Most people are surprised to learn that the music to this favorite was written by the legendary silent film star Charlie Chaplin, whose "Little Tramp" character is perhaps the most enduring of all figures of the silent film era.
Chaplin composed the song to be used as the theme to one of his very last (and ultimately one of the best known) "silent" films, Modern Times, released in 1936.
The song didn't become known as "Smile" until lyrics were added in 1954 by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons and it was recorded by Nat King Cole. It reached #10 on the Billboard charts that same year.
Chaplin also wrote the Academy Award winning (1952) score from his movie, Limelight.
"...Chaplin made Limelight at the most troubled period of his adult career. In the late 1940s, America's Cold War paranoia reached its peak, and Chaplin, as a foreigner with liberal and humanist sympathies, was a prime target for political witch-hunters. It did not help that he had recently been cited in an unseemly paternity suit. Pilloried as he was by the right-wing press and reactionary institutions like the American Legion, it seemed that America had turned against the man it had once idolised..."
[As for "Smile"], "In the final scene of Modern Times, Charlie and the gamine set off down the road to a new life. When they get up off the grass verge to go, he pauses and points to the corners of his mouth, indicating that she should smile. The film soundtrack is only instrumental, but the Turner and Parsons lyrics must have been inspired by this scene." —CharlieChaplin.com
According to Wikipedia, "Modern Times was one of the last silent films made, although it does include sound effects, music, singers, and voices coming from radios and loudspeakers. Towards the end of the film the Little Tramp's voice is heard for the first time..."
Ironically, trouble and controversy clouded much of the life of this slap-stick genius. He grappled with the government over taxes; he was targeted as a communist sympathiser during the "Red Scare" Senator Joe McCarthy era; controversy surrounded his marriage late in life to Oona O'Neill, twenty years younger than he, and daughter of famous playwright Eugene O'Neill.
Despite his "fear and sorrow," throughout his long and productive life (he died on Christmas day in 1977 at the age of 89), Charlie Chaplin mostly brought joy and laughter to his millions of fans...and certainly many a "smile."
"Smile" has been recorded and released countless times, including as the recent Tony Bennett / Barbra Streisand collaboration on Bennett's 2006 Duets album.
SIDEBAR: In 1919, Chaplin co-founded the film distributor giant United Artists, along with Hollywood heavyweights Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. He remained on the board of UA until the 1950s.
Theme Music for Modern Times
(Music by Charles "Charlie" Chaplin -- Lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons)
Smile tho' your heart is aching,
Smile even tho' it's breaking,
When there are clouds in the sky
You'll get by,
If you smile
thro' your fear and sorrow,
Smile and maybe tomorrow,
You'll see the sun come shin-ing thro' for you
Light up your face with gladness,
Hide ev-'ry trace of sadness,
Al -'tho 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 just smile...