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1930s & Earlier / Billy West - Chaplin Impersonator
Billy West (September 22, 1892 - July 21, 1975) was an actor, producer, and director of the silent film era. He is best known as a terrific Charlie Chaplin impersonator. Born Roy B. Weissburg in Russia, West adopted his professional name some time after emigrating to America. He appeared in many short films, first in Apartment No. 13 in 1912. In 1917 movie theaters couldn't get enough Charlie Chaplin comedies, and an enterprising producer hired West, who had been doing comic pantomimes on the vaudeville stage, to make imitation-Chaplin subjects to meet the demand. West, wearing the identical tramp costume and makeup, copied Chaplin's movements and gestures so accurately that modern audiences often mistake West for the genuine performer. Chaplin himself saw the Billy West company filming on a Hollywood street, and allegedly told West, 'You're a damned good imitator.' Some West comedies were later deceitfully re-released on the home-movie market as 'Charlie Chaplin' pictures. Most of the West comedies of 1917-18 resembled the Chaplin comedies of 1916-17, with Oliver Hardy approximating the villainy of Eric Campbell, and Leatrice Joy in the Edna Purviance ingenue role.