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Eric Campbell

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Eric Campbell, pd via WP
Eric Campbell

Alfred Eric Campbell (April 26, 1879 – December 20, 1917) was reputed to be a Scottish actor, widely reported to have been born in Dunoon, Argyll and Bute, by many sources, but actually confirmed in 2010 to have been born in Cheshire.

A star of the silent era, he featured in 11 silent films starring Charlie Chaplin, where he would generally play the part of a large, intimidating villain. His character became familiar as the burly, long haired, bushy bearded nemesis of Chaplin.

Yearbook entry Eric Campbell Stuart aged 8

Kinematograph Year Book Film Diary and Directory Eric Campbell Stuart as an Actor, aged 8, Courtesy of Cambpell family
Kinematograph Year Book Film Diary
and Directory: Eric Campbell Stuart
as an Actor, aged 8

A page from the Kinematograph Year Book Film Diary and Directory shows the entry for Eric Campbell Stuart as an Actor, aged 8.

Uncertainty over place of birth

Although the various memorials, movie databases, and the plaque once mounted in Dunoon to commemorate Eric Campbell show his place of birth as Dunoon, SeSco has been contacted by his surviving family, who have provided details that contradict this claim, and do not appear to have been revealed in the 1996 documentary referred to below. While we have not reviewed this, it suggests the researchers failed to trace or make contact with the surviving family.

Details provided by Eric Campbell'a half-niece, Elizabeth Spencer nee Campbell:

Eric Campbell was not born in Dunoon, he was born on 26th April 1880 at 15 Oak Road, Sale, Cheshire to William Campbell, a cotton yarn salesman and his wife Jane who already had three other sons. His mother died in the 1890s and his father remarried and went on to have two further children with his second wife. His father died in 1915 and after that time, all contact with Eric ceased although his half-brother William (Bill) later tried unsuccessfully to find out what had happened to Eric. The family has several photographs of Eric taken both during his days with Fred Carno's music hall and also of his bungalow in Hollywood after he moved to the USA to co-star in early Charlie Chaplin films. There are only two members of his family known to be left, his half-niece Elizabeth and her son James.
- Elizabeth Spencer nee Campbell

Birth certificate

Eric Campbell's Birth Certificate, Courtesy of Cambpell family
Eric Campbell's Birth Certificate

A copy of the birth certificate confirming the place of birth of Alfred Eric Campbell was kindly provided.

Career and death

The villain, US pd from http://silentgents.com/OGCampbell.html
The villain

Campbell took up acting as a child and toured the Scottish music halls of the day. Reputed to have been quite a good actor, he was spotted by a talent scout and travelled to Hollywood where he worked with several famous actors, both on stage and screen, before being teamed up with Chaplin. A big screen career was beckoning but it was all to go wrong in Los Angeles, California, on December 20, 1917, when he was driving home after a drinking heavily during a party, lost control of the car and lost his life in the crash.

Eric Campbell was cremated after the crash, but his ashes remained unclaimed for more than 30 years, finally being laid to rest at Rosedale Cemetery, Los Angeles. His ashes were buried in an unrecorded location in the cemetery, and a cenotaph was later placed there by a British film company in 1996. [1]

Dunoon memorial and documentary

Memorial plaque, Dunoon, 2009, Fox
Memorial plaque, Dunoon

In 1996 a documentary, Chaplin's Goliath: In Search of Scotland's Forgotten Star[2] was produced, exploring Campbell's life and work. During the making of the film, a cenotaph commemorating Campbell was placed at Rosedale Cemetery, and a memorial plaque was fixed to a rock near the Castle House Museum, Dunoon, in Castle Gardens.[3]

Removal of Dunoon memorial

The June 24, 2011, edition of the Dunoon Observer carried a front page story about Eric Campbell's place of birth, revealing that his relatives had been in contact with Argyll and Bute Council, providing it with the same information which had been offered to Secret Scotland back in October 2010, to the effect that Eric Campbell had actually been been born in Cheshire, and not Dunoon as proclaimed on the plaque.

The council was unable to find any evidence of his birth in Dunoon, and further research confirmed that he had been born in Cheshire.

Bute and Cowal Area Committee subsequently announced its decision to have the Scottish Film Council's memorial removed.

In more detail, the historical correction and removal of the plaque were also then reported nationally by The Scotsman:

Residents in the seaside town of Dunoon have long claimed Campbell as one of their own, and a plaque to their famous son was erected in the mid 1990s.

The truth only came to light earlier this year when one of his descendants contacted officials at Argyll and Bute Council to disavow them of their notion, pointing out that Campbell actually hailed from Cheshire.

Quite how one of the most enduring myths in the history of Scottish showbusiness came into being may never be known, but it is suspected Campbell or his agent may have invented his Caledonian roots to appear more romantic to US filmgoers.

Silent cinema experts suggested the invention of Campbell's Caledonian roots may have been the work of Chaplin as he tried to build a cast of supporting actors to bolster his career.

While his name may be largely unfamiliar to modern audiences, Campbell was one of the biggest stars in the first tentative years of cinema and he featured in 11 films opposite Chaplin.

...

The commemorative plaque to Campbell, which was installed in 1996 in Dunoon's Castle Gardens by the former Scottish Film Council, claimed the actor was born in the town in 1878.

While the council believes Campbell alone invented his Scottishness, it is unclear where the claim originated.

Dr Michael Hammond - a senior lecturer in film studies at the University of Southampton who specialises in silent cinema - said: "It's not clear why Campbell has been thought of as Scottish. It could have been to do with his name, or it could have been invented to give him a background. Campbell or Chaplin may have made it up, or the press could have."

A spokeswoman for Argyll and Bute Council said the plaque will be removed in the coming weeks. She said: "Eric Campbell's relative contacted the council to say he was not born in Dunoon but in England. She provided a copy of Mr Campbell's birth certificate to prove this.

"The misunderstanding seems to have come from Campbell himself. He had an affinity with the town, and when he travelled to America he said that his birth place was Dunoon. This seems to be where the confusion has come from."

- A comedy of errors - Chaplin's Scots villain wasn't a Scot after all - The Scotsman.[4]

Reference

1 Eric Campbell (1879 - 1917) - Find A Grave Memorial Retrieved July 6, 2010.

2 Scottish Screen Archive - Full record for 'CHAPLIN'S GOLIATH: In Search of Scotland's Forgotten Star' Retrieved July 6, 2010.

3 Chaplin's Goliath (1996), from IMDb

4 A comedy of errors - Chaplin's Scots villain wasn't a Scot after all - The Scotsman Retrieved 25 February 2017.

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