Filmmaker, Tramp and Persona Non Grata

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Charlie Chaplin is known around the world and the most popular figure of Old Hollywood and Hollywood altogether. He was one of the most progressive filmmakers and basically developed comedy for film. 



Charlie Chaplin was born Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. on April 16, 1889 in South London, but there is actually no official record of his birth. His parents, Hannah Chaplin and Charles Chaplin Sr. were music hall entertainers – while Hannah had a short and unsuccessful career, his father was a popular singer. Although they never divorced, Chaplin’s parents went separate ways and never reunited after 1891, when Chaplin was around 2 years old. Chaplin had two half-brothers – Sydney John Hill, Hannah’s son from a previous relationship who was 4 years older than Charlie and George Wheeler Dryden, son of Hannah and music hall entertainer Leo Dryden, who was three years younger than Charlie. Charlie Chaplin had no contact with his younger brother for thirty years as he was raised by his father and had been taken from Hannah when he was six months old. 

One word to describe Charlie Chaplin’s upbringing would be poverty. His official biographer David Robinson calls his life „the most dramatic of all the rags to riches stories ever told“. The family of three, Hannah and her boys Sydney and Charlie, basically had nothing. The fathers did not support financially and Hannah’s only means of supporting the family were nursing and dressmaking. When Charlie was seven years old he was sent to the workhouse and subsequently other institutions for poor and destitute children. Hannah eventually developed a psychosis, probably brought on by an infection of syphilis and malnutrition and was admitted to the mental asylum twice. Charles Chaplins Sr. had to take in Sydney and Charlie for a while, but was a heavy alcoholic and would die at age 38 from cirrhosis of the liver. 

So, at age 14, Charlie Chaplin was basically an orphan, father dead from alcohol, his mother in the asylum, brother Sydney in the Navy. Charlie would live alone for some time, sleeping rough, searching for food – until his brother returned from his duties. 

Charlie Chaplin would say about his childhood: I“ was hardly aware of a crisis because we lived in a continual crisis; and, being a boy, I dismissed our troubles with gracious forgetfulness.“

Early start in performance

With both his parents being music hall entertainers, Charlie had performance written in his genes. When he was younger and his mother well and at home with him, taught him to observe people properly and to mimic them perfectly, exaggerating their particular mannerisms. He would later note about his mother: “[she] imbued me with the feeling that I had some sort of talent”.

As his father had been quite popular, he helped him become a member of the Eight Lancashire Lads clog-dancing troupe. Charlie would tour English music halls with the troupe in 1899 and 1900, when he was around 10 years old. At first, he still attended school, but at age 13 he left school behind him for good. He worked odd jobs but actually wanted to become an actor. At age 14, he signed with a theatrical agency in London and got his first on-stage jobs, first a newsboy in Jim, a Romance of Cockayne and then in a nation-wide tour of Sherlock Holmes opposite the original Sherlock Holmes, William Gilette.  He would be on the show for two-and-a-half years. 

Vaudeville & Comedy

In 1906, a 17 year-old Charlie Chaplin joined Casey’s Circus and would soon be the star of the comedy show. He toured with the act for over a year and became a prolific comedian – but had a hard time securing another job afterwards. His luck was his older half-brother Sydney Chaplin, who had joined the Fred Karno comedy company in London in 1906 and was one of the troupe’s stars by 1908. He secured a trial for Charlie Chaplin, upon which Chaplin was signed. By 1910, 19 year-old Chaplin was given lead roles and received great press reviews. 

Charlie Chaplin was amongst the performers selected by Karno to tour the North American vaudeville circuit – alongside Stan Laurel actually. Charlie Chaplin was a success and was hailed as „one of the best pantomime artists ever seen here.“ After 21 months of touring the US, Charlie Chaplin and the troupe returned to London, but would set out to return to the US a short four months later – much to the delight of Chaplin. During his second tour throughout the US, Chaplin got an offer to join the Keystone Studios. And so, 23 year-old Charlie Chaplin did start working there in January 1914 under the direction of Mack Sennett. 

It was also at Keystone Studios that Charlie Chaplin invented the persona of „the Tramp“; he first introduced the costume and character in Mabel Normand’s movie Mabel’s Strange Predicament. Chaplin soon developed the character of „the Tramp“ and made suggestions to the directors of how to incorporate him and even clashed with Mabel Normand, Mack Sennett’s fiancée to such a degree that he was almost dismissed from his contract. But Chaplin struck a deal with Sennett – Chaplin was allowed to direct his next movie himself, but would have to pay $1,500 to Mack Sennett and Keystone Studios if it was unsuccessful. This movie and directorial debut of Chaplin was Caught in the Rain. It was highly successful – so much so that Chaplin directed all of the movies he appeared in from then onwards, which was pretty much one per week. 

What Chaplin introduced to his movies which set his productions apart from other comedies, especially Keystone comedies was the pace. His shorts were slower-paced. He developed quite the fan base but Mack Sennett would not accept his demand of $1.000/week when Chaplin’s contract was up for renewal. So, Chaplin went to Essay instead in 1914, who offered him actually $1,250.

Essanay Studios

Chaplin would have a group of regular players that he would act with and soon found a leading lady for his shorts – Edna Purviance. He had just met her at a cafe and hired her because of her beauty. Edna would appear in 35 Chaplin movies over the span of eight years and would have a romantic relationship with Chaplin for about three years. 

During his time at Essanay, 25 year-old Chaplin would start to put more time and care into his movies. He would actually just issue one movie per month instead of one per week. He also worked on „the Tramp“ and carved him into a gentle and more romantic character. This was immortalized in the movie The Tramp in 1915. Chaplin would introduce pathos to his works and he found the themes and the settings and basically the stories that would define the Tramp’s world. 

Charlie Chaplin and „the Tramp“ became cultural icons and internationally known. When Chaplin’s Essanay contract ended in late 1915, he demanded a $150,000 signing bonus from the next company. Most studios vied for him, but the Mutual Film Corporate made the best offer – the deal was worth $670,000 (today, roughly $ 20,5m) and made Chaplin instantly one of the highest-paid people in the world. 

At Mutual, he was contractually obliged to deliver a film every four weeks, which he did in his first year, but in 1917 he only made four movies, carefully constructed and now regarded amongst his finest works – Easy STreet, The Cure, The Immigrant and The Adventurer. Although generally happy at Mutual, Chaplin started to resent his work at the company as he felt that his work became to predictable. He blamed the contracts he had to work under that demanded output on a constant predictable basis. So, what he sought next was independence and freedom to create the works of art that he dreamed of. So, in June 1917, 28 year-old Chaplin signed a contract with the First National Exhibitors’ Circuit – he would receive $1,000,000m in exchange for eight films. Within six months, he built the Charlie Chaplin Studios off Sunset Boulevard and would produce all of his movies there. His first movies, which were all huge successes were A Dog’s Life and Shoulder Arms with the latter dealing with the topic of war, which was quite fitting during WWI. 

United Artists

Chaplin got frustrated again with First National as a) they were not interested in quality much and b) they refused to pay more. So, Charlie Chaplin joined Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith and together they formed distribution company United Artists in 1919. Unfortunately, First National did not allow Chaplin to buy himself out of the contact and he had to complete the final six films he owed them. That was Sunnyside, The Kid, The Idle Class, Pay Day and The Pilgrim. 

Especially The Kid was of great importance and one of the most popular movies by Charlie Chaplin. At 68 minutes it was the longest of Charlie Chaplin’s movies and one of the first films to combine comedy and drama. It was largely influenced by his own story of poverty, loneliness and absent parents. These movies concluded his obligations towards First National and Chaplin was finally free to work on his movies without external pressure for United Artists. 

Unfortunately, his first movie for United Artists was a box office disappointment – because it did not feature Charlie Chaplin. A Woman of Paris was a romantic drama with Edna Purviance in a lead role. Charlie Chaplin was so disappointed by the audience reception that his withdrew the movie from circulation. Instead, he returned to comedy … 

… and produced his greatest piece of work: The Gold Rush. The movie took 15 months of filming and cost about $1m producing it with location shooting in Nevada, about 600 extras, extravagant sets and special effects. As Chaplin said himself: “This is the picture that I want to be remembered by.“ It made a $5m at the box office and contained some of Chaplin’s most famous scenes, which actually made some people call The Gold Rush „the quintessential Chaplin film.“ 

The Circus and City Lights followed. Especially City Lights was demanding for Chaplin as sound movies had already entered Hollywood in 1927 when he started filming in 1928. Chaplin was against sound movies as that would make „the Tramp“ internationally less appealing. But he valued sound in general as he was able to incorporate the musical score himself. 

Charlie Chaplin actually had a passion for music and he taught himself to play the cello, the violin and the piano. City Lights was the first movie he composed the score for and he would do so for all his future movies. But because he was not a trained musician and could not read music, he depended on professional composers who would translate his melodies and ideas. 

City Lights has actually been called Chaplin’s finest accomplishment by the British Film Institute and the closing scene „the greatest piece of acting and the highest moment in movies“ by movie critic James Agee. And it was Chaplin’s favorite movie of all of his productions. 

Modern Times

But, actually, despite City Lights being a huge success, Charlie Chaplin was quite nervous. Sound films had taken over Hollywood. Chaplin’s movies and his approach to movies only worked in silent movies, which he still believed in – but he was really afraid to be left behind. Unsure about what to do next, he travelled to take his mind off of things. First it was Western Europa and then Japan. Actually, there had been plans to assassinate Chaplin in Japan to provoke war with the US, but as his travel plans had been falsely communicated, the ultra-nationalists killed Japan’s Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi instead. 

His travels and his meetings with progressive thinkers during that time made Chaplin concerned about the state of the world in general and the state of labour in America specifically. He plotted his movie Modern Times, and actually wanted to include dialogue, but decided otherwise during production. So, there are sounds and effects, but no spoken words. Instead, the Tramp would perform a gibberish song, the only time ever that he would speak. The movie, which was released in 1936, was not as well accepted. One of the reasons was the overtly political reference, criticism and social realism. Today, the movie is seen as one of Chaplin’s greatest pieces of work. 

The Great Dictator

Well, and then HItler happened. Charlie Chaplin and Hitler shared quite some resemblances, which was widely noted – not only were they born merely days apart and had risen from extreme poverty, their physical resemblance was extraordinary and probably informed Charlie Chaplin’s decision to write The Great Dictator, a satire on Hitler and an overt warning regarding fascism and the imminent threat from the Germans. 

It took Chaplin two years to finalize the script and it was only in 1939 that filming began – right after Britain declared war on Germany. It was the first of Chaplin’s movies to include dialogue, not because Chaplin was eager to embrace the new medium, but because a) he saw that he had actually no other chance in order to stay relevant and b) it was way easier to transport a political message via the spoken word. And the latter was the most important for Chaplin. The Great Dictator was the most eagerly anticipated movie of the year 1940 and became one of the biggest commercial successes of the time. But, people disliked the ending, which stood out: Chaplin’s character would end the movie by leaving his character, looking directly into the camera and pleading against war and fascism. This was a very bold move and showed how much Chaplin cared about the state of the world and about using his star image to influence people and to make the world a better place. But, this also meant that people would no longer be able to distinguish between Charlie Chaplin and the Tram on the one hand, those that they turned to for pure entertainment, and Chaplin’s political views and the realm of politics in general on the other hand. That severely affected his popularity and image negatively. 

Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt on the other hand, the statesmen of the UK and the US respectively loved the message and the speech and Roosevelt would even have Chaplin read the closing scene during his inauguration speech in 1941. The Great Dictator received five Oscar nominations, amongst them Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Actor. So basically, all of the Oscars would have been for Charlie Chaplin himself. 

The Great Dictator was also a departure from Chaplin’s organic way of working. In his silent films, Chaplin never started with a finished script, but with a vague idea, a premise, a setting and would then develop the movie over time. That’s why he took so much time finishing his movies and it would cost him lots of money, which was no problem as Chaplin funded and produced his own movies. He also had his own studio, which meant he could start and stop whenever he wished to do so. He would take up to 53 shots for one finished take. This movie an all others of Chaplin were his work – he exercised complete control. He was producer and director, he acted his part, and would often act out how he wanted the others to play their characters expecting them to just imitate him and not put their own interpretation in, he cut and edited the movies all by himself and did the scoring. All of Chaplin’s movies were Chaplin’s movies.

Monsieur Verdoux and Communisms

Due to personal troubles and legal problems, to which I will come later, Charlie Chaplin felt unable to work on another movie for five long years. So, it was only in 1946 that he started his next project, which would become Monsieur Verdoux. The idea for the black comedy actually came from Orson Welles, who had come up with the idea to make a movie about the French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru and wanted Chaplin to play the lead role. Chaplin on the other hand thought the material would make a great comedy and paid Welles $5,000 for the idea. 

The movie bombed – both critically and commercially. Why? Because he again incorporated a strong political message, criticizing capitalism and the methods of war, especially weapons of mass destruction. Chaplin actually was booed at the premiere and some even called for a boycott against the movie. Chaplin personally though would later say about the movie: “Monsieur Verdoux is the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.“ He was proud of the movie and it was actually nominated at the Oscar’s nevertheless.

The reason for this strong opposition to his movie and his political views was the result of the political era and this public image. It was the McCarthy era and all those believed to be communists suffered greatly. And so did Chaplin. Since The Great Dictator and more so since the start of WWII, Charlie Chaplin had gotten more concerned about politics and had publicly campaigned to help the Soviets against Hitler and he supported various Soviet-American friendship groups, he also was friends with some of those in Hollywood believed to be communists and even attended official functions by Soviet diplomats. In the public climate of the US this mean that Chaplin was believed to be a danger to the US and its ideals and the FBI wanted him out of the country. An official investigation against 58 year-old Chaplin was started in 1947. 

Chaplin was not deterred and would protest against the House Un-American Actives Committee and the trials against those believed to be communists. Of course, his efforts were widely publicized in the press and the public turned against Chaplin, calling into question why he hadn’t become an American citizen during his time in the US. John E. Rankin would publicly say before Congress in 1947: “[Chaplin’s] very life in Hollywood is detrimental to the moral fabric of America. [If he is deported] … his loathsome pictures can be kept from before the eyes of the American youth. He should be deported and gotten rid of at once.“ And George Orwell, famed author of Animal Farm, was another one of those accusing Chaplin of being a Communist, albeit Orwell did so secretly in a document that was only later publicized. 


So, probably partly because of this very harsh political environment, Chaplin, although politically active as a private person, Chaplin’s next movie Limelight about the lives of music hall entertainers in Edwardian London would not include any political references. It was his most autobiographical work, drawing from his childhood and his parents’ lives in London’s music halls but also from his fall from grace in the public image in the US. The movie was kind of a family endeavor as five of his children as well as his half-brother Wheeler Dryden had roles in it. It was also the only feature film in which Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton shared a scene.

As the movie was centered in London, Charlie Chaplin wanted to premiere it in the English capital. The Day after Chaplin had left the US on the RMS Queen Elizabeth together with his family in September 1952 he re-entry permit to the US was revoked and it was publicly announced that he would have to be interviewed about his political views and activities when asking for re-entry. Chaplin would later write in his autobiography about this incident: „Whether I re-entered that unhappy country or not was of little consequence to me. I would like to have told them that the sooner I was rid of that hate-beleaguered atmosphere the better, that I was fed up of America’s insults and moral pomposity …“ But as all of his property and his estate was still in the US, he did not voice any of this at that time. Limelight bombed in the US and the public grew increasingly hostile towards Chaplin. In one of the books about Chaplin, author Maland would write that Chaplin’s fall from the heights of popularity “may be the most dramatic in the history of stardom in America“.

In later years, when Chaplin’s works were reevaluated and garnered greater appreciation, Chaplin won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for Limelight upon its re-release in 1973 – Chaplin’s only competitive Oscar. 


As Chaplin was not welcome in the US anymore, he and his wife decided to settle in Switzerland, in Manoir de Ban at Lake Geneva to be exact. He would sell his house in Beverly Hills, his studio as well as all his stock in United Artists and severed all ties with the US.

He channeled his experiences as well as his creativity onto his next movie, A King in New York, which was a satire on the public climate in the US, including the hunt for Communists, consumerism, plastic surgery and wide-screen cinema. It was a bitter and highly personal movie. The production of the movie was difficult for Chaplin as he had been used to his own studio and his own crew, limitless time and creative freedom for the last decades. For A King in New York, he founded a new production company and used Shepperton Studios in Surrey, which was far from ideal for him. One of the explanations why the movie did not reach the level of quality of his former works. Upon release in 1957, Chaplin based all American journalists from the Paris premiere and did not release the movie in the US – it actually was only shown in the US in 1973. But this limited release of course had a detrimental effect on the revenue of the movie, although it was moderately successful in Europe. 

Last works and Reevaluation

In 1959, 70 year-old Charlie Chaplin started re-releases of his earlier works with The Chaplin Revue – re-edited and with scores composed by Chaplin himself. And slowly, the political climate in the US changed as well as the public reception of Chaplin. It was in 1963, eleven years after Chaplin’s departure from the US by boat that he was re-evaluated and re-favoured in the US with the Plaza Theater in New York showing Chaplin’s movies in a year-long series. All of his movies received stellar reviews. In 1964, Chaplin published his 500-page autobiography which he himself had written for seven years – it became an international bestseller and Chaplin and „the Tramp“ were back in American and international favors. 

Nevertheless, his 1967 movie A Countess from Hong Kong, starring Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando bombed – both critically and commercially. Chaplin was deeply hurt by it and would not do another movie for the remainder of his life. The reasons for the movie not becoming a success are probably that it was not a typical Chaplin movie, but yet another romantic comedy. Chaplin did not star in it, it was in Technicolor and it had a widescreen format. It was not what people expected from him. 

Although he had some more plans and movie projects he wanted to make, he would not make another film due to his declining health. Instead, he concentrated the last decade of his life on scoring his previous works and compiling a pictorial autobiography, which was called My Life in Pictures and released in 1974. 

His works were widely  re-evaluated and honored during the 1970s. He was made Commander of the National Order of the Legion of Honor at the Cannes Film Festival and received a special award by the Venice Film Festival. In 1972, he received an Honorary Academy Award and would return to the US for the first time in 20 years. He received a 12-minute standing ovation when accepting it – visibly highly emotional. 

88 year-old Charlie Chaplin died on December 27, 1977 after suffering a stroke in his sleep and was interred in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. The most disturbing part of his life though came after his death – his coffin and his body within of course were dug up a couple of months later and held for ransom. The reason behind it: Chaplin’s wife had inherited more than $100 million. But the perpetrators and the coffin were found without paying ransom. Charlie Chaplin was re-interred – this time though in a reinforced concrete vault!


Charlie Chaplin went into history as one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. His way of working was very particular as he never worked from a finished script for his silent movies, but from a general idea. 

Some recurring themes and aspects of Charlie Chaplin’s movies are:

  • quirky mannerisms
  • Serious demeanor in the midst of slapstick action
  • Surreal transformation of objects
  • In-camera trickery 
  • Gestural idiosyncrasies like drooping shoulders and tilted back pelvis to enrich the persona of the tramp 

Common themes were

  • surviving in a hostile world
  • Defying social position 
  • The tramp is like a representative for the underprivileged, the common man turned into a hero
  • Making comedy out of tragic events.
  • Pathos and sentimentality, which comes from personal failure, society’s strictures, economic disaster and the elements 
  • Social commentary and later open political messages
  • Autobiographical elements from Chaplin’s life

Charlie Chaplin is considered one of the movie’s first real artists. Additionally, he is considered the most important comedian who influenced the development of the genre. 

Chaplin was the first one to do feature-length comedy and the one who tried to bring an important message across by introducing pathos, social themes and also a change of pace which left the early slapstick farce of Hollywood behind. Although many would still call his comedy slapstick, he had a major influence on later comedians and filmmakers and therefore also on more sophisticated comedy. Most of Chaplin’s movies are voted amounts the top movies of all times. 

Apart from his filmmaking, by founding United Artists, Chaplin was also crucial in the development the film industry.

As Charlie Chaplin’s persona of „the Tramp“ was so important to his work and his success, it is no wonder that a 1928 lawsuit brought by Chaplin became an important milestone for the right of publicity, protecting the specific characteristics of his on-screen persona – the kind of mustache, the hat, clothes and shoes, the decrepit derby, the ill-fitting vest, the tight-fitting vest and all the other elements of his attire. 

Chaplin’s legacy is managed by the Caplin office, located in Paris, and several other companies tasked with different parts of the business – from copyright to image and name to archives of scripts, images, manuscripts, letters and other documents. 


Charlie Chaplin was almost as well-known for his romantic relationships as he was for his cinematic work. So, here it goes: 

Edna Purviance – As said before, Chaplin had met Edna in a café and had hired her because of her beauty to star in his first movie. These two had a three-year relationship and would work together even when the relationship had come to an end. 

Mildred Davis – It was just before forming United Artists that Chaplin married for the first time, in 1918. He was 29 years old and Mildred Harries a 16 year-old actress. Davis had claimed to be pregnant and thus Chaplin had married her in order to avoid problems, public backlash and controversy. Turned out, the pregnancy claims were false. Chaplin especially was unhappy about and in the marriage and struggled to finish his creative project, which at that time was Sunnyside for First National. Nevertheless, Davis got actually really pregnant a couple of months later, but the child, Norman Spencer Chaplin, died three days after birth. Ten months later, in spring 1920, they divorced. Chaplin would later call them in his autobiography „irreconcilably mismated“. 

Lita Grey – You think Chaplin would learn from his mistakes – but no. Four years later, in 1924, basically the same thing happened again. Charlie Chaplin was 35 years old and teenage actress Lita Grey was 16, when Grey announced that she was pregnant. They married quietly in Mexico. In contrast to Harris, Chaplin and Grey had known each other for quite some time as Grey had already starred in two of his movies five years earlier. The marriage was unhappy and Chaplin spent as much time as possible at the studio in order to not go home and see his wife. Nevertheless, they had two kids together: Charles Spencer Chaplin III, who had forced his parents into marriage basically, and Sydney Earl Chaplin one year later. In late 1926, Lita Grey packed her things and the kids and left Chaplin. The ensuing divorce damaged Chaplin’s image as Grey cited infidelity, abuse and perverted sexual desires in her divorce papers. The yellow press had a field day and religious groups across the country called for the banning of Chaplin’s movies. In order to cut this short, he reached a quick financial settlement of $600,000 with Grey, which was then the largest sum ever awarded by American courts at that time. Although Chaplin as a public figure survived the scandal, he personally was very much affected by it. The movie The Circus, which he was working on during that time was so much tainted for him that he omitted it completely out of his autobiography and would have a hard time coming up with the score for this movie in later years. Another interesting fact connected with his divorce from Lita Grey is the murder of Don Solovich, who you do not have to know. Solovish was a gay performer and had been working as a butler to Chaplin and Grey. He was murdered a couple of months other the Chaplin divorce and the press – of course – speculated whether this might have to do anything with the case. But, as far as I can say, No. 

Paulette Goddard – In 1932, when Chaplin was 43, he met 21 year-old actress Paulette Goddard. They started a relationship and Goddard starred in his 1936 movie Modern Times. After the release of the movie, the two travelled to the Far East – from French Indochina to Saigon to Hanoi and Hong Kong. They married during a common law marriage in Canton, but never publicly announced it. They divorced in 1942 on the reasons of incompatibility and separation for more than a year. 

Joan Barry – The affair with actress Joan Barry proved to be the hardest on Chaplin. Barry was 31 years Chaplin’s junior. In 1941, when Chaplin was 52 years old and Barry 21, they had an affair. Chaplin had hired Barry at his studio seeing great potential in her and even considering her for starring roles in his upcoming projects. Biographer David Robinson writes of „Chaplin’s sincerity in believing that he could make Joan Barry into an actress…. [as] she had ‘all the qualities of a new Maude Adams’ and told his sons, ‘She has a quality, an ethereal something that’s truly marvelous…a talent as great as any I’ve seen in my whole life.“ So, Chaplin was really favorable towards Barry. But Barry showed extreme emotional swings and erratic behavior and would later harass Chaplin, stalk him and break into his home. Other accounts suggest that Chaplin put a lot of care and money into Joan Barry to prepare her for leading roles, like orthodontic work and acting classes, but Barry would repeatedly not show up and develop a drinking problem. Thus, Chaplin ended the relationship. But, in fall 1943, Barry gave birth to a girl, Carol Ann Barry, and Chaplin was faced with a paternity suit. Although blood tests showed that Chaplin was not the father, Barry’s attorney made such a great case that Chaplin was ordered to pay child support until Carol Ann turned 21. The affair and the paternity suit blew up big time as the FBI got involved. J. Edgar Hoover himself was on Chaplin’s case. He had been suspicious of Chaplin’s political views for quite some time and was happy to have a reason to investigate the comedian a bit more and was happy to launch into a negative press campaign against him. He even brought up the Mann Act, which prohibits the transport of women across state boundaries for sexual purposes – an ancient act, as the Mann Act had previously been known as the White Slave Traffic Act. So, a whole other dimension and historian called Hoover’s action on this „absurd prosecution“. Nevertheless, if found guilty, Chaplin would face 23 years in jail. The trial ended after two weeks with the acquittal of Chaplin, but damaged his public image greatly. It did not help that the FBI gave information to Hedda Hopper, famed Hollywood gossip columnist, who would help create a negative image of Chaplin in the public eye. The Barry suit actually helped the FBI in the smear campaign against Chaplin and paved the way for the communist charges that led Chaplin to leave the country and not return for 20 years. 

Oona O’Neill – Chaplin married Oona O’Neill during the Joan Barry ordeal, two weeks after the paternity suit had been filed by Barry. And that did not help Chaplin. Chaplin was then 54, Oona merely 18. Chaplin would write about meeting Oona as „the happiest event of my life“ and called it „perfect love“. His son with Lita Grey, Chales III, would state that Oona actually worshipped Charlie Chaplin. And they were happy. They stayed married for 34 years until his death and had eight children over the course of 18 years. 

Family affairs

The Chaplin family actually can be called one of the Hollywood clans that have ruled Hollywood since its inception more than 100 years ago. Next to the Barrymores, the Coppolas and the Fondas, the Chaplin family had been active on screen ever since Charlie entered the scene. His half-brothers were actors as was his two oldest sons, albeit with less success than their father. Geraldine Chaplin, the first child of Oona and Charlie Chaplin, would go on to become a famed Hollywood actress, playing in movies like Doctor Zhivago. Geraldine is still active today. But, the latest star to the family is Oona Castilla Chaplin, Geraldine’s daughter with Spanish cinematographer Patricio Castilla. She already had roles next to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock, in HBO’s Game of Thrones, in James Cameron’s Avatar and the famed fiction series Taboo. But many, if not most of Chaplin’s children and grand-children would go on to become actors and actress, performers and creatives. 

With all my love!




In the Shop

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