Thursday, October 4, 2012

Scott Hamilton as Charlie Chaplin

[post 279]

In his heyday almost 100 years ago, Charlie Chaplin was such a celebrity that his "little tramp" character was openly stolen by other comedians. According to David Trotter of the British Film Institute, "his rapidly escalating popularity encouraged a wide variety of imitators, from Stan Laurel, whose Chaplin imitation was overt, and thus flattering, to Billy West, a smalltime vaudevillian who copied Chaplin's costume and make-up in more than fifty 1- and 2-reel comedies. In 1916, Charles Amador, a Mexican actor, changed his name to Charlie Aplin, and copied Chaplin's most successful routines. Chaplin sued, and won, though not without difficulty."

Amateur Chaplin wannabes got their chance at the many Chaplin imitation contests, which incidentally serve as the theme for the dance number that closes the first act of Chaplin: The Musical. The story that Chaplin himself entered one of these contests and failed to win is apparently historically accurate.

Of course many performers have donned the Chaplin look not as a rip-off but to pay homage to the great clown. One of the more interesting examples to cross my path is this 1997 piece by figure skater Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold-medalist and four-time world champion, here partnering another skating legend, Katia Gordeeva. After the 1984 Olympics, Hamilton's fame grew along with his reputation as a comic skater through his work with the Ice Capades and then with his own company, Stars on Ice. By 1993, he was ranked one of the top eight most popular athletes in the United States.

Chaplin in The Rink
Why this piece makes sense is that Chaplin not only walked and ran funny, but was himself an extraordinary roller skater, so transferring these moves to the ice is a natural. Back in Chaplin's British music hall days, there was an old Fred Karno sketch, Skating, that may have inspired this extraordinary skating sequence in The Rink (1916).

That segment took Chaplin eight days to film.

Twenty years later, Chaplin proved he still had his skating chops in Modern Times — though his daredevil skating close to the edge of a balcony with no barrier was a special effect achieved with a glass shot to create the illusion of height.

Now finally, take it away Scott!


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