You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.
Gussle's Day of Rest filmstrip
about the author
syd chaplin
1/1/ to 1/22/
On January 21, 1939

Syd moved back to Hollywood.

1/22/ to 1/23/
On January 22, 1937

Syd began his World Tour.

1/23/ to 2/15/
On February 14, 1908

Syd is thought to have married Minnie Gilbert.

2/15/ to 3/12/
On March 11, 1925

Syd signed a contract with Warner Brothers.

3/12/ to 3/17/
On March 16, 1885

Syd was born at 57 Brandon Street, Lambeth, South London.

3/17/ to 3/25/
On March 24, 1903

Syd made his last voyage on Kinfauns Castle.

3/25/ to 3/28/
On March 27, 1916

Syd completed work on the Lone Star Studio.

3/28/ to 4/1/
On March 31, 1931

Syd met up with Charlie in Nice during his 1931-32 tour.

4/1/ to 4/7/
On April 6, 1901

Syd made his first voyage on the S. S. Norman.

4/7/ to 4/16/
On April 15, 1965

Syd died at the Ruhl Hotel in Nice and was buried in the Cimitière de Clarens-Montreux, Montreux, Switzerland.

4/16/ to 4/17/
On April 16, 1889

Syd's brother Charlie was born.

4/17/ to 5/15/
On May 14, 1919

Syd signed a contract with Jesse Lasky/Parmount Studios.

5/15/ to 6/11/
On June 10, 1919

Syd launched the Syd Chaplin Aircraft Corporation.

6/11/ to 7/2/
On July 1, 1895

Syd entered the Lambeth Workhouse at Renfrew Road, London.

7/2/ to 7/6/
On July 5, 1924

Syd signed a contract to make Charley's Aunt.

7/6/ to 8/4/
On August 3, 1892

Syd's brother Wheeler Dryden was born.

8/4/ to 8/9/
On August 8, 1906

Syd began an American tour with Karno on the Percy Williams Circuit.

8/9/ to 9/4/
On September 3, 1936

Syd's wife Minnie died in Nice.

9/4/ to 9/20/
On September 19, 1915

Syd arrived in Grosse Isle, Québéc on his way to America.

9/20/ to 10/21/
On October 20, 1915

Syd was held in quarantine in Grosse Isle, Québéc on his way to America.

10/21/ to 11/19/
On November 18, 1896

Syd joined the Exmouth training ship.

11/19/ to 12/11/
December 10, 1906

Syd ended his American tour with Karno.

12/11/ to 12/31/
On January 21, 1939

Syd moved back to Hollywood.

Find out more about Syd's history
Archibald Binks

Fred Karno hired Syd Chaplin for his Karno’s London Comedians in 1906, sending Syd with a company to tour the eastern part of America soon after. Syd was hired for what Karno deemed “a rough type,” in other words a character not averse to a pinch, a slap, a kick in the pants or whatever other light violence might be needed to incite a laugh or two. Of course, playing the Inebriate in one of Karno’s most famous sketches “Night in an English Music Hall” or “Mumming Birds,” Syd got to test his “rough-housing” skills right off. By the signing of his second Karno contract in June 1907, Syd was more able to be creative, writing sketches and characters—as well as coaxing Karno to hire his younger brother, Charlie.

One such character Syd inhabited in several sketches was “Hon. Archibald Binks,” a degraded and morally bankrupt gentleman who wasn’t above engaging in a little mischief, mostly for fun. He wore a wrinkled and too-large suit, hair parted in the middle and greased down (but with unstuck bits), a monocle, too many medals on his jacket and a straw hat. Being very young at the time, Syd was made up to look much older, with a litany of creases drawn onto his face. This character appeared in “Skating,” “The Wow-Wows” and several other sketches and, according to the reviews at the time, was very popular and successful the minute he was presented.

In fact, it was this very comfortable (to Syd) character that evolved into Reginald Gussle of his Keystone films—not Charlie’s Little Tramp as many have wrongly suggested. There is nothing tramp-like about Gussle. He’s much too chunky for that, if for no other reason. Reginald Gussle is also a degraded “gentleman,” and I use that term loosely.

He’s not above a good flirt plus more or an arbitrary kick in the pants (or skirt!) Gussle wears a jacket and pants that don’t necessarily match and a too-small fedora, often turned up at the sides. A cane is added now and then, and the monocle appears with as much frequency.

However, Gussle is not an Englishman and he’s not quite as old as Binks, either, because Syd moved away from the heavy make-up that helped him to achieve that added age. Gussle’s large and padded posterior is supposed to add to the skewed picture of a well-off semi-gentleman that the character represents.

He may have money (most likely his wife’s), but he certainly doesn’t work for it. Nor is he interested in activities that require any effort. The womanly ass of Gussle emphasizes this behavior but in a comedic way that also promotes a bawdier reading for some. You can make your own analyses here...

Just after the end of World War I, caricaturist Bruce Bairnsfather began to publish his series Fragments from France, featuring a litany of memorable characters from Bairnsfather’s own experience with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in the trenches. Charlie Chaplin, although he had received multiple white feathers in the mail during the course of the war, was still a source of hope and relief for most soldiers, who enjoyed his films in their off hours on the front, so it’s not surprising that Bairnsfather soon sought out Charlie with the gift of a large size caricature of the Little Tramp, from both himself and his fellow soldiers.

Still part of the Chaplin studios at this time, brother Syd most likely came into contact with the series and its most important character, Old Bill, about this time—if he had not already read the series on his own (Syd was a voracious reader!). Although there is no hard evidence, it seems clear that Syd decided that Old Bill would be the perfect character for himself to occupy, if the chance ever arose, and probably kept that desire in the back of his head from 1918 onwards.

During 1923-24, Syd had left the Chaplin studios with his final film there, The Pilgrim, and was taking secondary character roles, such as Judd in Her Temporary Husband, Freddy Wetherill in The Galloping Fish, Dick Trayle in The Perfect Trapper and, most importantly, Winky in The Rendezvous. This last proved to be his tryout of the Old Bill character, for it’s even hard to tell photos of Winky and Old Bill apart. The Rendezvous, from a novel by Madeleine Ruthven, was a Russian story of star-crossed lovers banished to Siberia, where the wife dies, leaving an only child, Vera, who is subsequently forced into marriage with a Cossack chief, then saved from this fate by an American soldier. The character of “Winky” does not appear in the novel and was effectively added to the screenplay for what reason is unknown—possibly for comic relief. Winky is a sidekick to Conrad Nagel’s Walter Stanford, the American soldier, and therefore, can be identified as an American soldier of the WWI era.

Having tried out this preview of Bairnsfather’s Old Bill character in The Rendezvous then, Syd would be required only to tweek the costume a bit in order to effectively create a nice portrayal of Bairnsfather’s gruff and grumbly Old Bill. The film iteration of this story must have been one that Syd fought for very persistently, because it’s doubtful that Warner Bros. would have been all too interested in the story of British tommies in a war everyone wanted to forget, whether it was a comedy or not. Syd, however, played his cards right and presented Warners with two money-makers beforehand—The Man on the Box and Oh! What a Nurse!, so perhaps he had proven his importance to the studio enough by then for it to grant him the opportunity he had planned for over seven years! Bairnsfather himself agreed to do all the graphic elements for the publicity department, making this a sanctioned adaptation, so Syd took his by now well- developed understanding of Old Bill and ran with it.

The differences between Winky and Old Bill may only be the differences between an American doughboy and a British tommy, for they are slight. When Old Bill is in the trenches and it is raining, he is in full tommy kit, including a large overcoat, helmet, backpack and messenger bag. Both characters wear long mufflers around their necks, with Winky’s being a lighter color than Bill’s, both have walrus-type mustaches, gaiters, etc. And, of course, there are differences in the uniform itself, which can only be noticed on close inspection. All in all, it is very easy to see that Winky was Syd’s on-screen rehearsal of the Old Bill character and his mannerisms. Both were comic characters—exaggerated portrayals of the “type” of soldier each represented—and one easily moved right into the other just two years later.