- Not to be confused with writer Sid Chaplin. For Sydney Chaplin's nephew, son of Charlie Chaplin, see Sydney Chaplin (actor).
|Born||Sidney John Hill
16 March 1885
London, England, UK
|Died||16 April 1965
Sydney Chaplin (16 March 1885 – 16 April 1965) was an English actor. He was the elder half-brother of Sir Charlie Chaplin and served as his business manager, and the half-uncle of the actor Sydney Chaplin (1926–2009), who was named after him.
Chaplin was born as Sidney John Hill, to 19-year-old Hannah Hill in London. There is a mystery as to who was Sydney’s father. The story is that it was a man named Hawkes, but there is no record of Hannah’s marriage to a Mr. Hawkes. He began using the Chaplin surname following his mother's marriage to Charles Chaplin, Sr., a year after his birth. While Syd and brother Charlie were in the Cuckoo Schools in Hanwell following his mother's mental collapse, Syd was placed in the programme designed to train young boys to become seamen, on the Exmouth training ship docked at Grays, Essex. He followed this training period with several years working on ships, receiving high marks from all of his employers. But his ambition was to get into the entertainment business and he left his final voyage with that in mind.
Charlie and Sydney worked briefly together in one of their first stage appearances, the play Sherlock Holmes in 1905. Syd was briefly cast as a villain in that play. In 1906, however, he landed a contract with Fred Karno, of Karno's London Comedians and was to fight hard to bring Charlie into the company two years later. Charlie never achieved the sort of fame Syd did as a principal comedian for that company, but that was to be the only time that Syd was able to outdo his brother—at least in front of an audience.
After Charlie achieved world-wide fame in the 1910s, the brothers discovered they had another half-brother through their mother, Wheeler Dryden, who had been removed from his mother's care as an infant and brought up abroad by his father. Wheeler was also an actor, and the brothers reunited in Hollywood in 1918, occasionally working together at Chaplin's studio through to the 1950s.
As Charlie was negotiating his Keystone contract, he suggested Sydney be asked to join the company. Syd and Minnie Chaplin arrived in California, then, in October 1914 and he made a few comedies there, including the "Gussle" comedies and the feature-length A Submarine Pirate in 1915, which, second to Tillie's Punctured Romance, was the most financially successful comedy Keystone ever made.
Following this success, Chaplin decided to leave the screen to negotiate Charlie's Mutual contract. He was able to get Charlie his first million dollars in early 1916. Soon, he was handling the majority of Charlie's business affairs, including a failed sheet music business and a successful merchandising one, in addition to further contract negotiation. He also appeared in a few films during the First National era, such as Pay Day and The Pilgrim. Sydney achieved his own million-dollar contract from Famous Players-Lasky in 1919, but a series of problems resulted in only one failed film, King, Queen, Joker and disappearance from the screen once again. Later films include The Perfect Flapper (1924) with Colleen Moore, A Christie Comedy, Charley's Aunt (1925) and five features for Warner Brothers, including The Man on the Box (1925), Oh, What a Nurse! (1926), The Missing Link (1927), The Fortune Hunter (1927), and The Better 'Ole (1926). The last is perhaps his best-known film today because of his characterisation of cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather's famous World War I character, Old Bill, and the fact that it was the third Warner Brothers film to have a Vitaphone soundtrack.
Sydney's first film for British International Pictures (BIP), A Little Bit of Fluff (1928), proved to be his final film. In 1929, just as he was to begin work on a second film for the studio, Mumming Birds, he was accused of biting off the nipple of actress Molly Wright in a sexual assault. BIP settled out of court, conceding the truth of Wright's claims. Following the scandal, he left England, leaving a string of unpaid tax demands. By 1930 he was declared bankrupt.
In addition to his importance in launching and promoting brother Charlie's career over the years, perhaps Chaplin's most important contribution to history is in the field of aviation. In May 1919, he, along with pilot Emery Rogers, formulated the first privately owned domestic American airline, the Syd Chaplin Airline Company, based in Santa Monica, California. Even though the corporation lasted only a year, in that time it accumulated many "firsts." Syd and partners had the first ever aeroplane showroom for their Curtiss aeroplanes. Emery Rogers conducted the first roundtrip Los Angeles to San Francisco flight in one 24-hour period. Charlie Chaplin took his first-ever aeroplane flight in one of Syd's planes, as did many other notable personages of the period. Chaplin got out of the aviation business right after legislation began to pass regarding pilot licensing and the taxation of planes and flights.
Chaplin married twice and had no children. His first wife, Minnie, died in France in September 1936 following surgery for breast cancer. After World War II, Sydney lived most of his final years in Europe. His second wife, Henriette (called Gypsy) survived him. After a long illness, he died one month after his 80th birthday, on Good Friday, 16 April 1965, in Nice, France, on his brother Charlie's 76th birthday. Chaplin is buried beside his wife Gypsy in Clarens-Montreux Cemetery, near Vevey.
In popular culture
- Further reading
- Website dedicated to Sydney Chaplin by Lisa K. Stein
- Biography of Sydney Chaplin by Linda Wada
- Sydney Chaplin at the Internet Movie Database
- Sydney Chaplin at Virtual History