Sunday, November 25, 2012

This is better than the penitentiary, but it won't last long

Charlie married Lita Grey in Empalme, Mexico on November 25th, 1924. The above photos show the newlyweds at a train stop in Shorb, CA the following day.  Sixteen-year-old Lita was three months pregnant.

The depressing ceremony was performed early in the morning by a justice of the peace who spoke no English. Those in attendance were Chaplin’s valet, Toraichi Kono, his lawyer, Nathan Burkan, members of Lita’s family, Charlie's publicist Eddie Manson & his friend, Chuck Riesner, who had tears in his eyes as he watched the ceremony. "Words cannot describe how grim the ceremony actually was," recalled Lita. To make matters worse, she was also suffering from morning sickness.

Afterward, the wedding party gathered for breakfast, but Charlie was not in attendance. Lita remembered that "it felt as if we had gathered for a wake instead of a wedding." She did not see him again until that evening in the drawing room of the train headed back to Los Angeles. At one point, she overheard him tell his entourage, "Well, boys, this is better than the penitentiary but it won't last long."

Many years later, Lita described what happened next:
In our stateroom, Charlie said to me, "Don't expect me to be a husband to you, for I won't be. I'll do certain things for appearances' sake. Beyond that, nothing."
My throat was dry and I felt nauseated. "Please, would you get me a drink of water?"
"Get it yourself. You might later claim I tried to poison you." I staggered to my feet to get the water. 
After watching me for several minutes, Charlie said, "Come on, I'll take you outside. The air will do you good." Standing on the platform of the observation car, I stared at the couplings of the train below, breathing deeply the cold night air. Charlie broke his aggressive silence and said to me, "We could put an end to this misery if you'd just jump."1
Charlie rarely discussed his marriage to Lita with friends or family. In his autobiography, he devoted one small paragraph to their marriage and did not mention Lita by name:
During the filming of The Gold Rush, I married for the second time. Because we have two grown sons of whom I am very fond, I will not go into any details. For two years we were married and tried to make a go of it, but it was hopeless and ended in a great deal of bitterness.2
Lita filed for divorce in January, 1927.  Her settlement, the largest in U.S. history at the time, was $825,000.

1 Lita Grey Chaplin, Wife Of The Life Of The Party, Scarecrow Press, 1996
Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography, Bodley Head, 1964

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