The Little Tramp Began His Career in an Auto Race

February 7, 1914

Charlie Chaplin, the silent-film comedian and one of the greatest influences in movie history, first appeared on the big screen as his now-iconic Little Tramp character. The film in which he first played that role for moviegoers was a transportation-themed comedy called “Kid Auto Races at Venice.”

The film was produced by Keystone Studios, and it was shot during an actual race called the Junior Vanderbilt Cup. Chaplin and his co-stars basically acted out and even improvised a host of gags in the presence of the many real-life spectators on hand for the race, which took place that year in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Venice.

The Vanderbilt Cup had become a major automobile racing event in the United States by that time, and in 1914 a junior version of the competition was organized for younger would-be drivers. Depending on their age categories and other classifications, some of these young drivers used vehicles that didn’t have any engines and had to travel down a ramp in order to accelerate. Other participants in the Junior Vanderbilt Cup Race — again depending on such factors as age categories — were able to drive vehicles with small engines.

“Forty youngsters dare-deviled around a ten-mile course at Venice, California, some little time ago in the Junior Vanderbilt Cup Race,” reported a subsequent issue of Technical World Magazine. The article also stated, “Most of the machines were ingenious adaptations of motorcycle engines to four-wheel crafts. Many of these cars, some of which are easily controlled, are capable of amazing speeds.”

Additional information on the 1914 film “Kid Auto Races at Venice” is available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kid_Auto_Races_at_Venice.

A video of “Kid Auto Races at Venice” is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_AlE4MkjxY.

For more information on the Junior Vanderbilt Cup Race, please check out Harvey Edmonds’ article “The ‘Kids’ Race” in the March 1914 issue of Technical World Magazine at https://books.google.com/books?id=XaxMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA394#v=onepage&q&f=false.

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