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Chaplin Quotations


This is a ruthless world and one must be ruthless to cope with it.

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux




Remember, you can always stoop and pick up nothing.

Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) says this in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)




Time heals, and experience teaches that the secret of happiness is in service to others.

Screen title in A Woman of Paris (1923)




Life could be wonderful if people would leave you alone.

Hannah (Paulette Goddard) says this to the Barber (Charles Chaplin) in The Great Dictator (1940)




I am what I am: an individual, unique and different.

In “A Writer’s Notebook”, Somerset Maugham attributes Chaplin’s profound melancholy and loneliness to his impoverished days back in London and comments that Chaplin is nostalgic to those days: “Charlie Chaplin… his fun is simple and sweet and spontaneous. And yet all the time you have a feeling that at the back of all is a profound melancholy. He is a creature of moods and it does not require his facetious assertion ‘Gee, I had such a fit of the blues last night I didn’t hardly know what to do with myself’ to warn you that his humour is lined with sadness. He does not give you the impression of a happy man. I have a notion that he suffers from a nostalgia of the slums. The celebrity he enjoys, his wealth, imprison him in a way of life in which he finds only constraint. I think he looks back to the freedom of his struggling youth, with its poverty and bitter privation, with a longing which knows it can never be satisfied. To him the streets of southern London are the scene of frolic, gaiety and extravagant adventure…I can imagine him going into his own house and wondering what on earth he is doing in this strange man’s dwelling. I suspect that the only home he can ever look upon as such is a second-floor back in the Kennington Road. One night I walked with him in Los Angeles and presently our steps took us to the poorest quarter of the city. There were sordid tenement houses and the shabby gaudy shops in which are sold the various goods that the poor buy from day to day. His face lit up and a buoyant tone came into his voice as he exclaimed, ‘Say, this is the real life, isn’t it? All the rest is just sham.’” In “My Autobiography”, Chaplin is annoyed by Maugham’s “attitude of wanting to make poverty attractive” and retorts that he does not know any poor man who has nostalgia for poverty. He concludes: “In spite of Maugham’s assumptions, like everyone else I am what I am: an individual, unique and different, with a lineal history of ancestral promptings and urgings; a history of dreams, desires, and of special experiences, all of which I am the sum total.”




A man is what a woman makes him and a woman makes herself.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




In the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good.

From “My Autobiography”: “My faith is in the unknown, in all that we do not understand by reason; I believe that what is beyond our comprehension is a simple fact in other dimensions, and that in the realm of the unknown there is an infinite power for good.”




Wisdom usually grows up on us like calluses when we are old, gnarled and bent.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Men who think deeply say little in ordinary conversations.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




I could kill laughs more quickly by overdoing something than by any other method.

From “What People Laugh At”, American Magazine, November 1918: “One of the things I have to be most careful about is not to overdo a thing, or to stress too much any particular point. I could kill laughs more quickly by overdoing something than by any other method. If I made too much of my peculiar walk, if I were too rough in turning people upside down, if I went to excess in anything at all, it would be bad for the picture.”




It is not reality that matters in a film but what the imagination can make of it.

From My Autobiography: “… I was depressed by the remark of a young critic who said that City Lights was very good, but that it verged on the sentimental, and that in my future films I should try to approximate realism. I found myself agreeing with him. Had I known what I do now, I could have told him that so-called realism is often artificial, phoney, prosaic and dull; and that it is not reality that matters in a film but what the imagination can make of it.”




No doubt you were extremely beautiful as a young girl, but your youth could never compete with your age now.

Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) says this to Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) as he tries to seduce her in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)




I'm an old weed. The more I'm cut down, the more I spring up again.

Calvero says this in Limelight




The world cannot be wrong if in this world there's you.

From “This is My Song”. Music and lyrics by Charles Chaplin for The Countess from Hong Kong




Despair is a narcotic. It lulls the mind into indifference.

Henri Verdoux (Chaplin) says this in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)




That which is apparent ends. That which is subtle is never-ending.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Too much kindness and respect are given to the unseen and not enough to humanity. It seems that in our nature we loathe each other and bestow our respect and love on the abstract.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Humor is the ability to discern in a kindly way the folly in what is considered normal, sublime behavior, and to discern the discrepancy in what appears as a truth.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




Humor is kindly. Wit is caustic.

From Chaplin’s manuscript notes




My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist.

From “My Autobiography”: “Friends have asked how I came to engender this American antagonism. My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non¬conformist. Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them. This, of course, has offended many […]
Secondly, I was opposed to the Committee on Un-American Activities — a dishonest phrase to begin with, elastic enough to wrap around the throat and strangle the voice of any American citizen whose honest opinion is a minority one.
Thirdly, I have never attempted to become an American citizen.”




One either rises to an occasion or succumbs to it.

From “My Autobiography”. On the occasion of his first performance in Karno’s The Football Match, Chaplin remembers: “At the back of the enormous stage I walked up and down, with anxiety superimposed on fear, praying to myself. There was the music! The curtain rose! On the stage was a chorus of men exercising. Eventually they exited, leaving the stage empty. That was my cue. In an emotional chaos I went on. One either rises to an occasion or succumbs to it. The moment I walked on to the stage I was relieved, everything was clear”




To work is to live - and I love to live.

June 30, 1976 to journalists. Quoted in the Chronology section of David Robinson’s “Chaplin: His Life and Art”




The heart and the mind ... what an enigma.

Calvero says this in Limelight




Let us fight for a new world.

From Chaplin’s final speech in The Great Dictator.




I hate the sight of blood, but it's in my veins.

In a scene in Limelight, Terry says to Calvero: “I thought you hated the theatre,” and Calvero replies, “I do. I also hate the sight of blood, but it’s in my veins.”




The roses you lifted to your lips ... lucky roses!

Henri Verdoux (Charles Chaplin) says this to Marie Grosnay (Isobel Elsom) as he tries to seduce her in Monsieur Verdoux (1947)




I'd sooner be called a successful crook than a destitute monarch.

King Shadov (Charles Chaplin) in A King in New York (1957)




[Talkies] are spoiling the oldest art in the world — the art of pantomime. They are ruining the great beauty of silence.

From an interview with Gladys Hall in Motion Picture Magazine, May 1929: “They [talkies] are spoiling the oldest art in the world — the art of pantomime. They are ruining the great beauty of silence. They are defeating the meaning of the screen, the appeal that has created the star system, the fan system, the vast popularity of the whole — the appeal of beauty. It’s beauty that matters in pictures — nothing else.”




The basic essential of a great actor is that he loves himself in acting.

From My Autobiograpy: “The basic essential of a great actor is that he loves himself in acting. I do not mean it in a derogatory sense. Often I have heard an actor say: ‘How I’d love to play that part,’ meaning he would love himself in the part. This may be egocentric; but the great actor is mainly preoccupied with his own virtuosity […] Just a fervent love of the theatre is not sufficient; there must also be a fervent love of and belief in oneself.”




I have yet to know a poor man who has nostalgia for poverty.

From My Autobiography: “I have yet to know a poor man who has nostalgia for poverty, or who finds freedom in it …
I found poverty neither attractive nor edifying. It taught me nothing but a distortion of values, an over-rating of the virtues and graces of the rich and the so-called better classes.”




Let's call them years of a friendly misalliance.

King Shadov (Charles Chaplin) to his estranged wife, Queen Irene (Maxine Audley), on the state of their broken marriage in A King in New York (1957)




Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.

Richard Roud, “The Baggy-Trousered Philanthropist”, quoted in obituary, The Guardien (London, Dec. 28, 1977)




Life and death are too resolute, too implacable to be accidental.

From “My Autobiography”: “I once saw on a tombstone in the South of France a photograph of a smiling young girl of fourteen, and engraved below, one word: ‘Pourquoi?’ In such bewilderment of grief it is futile to seek an answer. It only leads to false moralizing and torment – yet it does not mean that there is no answer. I cannot believe that our existence is meaningless or accidental, as some scientists would tell us. Life and death are too resolute, too implacable to be accidental.”