Charlie Chaplin almost chose to live his life in Arkansas raising hogs, which would have caused him to skip his film career entirely.

Before starring in any silent films, Charlie Chaplin almost decided to spend his entire life in the state of Arkansas. The 1964 book “Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography” provides details about the interesting tidbit from history.

Chaplin and ‘a Handsome Young Texan’ Hatch a Plan

Chaplin arrived in America from London in 1910, touring with the Karno American company as a vaudeville actor for seventy-five dollars a week. He formed a close friendship with one of the fifteen people in the troupe. That one person was described in the book as “a handsome young Texan.” He purportedly couldn’t decide if he wanted to perform on a trapeze or become a prize fighter. Chaplin would put on gloves every morning for friendly bouts with the Texan. In discussions at lunch and other outings, both of them came up with an idea for making money in Arkansas.

‘A Hundred Thousand Dollars Apiece’

“Very soon we were talking ourselves into leaving show business and going into partnership, raising hogs,” Chaplin wrote in the book.

Between us we had two thousand dollars and a dream of making a fortune; we planned to buy land for fifty cents an acre in Arkansas, two thousand acres to start with, and spend the rest buying hogs and improving the land. If all went well, we had it figured out that with the compound birth of hogs, averaging a litter of five a year, we could in five years make a hundred thousand dollars apiece.

A photo of a young Charlie Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin at a young age, taken from page 125 of “Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography.”

Traveling on the train, we would look out of the window and see hog farms and go into paroxysms of excitement. We ate, slept and dreamed hogs. But for buying a book on scientific hog-raising I might have given up show business and become a hog farmer, but that book, which graphically described the technique of castrating hogs, cooled my ardor and I soon forgot the enterprise.

Chaplin Basically Said ‘Nope’

When I read this the first time, it struck me as very surprising and funny. This is Charlie Chaplin, one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Right before he began to find fame, Chaplin was thinking about living in Arkansas for the rest of his life. I like to imagine him reading the scientific hog-raising book with lots of excitement, only to have his facial expression slowly change to horror and disappointment. The whole world thanks the unknown author who wrote the book.

For further reading, I recommend my article, “The Moment Charlie Chaplin Created ‘The Tramp.'” The article tells the story of how Chaplin created his famed character of “The Tramp.” Chaplin’s shyness and introverted nature were some of the more surprising aspects of the tale of how the character came about. In a way, I would have thought Chaplin as an outgoing, extroverted actor who might want attention from audiences. However, that wasn’t so, at least not in the beginning of the star’s career. Also, many different aspects of the character are described in the article. The end of the story is my favorite part of the article. Be sure to read through the entire piece to experience the way Chaplin described “The Tramp” in detail.

Note: This article was originally published on Jan. 7, 2013.

Retrospective

The first story I wrote for this website was this article about Chaplin and the castration of hogs. What a wonderful choice for a first story, right? At the time, I was living in New York City and recently met the woman who would one day become my wife. In 2011, and 2012, I watched as many Chaplin films as I could. I also read through his autobiography, “Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography.”

The release of the 2011 film “The Artist” served as the inspiration for me to read more about silent films. The movie also inspired me to watch more silent films, of course. I don’t recall many of the titles I watched but I do remember in particular loving Chaplin’s “City Lights.” The film has a special charm to it lacking from so many other movies Chaplin made. The first half of the movie really is something special. In my office, I have a “City Lights” poster framed on the wall.

I highly recommend anyone who might read this article in the future to check out Chaplin’s autobiography. The book contains so many interesting tidbits about Chaplin’s life.

Imagine for a moment Chaplin decided to go forward with his hog-raising plans. Would the world look different today? How about cinema? What would we see on the big screen in 2024? The good news is Chaplin decided to avoid Arkansas, a decision he had no idea at the time would lead him to stardom.

Jordan Liles added this retrospective on June 17, 2024.

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