Vatican honors Charlie Chaplin on stamp

By Denise McCarty

The Vatican City commemorates Charlie Chaplin on a €0.70 stamp issued May 8 in a small pane of six.

In addition to commemorating popes and saints, stamps from Vatican City honor artists in many fields, including painting, music and literature.

On a recent stamp, Vatican City branched into the field of cinema, marking the 125th birth anniversary of British actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977).

The €0.70 stamp issued May 8 in a pane of six features Chaplin in his Little Tramp persona.

In its new-issue announcement, the Vatican City Philatelic and Numismatic Office said that the stamp celebrates “this artist whose work impacted more than fifty years of the history of film.”

The films The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator are named as Chaplin’s most memorable works in the announcement from the bureau.

The announcement says little of Chaplin’s personal life, which included scandal and controversy, other than mentioning that his talent emerged despite a childhood marked by “economic and family difficulties.”

Born April 16, 1889, in a suburb of London, England, his parents separated when he was an infant. Chaplin began a career in vaudeville before age 10 and was on his own by age 14.

Chaplin introduced the Little Tramp character in 1914 in two Keystone Studio productions, Kid Auto Races at Venice and Mabel’s Strange Predicament.

Chaplin wrote in his 1964 autobiography titled simply My Autobiography: “However, on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane, and a derby hat. I wanted everything to be a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering [Mack] Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression. I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born.”

The Little Tramp character appeared in many of Chaplain’s subsequent full-length films.

The new-issue announcement explains the importance of the character and Chaplin: “As an actor, director, screenwriter, comedian, composer and producer, Chaplin’s artistic talent was evident in the versatility of his works. His great intuition was to analyze the injustices of modern society through the telling of stories by a comic character. During a time of economic and industrial progress, the Little Tramp became a symbol of redemption through the satire of the most marginalized classes.

“Counted among the most talented artists of the 1900s, Charlie Chaplin gave a fundamental contribution to the transformation of cinema, from being a simple form of entertainment to a new means of communication able to recount and express realities and events of great and profound complexity.”

Chaplin has been honored on many stamps from around the world, including two from the United States: a 29¢ stamp in the Silent Screen Stars set (Scott 2821) and a 32¢ stamp in the Celebrate the Century series (3183a).

Published 5/8/2014 5:00 PM