Chaplin began on the music hall stage and then joined a pantomime troupe. While on tour in the United States, he was recruited by Mack Sennett. Chaplin merged physical grace, disrespect for authority, and sentimentality into a highly individual character he created for the Keystone Company. In appearance, the Little Tramp combined a gentlemen's derby, cane, and neatly kept moustache with baggy trousers and oversized shoes. He affected a unique, bow-legged dance-walk. Chaplin skipped from one studio to another in search of greater control over his work, finally cofounding United Artists in 1919 with D. W. Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford. He soon stopped making shorts altogether. His features include The Kid (1920), The Gold Rush (1924), The Circus (1928), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and Limelight (1952). Chaplin enjoyed immense worldwide popularity, though this was tempered by his refusal to use sound until 1940. His political sympathies and various personal scandals contributed to his declining popularity. In 1952, he was barred on political grounds from re-entering the United States and lived thereafter in Switzerland. In 1975 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. His fourth wife was Oona O'Neill, the daughter of Eugene O'Neill. He won an Academy Award in 1972 for his score to Limelight.
See his My Trip Abroad (1922) and autobiography (1964); biographies by Charles Chaplin, Jr. (1960) and Parker Tyler (1947, repr. 1972); G. D. McDonald et al., The Films of Charlie Chaplin (1965).