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Chaplin Quotations


Knowledge inspires courage. I’m not sceptical but I’d sooner know than believe.

Manuscript notes in the Charlie Chaplin archives




I’m unconscious while I’m acting. I live the role and am not myself.

Quoted in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, February 22, 1925




It is incongruous that in this atomic age of speed we are shut in and shut out by passports.

Rupert Macabee (Michael Chaplin) says this in A King in New York




I no longer have any use for America at all. I wouldn’t go back there if Jesus Christ was President ... [America is] so terribly grim in spite of all the material prosperity.

Cedric Belfrage of the Amercian socialist weekly National Guardian visited Chaplin in Vevey and published quotes from their private conversation in “Chaplin Looks at USA”, November 14, 1955: “I no longer have any use for America at all. I wouldn’t go back there if Jesus Christ was President. Yes, I feel bitter – very bitter. But remember that for 15 years I was hounded as a ‘communist’ and persecuted as if I were a criminal – and once faced 25 years in jail for ‘white slavery’ and whatever else they could throw in. I do not need the American market for my films. I will never allow any of my pictures which I control to be shown in America again. [America is] so terribly grim in spite of all the material prosperity. I’m not against materialism but look at what the American kind has done. They no longer know how to weep. Compassion and the old neighbourliness have gone. People stand by and do nothing when friends and neighbours are attacked, libelled and ruined. The worst thing is what it has done to the children. They are being taught to admire and emulate stoolpigeons, to betray and to hate – and all in a sickening atmosphere of religious hypocrisy.”

When the United Press Association telegrammed Chaplin asking him to confirm the quotes, he realised he had been manipulated and replied, “Whatever statements were made, true or not true, this man could never have entered my house as a reporter. I received him as my guest.”




When I’m not making pictures, I’m thinking of them, and when I’m not thinking of them, I’m dreaming of them.

Quoted in Spotlight, May 5, 1917




My costume helps me to express my conception of the average man, of almost any man, of myself. The derby, too small, is a striving for dignity. The mustache is vanity. The tightly buttoned coat and the stick and his whole manner are a gesture toward gallantry and dash and ‘front.’ He is chasing folly, and he knows it. He is trying to meet the world bravely, to put up a bluff, and he knows that, too. He knows it so well that he can laugh at himself and pity himself a little.

Quoted in “Chaplin’s Heart, Aims Bared in S.F. Talk” by George P. West, San Francisco Call, November 11, 1922




That is all there is in life — beauty. You find that and you have found everything.

From “Chaplin Explains Chaplin”, an interview with Harry Carr in The Motion Picture Magazine, Nov. 1925. (archive reference ECCI00029676, ch22542001). Carr discusses “A Woman of Paris” of Paris with Chaplin:
Carr: “But you were so sophisticated in A Woman of Paris that the picture failed.”
Chaplin: “Oh, it wasn’t such a failure. It has made $100,000.” […] “It wasn’t because it was too sophisticated; it was because it held out no hope. It was just like life. The people wanted to see the boy saved from suicide; and have the girl go back to him, and have them live happily forever after.”
Carr: “In other words, it was tragedy.”
Chaplin: “Yes, it was tragedy.” […] “I like tragedy. I don’t like comedy.”
Carr: “You what! You don’t like comedy?”
Chaplin: “No. I like tragedy; it is beautiful. The only comedy that is worth while is when it has beauty. That is all there is in life—beauty. You find that and you have found everything. Only it is hard to find.”




I lie down on the beach on my back and look up at the sky and stop thinking, in a sort of empty bliss. Then my tummy tells me it is time to eat—and I eat. Then I lie down again in the sand. And life is worth while.

From “Chaplin Explains Chaplin”, an interview with Harry Carr in The Motion Picture Magazine, Nov. 1925. (archive reference ECCI00029676, ch22542002). Carr asks Chaplin at the end of the interview, “Is life worth while?”
Chaplin: “At times”
Carr: “For instance?”
Chaplin: “For instance, I lie down on the beach on my back and look up at the sky and stop thinking, in a sort of empty bliss. Then my tummy tells me it is time to eat—and I eat. Then I lie down again in the sand. And life is worth while.”




It is pure instinct with me — dramatic instinct.

From “Chaplin Explains Chaplin”, an interview with Harry Carr in The Motion Picture Magazine, Nov. 1925. (archive reference ECCI00029676, ch22542001). Carr discusses “A Woman of Paris” of Paris with Chaplin:

“‘You said some hard things—and some good things about my picture, [The Gold Rush],’ [Chaplin] said and added with a shadow of a smile: ‘You were exactly right—both times.’ And then he added with an afterthought ‘Except that place where you said I was getting sophisticated.’
‘Well aren’t you?’ [replied Carr]
Charlie shook his head, ‘Never sophisticated,’ he said. ‘I am not sophisticated at all. I read in the papers where I have this and that large motive for doing things; but they are wrong. It is pure instinct with me—dramatic instinct. I don’t figure it out: I just know it is right or wrong.’”




It’s depleting, don’t you know, this business of being funny all the time! I need a rest.

From “Chaplin Here; Is Ready For Dramatic Pictures” in San Francisco News, November 9, 1922. (during production of A Woman of Paris) “It’s depleting, don’t you know, this business of being funny all the time! I need a rest. And this is a good way to get it, trying my hand at something else.”




Comedy must be true to life.

Quoted in “Photoplays and Photoplayers,” Washington Times, January 26, 1915: “Comedy must be true to life. There must be realism in comedy. It is ever more necessary than in drama. Coarse burlesque is not wanted any more. It is the deviation from the ordinary that makes the picture funny. Some little act that is unexpected and causes a surprise brings the laugh. Yet this act must be natural and in accordance with what the character might do in real life. If the act does not accord with the character, if it is forced, then it merely appears absurd and fails to be funny.”




My tramp is made up of mimicry.

Quoted in Film Weekly, Oct. 22, 1938: “This much is certain. I’ll never talk while doing the Charlie Chaplin character I have used in my pictures heretofore. It’s a question whether I would be wise to do a talking part at all. My tramp is made up of mimicry.”




You have to believe in yourself, that's the secret.

Quoted in Charles Chaplin Jr.’s “My Father, Charlie Chaplin”, 1961 : “You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret. Even when I was in the orphanage, when I was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat to keep alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in the world. I had to feel that exuberance that comes from utter confidence in yourself. Without it you go down to defeat.”




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 Guardian (London, Dec. 28, 1977)

The quotation, phrased slightly differently, also appears as the title page quotation of Gerith von Ulm’s 1940 biography ‘Charlie Chaplin: King of Tragedy’: “Comedy is Life viewed from a distance; Tragedy, Life in a close-up.”




I neither believe nor disbelieve in anything

From “My Autobiography”: “I neither believe nor disbelieve in anything. That which can be imagined is as much an approximation to truth as that which can be proved by mathematics. One cannot always approach truth through reason; it confines us to a geometric cast of thought that calls for logic and credibility. We see the dead in our dreams and accept them as living, knowing at the same time they are dead. And although this dream mind is without reason, has it not its own credibility? There are things beyond reason. How can we comprehend a thousand billionth part of a second? Yet it must exist according to the system of mathematics.”




In all truth there is the seed of falsehood.

From My Autobiography: “As for that much-touted metaphysical word ‘truth’, there are different forms of it and one truth is as good as another. The classical acting at the Comédie Française is as believable as the so-called realistic acting in an Ibsen play; both are in the realm of artificiality and designed to give the illusion of truth — after all, in all truth there is the seed of falsehood.”




The desire for peace is universal. [...] Let us try to understand each other’s problems, for in modern warfare there is no victory.

Chaplin accepted an award from the World Peace Council on May 27, 1954, and told the assembled press: “The desire for peace is universal. I do not assume to know the answers to the problems which threaten peace, but this I do know: that nations will never solve them in an atmosphere of hate or suspicion; nor will the threat of dropping hydrogen bombs solve them. The melancholy grooming of people to the acceptance of hydrogen warfare, with all its attendant horrors, is a crime against the human spirit and has created world infirmity. Let us therefore absolve ourselves of the miserable, cancerous atmosphere. Let us try to understand each other’s problems, for in modern warfare there is no victory.”




I'm an old sinner. Nothing shocks me.

From Limelight (1952): Calvero (Charles Chaplin) to Terry (Claire Bloom) as he tries to learn if she has a venereal disease.




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

From a scene in Monsieur Verdoux




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

Screen title in A Woman of Paris (1923)