, David Robinson says Jackie and Charlie played for almost two hours that night, as per Lillian Coogan's recollections. Yet this article says Jackie was sound asleep! Also, as Jackie remembered it, they met at the Alexandria the same night that Charlie first saw Jackie perform at the Orpheum Theater, but Robinson says it was a few nights later. How can I reconcile all these different versions? ARGH! If anyone has any insights on this, I'd love to hear them!

  7. Yeah, my inclination is to trust the story written closer to the event itself, too–I just hate that the story that Jackie was asleep seems to cancel out the possibility that they could have played together two hours that night. There are several references in newspaper articles from that time to Jackie and his family being spotted at the Alexandria together, but they come much later in the summer than Jack Coogan was appearing at the Orpheum (the Orpheum booking was in late May-early June 1919, and the later spottings were in late July). I'm wondering if some of those more playful things happened at other meetings. How I wish I had a time machine!

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