12 Fascinating Facts About Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush

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In 1925’s The Gold Rush, Charlie Chaplin transforms his most famous character, the Little Tramp, into a Lone Prospector, wandering the Klondike in search of gold. In the film, Chaplin masterfully finds comedy in tragedy, starvation, and loneliness: The Little Tramp is stalked by bears, plagued by hunger, and narrowly avoids tumbling off the side of a cliff—only to find himself, in the relative safety of an Alaskan frontier town, falling head over heels for a beautiful dance hall girl who wants nothing to do with him.

The film, which Chaplin re-released with sound in 1942, features some of the most famous—and oft-parodied—images in film history: the Little Tramp eating his shoe and making bread rolls dance. After its 1925 premiere, Chaplin told the press, “This is the picture I want to be remembered by.” Here are 12 fascinating facts about The Gold Rush.

1. IT WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY THE DONNER PARTY.

The Gold Rush has some pretty dark origins. Inspiration first struck Chaplin during a morning brunch with fellow movie stars and United Artists co-founders Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. After a leisurely breakfast, Chaplin decided to look at some stereoscopic cards, and discovered a particularly striking image of a lengthy line of prospectors during the 1898 Klondike gold rush, struggling to climb the Chilkoot Pass. Later, Chaplin read a book about the Donner Party, the American pioneers who turned to cannibalism after finding themselves snowbound in Sierra Nevada. The book also described members of the Donner Party eating their own moccasins, an image Chaplin would borrow for The Gold Rush.

2. IT WAS BANNED BY THE NAZIS.

Long before Chaplin directly ridiculed Hitler and the Nazi party in The Great Dictator, he was considered an enemy of the Nazis, who believed him to be Jewish (he wasn’t, though his half brother Sydney was). In Chaplin: His Life and Art, biographer David Robinson explains:

The Gold Rush was banned from the early years of the Third Reich, and Chaplin figured in a hideous publication attacking prominent international Jewish intellectuals. Along with Einstein, Mann, Reinhardt, and others, Chaplin’s portrait, crudely retouched to emphasize its ‘Hebraic’ features, was printed with an accompanying caption which dismissed him as ‘a little Jewish acrobat, as disgusting as he is tedious.’ Chaplin’s riposte, in The Great Dictator, was to play an overtly Jewish character, and to say, ‘I did this film for the Jews of the world.’ By this time he was adamant in his refusal ever to contradict any statement that he was a Jew. He explained to Ivor Montagu, ‘Anyone who denies this in respect of himself plays into the hands of the anti-Semites.’”

3. THE BOOT CHAPLIN ATE WAS MADE OF LICORICE.


United Artists, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A notorious perfectionist, Chaplin had 20 pairs of licorice boots made for the scene in which the Lone Prospector and Big Jim McKay feast on a single shoe for their Thanksgiving dinner. The scene took three full days and 63 takes to capture and, according to Robinson, caused both actors to experience some “inconvenient laxative effects.”

4. CHAPLIN HIRED 600 EXTRAS FOR THE OPENING SHOT.

For the opening shot of The Gold Rush, Chaplin decided to faithfully recreate the photo he’d seen of miners crossing the Chilkoot Pass, not with miniature models or special effects, but by hiring hundreds of extras to hike an actual path. He brought his entire crew to Mount Lincoln in Colorado, where they cut a 2300 foot path through the snow. He then, according to writer Jim Tully, hired the Southern Pacific Railway to hire 600 drifters to hike the pass. Chaplin and every other member of the crew not actively engaged in shooting the scene hiked alongside them.

5. THE HIGHEST PAID EXTRA WAS A DOG.

While most of the extras in The Gold Rush were paid a base rate of $7.50 a day, one extra made nearly five times that. The dog who drags The Tramp around in the dance hall after he mistakenly uses its leash as a belt was paid a whopping $35 a day, and was on hire from Hal Roach Studios.

6. THE NEW YEAR’S EVE DREAM SEQUENCE WAS INSPIRED BY AN INCIDENT FROM CHAPLIN’S YOUTH

The scene in which Chaplin is stood up by the dance hall girl and her friends on New Year’s Eve was, according to Robinson, inspired by an incident in Chaplin’s past. When the young Chaplin first began touring with a theater company as a young man, he “invited the members of another juvenile troupe, working another theater, to tea. The manager of the troupe would not let them go, but nobody informed Chaplin, who vainly waited for his guests.”

7. IT’S BEEN PARODIED AND REFERENCED IN MOVIES AND TV—A LOT.


© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Chaplin’s instantly iconic dance of bread rolls has been homaged by Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon (1993), Amy Adams in The Muppets (2011), Curly in the Three Stooges film Pardon My Scotch (1935), and even Grandpa Simpson in The Simpsons. The scene in which Chaplin is mistaken for a chicken by his starving companion, meanwhile, was lifted by animator Chuck Jones for several Looney Toons sketches. Perhaps most remarkably, however, after losing a bet to documentarian Errol Morris, director Werner Herzog recreated Chaplin’s boot-eating sequence by eating not a licorice boot, but his own leather shoe.

8. AT THE GERMAN PREMIERE, AUDIENCES CALLED FOR AN ENCORE.

Encores may be a normal occurrence at concerts, but they’re essentially unheard of during movie screenings. Nevertheless, at the Berlin premiere of The Gold Rush, audience members were so enamored with the dance of the rolls, and so vocal in their appreciation, the theater manager raced up to the projection box and replayed the scene to “tumultuous applause.”

9. IT WAS PART OF A BIZARRE BBC RADIO BROADCAST.

Berlin wasn’t the only city to give The Gold Rush a unique reception. In London, the BBC paid strange tribute to Chaplin by broadcasting audio from its premiere at the Tivoli Theater over the radio. But instead of broadcasting audio from the film itself (which was silent with live musical accompaniment), the BBC decided to broadcast the laughter of the audience during “the 10 most uproariously funny minutes of the new Charlie Chaplin film.” The BBC described the event as “a storm of uncontrolled laughter, inspired by the only man in the world who could make people laugh continually.”

10. CHAPLIN RE-RELEASED IT IN 1942.

Chaplin re-released an updated version of The Gold Rush in 1942, adding his own narration and a recorded musical score. In the updated version (which also cuts a few scenes, including the film’s final kiss), Chaplin, himself, provides not only narration, but dialogue for his characters.

11. CHAPLIN LATER PERFORMED THE BREAD ROLL DANCE FOR PABLO PICASSO.

On a visit to France in the 1950s, Chaplin visited Pablo Picasso in his art studio. The two didn’t share a common language, so instead of chatting, Picasso gave Chaplin a tour of his latest works-in-progress, while Chaplin in return performed his famous dance of the rolls for Picasso.

12. THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLED IT A “MASTERPIECE.”

In its 1925 review of The Gold Rush, The New York Times wrote, “Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness. It is the outstanding gem of all Chaplin's pictures, as it has more thought and originality than even such masterpieces of mirth as The Kid and Shoulder Arms.

10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars

Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Jeff Bridges accepts the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in 2010.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Winning an Oscar is, for most people, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you're Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you'd think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are (we're looking at you, Colin Firth).

1. Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie with her Oscar in 2000.
HO/AMPAS

At the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony, after Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world collectively squirm, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage when Marcheline died in 2007, but it hasn't yet surfaced. "I didn't actually lose it," Jolie said, "but nobody knows where it is at the moment."

2. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg with her Oscar.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. "Oscar will never leave my house again," Goldberg said.

3. Olympia Dukakis

Olympia Dukakis with an Oscar statue.
Steven Henry/Getty Images

When Olympia Dukakis's Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. "For $78," they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. Marlon Brando

Marlon Brando in 1957.
Keystone/Getty Images

"I don't know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront," Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. "Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared." He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. "The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don't know where it is now."

5. Jeff Bridges

Actor Jeff Bridges, winner of Best Actor award for
Jeff Bridges, winner of the Best Actor Oscar for Crazy Heart, poses in the press room at the 82nd Annual Academy Awards on March 7, 2010.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

In 2010, Hollywood legend Jeff Bridges won his first-ever Oscar for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the time next year's ceremony rolled around, when he was nominated yet again for his role in the Coen brothers's True Grit

When asked about his year-old statuette, Bridges admitted that "It's been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now." Finding the MIA Oscar seemed even more urgent when Bridges lost the 2011 Best Actor Oscar to Colin Firth for The King's Speech. "I'm hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven't won a spare," Bridges said. "But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better." 

6. Colin Firth

Colin Firth with his Oscar in 2011.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed Colin Firth as he said those aforementioned words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. Matt Damon

Actor Matt Damon in 1999
Brenda Chase/Hulton Archive

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn't sure where his award went. "I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it," Damon said in 2007.

8. Margaret O'Brien

Child actress Margaret O'Brien.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1945, 7-year-old Margaret O'Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O'Briens' maid took the award home to polish it, as she had done before, but never returned. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O'Brien's mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There's a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O'Brien. "I'll never give it to anyone to polish again," she said.

9. Bing Crosby

Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Barry Fitzgerald (left) holds his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor while American actor Bing Crosby holds his Oscar for Best Actor, both for their roles in Going My Way; 1945.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944's Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school's library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a 3-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. "I wanted to make people laugh," the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. Hattie McDaniel

A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting A
A publicity still from 1939's Gone with the Wind; at the 1940 Academy Awards, Hattie McDaniel (left) won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and Vivien Leigh (right) won Best Actress. Olivia de Havilland (center) was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

The Most Successful Entertainment Production in History Might Just Surprise You

Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images
Goran Jakus Photography/iStock via Getty Images

Last year, Marvel Studios capped off an unprecedented run of success with Avengers: Endgame, a movie promoted as the culmination of over 10 years of storytelling. The film made $2.8 billion, unseating 2009’s Avatar and knocking 1997’s Titanic down to third place. With nearly $3 billion in ticket sales, you would think Endgame would count as the most successful entertainment production of all time—be it a single movie, book, album, or video game.

It isn’t.

While it earned a staggering amount of money, Endgame is hobbled by the fact that theatrical runs last just a few weeks or months. To really roll in the dough, it helps to have a combination of high ticket prices and a show that runs almost in perpetuity. That’s why it’s another Disney production, the Broadway adaption of The Lion King, that can make a credible claim to being the most financially rewarding entertainment effort of all time. Since debuting in 1997, the stage show has grossed $9.1 billion. (The 1994 film, 2019 live action remake, and merchandising aren’t included in that total. If they were, the number rises to $11.6 billion.)

A theater sign for 'The Lion King' is pictured in New York City in March 2003
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The musical, adapted by Julie Taymor, follows the story of the animated original, with lion cub Simba learning to accept his role as king of the Serengeti Plains. It’s estimated the show has been mounted 25 times globally in nine different languages, with more than 100 million people purchasing a ticket to see it.

Does that make Endgame a distant second? Not quite. Another long-running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has grossed more than $6 billion since its 1988 debut. The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto 5 cleared $6 billion in 2018. And if one were to account for inflation, 1939’s Gone with the Wind made $3.44 billion.

The Lion King does have one asterisk, however. If inflation is taken into consideration, then 1978’s arcade classic Space Invaders comes out the winner. The popular coin-op game—which was later ported over to the Atari 2600—was a smash hit. By 1983, it had made $3.8 billion. Accounting for inflation, it earned $13.9 billion. What’s even more impressive is that unlike big-ticket movies and stage shows, Space Invaders did it one quarter at a time.

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