In the 1914 Charlie Chaplin comedy, The Fatal Mallet, the letters IWW are clearly written on the inside of this door.
They also seem to be written on the side of the building. This refers to the The Industrial Workers of the World. They were also known as the IWW or the Wobblies. They’re a key American labor group and are still active today. I’ve included links to the Wikopedia page for their history and to their current page for further information.
The same year that this film came out an important and revered Wobbly, Joe Hill, was accused of murder in Utah. The next year he was executed. He was a poet, songwriter, agitator and an amazing man.
They were quite radical yet also Utopian. They believed in all the Unions working together to form “one big union.” I’ll write more something about them someday. I’ve read a lot about them and have a lot of respect for them.
Back in 1914, the IWW was really in the air.
When I first saw The Fatal Mallet, I did notice the IWW tags or graffiti. They seem to be written in chalk.
Then earlier this month I read Simon Louvish’s biography Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey. In it, he mentioned the IWW connection with The Fatal Mallet several times. I watched the film again, more closely. It’s not a great one but it has its moments. Mack Sennett, Mack Swain and Mabel Normand are in it too.
The idea of Charlie Chaplin as a Wobbly is quite appealing to me. No one knows whether Chaplin or Sennett had anything to do with the IWW being part of the set decoration. Yet everything we know of his Chaplin’s tramp indicates that it wouldn’t have been out of character for him to do so.
A review of the Simon Louvish book, Chaplin, the Tramp’s Odyssey which mentions the IWW scrawl:
Further books by Simon Louvish. I’ve read his books on Mack Sennett, Mae West, W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers:
This set has nearly all of Charlie Chaplin’s Keystone work. It’s been well restored too. The Fatal Mallet is included on disc two:
The Fatal Mallet on youtube. Not the best print but here it is: