In 1914, Charlie Chaplin was on the cusp of superstardom. In February, he made his big-screen debut in Making a Living; two months later, his directorial debut, Twenty Minutes of Love, was also released. That year alone, he starred in 36 films for Keystone Studios, 19 of which he wrote and directed, and audiences were beginning to fall in love. In August, as Keystone’s boss, Mack Sennett, attempted to renew Chaplin’s contract and others in the industry tried to lure him away, Chaplin wrote a rare and excited letter to his brother, fellow actor, and eventual manager, Sydney, and brought him up to speed.
(Submitted by Angela Howe; Image: Charlie Chaplin in 1920, via National Portrait Gallery.)
Los Angeles Athletic Club,
Los Angeles, Calif.
Sunday Aug 9th
My Dear Sid,
You are doubtless realising who is addressing you. Yes. It really is your brother Chas. after all these years, but you must forgive me. The whole of my time is taken up with the movies. I write, direct, and play in them and believe me it keeps you busy. Well, Sid, I have made good. All the theatres feature my name in big letters i.e. ‘Chas Chaplin hear today’. I tell you in this country I am a big box office attraction. All the managers tell me that I have 50 letters a week from men and women from all parts of the world. It is wonderfull how popular I am in such a short time and next year I hope to make a bunch of dough. I have had all kinds of offers at 500 a week with 40% stock which would mean a salary of or about 1000 a week. Mr Marcus Lowe, the big theatre man over hear, has made me a proposition which is a certainty and wants me to form a comedy company and give me either a salary per week or 50% stock. This is a sure thing, any way, the whole matter is in the hands of my Lawyers, of course I shall finish out my contract with the Keyst. people, and if they come through with something better I shall stay where I am. This Marcus Lowe business is a sure I have a guarantee sale at all his theaters and then sell to the outside people. Anyway, I will let you know all about it in my next letter. He will finance the whole thing if it comes through it means thoullions to us. Mr Sennett is in New York. He said he would write to you and make you an offer. I told him you would do great for pictures of course he has not seen you and he is only going by what I say. He said he would give you 150 to start with. I told him you are getting that now and would not think of coming over hear for that amount. If you do consider it, don’t sign for any length of time, because I will want you with me when I start. I could get you 250 as easy as anything but of course you would have to sign a contract. It will be nice for you to come over for three months with the Keystone and then start for ourselves. You will hear from Sennet but don’t come for less than that understand? You will like it out hear it is a beautiful country and the fresh air is doing me the world of good. I have made a heap of good friends hear and go to all the partys ect. I stay at the best Club in the city where all the millionairs belong in fact I have a good sane, wholsome time. I am living well. I have my own valet, some class to me eh what? I am still saving my money and since I have been hear I have 4000 dollars in one bank, 1200 in another, 1500 in London not so bad for 25 and still going strong thank God. Sid, we will be millionaires before long. My health is better than it ever was and I am getting fatter. Well you must tell me how Mother is and don’t forget to write me before you sign any contract because there is another firm who will pay you 250. They wanted me and I told them about you, as I could not break my contract of course. Mr Sennett is a lovely man and we are great pals but business is business. Of course he does not know I am leaving or that I have had these offeres, so don’t say anything in case it gets back hear, you never know. I would not like to heart Sennet feelings he thinks the world of me. Now about that money for mother do you think it is safe for me to send you it while the war is on, or do you think it better for you to pay my share and then we will arrainge things later on. So long as I know the money will get there I will send it. Anyway tell me in your next letter what to do. I hope they don’t make you fight over there. This war is terrible. Well that about all the important news. I have just finished a six real picture with Marie Dressier the American star and myself. It cost 50,000 to put and I have hog the whole picture. It is the best thing I ever did. I must draw to a close now as I am getting hungry. Just this second my valet tells me I have friends to take me out Automobiling so am going to the beach to dine. Good night Sid, Love to Minnie.
Your loving brother