Rumor Flies

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Rumor Flies comically addresses the origins, evolution, and veracity of your favorite rumors, myths, and misconceptions. Tune in every week for more research, stories, and unsolicited commentary! Participation encouraged. 

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Snap Judgment #30: You don't look like Yourself

Snapple Fact #971: Charlie Chaplin failed to make the finals of a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest.

  Image source.  Singapore's The Straits Times, 10 Aug 1920, "How Charlie Chaplin Failed":

Image source. Singapore's The Straits Times, 10 Aug 1920, "How Charlie Chaplin Failed":

Verdict: Maybe?

I chose this one because I had heard it before as well, unlike many of the more absurd "Snapple Real Facts" we've covered so far. It is pretty well documented. As the above image shows, this actually was reported on at the time it allegedly happened and spread very quickly, probably because of the popularity of Chaplin. 

During Chaplin's 40-film career, especially in the beginning, there were actually many of these "Chaplin look-alike contests." So "The Tramp" himself decided to throw his hat, mustache, and cane into the ring. The results were disappointing. From "The Straits Times"

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. 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.

According to the Albany Advertiser, he placed 27th out of 40. While the numbers vary a bit from article to article, the key points are clear: He's a garbage cosplayer. 

 Image Source

Image Source

 

Now for the real question: Is it real? The above discrepancy in how he did, as well as an inability to corroborate the initial report, has presented some issues. As it turns out, many of the papers were just repeating what they heard at the time from each other. From the linked Open Culture article: 

When one researcher asked the Association Chaplin to weigh in, they apparently had this to say: "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."

So as much as I LOVED finding the original papers and thought this would definitely prove the myth, it turns out this is most likely a case of early newspapers simply running with a story without verifying it. Chaplin never confirmed it, the source of the story can't even be confirmed to exist, and people simply ran with it. It may very well just be an urban legend that started almost a century ago. 

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