Fact Check: Hollywood Tale Claims Charlie Chaplin Once Lost His Own Look-Alike Contest. Here's the Truth

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Silent-era film actor Charlie Chaplin once lost a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.


Rating: Unproven
Rating: Unproven

For years, a rumor has been circulating online claiming that silent-era film star Charlie Chaplin once lost his own look-alike contest. "Charlie Chaplin once anonymously entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest and came in THIRD," a 2020 Reddit post claimed.

"Charlie Chaplin once only came second in a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest," another version of the claim read. The rumor also spread via YouTube shorts videos and Facebook.

Because we found the evidence both inconclusive and self-contradictory, we have rated this claim as "Unproven."

Here's what we found: Various sources beyond the internet have made the claim. For instance, the book by Charles Chaplin Jr., "My Father, Charlie Chaplin," claimed his father competed in his own look-alike contest and "came in third":

They held countless Charlie Chaplin contests. Dad told me about one of these that had taken place before I was born. It was at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and there were thirty or forty people on the stage doing their best to imitate Dad. Dad was one of them. He'd gone up incognito to see how he would fare. He came in third. Dad always thought this one of the funniest jokes imaginable—whether on him or the judges or both, I don't know.

Another book, "Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin" by Joyce Milton, told a similar story, claiming that Chaplin "failed even to make the finals" when he took part in his own look-alike contest:

Vaudeville houses still showed motion pictures in 1915, and many were promoting the Chaplin vogue by sponsoring amateur Charlie look-alike contests. Among the early winners was Bob Hope, who took first prize in a Chaplin contest in Cleveland. Charlie himself was not so lucky. When he entered a contest run by a theater in San Francisco, he failed even to make the finals. "I am tempted to give lessons in the Chaplin walk," he told a reporter, "out of pity as well as in the desire to see the thing done correctly."

The source of the viral rumor, according to a December 2022 article in Far Out Magazine, was a news item published in The Straits Times of Singapore in 1920:

According to a newspaper article published in The Straits Times of Singapore (via eResources) in 1920, Chaplin once competed with these impersonators.

The article claimed: "Lord Desborough, presiding at a dinner of the Anglo-Saxon club, told a story which will have an enduring life. It comes from Miss Mary Pickford, who told it to Lady Desborough, 'Charlie Chaplin was one day at a fair in the United States, where a principal attraction was a competition as to who could best imitate the Charlie Chaplin walk.'"

It continued. "The real Charlie Chaplin thought there might be a chance for him, so he entered for the performance, minus his celebrated moustache and his boots. He was a frightful failure and came in twentieth." Eventually, other outlets, such as the Poverty Bay Herald, picked up the story too, but there was no evidence.

In addition to pointing out the lack of evidence to support the story, Far Out Magazine reported that Jeffrey Vance, an American film historian and author of the book "Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema," stated that Chaplin himself denied this rumor "emphatically" in a 1966 interview:

Apart from the original press clipping and the coverage of the anecdote in the press, there was no other reference to the event. Even a representative from the Association Chaplin dismissed the story, insisting that the lone anecdote was responsible for the whacky story about Chaplin's defeat in the lookalike contest.

Jeffrey Vance, the writer of Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, also clarified that he had found an interview where the icon denied all such claims: "Chaplin stated emphatically in the 1966 interview that the legend was not true and had no basis in fact. 'In the first place,' Chaplin explained. 'I'm working hard all day. I certainly don't want to do that.'"

On the other hand — and adding to some confusion — a comment under an Open Culture article redirected us to the manuscripts.co.uk website's archive of autographs and manuscripts. There, an independent consultant with an interest in archives provided a manuscript by Chaplin, in which he reportedly wrote:

'I was indeed glad to hear that a replica of myself was the one to win in the contest. I also wish to thank you for your kind interest and for your congratulations.'


The question of whether Chaplin once lost his own look-alike contest also surfaced on the Skeptics Stack Exchange website, a question-and-answer site for researchers. "I emailed the Association Chaplin and got a response," one user claimed, and quoted this message:

... The only real reference I have ever seen to this story is in English newspaper clippings from 1918, when Mary Pickford was in London at an Anglo Saxon Club dinner, and told a story to Lord Desborough who repeated it to the press that Charles Chaplin entered a Chaplin walk contest at a fair in the US and came in 20th.

This anecdote told by Lord Desborough, whoever he may have been, was quite widely reported in the British press at the time.

There are no other references to such a competition in any other press clipping albums that I have seen so I can only assume that this is the source of that rumour, urban myth, whatever it is.

However, it may be true.

I also scribbled on a piece of paper a note to myself a while back that Charles Chaplin Jr mentions the competition in his book called My Father... but I have been unable to find the reference again in that book...(!)

We reached out to Association Chaplin, an organization founded by some of Chaplin's children "to protect the name, image and moral rights" to his body of work. We'll update this article if/when we receive a response.

Snopes' previous fact check of this claim (no longer available on the website) carried a "True" rating. After more extensive research, we have revised the rating to "Unproven."

This is not the first time we have fact-checked a Chaplin-related rumor. For instance, in August 2019, we investigated whether Chaplin wrote a poem entitled, "As I Began to Love Myself."


CHAPLIN, Charles Spencer, Letters, Autographs, Documents, Manuscripts. https://www.manuscripts.co.uk/stock/23103.HTM. Accessed 10 May 2024.

Charles Chaplain, Jr. My Father Charlie Chaplin. 1960. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.136201.

Charlie Chaplin Once Entered a Chaplin Lookalike Contest. 29 Dec. 2022, https://faroutmagazine.co.uk/charlie-chaplin-entered-lookalike-contest/.

Charlie Chaplin : The Chaplin Office. https://www.charliechaplin.com/en/articles/130-The-Chaplin-Office. Accessed 10 May 2024.

Evon, Dan. "Did Charlie Chaplin Write the Poem, 'As I Began to Love Myself'?" Snopes, 20 Aug. 2019, https://www.snopes.com//fact-check/charlie-chaplin-love-self-poem/.

Jeffrey Vance. Chaplin. Harry N. Abrams, 2003. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/chaplingeniusofc00vanc.

JOHN WILSON MANUSCRIPTS LTD Overview - Find and Update Company Information - GOV.UK. https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/00990923. Accessed 10 May 2024.

magnattic. "Did Charlie Chaplin Lose a Charlie Chaplin Look-Alike Contest?" Skeptics Stack Exchange, 21 Apr. 2013, https://skeptics.stackexchange.com/q/9423.

Milton, Joyce. Tramp : The Life of Charlie Chaplin. New York : HarperCollins, 1996. Internet Archive, http://archive.org/details/tramplifeofcharl0000milt.

NewspaperSG. https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/digitised/article/straitstimes19200810-1.2.4. Accessed 10 May 2024.

When Charlie Chaplin Entered a Chaplin Look-Alike Contest and Came in 20th Place | Open Culture. https://www.openculture.com/2016/06/when-charlie-chaplin-entered-a-chaplin-look-alike-contest-and-came-in-20th-place.html. Accessed 10 May 2024.