Home > Deaf History, Videos > How did Charlie Chaplin become a star of silent films?

How did Charlie Chaplin become a star of silent films?

April 10, 2007

Fookem and Bug have investigated the history of the silent movies and the Deaf Community. Our findings about the deaf actors in the silent movie are important to the Deaf History. There were a small group of deaf actors who performed in the silent movies. Through this research, we identified deaf person who was a well known of a comparatively small group of deaf actors who performed in the silent movies. His name was Granville Redmond, a graduate of the California School for the Deaf. Granville was a landscape painter. You can find his arts at this site: http://www.irvinemuseum.org/artist4_redmond.html .

Charlie Chaplin the world’s famous actor met Granville because he was interested in collecting his arts. They became friends. Granville taught Charlie sign language and fingerspelling. Granville played some parts in Charlie’s first film of “The Dog’s Life”. Also Granville played some minor roles in seven films of Chaplin between 1918 and 1929.

Through this research, we identified some more deaf actors who were active in the film industry during the silent movies. We can’t be able to find many more which we would like to but we found a few actors’ names. They were Redmond, Emerson Romero, Louis Weinberg, Carmen de Arcos and Albert Ballin. Also, the children of deaf parents (CODA) and many unknown deaf people were in the part of the film story. This research was completed without the benefit of actually seeing the films themselves.

Here’s a detail we found for you:

Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) English Film actor, director, producer and composer. The clown from Lambeth was influenced by many Deaf actors he worked with in his silent films. In this era Deaf and hearing audiences enjoyed the same level of participation and Chaplin would enthrall his entire audience with his facial expression, posture, touch and movement. Granville Redmond who became a successful landscape artist was born on March 9, 1871 in Philadelphia. Granville was totally deaf from infancy. Some people said that he became deaf at the age of two and a half years from scarlet fever. He never learned to speak. Granville attended the California School for the Deaf at Berkeley where he was a pupil of deaf art instructor. In 1894 Charlie Chaplin met Granville and became a collector of Granville’s artwork. They became friends. Charlie learned sign language and fingerspelling. Albert Ballins, the director of silent films, gave Granville credit for influencing Chaplin’s acting. Chaplin did not move his lips in his silent films. He used gestures and expressions resembling those used by deaf persons. Granville took some minor roles in a few of Chaplin’s films, according to Ballin. “The Gold Rush” and “The Dog’s Life” were two of these.

Granville Redmond teaching Charlie Chaplin sign language.

This was Chaplin’s first film for First National Films.

Charlie Chaplin’s final speech from “The Great Dictator” (1940), reenacted in sign language. The aesthetics of the work are borrowed from Jorgen Leth’s (1967) 16-mm film ”The Perfect Human”, and the title of the work is composed of Chaplin’s entire speech.

documentation video

I’m sorry but I don’t want to be an Emperor—that’s not my business—I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible, Jew, gentile, black man, white. We all want to help one another, human beings are like that. We all want to live by each other’s happiness, not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone and the earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful. But we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls—has barricaded the world with hate; has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed but we have shut ourselves in: machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical, our cleverness hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little: More than machinery we need humanity; More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost. The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together. The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men, cries out for universal brotherhood for the unity of us all. Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world, millions of despairing men, women and little children, victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people. To those who can hear me I say “Do not despair.” The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress: the hate of men will pass and dictators die and the power they took from the people will return to the people, and so long as men die [now] liberty will never perish.… Soldiers—don’t give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you and enslave you—who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel, who drill you, diet you, treat you as cattle, as cannon fodder. Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men, machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. You are not machines. You are not cattle. You are men. You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate—only the unloved hate. Only the unloved and the unnatural. Soldiers—don’t fight for slavery, fight for liberty. In the seventeenth chapter of Saint Luke it is written “the kingdom of God is within man”—not one man, nor a group of men—but in all men—in you, the people. You the people have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness. You the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Then in the name of democracy let’s use that power—let us all unite. Let us fight for a new world, a decent world that will give men a chance to work, that will give you the future and old age and security. By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power, but they lie. They do not fulfill their promise, they never will. Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people. Now let us fight to fulfill that promise. Let us fight to free the world, to do away with national barriers, do away with greed, with hate and intolerance. Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness. Soldiers—in the name of democracy, let us all unite! Look up! Look up! The clouds are lifting—the sun is breaking through. We are coming out of the darkness into the light. We are coming into a new world. A kind new world where men will rise above their hate and brutality. The soul of man has been given wings—and at last he is beginning to fly. He is flying into the rainbow—into the light of hope—into the future, that glorious future that belongs to you, to me and to all of us. Look up. Look up.“The Great Dictator” (1940), 2005

16mm film, black-and-white, silent; 2:37 min.

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Categories: Deaf History, Videos
  1. Anonymous
    April 10, 2007 at 9:01 am

    WOW

    What an interesting story that you both researched.

  2. Peachlady
    April 10, 2007 at 11:12 am

    I never knew that Charlie was influenced by a deaf man!
    Thank you for the wonderful blog about Charlie!

  3. MikeS
    April 10, 2007 at 11:45 am

    Interesting. Charlie had used to film in Niles, a mile from here (Fremont). Niles have annual Charlie Chaplin festival in his honor. Niles was the first “Hollywood” before they relocated down south.

  4. Frosted Flakes
    April 10, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Beautiful work. We love your blog.

  5. FilmBuff
    April 10, 2007 at 1:19 pm

    Nice blog. Who’s the guy in the film reenactment? Granville’s kindred?

  6. JFLMad
    April 10, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    beautiful and interesting story!

    Keep up the good and interesting works/stories!

  7. Elle
    April 10, 2007 at 2:12 pm

    I learned something new today. Thank you for the excellent story. Keep up with interesting stories that we need to know.

  8. Anonymous
    April 10, 2007 at 6:15 pm

    Interesting blog

  9. dimsum
    April 10, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    cool…. I didn’t know about that.. thanks for sharing the story!

  10. Icedtea
    April 10, 2007 at 10:14 pm

    Why not upload clips of Redmond acting in Chaplin movies to YouTube for us to watch?

    Go to your public library and check out Gold Rush and Dog’s Life DVDs, then it will cost you nothing.

    I have Gold Rush on VHS. I saw Redmond there. I was going to upload clips of him to YouTube but I would have to go to my library for the DVD version to put in my computer’s DVD drive. Email me if you prefer that I do it.

    Redmond’s deaf art instructor was Theophilus Hope D’Estrella (1851-1929) of CSD Berkeley (no longer there as it was absorbed by the University).

    There is a book about deaf actors in Hollywood from the beginning to present (more like ends in 1980’s as I think the book was written back then).
    It is “Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry” By John S. Schuchman. He is a Coda and taught at Gallaudet. My father has this book so it isn’t here right now.

  11. Icedtea
    April 10, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    Check out imdb.com profile on Redmond. Redmond has been in more silents. If my library has them in DVDs, I could upload clips of Redmond to Youtube. I doubt he signed anything but I could tell from his body language that he was comfortable gesturing for the camera.

  12. April 11, 2007 at 12:06 am

    Hi all, thank you for leaving your comments in here. Glad to know that you enjoy our site. This is your home, just come anytime you want. Thank you for your support.

    IceTead, Hi. We tried to find the parts of Redmond in the film on youtube.com but no luck. If you upload clips, that would be wonderful for you to show the world so the Deaf History can be carried for many more years. Let us know when it is ready. I will check at the library to see if they have one, thanks for letting us know. Also, we thank you for adding more details in here.

    FilmBuff, see that guy telling Charlie to get out of the bar? That is Granville Redmond.

  13. michele
    April 11, 2007 at 2:11 pm

    Hi, thanks for the well-informative article, I wonder about the program, “Through Deaf Eyes” when they showed a clip of silent film, there was a white-haired man, was that Granville Redmond on that clip?

  14. FilmBuff
    April 11, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Hi, Fookemandbug– thank you for your response. Yes, I did recognize Granville Redmond in the bar scene. But who’s that headless guy in tuxedo doing Charlie Chaplin’s final speech from “The Great Dictator”? It would be so neat if the movie was made about Granville and his friendship with Chaplin!

  15. RLM
    April 11, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    The actual stories about Charles Chaplin being possibly influenced by deaf silent performers or interacted with deaf people outside the film community REALLY NEED TO BE FACTUALLY VERIFIED, but I personally believe those stories to be mostly true.

    Have anyone check out Charlie Chaplin’s personal memoirs to find out what he really acknowledge the contribution of deaf people to his acting career and film community standing, etc?

    Chaplin begun his career in the vaudeville theatres in U.K. He grew up in impoverished area with his loveable mother. The questions about Chaplin interacted with deaf Britons in any way before coming to America.

    I greatly admire Charlie Chaplin’s political convinctions as a progressive leftist and outspoken critic of Adolf Hilter’s “The Final Solution” and state-sponsored annihilation of undesirable human beings.

    Really about Chaplin’s subtle use of gestures in “The Great Dictator” film. Many thank for pointing out this one. I will look up the same film.

    Thanks again.

    Robert L. Mason (RLM)
    RLMDEAF blog
    rlmdeaf@hotmail.com

  16. April 11, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I’ve always been a fan of Chaplin, but you taught me things I didn’t know.
    Thankyou!

  17. JFLMad
    April 11, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    I did some research on Charlie Chaplin and Granville Redmond. I found the story of Granville Redmond in Wikipedia Encyclopedia.

    While living in Los Angeles, he became friends with Charles Chaplin, who admired the natural expressiveness of a Deaf person using American Sign Language. Chaplin asked Redmond to help him develop the techniques Chaplin later used in his silent films. Chaplin, impressed with Redmond’s skill gave Redmond a studio on the movie lot, collected his paintings, and sponsored him in silent acting roles – the sculptor in City Lights for example.

    During this time Redmond did not neglect his painting. Through Chaplin he met Los Angeles neighbor artists Elmer Wachtel and Norman St. Clair. They showed works at the Spring Exhibition held in San Francisco in 1904. By 1905 Redmond was receiving considerable recognition as a leading landscape painter and bold colorist. His artwork was sometimes compared to Matisse; he loved painting flowers and dark, moody scenes.

    He died on May 24, 1935 in Los Angeles.

  18. April 11, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    FilmBuff, oops, sorry. The “headless” guy is supposed to be Charlie Chaplin. We wonder about that too.

    RLM, Your welcome. You are more than welcome to add anything that we might not know. A few weeks ago, we began a search for the films and information because it was our interest in the topic of deafness as a part of the film story. So far, I (Bug) found and viewed two films. Two of them included Granville Redmond. In “A Woman of Paris”, produced in 1923, Granville appears for a total of about 10 seconds in a crowd scene. That is the nature of research. We understand that you wanted the proof that Charlie Chaplin was influenced by the deaf people, in 1993, I collected the information on that part of history and found the pictures of Charlie Chaplin with deaf people outside the film industry. It captured my attention and I learned that Charlie Chaplin did socializing with the deaf people and actors. It was said that Charlie learned to use the facial expression, gestures, mime and body language from the deaf people. I have a book with an old picture of deaf people with him that was shown by Universal Studios. In case you wonder about the book, the name of it is ” The Deaf American” Col. 36 No.1 1983 Also, you might want to try Deaf Heritage book. Maybe the National Association of the Deaf sponsored the creation of several silent films which would preserve sign language.

  19. April 11, 2007 at 8:11 pm

    Don’t throw away your old films or home movies. If you have home movies about events in the deaf community or copies of films that portay deaf people or deafness, they represent a valuable treasure of our deaf history. Unfortuantely, most of the silent film heritage has been destroyed. Granville Redmond is alive and well at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

  20. JFLMad
    April 11, 2007 at 9:45 pm

    I remember that I bought the Charlie Chaplin VHS collection set (about 8 or 10 vhs tapes) few years ago. I stashed it somewhere at my parents’ house with my other junk things . I will find it if I have some free time, maybe over the weekend.
    I will let u guys know what the movies are and see if Granville Redmond is in it or not.

  21. April 11, 2007 at 10:17 pm

    JFLMad, That would be interesting to hear what you see. Maybe you will see many nameless actors….they could be either Deaf or hearing. If you have The Dog’s Life film, you will find him in there.

  22. Nikeboy
    April 11, 2007 at 10:49 pm

    Interesting article.

    There was a movie about Charlie Chaplin a few years ago. The actor was Robert Downey Jr. I do not know if the movie talked about Granville Redmond?

  23. April 11, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    Nikeboyg, unfortunally, that movie you spoke of didn’t tell everything. Lot of historians, authors, and film makers dont always know the facts.

  24. FilmBuff
    April 23, 2007 at 9:54 pm

    I did my homework! The guy with the black tie’s Darren Fudenski. He’s an actor from New York City. I think he did the film for Whitney Museum last year. Also The NY Times did an interesting article on him.

  25. April 23, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    FilmBuff, thank you for sharing. It’s interesting to know.

  26. Big Wave DAve
    April 26, 2007 at 11:39 am

    WOwee!!! Gosh I never Knew that there is a deaf actor in Charlie Chaplins film Now I am Interesting getting deaf actors together again and Hit it big!!!! anyone interesting getting involved We can do it

  27. Denny Voreck
    April 28, 2007 at 10:18 am

    Thanks for sharing an interesting historical story about Charlie Chaplin. He is one of my favorite actors since I was a little kid.

    Denny

  28. April 28, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    Big Wave DAve 🙂

    Denny, me too 🙂

  29. Yerker Andersson
    April 29, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    Granville Redmond’s relationship with Charlie Chaplin has already been described in John Schuchman’s book Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry, Urbana: University of Illinois Press 1988. Redmond’s art works are exhibited in several museums (See Deborah Sonnenstrahl’s book Deaf Artists in America.

  30. VideoofGranville
    June 15, 2007 at 7:24 pm

    See Granville Redmond in “A Dog’s Life” at:

    http://www.deafvideo.tv/watch/1322

    http://www.deafvideo.tv/watch/1325

  31. June 16, 2007 at 10:13 am

    VideoofGranville: thanks for sharing the videos with us.

  32. katy
    October 30, 2007 at 2:47 pm

    hi thats amazing

  33. March 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    That is so cool. i never knew that. i always wondered about why Charlie Chaplin did so many silent movies. influenced by the deaf now that is sweet.

  34. Shoya
    May 27, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    I did not know this!!! It was easy to understand!! Thamks

  35. Melodith
    November 1, 2010 at 3:20 am

    THAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAnks
    I LOVE charli chaplin
    MELODi

  36. amir
    December 19, 2010 at 6:33 am

    hi, thanks a lot
    charli was better comediane & he never die in our mind

  37. pinkie5132@aol.com
    May 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    who wrote this article?? i need to use it for my project citations…

  38. Anonymous
    November 12, 2011 at 6:06 am

    you do not tell me were he acted …

  1. September 23, 2007 at 11:54 pm
  2. February 4, 2008 at 4:44 am
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