Chaplin Music Timeline

*Click on any picture to see full image.

April 28


Lambert Williamson
Conductor on A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG and the 1968 re-release of THE CIRCUS, Williamson was born in Cleothorpes, Lincolnshire, England. He began working in the film industry as an arranger and conductor. As a composer, he wrote music for a string of little known British films in the late 1940s and ’50s. He found more success conducting the music of other composers, such as Georges Auric (MOULIN ROUGE, HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALISON, and BONJOUR TRISTESSE), Roman Vlad’s stunning score for the 1954 Laurence Harvey ROMEO AND JULIET, and Mario Nascimbene’s ROOM AT THE TOP.
August 28


Roy Chamberlain

Born in New York City, Chamberlain was a conductor, composer, and vocal arranger for artists like The Merry Macs and The King Sisters. After returning from service in World War II, he became an arranger for CBS Radio. He served as a vocal arranger for Meredith Willson, who brought him as part of the GREAT DICTATOR team of arrangers and orchestrators. Chamberlain also served as the secretary to the American Society of Music Arrangers (and Composers) (ASMAC).

February 21


Chaplin with the Karno troupe

Chaplin’s brother Sydney had signed on with the Fred Karno troupe on July 9, 1906. Karno, a former gymnast and acrobat, conceived of silent burlesque sketches that were fast and furious, involving various mimes and acrobats. Another trait of Karno’s sketches was the use of romantic ballet music as an ironic accompaniment, a feature Chaplin later incorporated into his own music. Chaplin took his cello and violin on tour, taking lessons with the musical directors at the various theaters. “Fred Karno didn’t teach Charlie and me all we know about comedy,” Stan Laurel, Chaplin’s roommate on the Karno tours, later said. “He just taught us most of it. If I had to pick an adjective to fit Karno, it would be supple…. he was flexible in just about everything, and above all he taught us to be supple. Just as importantly he taught us to be precise. Out of all that endless rehearsal and performance came Charlie, the most supple and precise comedian of our time.”

April 8


Eric Spear

Conductor of THE CHAPLIN REVUE, Spear was born in Croydon, Surrey, England. He entered show business as an actor and toured with The Old Vic during the 1920s, becoming a stage director at the Arts Theatre in 1929. Spear started writing music for cabaret and working in films as a composer and conductor in 1934. His first chance at writing film music came at the Stoll Studios at Cricklewood, writing the music for six shorts with only a three-piece orchestra. He later became the musical director for the City Film Corporation before joining the BBC as a variety producer in 1936, staying with the company for twenty years, except during the war, producing an average of 150 shows a year. In 1952, Spear wrote the popular theme for the detective drama MEET MR. CALLAGHAN.

December 5


Edward Powell

Co-orchestrator with David Raksin on MODERN TIMES, Powell was born in Carroll County, Illinois, and got his start as a performer on Broadway in the 1929 play Zeppelin. he began to orchestrate for the Earl Carroll Vanities of 1932 and went on to orchestrate musicals for Irving Berlin (As Thousands Cheer) and George Gershwin (Let ’Em Eat Cake). After moving to Los Angeles in 1934, he became Alfred Newman’s primary orchestrator for nearly three decades.

January 7


Parsons worked at the London-based Peter Maurice Music Company, which managed Bourne Music’s (Chaplin’s US music publisher) London arm and specialized in adapting foreign language songs into English. Parsons wrote the lyrics to the Chaplin songs “Eternally,” “Smile,” and “Mandolin Serenade.” The latter two were co-written James Phillips, the head of Peter Maurice who wrote under the pseudonym John Turner. Phillips would usually assign a song to parsons and later suggest changes, thereby sharing credit for the lyrics.

August 4


David Raksin

The Philadelphia-born MODERN TIMES arranger and orchestrator was largely a self-taught musician, though he later studied with Arnold Schoenberg (who he later brought to visit the set). He became part of Benny Goodman’s band and arranged for Fred Allen’s radio show. Raksin got his big break when Broadway conductor Al Goodman bought his arrangement of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” Oscar Levant, who played piano with Goodman, introduced the young arranger to his close friend Gershwin, who hired Raksin to work at Tin Pan Alley music publisher T.B. Harms & Francis, Day, & Hunter, Inc.

August 11


Eric James

Born Eric James Barker in London, Chaplin’s music associate for the last 20 years of his life played for silent films while in his teens and later became a song plugger. He accompanied Ray Bolger, Vera Lynn, Ann Blythe, and virtuoso harmonica player Larry Adler, and later wrote songs under the pseudonym of Jack Howard. Jame first worked with Chaplin as a piano soloist on A KING IN NEW YORK, before becoming music associate on THE CHAPLIN REVUE and every Chaplin film thereafter.

September 25



On the second Karno US tour in 1913, someone from Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company saw Chaplin perform A Night in an English Music Hall in New York. Chaplin’s contract paid him $150 a week to start, tripling his Karno salary. The Tramp was born, and cinema was never the same. Over the course of the year at Keystone, Chaplin made thirty-five films—split reels, one- and two-reelers—averaging one a week, including playing a supporting role in the first feature film comedy, TILLIE’S PUNCTURED ROMANCE, starring Marie Dressler. When Chaplin’s contract was up at the end of a year, Sennett tried to hold his most valuable asset with an offer of $400 a week. Chaplin countered with $750, but Sennett turned it down, and his star went looking elsewhere.

October 14


Larry Russell

A controversial co-winner of the LIMELIGHT Oscar for Best Original Score with Chaplin and Raymond Rasch, Indiana-born Russell began his arranging career in the late 1930s with jazz trumpeter Henry Busse. His arrangements made a regular appearance in the 1940s, in particular on the “Design for Happiness” radio program. Russell arranged for harmonica legend Larry Adler and was staff arranger for radio station WBBM in Chicago before leaving in September 1941 to join Ted Fiorito’s band in California. Russell began his film career in 1943 as an orchestrator on CRAZY HOUSE. He arranged for bandleader Bob Mohr and made a number of recordings with Dinah Shore and Sons of the Pioneers.

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