Tuesday, November 25, 2014

90 years ago today: Chaplin marries Lita Grey in Mexico

The couple at a train station in Shorb, CA the day after their wedding.

The ceremony was performed at 5:00 in the morning in Empalme, Mexico1 by a justice of the peace who spoke through an interpreter. Those in attendance were Chaplin’s valet, Toraichi Kono, his lawyer, Nathan Burkan, members of Lita’s family, Charlie's publicist Eddie Manson, and his friend, Chuck Reisner. Sixteen-year-old Lita, who was three months pregnant and suffering from morning sickness, was flanked by her mother. Chuck Riesner stood next to the groom, who held a lit cigarette between his fingers and puffed on it nervously throughout the ceremony. "Words cannot describe how grim [it] actually was," recalled Lita. When it was over, Charlie awkwardly kissed his bride on the cheek. She was then congratulated by her mother and Chuck, who had tears in his eyes. Lita looked around for Charlie but he had already left.

Afterward the wedding party gathered for breakfast, but Charlie was not in attendance. He had gone fishing. 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."

When Lita finally entered their compartment, Charlie yelled loudly enough that others on the train heard him, "What are you coming in here for? You made me marry you." 3

In her book, Wife Of The Life Of The Party, 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."4
At a deserted station in Shorb, CA, Charlie and Lita disembarked from the train and dodged the press as they moved quickly to an awaiting limousine. One exchange went like this:

"Charlie, how about the wedding?" asked a reporter.
Charlie replied: "I don't want any publicity."
"Are you going back to Hollywood?"
"I don't want any publicity."
"The public is yearning to know about your romance."
 Charlie snapped back: "The public knows all about everything already. My life's an open book." 5 & 6

The reporters followed Chaplin's car twenty miles to his Beverly Hills house. They were stopped only by his security gate. Once Charlie and Lita were inside, he issued the following statement:

"Just tell everybody we are happy, thankful, and glad to be home."

Charlie and Lita in Shorb.

1 Charlie attempted to marry Lita in Mexico on October 14th, but when they filed the application, they were told that by Mexican law they had to wait 30 days before the marriage could take place. 

2 Lita falsely gave her age as 19 on her marriage certificate.

3 Lita Grey Chaplin's divorce complaint, reprinted in Wife Of The Life of The Party.  Lita also states in her complaint that she and Charlie became engaged in May 1924 and that Chaplin "seduced" her under the promise of marriage and that is how she became pregnant. 

Lita once told the "jump from the train" story in an interview and she said that she couldn't tell if Charlie was being serious or not.

5 Chicago Daily Tribune, November 28th, 1924

6 I've never understood why Charlie schlepped Lita all the way to Mexico to marry her when he could have had the ceremony in the privacy of his home and avoided all the publicity and headaches. Lita herself wondered the same thing and said his behaviour reminded her of someone who was "deranged."


  1. Goodness, and home in time for Thanksgiving no doubt and what a table THAT must have been. If he even showed up.

    1. He probably spent it with Marion Davies...