Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin, Jr. KBE (April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977), better known as Charlie Chaplin, was an English comedy actor, becoming one of the most famous performers in the early to mid Hollywood cinema era, and also a notable director and musician. He is considered to be one of the finest mimes and clowns caught on film and has greatly influenced performers in this field.
Chaplin was one of the most creative and influential personalities in the silent film era: he acted in, directed, scripted, produced, and eventually scored his own films. His working life in entertainment spanned over 65 years, from the Victorian stage and music hall in England as a child performer, almost until his death at the age of 88.
His principal character was "The Tramp" (known as "Charlot" in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Turkey): a vagrant with the refined manners and dignity of a gentleman who wears a tight coat, oversized trousers and shoes, a bowler hat, carries a bamboo cane, and has a signature toothbrush moustache. Chaplin's high-profile public and private life encompassed highs and lows of both adulation and controversy.
Chaplin's relationships with various women were an important part of his life and career, in both positive and negative ways.
Charlie Chaplin and Hetty Kelly
Hetty Kelly was Chaplin's 'true' first love, a dancer Chaplin instantly fell in love with when she was 15 and he almost 19, when Kelly was performing before him in a London music hall. Chaplin asked if she would meet him the following weekend and she agreed. Chaplin fell madly in love with her and asked her to marry him. When she refused, Chaplin suggested it would be best if they did not see each other again. He was crushed when she agreed. Years later, her memory would remain a 'fetish' with Chaplin. He was devastated in 1921 when he found out that she had died of influenza during the great epidemic of 1918.
Charlie Chaplin and Edna Purviance
Chaplin and his first major leading lady, Edna Purviance, were involved in a close romantic relationship during the production of his Essanay and Mutual films in 1916–1917. The romance seems to have ended by 1918, and Chaplin's marriage to Mildred Harris in late 1918 ended any possibility of reconciliation. Purviance would continue as leading lady in Chaplin's films until 1923, and would remain on Chaplin's payroll until her death in 1958. She and Chaplin spoke warmly of one another for the rest of their lives.
Charlie Chaplin and Mildred Harris
On October 23, 1918, the 29-year-old Chaplin married the 16-year-old popular child-actress, Mildred Harris. The marriage resulted from a false-alarm pregnancy claim from the under-age Harris. They had one child, Norman Spencer Chaplin (also known as "The Little Mouse"), who died in infancy; they divorced in 1920. During the divorce, Chaplin claimed Harris had a lesbian affair with noted actress of the time Alla Nazimova, well known for seducing young actresses. Harris in turn claimed Chaplin was a sexual addict.
Charlie Chaplin and Pola Negri
Chaplin was involved in a very public relationship and engagement to the actress Pola Negri in 1922–23. Negri was a Polish actress who had recently arrived in Hollywood to star in films. The stormy on-off engagement was halted after about nine months, but in many ways it foreshadowed the modern stereotypes of Hollywood star relationships. Chaplin's public involvement with Negri was unique in his public life. By comparison he strove to keep his other romances and relationships very discreet and private (usually without success). Many biographers have concluded the affair with Negri was largely for publicity purposes.
Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey
Firstly, Chaplin met Lita Grey during the filming of The Kid. Then, at 35, he became involved with 16-year-old Lita Grey during preparations for The Gold Rush. They married on November 26, 1924 after she became pregnant. They had two sons, the actors Charles Chaplin Jr. (1925–1968) and Sydney Earle Chaplin (1926–). The marriage was a disaster, with the couple hopelessly mismatched. Their extraordinarily bitter divorce in 1928 had Chaplin paying Grey a then-record-breaking $825,000 settlement, on top of almost one million dollars in legal costs. The stress of the sensational divorce, compounded by a federal tax dispute, allegedly turned his hair white. The publication of court records, which included many intimate details, led to a short-lived campaign against him. The Chaplin biographer Joyce Milton asserted in Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin that the Grey-Chaplin marriage was the inspiration for Vladimir Nabokov's 1950s novel Lolita.
Charlie Chaplin and May Reeves
May Reeves was originally hired to be Chaplin's secretary on his 1931-1932 extended trip to Europe, dealing mostly with reading his personal correspondence. She worked only one morning, and then was introduced to Chaplin, who was instantly infatuated by her. May became his constant companion and lover on the trip, much to the disgust of Chaplin's brother Syd. After Reeves also became involved with Syd, Chaplin ended the relationship and she left his entourage. Reeves chronicled her short time with Chaplin in her book, "The Intimate Charlie Chaplin".
Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard
Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard in Modern Times (1936), the final screen appearance of the Tramp.
Chaplin and actress Paulette Goddard were involved in a romantic and professional relationship between 1932 and 1940, with Goddard living with Chaplin in his Beverly Hills home for most of this time. Chaplin "discovered" Goddard and gave her starring roles in Modern Times and The Great Dictator. Refusal to clarify their marital status is often claimed to have eliminated Goddard from final consideration for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. After the relationship ended in 1940, Chaplin and Goddard made public statements that they had been secretly married in 1936. But these claims were likely a mutual effort to prevent any lasting damage to Goddard's career, because Chaplin privately confirmed they were never officially married. In any case, their common-law marriage ended amicably in 1942, with Goddard being granted a settlement. Goddard went on to a major career in films at Paramount in the 1940s, working several times with Cecil B. DeMille. She lived her later life in Switzerland, like Chaplin.
Charlie Chaplin and Joan Berry
Chaplin had a brief affair with Joan Berry in 1942, whom he was considering for a starring role in a proposed film, but the relationship ended when she began harassing him and displaying signs of severe mental illness (not unlike his mother). Chaplin's brief involvement with Berry proved to be a nightmare for him. After having a child, she filed a paternity suit against him in 1943. Although blood tests proved Chaplin was not the father of Berry's child, the tests were then inadmissible as evidence in court, and he was ordered to support the child. The injustice of the ruling later led to a change in California law to allow blood tests as evidence. Federal prosecutors also brought Mann Act charges against Chaplin related to Berry in 1944, of which he was acquitted. Chaplin's public image in America was permanently damaged by these sensational trials.
During Chaplin's legal trouble over the Berry affair, he met Oona O'Neill, daughter of Eugene O'Neill, and married her on June 16, 1943. He was 54; she had just turned 18. The elder O'Neill refused all contact with Oona after the marriage, up until his death. O'Neill and Chaplin each seemed to provide elements missing in the others' lives: she longed for the love of a father figure, and Chaplin craved her loyalty and support as his public popularity declined. The marriage was a long and happy one, with eight children. They had three sons: Christopher, Eugene and Michael Chaplin and five daughters: Geraldine, Josephine, Jane, Victoria and Annette-Emilie Chaplin. Oona survived Chaplin by fourteen years, but her final years were unhappy, with grief over Chaplin's death eventually leading to alcoholism. She died from pancreatic cancer in 1991.