Many of Chaplin’s admirers regard The Kid as his most perfect and most personal film. Yet it seems to have been born out of a state of acute emotional period in his private life.
In October 1918 Chaplin had compromised himself into a hasty marriage with a 17-year-old actress, Mildred Harris. The couple had little in common,
and Chaplin’s personal boredom and frustration resulted in an acute creative block. He later wrote : ‘I was at my wits’ end for an idea’. Mildred became pregnant and gave birth to a malformed boy, but he died after only three days.
Chaplin suffered acute trauma from this loss. But the responses of the creative mind are unpredictable. Only ten days after his own child was buried, Chaplin was auditioning babies at his studio.
Suddenly the creative block seemed overcome. He was absorbed and excited by a new plan for a story in which the Little Tramp would become surrogate father to an abandoned child. The film would be called The Waif.
By chance, he visited a music hall where a virtuoso dancer was performing. At the close of his act, the dancer brought on his four-year-old son – a beautiful,
sparkling little boy called Jackie Coogan. Chaplin had found his co-star.He was so talanted. Jackie was a born mimic, and could perfectly imitate any action or expression Chaplin showed him.
This made him the perfect collaborator. Chaplin was the supreme and sole creator of his films. His colleagues all agreed that if he could have done so, he would have played every part in every film himself.
Failing this, he looked for actors and actresses who could and would faithfully and unquestioningly copy precisely what he showed them. In Jackie Coogan he found his ideal actor. He patiently shot scenes again and again until he was fully satisfied.
In the end he had filmed more than fifty times the length of film that appeared in the finished picture. Such a shooting ratio – it was precisely 53 to 1 – was far higher than for any other film he ever made.