Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Email Response

I received the following message in my comment box . No email address was provided so I will respond to the questions here. 
I've been reading your blog for some time now and find it very interesting. I've never commented/asked questions before, but I recently read Julie Gilbert's biography of Paulette Goddard & Erich Maria Remarque, and there were a couple of lines about Chaplin that really puzzled me. I'd love to hear what you thought about them, as I believe you have read the book as well?
First of all, Gilbert writes that Chaplin Jr. committed suicide (p. 425), which I find confusing as all the Chaplin biographies I've read state that it was an accidental death. However, I've also found two other sources for this: Mamie van Doren (who acted alongside him in a movie) also claims he killed himself (http://www.mamievandoren.com/memoribilia/memor04.html) and TCM's profile of him lists suicide as his cause of death (http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/person/32246%7C29142/Charles-Chaplin-Jr-/). TCM's profiles are of course rarely accurate, but the discrepancy is still odd. I re-read Robinson's bio this summer, and although he says it was an accident, he seems to be kind of vague about it? 
Not that it would be surprising if Chaplin Jr. killed himself, given his alcoholism and struggles with his career. I can also understand why the Chaplin family and Lita Grey might not have wanted to make it public that it was a suicide, as it would probably have caused a media circus. But the whole thing is just a bit confusing, and I was wondering what your opinion about it is?
Yes, I have read Julie Gilbert's book. While seemingly well-researched, she does not provide sources for all of her information, including the charge that Charlie Jr. killed himself. He was an alcoholic and according to a newspaper account of his death in 1968, it was caused by "accidental causes as a result of a fall seven weeks before.  The coroner said that the death was attributed to, 'a blood clot of a major artery near the lungs, evidently caused by extensive thrombosis of the right leg.' At the time of his death Chaplin seemed to be recovering from the fall in which he had broken his ankle.  The former actor, who left the hospital yesterday after being treated for pneumonia, had been using crutches since the accident." The newspaper also mentioned that Charlie, Jr. worked on a letter to his father during his stay in the hospital and mailed it a day before his death. I can see why some people might assume he would kill himself. His career never took off & he also carried the burden of his father's name, something Charlie Sr. foreshadowed and the reason he didn't want his son to be named after him (giving Charlie Jr. his father's name was Lita's idea).  
Secondly, one of Goddard's letters to Remarque from the early '60s has a very interesting bit about Chaplin:
"Charles (Chaplin) has had a baby starlet girlfriend for 3 yrs. and spends every weekend with her in a Suisse village smaller than Vevey. She is a young (23) Jayne Mansfield [type] & he can't stand all those kids at home."(p. 431) 
While I've never really subscribed to the belief that his marriage to Oona O'Neill was fundamentally any different than his earlier marriages, I've never heard anybody claim that he had an affair in his seventies! Have you heard of this from any other source?
I have not heard this from any other source. While I believe Charlie loved Oona and would not have wanted to hurt her in any way, Oona was no longer young and virginal at this point & I doubt Charlie got over his attraction to young women overnight. Personally I think this is probably true. Charlie was someone who seemed to be able to separate sex from love. I can also see him wanting an escape from his kids. Most men his age were grandparents, not parents of young children. I'm curious where Paulette got this information though. We'll never know if it's true or not, but it's unlikely that Paulette would lie about something like this in a personal letter to her husband. 
I hope these questions do not seem too weird! Anyway, thanks for writing such a great blog, there are so few Chaplin blogs/fansites around :)
Thank you very much! Your questions were not weird at all!  



  1. I just wonder how Paulette knew about this because it seems to me that they did not meet during their time in Switzerland except for 1 time she came across Chaplin and Oona in a restaurant. And he involved in a relationship with a young girl for up to 3 years and the press was totally blind? I am so sorry but I still find it very hard to believe it (and I really don't want to believe it) after all I have read about Chaplin's love for Oona :) Perhaps Paulette was just misinformed?

    1. Charlie & Paulette did only meet the one time, but they may have had mutual acquaintances. It's possible she was misinformed but it's still not completely unlikely that he had an affair. I've never been thoroughly convinced that Charlie was head over heels in love with Oona when he married her. I think he wanted to get married because of his legal troubles at the time. Also, if we are to believe Georgia Hale, he asked her to marry him first. That said, there's no question that he grew to love Oona very deeply and I don't believe he would have ever intentionally hurt her. As far as the press, I don't think they watched his every move as closely in Switzerland as they did in Hollywood.

  2. that sly old dog will never stop surprising me.
    ps. i also belong to the croud who doesn't believe in the myth of the chaplin-o'neill fairy tale. it's much too convenient -- and charlie was anything BUT convenient.

  3. It's an unpopular opinion, that's for sure.
    There's no doubting that he loved her and depended on her. But he always had unconventional ideas about marriage and I doubt this changed overnight.

  4. I too have been wondering if Charlie was faithful to Oona during their marriage. If he was it would be the first time for him. I also wondered if he kept seeing Marion Davies after he was married. I read that Oona had stated in her will that she wanted her diaries to be burned after her death. What was in them she didn't want anyone to see. Makes a person wonder