The actor we know as Charlie Chaplin (Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin) is probably most famous for his image of a man with a small mustache and a derby hat. That was not the Chaplin who appeared in “A Busy Day,” the silent film that Keystone Studios released on May 7, 1914. Growing up impoverished in Britain, Chaplin was just starting his career as an actor in the United States. “A Busy Day” is one of his lesser known films, and with good reason!

The opening scene in the movie notes that Chaplin plays the role of “the militant suffragette.” Chaplin in drag is at a parade in the United States, and he makes a fool of him (her) self. At this time in 1914, Sylvia Pankhurst and the real “militant suffragettes” (they embraced the once-derogatory name) were fighting for women’s rights. Pankhurst’s group was known at the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS). They campaigned for universal suffrage, founded a Montessori school for young children, and set up a free health clinic. The ELFS also opposed Britain’s entry into World War I.

Here’s an image of Charlie Chaplin in “A Busy Day.” And here’s a link to see the entire silent film (it’s only a few minutes long).

Did Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977) look like Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960)? Here’s a photo of Pankhurst from 1909. You decide.

 

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