This Day in History (7-Feb-1914) – Charlie Chaplin debuts “The Tramp” in “Kid Auto Races at Venice”

Kid Auto Races at Venice is a 1914 American film starring Charles Chaplin in which his “Little Tramp” character makes his first appearance in a film exhibited before the public. The movie portrays Chaplin as a spectator at a ‘baby-cart race’ in Venice, Los Angeles. The spectator keeps getting in the way of the camera and interferes with the race, causing great frustration to the public and participants. This film was shot in 45 minutes at a go-cart race. It was Charlie Chaplin’s second ever appearance on film. Although it was the first film released involving the Tramp, Chaplin had actually devised the outfit for the film Mabel’s Strange Predicament produced a few days earlier but released a couple days after Kid Auto Races at Venice.

Mabel’s director Mack Sennett had requested that Chaplin “get into a comedy make-up”. As Chaplin recalled in his autobiography: – I had no idea what makeup to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter [in Making a Living]. 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 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 makeup made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on stage he was fully born.

The Little Tramp, also known as The Tramp  was a recognized icon of world cinema most dominant during the silent film era and was considered an international character; when the sound era began in the late 1920s, Chaplin refused to make a talkie featuring the character. The 1931 production City Lights featured no dialogue. Chaplin officially retired the character in the film Modern Times (released in 1936), which appropriately ended with the Tramp walking down an endless highway toward the horizon. The film was only a partial talkie and is often called the last silent film.



This Day in History (30-Nov-1982) – Thriller by Michael Jackson, the best-selling album of all time, is released

Michael Jackson’s previous album ‘Off the Wall’ (1979) received strong critical acclaim and was also a commercial success, eventually selling over 20 million copies worldwide. The singer was upset about what he perceived to be the under-performance of the album and moved to Thriller. Jackson recorded 30 songs in 9 months for ‘Thriller‘ album at Westlake Recording Studios in Los Angeles with a production budget of $750,000. Nine of the songs were eventually included. Jackson wrote four songs for the record. Jackson was inspired to create an album where “every song was a killer”, and developed Thriller with that in mind.

Thriller was released on November 30, 1982, and sold one million copies worldwide per week at its peak. Thriller was well received by most critics. The album won a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards in 1984, including Album of the Year. Jackson won seven of the Grammys for the album. Thriller was recognized as the world’s best-selling album on February 7, 1984, when it was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records. In 2009, Thriller was certified 29× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, for shipments of at least 29 million copies in the US.

Before the success of Thriller, many felt Jackson had struggled to get MTV airing because he was black. His position persuaded MTV to begin airing “Billie Jean” and later “Beat It”, which led to a long partnership and later helped other black music artists to gain mainstream recognition. The popularity of his videos, helped to place the young channel on the map, and MTV’s focus shifted in favor of pop and R&B. Jackson transformed the medium of music video into an art form and promotional tool through the use of complex story lines, dance routines, special effects and cameo appearances by well known personalities. For a black artist in the 1980s to that point, Jackson’s success was unprecedented. According to The Washington Post, Thriller paved the way for other African-American artists. Time noted, “Jackson is the biggest thing since The Beatles. He is the hottest single phenomenon since Elvis Presley. He just may be the most popular black singer ever”.