SRU to welcome Charlie Chaplin aficionado for July 13 event


Dan Kamin

Dan Kamin will bring “Charlie Chaplin’s Red Letter Days” to Slippery
Rock University at 7:30 p.m., July 13. A Chaplin devotee, Kamin helped
prepare actor Robert Downey, Jr. for his 1992 Oscar-nominated
performance of the silent movie icon.

June 29, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Actor, performance coach, author. Dan Kamin is a man who wears many hats. But it is the iconic bowler hat of silent film superstar Charlie Chaplin that Kamin loves the most.

Chaplin's mischievous grin and toothbrush mustache struck Kamin with unrivaled fascination when Kamin watched his first Chaplin film while an industrial design undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon University.

So influenced by Hollywood's renowned "Tramp," Kamin now travels the world to perform his own silent comedy at various theaters, colleges and corporate events.

Kamin will bring his affection for the silent film star to Slippery Rock University at 7:30 p.m., July 13 as the Pittsburgh native introduces "Charlie Chaplin's Red Letter Days." The event, which will take place at the Russell Wright Alumni House, will be free and open to the public.

"Charlie Chaplin's Red Letter Days" is a newly discovered eyewitness account by Fred Goodwins, one of the actors in Chaplin's company, that follows Chaplin as he created the comedies that made him a household name. Originally appearing in 1916 as a series of 37 articles in the British magazine "Red Letter," the works later resurfaced in The British Library.

"It's like you're like a fly on the wall watching Chaplin in the white heat of creativity," Kamin said.

Charlie Chaplin Red Letter Days

As the "Red Letter Days" articles were being compiled for republication, Kamin provided annotations to offer historical perspective to Goodwins' revelations. 

The articles are accompanied by a selection of rare posters, sheet music and magazine covers to reflect the nation's former Chaplin craze.

"In 1916, 'Charlie Chaplin's Red Letter Days' was being written amidst absolute chaos during World War I," Kamin said. "Some people in England were angry with Chaplin for not enlisting, but really he was an integral part of morale. Cheering people up and lifting their spirits was the human service he was offering."

As part of his time at SRU, Kamin will incorporate video and songs from the Chaplin era along with a Q&A session.

"While I'm often a silent comedian, in this case, I'll be doing a lot of talking," Kamin said with a laugh. "I always love engaging with the audience and keeping my talks interactive. People always have a lot of questions, and so do I.

"One of the questions I always ask during my talks is if anyone in the audience has ever seen a Chaplin film before. Sometimes, I will go to places where not a single person raises their hand."

However, Kamin is no stranger to tough crowds. Inspired by a film of illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini, Kamin began performing at the age of 12.

"I struggled in vain to entertain audiences of hyperkinetic, sugar-crazed children at birthday parties," he said. "I would have much preferred to be a bagboy or stock clerk at the local supermarket because those guys all seemed to have cars and girlfriends. I never earned enough to buy a car and I soon discovered that doing magic was like spraying girl repellant all over my body."

Kamin's hopes for a normal life evaporated when he saw what he described as the "eye-popping movement illusions" practiced by master mime Jewel Walker. Kamin promptly became the sorcerer's apprentice, taking what he learned and shaping those lessons into materials he would make his own. The young performer then took his show to every imaginable setting along the way, including factories, theaters, city streets and mental hospitals in order to hone his craft.

It was shortly thereafter that Chaplin became Kamin's muse after he watched Chaplin's film "The Gold Rush."

"I just thought he was the coolest person I ever saw," said Kamin. "I felt a new spring in my step when I walked out of that theater and it was like entering another world. I knew I had to be a part of it, and through several strokes of good fortune, I did."

From the moment the film ended, Kamin dedicated himself to uncovering the secrets the made Chaplin so beloved and fashioned his hero worship into his first original show, "Silent Comedy...Live!"

Kamin would eventually author "Charlie Chaplin's One-Man Show," in which he would reveal the secrets of Chaplin's comic art. The book includes a preface by another Chaplin fan, legendary mime Marcel Marceau. Kamin's latest book, "The Comedy of Charlie Chaplin: Artistry in Motion," updates his earlier work and features an account of how the accidental Chaplin devotee so sharpened his mimicry and knowledge that he would be called upon to prepare actor Robert Downey, Jr. for his 1992 Oscar-nominated performance of Chaplin.

Kamin also created physical comedy sequences for Johnny Depp's role as Sam in the 1993 film "Benny and Joon" and Martian movement for Tim Burton's 1996 film, "Mars Attacks!" His acting career includes the role of the wooden Indian who comes to life in the 1987 cult classic "Creepshow 2."

However, it is keeping Chaplin's memory alive that remains Kamin's favorite achievement.

"He made me who I am today," said Kamin. "Seeing him (on film) woke up the spirit of comedy in me. He showed me how to live in this world."

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