Yes, I Can See Now

I’ve always wondered when Charlie started wearing glasses. I figured it was at least the early 1920s since Lita Grey recalled Chaplin wearing glasses the first time she was alone with him in Truckee during the filming of The Gold Rush. However the following clipping puts the date much earlier, during his vacation in Honolulu in 1917. I don’t know if Charlie was getting his first-ever pair of glasses or just a new pair. I also didn’t know that Edna wore glasses.

Hawaiian Gazette, October 19, 1917

Journalist Egon Erwin Kisch noted during a visit to the Chaplin Studios in 1929 that Chaplin was so farsighted that he couldn’t see to sign his own name. But Chaplin must have struggled with seeing at a distance as well judging from photos of him wearing glasses at spectator events such as a wrestling match and a kabuki performance (below).

Charlie with Sydney & Kono at the Kabuki-za Theater in Tokyo, 1932.
(Photo: Charlie Chaplin In Japan by Ono Hiroyuki)

One of my favorite “glasses” stories regarding Chaplin is when he testified during the Leo Loeb trial in 1927 & struggled to read a document that one of the lawyers handed him. (Loeb sued Chaplin claiming that he stole the idea for Shoulder Arms from his book, “The Rookie.”):

Hays handed Chaplin a synopsis of “The Rookie” and asked him to look at the first scene. “Chaplin scrutinized the paper with expressions of exaggerated concentration which brought general laughter. He shrugged with a pathetic gesture of frustration and the spectators rocked in their seats.”

“I’m afraid I can’t read it,” he apologized to Hays, “I forgot to bring my glasses.”

Nathan Burkan offered up his glasses and Chaplin “tried them on his nose and then stared blankly at the paper. His expression and pantomime of his inability to see brought more laughter in which Judge Bondy joined.”

Judge Bondy leaned over the bench and proffered Chaplin the judicial spectacles. The actor took them with a bow, tried them frontwards, backwards, as a monocle with the extra glass riding over one ear, and then as a magnifying glass.

“I can read!” he cried with a happy smile and the crowd cheered. (New York Times, May 11, 1927)

See more pics of bespectacled Charlie here.


  1. I think that the deleted scene with the glasses in THE IMMIGRANT (shown by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill in "UNKNOWN CHAPLIN") is a sign that Chaplin was thinking of using glasses as far as 1917, either for the Tramp or for himself.D.

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