Charlie Chaplin’s Birthday

220px-Charlie_Chaplin_portraitOn April 16, fans of Charles Chaplin celebrates his 125th birthday.

I’m not a big fan. I acknowledge his genius–he was a brilliant comedian, actor, and businessman–but as a parent, I can’t help but be turned off by his penchant for very young girls. He was 35 when he got 15-year-old Lita Grey, as aspiring actress, pregnant and, because sex with a minor could have put him in prison, married her quickly in Mexico. She had 2 boys; they divorced. Lita was his second wife. His first wife was 16 when they married and 18 when they divorced. He had many affairs, usually with very young women, and two more wives. His fourth wife was 17 and he 53 when they married. Some may not care about this but I have a problem with older men taking advantage of very young girls, so Chaplin isn’t my favorite. Nonetheless, he was Douglas Fairbanks’s best friend, so I can’t avoid mentioning him in my Roaring Twenties series.

Here’s one passage:

“Welcome, Jessie.” Miss Pickford rose from her rattan chaise to greet me. I said hello to Stella DeLanti, who was playing the queen in our Zorro picture, and to Douglas’s brother Robert, the film’s general manager, both of whom I knew from the set, then I was introduced to Ernst Lubitsch. I had heard the name. Miss Pickford had brought him and his wife Helene to Hollywood from Germany a couple years ago to be one of her directors, and he was well known in film circles. Last, Miss Pickford turned to a plump girl with a round, pretty face whose baggy frock did little to disguise her fat stomach. She appeared to be about fifteen and was clearly bored by the adults around her. I assumed she was someone’s daughter.

220px-Lita_Grey“Jessie, this is Lillita Chaplin. Lita, dear, Jessie Beckett works on the Zorro picture with Douglas. Charlie and Douglas will be along as soon as they finish their tennis game. Do have a seat and some lemonade, Jessie. I know it’s been a long day for you.”

Geez Louise, the kid was Chaplin’s wife! His second, married just a few months ago in Mexico under somewhat mysterious circumstances. And she wasn’t fat. She was pregnant. Now I believed those rumors about Lita being under age. Even malicious gossip is true sometimes: Charlie Chaplin had an itch for young girls. His first wife, too, had been little more than a child. I felt sorry for Lita and tried without success to engage her in conversation.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. i saw one of his movies about the tramp who teams up with the little kid. it was very well done. i was impressed. i had expected it to be short. i liked the part about how the boy throws the rock to break the window and charlie chaplin comes along and has panes of glass to fix windows. so they hired him to fix it.
    many times people’s actions have hurt their talents.

  2. I love some of his films, but like you I’ve found Charlie’s history with young girls (along with his tendency to blame them later) contemptible, and have been surprised that history gives him a free pass on this. I’m glad Jessie speaks…or at least thinks…her mind..

    • Older men (film directors) taking advantage of very young girls reminds me of Roman Polanski and more recently, Woody Allen.

  3. A free pass? Hardly. He’s been vilified for decades because, as friends have attested to, he was looking for the girl he had left behind in London, Hetty Kelly. He adored Hetty, even asked her to marry him, but she was only 16 and he was about 23 and she said no. He never forgot her, and apparently spent his life trying to find her again, even though she had passed away around 1920 or so. Yes, he wasn’t perfect. Yes, he was a flawed human being. But if anybody on this page is perfect, then please, throw that first stone.

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