I never met Charlie Chaplin. Neither, to the best of my knowledge, did Alfred Goldschlager, but he did acquire his signature. Alf started the collecting journey, begging opera singers for autographs as a teenager in his home town of Vienna before he fled the Nazi regime in 1938, bound for Australia via South America. It was an unfortunate detour, having his extensive and impressive collection, which included such notaries as Sigmund Freud, stolen in Paraguay. After establishing a successful timber business down under, Alf rekindled his interest in collecting.
In 1992, I was attending a Graphic Design conference in Melbourne. During a break, I wandered down Flinders Lane and came upon a quaint little shop full of historical documents, signed books, autographs and other curiosities. Inside I met Alf. He looked just like Geppetto, the woodcarver… maybe he was. He asked me if I was searching for anything in particular.
I mentioned a handful of names, but would love a Charlie Chaplin. He had one, at home in his private collection, but was willing to sell it to a suitable buyer.
Nirvana moment. I returned the next day, saw the Chaplin and a deal was done. I was now the custodian of a very precious piece, Charlie’s signature.
Charlie’s signature is written in fountain pen, the providence of which escaped me, but it looks 1920-30’s. He would often add a quick ‘Tramp’ doodle in those days. Alf closed his shop in 2006 when he turned 88 – the same age Charlie reached before he passed away in 1977. His iconic ‘tramp’ persona was a global phenomenon and is considered one of the most important figures in the history of the film industry.
Poverty and hardship dominated Charlie’s early life in London, where he started acting in music halls at a young age. At 19 he signed with the prestigious Fred Karno Company and travelled to America to begin working for the Keystone Studies. The rest as they say is history. He was a true auteur, who not only acted, but wrote the script and music, directed, produced and distributed most of his films, which are characterised by slapstick, mixed with pathos as the tramp struggles against adversity, often including social and political themes and autobiographical elements.
He received three Academy Awards, two Honorary and his only competitive Oscar for Best Original Score in 1973 for LIMELIGHT, twenty years after the film’s initial release. The previous year the Academy honoured him for, ‘The incalculable effect he has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.’ He also received a Special Oscar at the first Academy Award ceremony in 1929 for acting, writing, directing and producing THE CIRCUS.
Since there is no tramp doodle with this signature, I drew a quick sketch of the Tramp to accompany Sir Charlie’s fine graph and inscription, as a tribute to his genius and this post as a thank you to Alf, who passed away in 2011.