AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GOLD RUSH (1925)
Charlie Chaplin produced The Gold Rush to prove that comedy and tragedy were never too far from one another.
Chaplin’s inspiration came from photos he saw of the 1896 Klondike gold rush and a book on the Donner Party Disaster of 1846 whereby a party of snowbound immigrants were reduced to eating the corpses of their dead companions in order to stay alive. In true Chaplin style, he was inspired to combine the horror and deprivation of these two events into a comedy.
“I was after the feeling of Alaska, with a sweet, poetic, yet comic, love story. When I started on this film I sweated hard to keep the original thought. That is where many of us go wrong. We sell ourselves an idea and then leave it flat–with the result that we have nothing in the end but hodgepodge.” – Charlie Chaplin
Set somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness, Chaplin takes on the role of a Lone Prospector who is marching across the Chilkoot Pass in the search for fame and fortune. After getting caught in an unruly blizzard, he finds himself taking refuge in a cabin with a renegade and a gold prospector by the name of Big Jim. Over the course of the feature film, the Lone Prospector falls in love, has his heart broken, uncovers a hidden gold deposit, becomes a millionaire and is reunited with his lost love on his return to America.
Chaplin had a hard time casting his leading lady. 15 year-old Lillita MacMurray, who had appeared in The Kid and The Idle Class, snuck away from home with her friend Merna Kennedy and visited Chaplin Studios on Saturday 3 February 1924. On greeting them, Chaplin insisted that Lillita audition for the role and a few days later, the part was hers. They renamed her Lita Grey and reported that she was 19 years old, rather than a young 15. Filming began and it appeared to be running smoothly until, that is, the middle of September 1924 when Lita discovered she was pregnant with Chaplin’s baby. The pair married on 25 November 1924, Chaplin moved Lita and her mother into a small house away from the nosiness of the press and Chaplin began his search for a leading lady once again. Chaplin recruited actress Georgia Hale for the role and shooting resumed on 2 January 1925.
The film premiered on 26 June 1925 and was an unparalleled success.