Toto, Charles Chaplin and Michael Jackson:

genes compared

di Salvatore Cianciabella psicologo iscritto all’Ordine degli Psicologi della Toscana

Translated by Pamela Vassallo Todaro

E fatte n'altra risata ‘nfaccia a stù cappello!

Totò, Charles Chaplin e Michael Jackson: genes compared

There are many people who like to cause suffering to humanity
we must suffer to amuse her, and sent, if you can,
someone in this world that can make me laugh
as I make others laugh.

Toto - Prayer of the clown
(from the film
The most comical spectacle of the world, 1953)


If we try to ask around what unites Totò a Chaplin and Michael Jackson the answers vary depending on age, profession, of the socio-cultural, acuity of observation, the level of naivety.
I asked psychologists and they told me: "Well, maybe the baby".
I asked the players and they said: "mime and gestures."
I asked a child and told me with simplicity and candor, "hat."

Probably they are right and all, perhaps, the most superficial answer is both, the most profound.


"During childhood Toto never had toys, even at Christmas or the day of his birthday, ate sparingly and not always met even the most modest pleasures. The clothes he wore were obtained from skirts stopped Anna [the mother] had garish tastes. A flowered dress, red roses for the accuracy, pushed Toto, to seven years, to improvise his first public performance. From that garment here and there stained with powder, her grandmother had taken a pair of shorts for the little one, so tanned that went into the alley to play as usual with the other worldly-wise and mischievous urchins. The trousers were rather large and, so to speak, senior living, so the baby looked like a clown disastrously, with a touch of femininity to come. Faced with the spectacle and the boys went to a wedding, making a circle, began to mock his friend with phrases rather heavy.
"He arrived o 'femminiello yelled”, and again,"Look, o’ queer is not it beautiful! "
In Naples, even at seven years, a child has the cult of manhood, and those offenses that hurt deeply Toto in a furious fit of anger tore his pants the flowers in his underwear. Then, looking at his first audience, arrogant and unforgiving, but still an audience, had a stroke of genius. He planted his hands on her hips and moving his thin legs in a kind of impromptu dance her first clown. The urchins were silent and derision went to the fun, then that culminated in a passionate approval thunderous applause. Toto then sketched a little bow of thanks and headed home the lone figure in his underwear had a great dignity and nobody had the courage to go see her laugh. "


Totò in his debut with Without hands (1937) by Toto: the man and the mask, Feltrinelli, 1977

Toto recited so his first script, any other bouncer would react physically, but he was still with his hands [2] and manage the conflict with humor. Over the artists, especially in actors is difficult to understand the line between movies and personal life, including cognitive psychology, we talk about scripts referring to the roles that trigger in certain circumstances in our lives. Sometimes the situations are created and nothing short of amazing coincidences. We move a moment from real life to that of Toto's film Chaplin.

On January 6, 1928 in New York is projected for the first time a Chaplin film that won first prize at the Academy, the actual Oscars, when the sound began to supplant the mute. So far nothing surprising. In a beautiful gag Charlot tightrope wire is attacked by the mischievous monkey, a little 'as the street urchins of Toto, leave him in his underwear.

Often, readers and critical biography of Toto and Chaplin in danger of losing the thread, the balance of mind which need more effort than to remind us who they are. It is the life of one, the performance of another or perhaps the opposite? This is what happens when we truly passionate artists who have sought to explain life through their artistic expression, people who mostly lived a childhood of suffering.



Michael Jackson in Smooth Criminal (1988)

As stated Toto:
I know by heart the misery, and misery is the script of true comedy. One can not laugh, if you are not familiar with the pain, hunger, cold, love without hope ... and the shame of his pants background, the desire for a coffee, the hateful arrogance of the businessmen, the wickedness of the public without education. Well you can not be a real comedian without having gone to war with life.
Reviewing childhood Chaplin found the precarious financial condition of the family, two years between colleges and institutions for orphans and for that Charlie's brother Sydney. When Charlie was twelve his father died and his mother, who suffers from mental disorder, was admitted to an institution. The events of childhood did not prevent the small Chaplin to learn their mother the art of singing and acting. The first steps on the stage moves them with her at the tender age of five years. In 1896 during a performance in a variety theater Hannah [3] was roundly booed and forced to leave the stage, he was sent to the scene to replace the little Charlie, who got a fairly successful singing a folk song of the day, 'E Dunno Where 'And Are. In 1900, at the age of eleven, her brother managed to get him the role of a comic cat in the pantomime Cinderella (Cinderella), represented the Hippodrome in London, which starred the famous clown Marceline. Sydney the same year he embarked on a ship as a bugler: the weight of the mother so he fell on the shoulders of the little Charlie. Despite the good will, life was very hard, indeed Hannah was hospitalized with a diagnosis of depression caused by malnutrition. In 1903 he was discharged from the hospital but soon after a relapse will then determine the final internment. One year after the fifteen Charles was among the protagonists in the highly successful representation of Peter Pan by James Matthew Barrie.
Peter Pan takes us back to our days, an artist who would create the most impressive spectacle of all time, in the same land of Cinderella by Chaplin. Just in London, he had to keep the show "This is it," is the artist in question is of course Michael Jackson. Seventh of nine brothers built his first experience as a musician at age five, singing in a school play at age seven and became the lead singer of the group formed with his brothers, the Jackson Five. Its history is known to all, and just playing with these words in 1995 HIStory realized [4], a double CD featuring brand new format is that of classical repertoire. And the secret of his story was not hidden among the classical pieces, but nell'inedito Childhood. The words of text describing its past, present and left indelible and represented in a drawing, reinventing an image of a helpless Chaplin played by himself.


Designed by Michael Jackson, as inserted  in the cd single “Scream” (1995)

Have you seen my Childhood?
I'm searching for the world that I come from
'Cause I've been looking around
In the lost and found of my heart...
No one understands me
They view it as such strange eccentricities...
'Cause I keep kidding around
Like a child, but pardon me...

People say I'm not okay
'Cause I love such elementary things...
It's been my fate to compensate,
for the Childhood I've never known...

Have you seen my Childhood?
I'm searching for that wonder in my youth
Like pirates and adventurous dreams,
Of conquest and kings on the throne...

Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
Look within your heart then ask,
Have you seen my Childhood?
People say I'm strange that way
'Cause I love such elementary things,
It's been my fate to compensate,
For the Childhood I've never known...

Have you seen my Childhood?
I'm searching for that wonder in my youth
Like fantastical stories to share
The dreams I would dare, watch me fly...

Before you judge me, try hard to love me.
The painful youth I've had

Have you seen my Childhood....


Michael Jackson in the ruole of Chaplin

The artists were able subliming dear to us and humor to create works of art, the fruit of that energy still present and invested in something spectacular, as if to tell the whole world to conquer something that seemed hopelessly lost.
The Russian director Sergei Eisenstein describing Chaplin stated that "... despite his white hair, has retained a look of child and the ability to consider the first level, the slightest incident. Hence his freedom against the moralizing gaze (the eyes of morality or the eyes of the censor) and his ability to see beneath a comical things before which others shudder. This capability is called, in a grown man, infantilism. Therefore, the comedian Charlie Chaplin and built on principle on a lawsuit childish. " And see everything from the perspective of the child, the Russian director also means playing and being free. Eisenstein brings an essay [9] Professor Overstritt: "To love the game and fun means, to a certain extent, which is also free. If a man is playful, it means that for a moment shook the weight of the conventions and escapes the constraints of daily life (...). Life is but a series of restrictions. In the game we're free! We do what we like. And, undoubtedly, there could be a dream for the man more beautiful than to be free. It follows that recognizing someone humor is to acknowledge both the ability to play, which in turn proves that he has the spirit of creative freedom and spontaneity "[5].

One evidence of the presence of children in Chaplin noted in his magisterial work, The Kid [6], where the two main characters have very similar features and styles that continually Interchange. For example, in the scene where the baby food and the Tramp is smoking in bed, reading the newspaper John, the brat, rebuke and calls him Charlie Chaplin at table with their parenting attitudes. Once at the table, then, the roles back to normal, and is the "father" who teaches good manners to take food to her son, reminding him during prayer time [7]. In the works of Jackson's childhood is a constant, so much so that children are present in a video more or less directly, and it is for them that charities were founded as the "Heal the World Foundation." The child who is genuine and alive in him can involve great directors like John Landis, author of Thriller and Black or White, who in making their own video you see him play with the singer taking pies in the face of even the Laurel and Hardy, thanks to sharing of Macaulay Culkin [8].


The facial expressions and gestures

The closeness between Toto and Chaplin, but history is very clear, but otherwise it can be said of the actors and the musicality of their actions.
Michael Jackson at different times in his career recalls Toto. Already at the time of the Jackson Five in videos and concerts, dancing "Dancing Machine" performs the dance of the robot-robot Toto reminiscent of 1949, a Toto, even with its spectacular entrance to see the Michael Jackson tour all'History the 1997 space shuttle behind.
Other fans Jacksonian movement that is reminiscent of "Another Part Of Me," among other songs included in the film "The Wiz" presented to Disneyworld in the 80s, then suspended and is now restored and re-inserted.
Just then, the movement of live video-head horizontal with the shoulder to the following is worthy of Toto.
In 1988 in Smooth Criminal, Michael Jackson with a cinematic trick, then again at the live, jammed his heels into the floor, defies the laws of gravity leaning forward. The video is set in the '30s and his film debut in 1937 in Toto Stop with your hands, makes a similar gesture. But the greatest evidence that I consider it a tribute and a sign of respect for the Italian art cinema and full, in particular, one can clearly recognize performance in 1995 at the Grammy Awards ceremony.

Totò robot/dancing machine:

The hat

In a playful article, in honor of childhood, we could not disregard the answer of the child, the child in everyone who sees the community of artists "just" in a hat.
The hat, in reality, not just a garment, a simple hat, but it is much more. Sometimes it is simply a fashion, sometimes not. It certainly can not talk about fashion, seeing the Chaplin's bowler hat and Toto. Perhaps it is more the statement of the elevation in status, the confirmation that "gentlemen born", is a symbol, just a dignity that no political and economic system can take away, everyone can wear it but not everyone is able to keep him the same elegance, an elegance that represents our dignity, the difference between those who can actually wear it and who not. Palermo quotes a saying: 'the hat to ask you can not put ".




Michael Jackson HIStory tour 1997

And on the symbolism of the hat once again the film takes us to Toto, the movie "Miracle in Milan" by Vittorio de Sica in 1951. In an essay [published recently about the main character in the film, Toto, who came from the orphanage where she spent her childhood come in contact with two opposite situations: men and women of high society emerging from the Teatro alla Scala and tramps of the city. The symbolic power of the hat looks on the history of film through the presentation of some figures who do not accept their condition and seek to distinguish themselves from other poor people, as in the case of a lady who has to do with haughty holes like using an umbrella if it were a stick and trying, in the manner and in dress (a hat and a scarf worn), to assign a status higher than real. Something similar happens even with respect to the character Rappi surly bum who tries to keep himself in tone than the others, which significantly calls "ragged", through the attitude, the coat and his bowler hat worn.

The same Rappi after selling a can of oil in the city, returns to the homeless, presenting with doing haughty wrapped in a coat with fur and a cylinder head in amazement general. The charm and the sacredness of the character generated by clothing break but at the shack where he lives Rappi, the cylinder is indeed too high in relation to the door and falls to the ground.


At this point the general silence turns into laughter, as if the fall of the cap had broken the spell created by the Abbot of luxury and had brought back to reality, the homeless man who was disguised as a gentleman and thanks to the symbolic power of ' dress, for a moment it had become in the eyes of others.



Totò-robot in the rivista  "that closes the mass Totò – Galdieri: Take care that you eat! (1949)

Chaplin also says a lot with his clothes and his bowler hat. Describing her character in the film City Lights in 1931 he said: "At Charlot symbolized a dandy on the streets of London over (...) I considered only a satirical figure. In my mind, its indescribable trousers represented a revolt against conventions, his mustache vanity of man, his hat and stick were

attempts to dignity, and his boots impediments that hampered him forever. "
In addition to the object itself is the gesture is communicating something to the other characters in the public hall, public concert, to all those who can grasp its meaning.
Toto in the film, initially under the spell of the clothes of men of high society, applauded, as if they were to be rewarded for the spectacle afforded to the clothes they can only dream about, and only answer them, welcome the recognition obtained greet the poor young man with a smile, a bow and the gesture of removing his hat before disappearing into their powerful cars.


The "take off his hat," in this case is a purely formal act but it is precisely among the homeless that acquires its true meaning and the film ends with the bums who fly off on brooms while on the screen appear the words "to a country which really means hello hello ", poetic synthesis of a search for authenticity as opposed to the hypocrisy of society (and instead was read at the time as an apotheosis of the Soviet Union, creating enormous controversy surrounding the film). The homeless also through his hat also gives rise to behavior of deference, namely recognition of the status and symbolic value of the other, holding his hat to those who feel superior to them, which you do not use a courtesy symmetric, demonstrating how even such attitudes veicolino social meanings, in this case related to the hierarchy.

 Based on this framework, the top hat in the movie became a symbol of status to be achieved but also with the negative effects of seeking unnecessary to change the eyes of others to build one's identity, social, without really changing for the better own condition. This dark side of fashion social use is summarized in the escape of all Rappi chased by a cloud of rolls along the tracks after seeing all the homeless get the hat in exchange for which he had betrayed them, obviating the trigger of his plea action, namely to distinguish themselves and rise than others. Finally, in one scene we see the arrest of homeless underlined by the fact that while they find that Toto can not help them, suffer the blows of truncheons on the head of the police that damage and degrade their hat, their main symbol of illusion welfare [10].

And Michael Jackson? Thinking of him as one can not but recall the way it presents its classic, sure to remember the sounds and dance steps, but not for its symbolism. Michael Jackson appeared for the first time Billie Jean on March 25, 1983, the celebration of 25 years of Motown, the label was then home to Michael and his brothers. Taking and editing steps of Fred Astaire supplemented by more modern steps of breakdance made his moonwalk but did something else: Wear a hat.

Seemed to want to tell the world "Attention now it's me." This has perhaps not been caught and that, in my opinion, is worth at least assume, Michael in front of an audience of actors and singers of color, they could hardly rely on their talent because of racial dell'obnubilamento ' era that relegated blacks to the status secondary to the end of the famous dance step throws his hat to the public as a sign of deference, of thanks and recognition of the value of the other is in the audience that at other times even further.
And this is a gesture typical of the great, is not unusual, in fact, a glimpse into Chaplin and at the same Totò similar acts of gratitude to the public at the end of a performance.
At this point, assuming you have not even responded exhaustively actor, psychologist and the child in all of us try to draw conclusions.


Is irreplaceable function that has the humor in humanity. Through it "we see the irrational in what seems rational, the crowds in what is sensible, the insignificant in what seems full of importance. It also helps us to survive preserve our sanity. Through humor we are less crushed by the vicissitudes of life. It activates our sense of proportion ec'insegna that an excess of seriousness always lurks the absurd "[11].
I have a very successful comedy movies because they target figures that traditionally represent power, seriousness and greatness of man. People who are normally full of dignity and respect are now ridiculing and mistreated, we think, in Charlie Chaplin, politicians (as in the opening scene of City Lights), the inevitable policeman or the Director of the circus.
Chaplin says: "I believe in the power of laughter and tears as an antidote to hatred and terror. Good film is an international language, are the needs that people have of humor, pity, compassion. Are a means to dispel the suspicion and fear that have invaded the world of today. (...) If only we could trade among nations, and intensively, some films that do not speak the language of aggressive propaganda, but rather that of simple people, well, this could save the world from disaster "[12].
And it's the simplicity that characterizes the works of our artists, Michael Jackson did hear pieces like Heal the world to children, if it pleases them, then the piece could be communicated to all humanity. The same words she pronounces Kenny Ortega, who worked with Jackson in his last work unfinished and therefore eternal.
I started with the end, the end of a prayer of a clown, because I believe that the end is only the beginning of something bigger.


[1] Liliana De Curtis, Toto my father, Rizzoli, Milan, 2002, p.32

[2] happens to be the title of his opera debut

[3] The mother of Toto's name was Anna, only the name of the mother of Chaplin is between two "H" two letters "mute"!

[4] which means both "history" that "his story"

[5] Sergey M. Eisenstein, Charlie Chaplin, SE publisher, Milan 2005

[6] In Italy translated as "The boy"

[7] Roberto Toninelli, Thesis on "The Art of Charlie Chaplin communicative", 2007

[8] the child "Mom Alone"

[9] Gianluigi Zarantonello in the book "reciprocate, fashion, cinema, eyes, CLEUP, Padova, 2002

[10] Gianluigi Zarantonello nel volume "return the favor, fashion, cinema, eyes, CLEUP, Padua, 2002.

[11] Charles Spencer Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin, My Life, Fabbri Editore, Milan 1964 - pag. 255

[12] Giorgio Cremonini, Charlie Chaplin, The Unit / The Castoro, Milano 1995 - pag. 7

Note: Article content site - Author © Salvatore Cianciabella. Placed online February 27, 2010. The article can be reproduced (printed from the website for personal use or photocopy for classroom use), citing the source. How to cite this article: S. Cianciabella (2010) Toto, Charles Chaplin and Michael Jackson: genes compared. Available at heading You and Toto.


Smile though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky
You'll get by...
If you smile
With your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll find that life's still worth while if you'll just...
Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worth while
If you'll just...
If you just smile
Through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll find that life is still worth while
If you'll just smile
That's the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what's the use of crying
You'll find that life is still worth while
If you'll just smile.


Gli articoli di Salvatore Cianciabella: La persuasione da Robert Cialdini a Totò; Totò: l'autorità nel/del cinema italiano; Totò, Charles Chaplin e Michael Jackson: geni a confronto; Toto, Charles Chaplin and Michael Jackson: genes compared.
I diritti sono riservati, come da legge sul Diritto d'Autore n. 518 del 1992 e successive modifiche. Per le autorizzazioni o qualsiasi comunicazione in merito potete scrivere al Dr. Salvatore Cianciabella ©


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