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12 Fascinating Facts About Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush

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In 1925’s The Gold Rush, Charlie Chaplin transforms his most famous character, the Little Tramp, into a Lone Prospector, wandering the Klondike in search of gold. In the film, Chaplin masterfully finds comedy in tragedy, starvation, and loneliness: The Little Tramp is stalked by bears, plagued by hunger, and narrowly avoids tumbling off the side of a cliff—only to find himself, in the relative safety of an Alaskan frontier town, falling head over heels for a beautiful dance hall girl who wants nothing to do with him.

The film, which Chaplin re-released with sound in 1942, features some of the most famous—and oft-parodied—images in film history: the Little Tramp eating his shoe and making bread rolls dance. After its 1925 premiere, Chaplin told the press, “This is the picture I want to be remembered by.” Here are 12 fascinating facts about The Gold Rush.

1. IT WAS PARTLY INSPIRED BY THE DONNER PARTY.

The Gold Rush has some pretty dark origins. Inspiration first struck Chaplin during a morning brunch with fellow movie stars and United Artists co-founders Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. After a leisurely breakfast, Chaplin decided to look at some stereoscopic cards, and discovered a particularly striking image of a lengthy line of prospectors during the 1898 Klondike gold rush, struggling to climb the Chilkoot Pass. Later, Chaplin read a book about the Donner Party, the American pioneers who turned to cannibalism after finding themselves snowbound in Sierra Nevada. The book also described members of the Donner Party eating their own moccasins, an image Chaplin would borrow for The Gold Rush.

2. IT WAS BANNED BY THE NAZIS.

Long before Chaplin directly ridiculed Hitler and the Nazi party in The Great Dictator, he was considered an enemy of the Nazis, who believed him to be Jewish (he wasn’t, though his half brother Sydney was). In Chaplin: His Life and Art, biographer David Robinson explains:

The Gold Rush was banned from the early years of the Third Reich, and Chaplin figured in a hideous publication attacking prominent international Jewish intellectuals. Along with Einstein, Mann, Reinhardt, and others, Chaplin’s portrait, crudely retouched to emphasize its ‘Hebraic’ features, was printed with an accompanying caption which dismissed him as ‘a little Jewish acrobat, as disgusting as he is tedious.’ Chaplin’s riposte, in The Great Dictator, was to play an overtly Jewish character, and to say, ‘I did this film for the Jews of the world.’ By this time he was adamant in his refusal ever to contradict any statement that he was a Jew. He explained to Ivor Montagu, ‘Anyone who denies this in respect of himself plays into the hands of the anti-Semites.’”

3. THE BOOT CHAPLIN ATE WAS MADE OF LICORICE.

United Artists, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A notorious perfectionist, Chaplin had 20 pairs of licorice boots made for the scene in which the Lone Prospector and Big Jim McKay feast on a single shoe for their Thanksgiving dinner. The scene took three full days and 63 takes to capture and, according to Robinson, caused both actors to experience some “inconvenient laxative effects.”

4. CHAPLIN HIRED 600 EXTRAS FOR THE OPENING SHOT.

For the opening shot of The Gold Rush, Chaplin decided to faithfully recreate the photo he’d seen of miners crossing the Chilkoot Pass, not with miniature models or special effects, but by hiring hundreds of extras to hike an actual path. He brought his entire crew to Mount Lincoln in Colorado, where they cut a 2300 foot path through the snow. He then, according to writer Jim Tully, hired the Southern Pacific Railway to hire 600 drifters to hike the pass. Chaplin and every other member of the crew not actively engaged in shooting the scene hiked alongside them.

5. THE HIGHEST PAID EXTRA WAS A DOG.

While most of the extras in The Gold Rush were paid a base rate of $7.50 a day, one extra made nearly five times that. The dog who drags The Tramp around in the dance hall after he mistakenly uses its leash as a belt was paid a whopping $35 a day, and was on hire from Hal Roach Studios.

6. THE NEW YEAR’S EVE DREAM SEQUENCE WAS INSPIRED BY AN INCIDENT FROM CHAPLIN’S YOUTH

The scene in which Chaplin is stood up by the dance hall girl and her friends on New Year’s Eve was, according to Robinson, inspired by an incident in Chaplin’s past. When the young Chaplin first began touring with a theater company as a young man, he “invited the members of another juvenile troupe, working another theater, to tea. The manager of the troupe would not let them go, but nobody informed Chaplin, who vainly waited for his guests.”

7. IT’S BEEN PARODIED AND REFERENCED IN MOVIES AND TV—A LOT.

© Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc.

Chaplin’s instantly iconic dance of bread rolls has been homaged by Johnny Depp in Benny & Joon (1993), Amy Adams in The Muppets (2011), Curly in the Three Stooges film Pardon My Scotch (1935), and even Grandpa Simpson in The Simpsons. The scene in which Chaplin is mistaken for a chicken by his starving companion, meanwhile, was lifted by animator Chuck Jones for several Looney Toons sketches. Perhaps most remarkably, however, after losing a bet to documentarian Errol Morris, director Werner Herzog recreated Chaplin’s boot-eating sequence by eating not a licorice boot, but his own leather shoe.

8. AT THE GERMAN PREMIERE, AUDIENCES CALLED FOR AN ENCORE.

Encores may be a normal occurrence at concerts, but they’re essentially unheard of during movie screenings. Nevertheless, at the Berlin premiere of The Gold Rush, audience members were so enamored with the dance of the rolls, and so vocal in their appreciation, the theater manager raced up to the projection box and replayed the scene to “tumultuous applause.”

9. IT WAS PART OF A BIZARRE BBC RADIO BROADCAST.

Berlin wasn’t the only city to give The Gold Rush a unique reception. In London, the BBC paid strange tribute to Chaplin by broadcasting audio from its premiere at the Tivoli Theater over the radio. But instead of broadcasting audio from the film itself (which was silent with live musical accompaniment), the BBC decided to broadcast the laughter of the audience during “the 10 most uproariously funny minutes of the new Charlie Chaplin film.” The BBC described the event as “a storm of uncontrolled laughter, inspired by the only man in the world who could make people laugh continually.”

10. CHAPLIN RE-RELEASED IT IN 1942.

Chaplin re-released an updated version of The Gold Rush in 1942, adding his own narration and a recorded musical score. In the updated version (which also cuts a few scenes, including the film’s final kiss), Chaplin, himself, provides not only narration, but dialogue for his characters.

11. CHAPLIN LATER PERFORMED THE BREAD ROLL DANCE FOR PABLO PICASSO.

On a visit to France in the 1950s, Chaplin visited Pablo Picasso in his art studio. The two didn’t share a common language, so instead of chatting, Picasso gave Chaplin a tour of his latest works-in-progress, while Chaplin in return performed his famous dance of the rolls for Picasso.

12. THE NEW YORK TIMES CALLED IT A “MASTERPIECE.”

In its 1925 review of The Gold Rush, The New York Times wrote, “Here is a comedy with streaks of poetry, pathos, tenderness, linked with brusqueness and boisterousness. It is the outstanding gem of all Chaplin's pictures, as it has more thought and originality than even such masterpieces of mirth as The Kid and Shoulder Arms.

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The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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13 Smart Facts About The Big Bang Theory
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The Big Bang Theory, which has held the title of television's most popular comedy for several years now, and will return for its 11th season on Monday, September 25th. In the meantime, geek out with these facts about the long-running cerebral comedy on the 10th anniversary of its premiere.

1. THE SHOW WASN’T PITCHED IN A TRADITIONAL WAY.

Instead of writing up a premise—which includes outlines of the characters and the long-term vision for the show—and pitching it to CBS, co-creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady revealed at PaleyFest in 2009 that for their pitch, they wrote a complete script, hired actors, and, as Lorre explained, “put on a show” for CBS president Les Moonves. Lorre found the experience to be “crazy,” but it obviously worked.

2. IT TOOK TWO PILOTS FOR THE SHOW TO GET PICKED UP TO SERIES.

The show filmed two different pilots, because CBS didn't like the first one but felt the show had potential. The first pilot began with a different theme song and featured Sheldon, Leonard, and two female characters, including a different actress playing what would become the Penny role. Chuck Lorre thought the initial pilot “sucked” but is open to having the unaired pilot included as part of a DVD.

3. JIM PARSONS THOUGHT HE WAS AUDITIONING FOR A GAME SHOW.

Amy and Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory.
CBS Entertainment

When Jim Parsons’s agent called and said Chuck Lorre wanted him to audition for a pilot, Parsons misunderstood. “I did not know Chuck Lorre at the time,” Parsons told David Letterman in 2014. “I thought he was talking about Chuck Woolery. I thought, why are they so excited about it? We should see what the man has to offer before we’re like, ‘It’s a new Chuck Woolery pilot!'"

4. ED ROBERTSON OF THE BARENAKED LADIES HESITATED TO WRITE THE THEME SONG.

As the story goes, Lorre and Prady went to a Barenaked Ladies concert and were impressed that lead singer Ed Robertson sang a song on cosmological theory, so they tapped him to write the series' theme song, called “The History of Everything." In 2013, Robertson told CBS News that he’d previously written some songs for TV and films only to have his work rejected, so he was initially reluctant to take on the project.

“I was like, look, how many other people have you asked to write this? I’m at my cottage, I got a couple of weeks off right now and if you’ve asked Counting Crows and Jack Johnson and all these other people to write it, then I kinda don’t want to waste my time on it,” Robertson told them. Lorre and Prady told Robertson he was their only choice, so Robertson agreed to come on board. The first version was 32 seconds long but Robertson had to trim it down to 15 seconds. The original version was also acoustic, which Lorre loved, but Robertson insisted that his bandmates be on the track, and Lorre loved that one even more.

5. SHELDON PROBABLY DOESN’T HAVE ASPERGER’S.

Because of Sheldon’s anti-social nature, viewers have often assumed that Sheldon has Asperger's syndrome. But Prady has stated that, "We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon's mother never got a diagnosis, so we don't have one.”

Parsons himself isn’t totally sure, though. “Asperger’s came up as a question within the first few episodes. I got asked about it by a reporter, and I had heard of it, but I didn’t know what it was, specifically,” he told Adweek in 2014. “So I asked the writers—I said, ‘They’re asking me if Sheldon has Asperger’s’ and they were like, ‘No.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ And I went back and I said, ‘No.’ And then I read some about it and I went, OK, well, if the writers say he doesn’t, then he doesn’t, but he certainly shares some qualities with those who do. I like the way it’s handled ... This is who this person is; he’s just another human.”

6. KUNAL NAYYAR GOT HIRED BECAUSE HE WAS “CHARMING."

CBS Entertainment

In reminiscing about the early days, Prady explained to Buzzy Mag how Raj came to be: “When we were casting for that part, we were casting for an international member of the ensemble, [because] if you go into the science department at a university, it’s not [just] Americans,” Prady said. “It’s one of the most international kinds of communities. So we saw foreign-born people. And so we saw people who were Korean and Korean-American and Latino. And then Kunal came in and it was like Jim [Parsons]—it was just Person Number Eight on a day of Twenty-Seven people, and he was charming.”

7. AMY FARRAH FOWLER WAS MADE A NEUROSCIENTIST ON PURPOSE.

Mayim Bialik, who in real life has a PhD in neuroscience, told Variety how Amy Farrah Fowler’s profession came to be. “They didn’t have a profession for my character when I came on in the finale of season three,” she says. “In season four, Bill Prady said they’d make her what I am so I could fix things (in the script) if they were wrong. It’s neat to know what things mean. But most of the time, I don’t have to use it.”

8. ASTROPARTICLE PHYSICIST/SCIENCE CONSULTANT DAVID SALTZBERG ONCE GOT A JOKE ON THE AIR.

The Big Bang Theory has had David Saltzberg on retainer since the beginning of the series. Every week he attends the tapings and offers up corrections and ensures the white boards used in the scenes are accurate. During episode nine of the first season, Saltzberg wrote a joke for Sheldon, who has a fight with another scientist. Penny asks Sheldon about the misunderstanding and Sheldon replies, “A little misunderstanding? Galileo and the Pope had a little misunderstanding!”

Even though Saltzberg teaches at UCLA and publishes papers, he thinks his work on The Big Bang Theory is more impactful. “This has a lot more impact than anything I will ever do,” he told NPR. “It’s hard to fathom, when you think about 20 million viewers on the first showing—and that doesn't include other countries and reruns. I’m happy if a paper I write gets read by a dozen people.”

9. WIL WHEATON GOT THE “EVIL WIL WHEATON” GIG THROUGH TWITTER.

Wil Wheaton and Jim Parsons in a scene from The Big Bang Theory.
Sonja Flemming - © 2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc

Wil Wheaton, who plays a “delightfully evil version” of himself on the show, tweeted about The Big Bang Theory. Wheaton told Larry King, “I was talking on Twitter about how much I loved the show and how I thought it was really funny.” Executive producer Steven Molaro—who will be taking on the same role in the Young Sheldon prequel, which also premieres Monday night—saw the tweet and told Wheaton to let him know if he wanted to come to a taping. A few days later Wheaton received an email from Bill Prady’s assistant about appearing on the show. “I just thought the email was a joke from one of my friends, so I just ignored it,” Wheaton said.

When Wheaton realized that the email was legit he phoned up Prady, who explained they wanted a nemesis for Sheldon. “It’s always more fun to be the villain,” Wheaton said. Even though the character has evolved into Sheldon’s ally, Wheaton said, “I still call him Evil Wil Wheaton.”

10. CHUCK LORRE THOUGHT THE SHOW AIRING AT 8 P.M. WAS THE BEGINNING OF THE END.

The show aired a handful of episodes in the fall of 2007, but a Writers Guild strike halted production until the following year. When the show returned in March, it had an earlier time slot. During a 2009 Comic-Con panel with the show’s cast and producers, the moderator asked Lorre about how CBS once again changed the time slot, this time from Mondays at 8 p.m. to Mondays at 9:30 p.m. “You guys followed us when they put us on at 8 and that is what kept us alive,” Lorre replied. "We did eight shows before the strike took us out in our first season. When the strike was over, CBS put us on at 8 p.m. and we thought that might be the end of it. You followed us and kept us alive and that was when we got the two-year pickup when we did well at 8.” The show eventually returned to the Mondays at 8 p.m. slot.

11. PARSONS ATTRIBUTES THE SHOW'S SUCCESS TO ITS LACK OF CHARACTER ARCS.

In a 2014 interview with New York Magazine, Parsons gave his theory (if you will) on why The Big Bang Theory attracts more than 20 million viewers per week—a number unheard of since the Friends-era sitcom reign. “There’s not anything to keep up with,” he said. “You don’t go, ‘I didn’t see the first three seasons, and now they’re off with prostitutes, and they no longer work in the Mafia, and I don’t understand what happened.’ People have so many choices on TV now, so no one’s asking for you to marry us. You can enjoy our show without a weekly appointment.”

12. A NEW GENUS OF JELLYFISH IS NAMED BAZINGA.

CBS Entertainment

In 2011, a photographer spotted the unnamed grape-sized rhizostome in Australia’s Brunswick River, snapped a photo of it, and sent the photo to marine biologist Lisa-ann Gershwin. In 2013, she named the jellyfish and published a paper on it for the Queensland Museum. In her findings she called it “a new genus and species of the rhizostome jellyfish, which cannot be placed in any known family or suborder.” She told The Huffington Post that it’s the first time in more than 100 years that a new sub-order of jellyfish had been discovered. For now, it’s the only member of the genus Bazinga, the family Bazingidae, and the sub-order Ptychophorae. Sheldon’s catchphrase also inspired the naming of a new bee species in 2013.

13. THE CAST MEMBERS ARE SOME OF THE WORLD’S HIGHEST PAID TV ACTORS.

In August 2017, Variety released a list of television's highest paid actors, and the main cast members of The Big Bang Theory—Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons, Simon Helberg, and Kunal Nayyar—came out on top for comedy, earning an average of $900,000 per episode.

BONUS FACT: WE'RE ON THE COFFEE TABLE!

Image credit: Wil Wheaton

In 2010, Wil Wheaton shared this close-up of the coffee table in Sheldon and Leonard's apartment. "I saw a lot of things that could have been on my own coffee table," he wrote, "so I decided to grab a picture."

Here's one from 2014:

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