Charlie Chaplin made numerous contributions to the cinema industry. Along with being a talented and original director, he was also a funny performer and a brilliant writer who produced hit after hit during the silent era and afterwards.
But like other popular musicians, his love life and the scandals that surrounded it tarnished his reputation and provided more and more material for gossip columns and admirers.
Rumours that he preferred the companionship of young girls went beyond simple friendship or parental instinct dogged him throughout his public life and four marriages.
Two of Chaplin’s four wives were under the age of 18 when they got married, and Chaplin’s biographer Joyce Milton has even claimed that the actor served as an inspiration for the character of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s contentious novel Lolita.
It was this tendency that would land Chaplin in serious scandals. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Chaplin’s marriages were typically brief and contentious, he frequently served as the impetus for each of his wives professional endeavours and created exceptional work with them.
Short summaries of each Mrs. Chaplin and their connections to the legendary actor are provided here.
Charlie Chaplin Wives
When Chaplin first met Mildred Harris in 1918 at a party, she was close to 30 and a seasoned movie actress. She was a young, vivacious, and stunning actress who, at 16, ought to have been off-limits.
In an effort to advance her career, Harris encouraged a friendship with Chaplin that quickly developed into a casual relationship. After a few months of dating, Harris said she was expecting, but it turned out to be a false alarm.
However, the damage had already been done, and on October 23, 1918, Chaplin impulsively wed the young girl in an attempt to quell the growing scandal. Thankfully, it was discovered Harris, who was now Mrs. Chaplin, was carrying his son, Norman Spencer Chaplin, who was born on July 7, 1919, but tragically passed away three days later.
This struggle made things worse for this unfriendly and generally miserable couple. Despite the fact that Mildred was earning better movie contracts and more movie offers as a result of her relationship with Chaplin, they quarrelled about her future and lack of formal education.
Midway through 1919, the couple secretly separated, and Mildred formally requested a divorce in 1920, alleging mental mistreatment.
In November 1920, the couple got a divorce, and Harris got $100,000 in addition to some other assets. Up to the day of her pneumonia-related death on July 20, 1944, she kept up a little performing and stage activity.
Lillita McMurray aka Lita Gray
Lillita McMurray was Chaplin’s second and youngest wife. Her mother, who was anxious for her daughter to become a successful cinema actress, allegedly presented the small girl to Chaplin, who was then 35, when they first met when she was very young.
When they reconnected when filming ‘The Kid’ in 1920, where Grey, then 12 years old, had a role as an angel, their relationship continued. At that point, Chaplin developed an interest in the lovely girl and asked a friend to create a portrait of her.
The two didn’t start dating seriously until ‘The Gold Rush’ (1924), in which Grey had a small role and for which she had now signed a contract with Chaplin and legally changed her name. This led to a romance that was derailed by the unexpected revelation that Lita was pregnant.
He made yet another hasty choice, secretly wed Grey in Mexico on November 26, 1924, to avert the scandal. Sydney Chaplin was born on March 30, 1926, and Charles Chaplin Jr. was born on May 5, 1925, not long after.
Because of her pregnancy and the lack of additional parts, Grey’s career appeared to be ended after her role in “The Gold Rush” was cut. Grey requested a divorce, which was granted on August 22, 1927, because their already problematic marriage had grown even more terrible by 1926.
Rumours of infidelity and sexual misconduct clouded Chaplin’s renown and character during this painful, public ordeal. Ultimately, Grey received a sizable $600,000 payment as well as $100,000 for each child. Following the scandal, Grey withdrew into seclusion and appeared in only a handful of low-budget movies before passing away from cancer on December 29, 1995.
The eldest and most prosperous of Chaplin’s wives, Paulette Goddard, was a divorcee in her 20s when she first met the actor/director at a party in 1932. They developed a friendship that eventually progressed to a romantic connection.
After they met, Goddard appeared in a number of early 1930s musicals, including “Roman Scandals” (1933) and “Kid Millions,” and eventually obtained a contract as the “Goldwyn Girl” (1934).
At this time, rumours circulated that Goddard had moved into Chaplin’s Beverly Hills mansion. With Chaplin handing Goddard the much sought-after lead role in “Modern Times” (1936), which aided her ascent to movie stardom, their relationship also expanded into the artistic sphere.
The couple allegedly got married in China after the movie’s premiere, but this was never confirmed. There were no documents to support Chaplin and Goddard’s claims that the marriage was not totally legal but that it was nevertheless recognised under common law.
The couple’s happy “marriage” lasted another four years until their contentious final collaboration, “The Great Dictator” (1940). Following the release, their marriage started to break down, and on June 4, 1942, they obtained a divorce decree.
Up to Chaplin’s passing, they remained distant friends, and Goddard continued to produce films until her emphysema-related death on April 23, 1990.
At the age of 54, Chaplin seemed to discover his soul mate and contentment in Oona O’Neill, a young woman of eighteen. It would be his fourth time fortunate.
The newly divorced Chaplin was trying to revive his flagging career when he first met the woman in late 1942. Some of Chaplin’s friends suggested she be cast in his future movie, “Shadow and Substance.”
Chaplin took her up and started teaching her acting and speech training despite the fact that he believed she was too young to play the part. Soon a romance developed, with Oona rather than Chaplin serving as its promoter.
On June 16, 1943, they were married in Santa Barbara, California, and Oona quickly gave up performing to start a family.
Eight children were born to them during the course of their joyful 34-year marriage, including Victoria Chaplin, a circus performer, Christopher Chaplin, a composer, and actors Geraldine Chaplin and Michael Chaplin. Oona outlived Chaplin and passed away from pancreatic cancer on September 27, 1991.