Publish date:
Updated on

First appearance of “Little Tramp”

On this day in 1914, the silent film Kid Auto Races at Venice premieres in theaters, featuring the actor Charlie Chaplin in his first screen appearance as the “Little Tramp,” the character that would become his best-known onscreen alter ego.

Born on April 16, 1889, in England, Chaplin became a professional performer by the age of 10. In 1908, he joined the Fred Karno pantomime troupe, earning special notice for his portrayal of a character known as “The Drunk.” The troupe was touring the United States in 1913 when Chaplin was signed by Mack Sennett, whose Keystone Studios was becoming known for its short slapstick comedy films. In his first Keystone comedy, Making a Living, Chaplin played a swindler, complete with a sinister mustache and a monocle. The performance wasn’t as funny as expected, but Sennett gave his newest comic another chance, casting him in Kid Auto Races at Venice.

In preparation for filming, Chaplin reportedly combed through the Keystone costume closets to create the now-famous look of the Little Tramp. “Pants baggy, coat tight…hat small, shoes large,” as he later described it in his autobiography. To disguise the character’s age, he added a brush-like mustache over his lip. “I had no idea of the character,” he wrote, “but the clothes and the makeup made me feel the person he was.” In Kid Auto Races at Venice, the Little Tramp goes to a children’s cart race held in Venice, California, where he interferes with the race and gets in the way of the cameraman trying to take pictures of the contestants. Chaplin later refined the character, which to many became inseparable from the actor and filmmaker himself. Kid Auto Races at Venice captures the Tramp’s essence as a part-comic, part-tragic figure with a shuffling walk, expressive face and exaggeratedly polite manners. Upon its release, the film was an immediate hit and the Tramp was a sensation, making Chaplin the most famous actor in Hollywood.

After 35 Keystone comedies, Chaplin moved on to ever-more lucrative contracts with Essanay Studios, Mutual and First National before founding the United Artists studio in 1919 with his fellow actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and the director D.W. Griffith. Chaplin would not always technically play a tramp, but his characters invariably had a bit of the Tramp in them, whether working as a waiter (1916’s The Rink), a janitor (1918’s Triple Trouble) or a gold prospector (1925’s The Gold Rush, considered by many to be Chaplin’s masterpiece). The Tramp himself made memorable appearances in a number of acclaimed hits, including The Tramp (1915), The Kid (1921), The Circus (1928) and City Lights (1931).

After the movies converted to sound in the late 1920s, Chaplin held out for a while but finally gave his Tramp a voice in Modern Times (1936); he covered his British accent by singing nonsensical fake Italian lyrics. Though Chaplin would make other films, including The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947) and Limelight (1952), Modern Times marked the last appearance of his immortal alter ego.


FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


The Great Baltimore Fire begins

In Baltimore, Maryland, a small fire in the business district is wind-whipped into an uncontrollable conflagration that engulfs a large portion of the city by evening. The fire is believed to have been started by a discarded cigarette in the basement of the Hurst Building. When more

King Hussein of Jordan dies

On February 7, 1999, King Hussein bin Talal, the 20th century’s longest-serving executive head of state dies, and his son Prince Abdallah bin Hussein ascends to the Jordanian throne. Hussein was named the third constitutional king of Jordan in 1952 and proved a great leader in more

First human satellite

While in orbit 170 miles above Earth, Navy Captain Bruce McCandless becomes the first human being to perform an untethered space walk, when he exits the U.S. space shuttle Challenger and maneuvers freely, using a bulky white rocket pack of his own design. McCandless orbited Earth more

European Union treaty signed

After suffering through centuries of bloody conflict, the nations of Western Europe finally unite in the spirit of economic cooperation with the signing of the Maastricht Treaty of European Union. The treaty, signed by ministers of the European Community, called for greater more

Tire king Firestone dies

On February 7, 1938, automotive industry pioneer Harvey Samuel Firestone, founder of the major American tire company that bore his name, dies at the age of 69 in Miami Beach, Florida. By 1910, Firestone’s profits passed $1 million for the first time. The following year, the more

Beatles arrive in New York

On February 7, 1964, Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 from London Heathrow lands at New York’s Kennedy Airport–and “Beatlemania” arrives. It was the first visit to the United States by the Beatles, a British rock-and-roll quartet that had just scored its first No. 1 U.S. hit six more

U.S. jets conduct retaliatory raids

As part of Operation Flaming Dart, 49 U.S. Navy jets from the 7th Fleet carriers Coral Sea and Hancock drop bombs and rockets on the barracks and staging areas at Dong Hoi, a guerrilla training camp in North Vietnam. Escorted by U.S. jets, a follow-up raid by South Vietnamese more

Operation Dewey Canyon II ends

Operation Dewey Canyon II ends, but U.S. units continue to provide support for South Vietnamese army operations in Laos. Operation Dewey Canyon II began on January 30 as the initial phase of Lam Son 719, the South Vietnamese invasion of Laos that was to commence on February 8. more

Plea bargaining gains favor in American courts

Albert McKenzie pleads guilty to a misdemeanor count of embezzlement in Alameda County, California. McKenzie had originally been charged with a felony for taking $52.50 from the sewing-machine company for which he worked. However, rather than go through a trial, the prosecution more

Forensic evidence solves a crime

Bernard Josephs returns to his house in Bromley, England, and finds his wife Claire lying under the bed, her throat slashed and severed to the spine. Defensive wounds to her hands appeared to be caused by a serrated knife. No weapon was found at the Josephs’ house, and police more