On this day in history : 16th April 1965 – The death of actor and comedian Sydney Chaplin – who died on the birthday of his younger half-brother, Charlie Chaplin….

Promotional picture of Sydney Chaplin – Public domain

Sydney was born on the 16th of March 1885 in London…. His mother was 19-year-old Hannah Hill, a music hall entertainer…. She claimed his father to be Sydney Hawkes – but this was never to be confirmed…. A year later Hannah married Charles Chaplin Sr – and he became Sydney’s legal guardian and his name was changed to Chaplin…. When Sydney was 4-years-old a little brother arrived, Charlie…. The pair were always to be close as brothers….

Syd and Charlie were taken into care following their mother’s mental breakdown…. At the age of 12 Syd was trained for a life at sea, serving on the ‘Exmouth’, a training ship based at Grays, Middlesex…. He spent the next few years at sea as a steward….

However, entertainment was in Syd’s blood…. In 1905 he and Charlie appeared on stage together for the first time, in a production of ‘Sherlock Holmes’…. Then in 1906 Syd managed to get a contract with Fred Karno as a music hall comedian – performing with ‘The Speechless Comedians’, one of the most successful entertainment troupes of the time…. Syd enjoyed relative fame and secured his brother a place within the company – but Charlie’s time of fame was to come later….

Syd married his first wife, Minnie, at some time around 1914…. They had no children – and she was to die in the September of 1936, in France, following surgery for breast cancer….

By 1915 Charlie had become famous worldwide…. It was around this time that Syd and Charlie were contacted by their younger half-brother Wheeler Dryden, who was living in America…. Born to Hannah, in 1892, Wheeler had been brought up by his father, music hall entertainer Leo Dryden, as she was continuing to have mental health issues…. Syd and Charlie, along with their mother, emigrated to the US and the family was reunited….

Syd and Minnie settle in California…. He was to make a dozen or so films, including ‘A Submarine Pirate’ for Keystone in 1915 – one of the most successful Keystone comedies ever made….

Syd Chaplin at the periscope in a scene from ‘A Submarine Pirate’ – Public domain

Charlie’s fame continued to grow and soon Syd began to handle the majority of his business affairs and negotiate his contracts for him…. At the same time he was still making a few films himself, amongst them the highly successful ‘Shoulder Arms’ in 1918….

His later work included ‘Charley’s Aunt’ in 1925 and ‘The Better ‘Ole’ in 1927…. His last film ‘A Little Bit Of Fluff’ was made in England in 1928…. He was due to make a further film in 1929 but was accused of sexual assault by actress Molly Wright…. After settling out of court, seen as an admission of guilt by many, Syd retired from the screen and moved to the South of France, to escape the scandal…. He left behind a catalogue of unpaid debts and tax demands….and in 1930 he was declared bankrupt….

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After Minnie’s death Syd married Henriette, know as ‘Gypsy’…. He died after a long illness and was buried in the Clarens-Montreux Cemetery, close to Vevey…. Gypsy was later buried next to him….

Image credit : Gerbil – own work – CC BY-SA 3.0

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