UNCG Campus Weekly

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Did Chaplin really do his funny walk, at UNCG?

He talked the talk. And at UNCG he walked the walk.

Charlie Chaplin was becoming world-famous as a funny man. His “Tramp” character was hugely popular. But in his April 13, 1918, visit to UNCG – at the end of a big Greensboro parade – he wanted to be all-business in drumming up sales for war bonds to finance WW I.

By all accounts, Charlie Chaplin was very earnest in impressing upon the crowds at State Normal College (UNCG) the need to buy Liberty War Bonds in 1918. The State Normal Magazine said he tried hard to be serious and to “get down to brass tacks.” The crowd of more than 5,000 appreciated his patriotism.

How long did he talk? The Daily News says Charles Lapworth talked a minute before introducing Chaplin. (A prominent local citizen, A.M. Scales, spoke as well, according to the State Normal Magazine.) Chaplin talked for “not more than 10 minutes altogether,” according to the Daily Record, impressing on the audience that “the country is now passing through the most critical period in its history.”

Did anyone request to see his funny walk, the classic “Tramp” shuffle? Apparently a boy from behind the stage wanted him to do just that. “‘No, I can’t ‘walk,’ I tell you. This is too serious,” Chaplin explained to the crowd, according to the Daily News.

However, the Daily Record reports that he did do his classic, funny walk, at the end.

Why a comedian? The Raleigh News & Observer had covered Secretary of Treasury William G. McAdoos’ appearance in Raleigh days before Chaplin arrived in that city. Both men promoted the bonds. But as the Raleigh paper’s April 12 edition said, “There are thousands who would go further to see Charlie Chaplin than they would to see Secretary of the Treasury McAdoo….” The piece noted that it was nice to have an orator representing the “lighter side of life.”

Was Chaplin serious throughout his entire Greensboro appearance? No. Chaplin made the audience at the campus’ Curry court laugh with a hat trick and “other peculiar mannerisms,” the Daily News reported. The Daily Record goes into more detail: As he ended his remarks, he couldn’t resist blowing a kiss from the tips of his fingers to a large group of college women forming a “bank of bright color” in front of him. He “pulled his hat down over his ears…flapped his hands at his sides and executed a few steps” of the well-known Chaplin walk.

Do pictures exist? UNCG Campus Weekly has not located any from his time in Greensboro. The Daily News and The Greensboro Patriot indicate the chamber of commerce had motion picture film shot that day, and that it would be shown in theaters in Greensboro and in other parts of North Carolina. If it exists, its location is unknown.

After his talk? Normal College (UNCG) faculty member Wade Brown, one of four individuals on the stage, led the audience in the singing of “America” after their remarks had concluded, says the Daily Record. (UNCG’s Brown Building would be named after Wade Brown.)

Where did Chaplin go after this event in Greensboro? After an afternoon appearance in Winston (Winston-Salem), he was scheduled for another in Salisbury that evening, according to reports in the weekend’s Greensboro newspapers. (The April 4 Greensboro Patriot had indicated Lexington would be on his schedule, as well.) Chaplin arrived that night in Charlotte, where the next day he spoke at Camp Green, the city auditorium and the “old Presbyterian College yard,” says the April 15 Daily News. The report described him as “good-looking, smart and magnetic.”

Did he buy bonds, himself? He told the crowd, “They got $100,000 out of me, and I’m some little business man, I tell you,” according to the Daily News.

Where did Charlie Chaplin join the Greensboro parade? He and his party were near the end of the parade, along with the Rotary Club and boy scouts. The latter assembled on Church between N. Elm and Davie. The former formed in front of the Presbyterian Church. It’s assumed Chaplin joined the parade near those groups. The Normal College (UNCG) students were near the middle of the parade and formed at East Washington east of Davis.

The parade route? The parade began near the junction of Church, Lindsay and Summit Avenue. According to the April 13 Greensboro Daily News, the route was: south down Davie, west along Depot Street and onto Elm Street, heading north. The parade proceeded down Market, south onto Mendenhall, east onto Spring Garden and onto College Avenue at what is now UNCG.

Was the parade long? Yes. It was led by many automobiles carrying the mothers of soldiers. Chaplin, as he rode the “long, slow route,” performed for the thousands who lined the route, says a newspaper.

How many Normal College (UNCG) women were in the parade? Perhaps 500 or 600 marched through Greensboro, says the April 14, 1918, Daily News. The total college enrollment was less than 800. One apparently was on horseback. They were attired in “white middy blouses and colored ties,” says the April 13 Daily Record.

Did Chaplin have his famous moustache? And the huge shoes? No moustache. He was described by the Daily News as “small and neat in his tweeds.” As for the oversized shoes that helped make his Tramp character famous? The newspaper says “the ladies who crowded up front at Curry court to see his feet were disappointed.” His shoes were normal size that day.

He was one of the most famous figures in the world. Did the comic on the silent screen match the man in real life? According to the Daily News, one woman said, after looking at the handsome young man on the stage very carefully, “I just can’t believe that is the queer man you see in the pictures.”

By Mike Harris

Sources: Greensboro Daily News, April 12-15, 1918; Greensboro Daily Record, April 12-15, 1918; Raleigh News and Observer, April 13-14, 1918; The Greensboro Patriot, April 4 and 15, 1918; State Normal Magazine, May 1918.

Visual: circa 1918, Chaplin holding a Chaplin doll. From Wikipedia Commons.

This story drawn from a UNCG Campus Weekly 2012 post. See other stories in this Chaplin series:

Charlie Chaplin roused the crowds at UNCG
Buy WWI Liberty Bonds, Chaplin told 5,000 on campus
Sacrifice and service during WWI at UNCG
Fame, fortune and that funny Chaplin waddle