Christmas with(out) Charlie, Part Two

Just as Mildred Harris didn’t lay eyes on Charlie on Christmas Day when they were married–neither did his second wife, Lita Grey Chaplin. Below are Lita’s recollections of her holidays with Charlie from both of her memoirs, My Life With Chaplin, published in 1966& Wife Of The Life Of The Party, published 3 years after Lita’s death in 1998. The description of their first Christmas in 1924 is quite different in both books. Lita herself said that the facts were exaggerated in her first book by her ghostwriter, Morton Cooper. The second book was supposed to set the record straight. I have to say that the Charlie in the first version just doesn’t sound like the Charlie I have read about all these years. Charlie suggesting a prayer be said before a meal?  Charlie making preparations for the Christmas holiday? The story in the second book is much more believable, in my opinion. Christmas 1925 is not mentioned in My Life With Chaplin, but it is described in Wife Of The Life…as well as her divorce complaint. 

Christmas 1924, My Life With Chaplin (1966):

Although Charlie had no use for most religious festivals, he could get quite sentimental about the Christmas season. At Christmas in 1924–with our baby due in about four and a half months–he made preparations, through Kono, for a tree, dinner in the afternoon, and a gift for Mama and one for me. When I asked Charlie if my grandparents might come for dinner, he looked at me sharply, as if I’d asked the impossible, but answered, “Very well, if they’d like to–and as long as it’s understood that there’s to be no religious folderol and none of those insufferable carols.”

At first, Grandpa raged. Under no conditions would he set foot in That Man’s home. But Mama and Grandma went to work on him, and the Currys arrived at Cove Way on time.

Charlie and Grandpa shook hands gravely and circled each other as warily as cavemen, each of whom is convinced that the other is hiding an ax. But after a glass or two of sherry the two men seemed to get along reasonably well if not famously; both having come from Britain, and both having certain characteristics in common, found they had enough of a meeting ground to lessen the tension. When we sat down at the table, Charlie began paying extravagant court to Grandma, who was overwhelmed. He carved the turkey himself, with precision and skill, and then, when everyone was served and just before we began to eat, he befuddled me thoroughly by inquiring, “Would someone like to say grace? I think it would be fitting.” Grandpa obliged.

The day was not the easiest for any of us to get through, but I must say for Grandpa that he behaved civilly and for Charlie that he sat through the stilted after-dinner conversation with a minimum of squirming.

Charlie & Lita in 1925

Christmas 1924, Wife Of The Life Of The Party (1998):

(In this version, Lita claims that she is no longer living at the Cove Way (aka Summit Drive) house. Lita and her mother did move into a cottage when she was pregnant with Charlie, Jr. as a means of keeping her stress level down (a Japanese couple, Tomi & Todah, moved in with them as well). This move did not take place until Feb. 1925 according to page 56 of this memoir as well as Lita’s divorce complaint. She must have been confused about the time frame, which is understandable since she was describing something that happened 70 years before.)

Despite the odd circumstances under which we were no living, Mama and I decided to have a good Christmas that year. Kono had provided enough money for our needs to see us through for the months it was estimated that we would be spending in the cottage before going back to the Cove Way house. Charlie said he would come on Christmas morning, and Grandfather and Grandmother planned to join us for dinner. I was assured by Grandfather that if, by any chance, he and Charlie would meet, he would be civil, for my sake.
Todah had brought me a small tree and ordered a small turkey. Tomi, Mama and I were trimming the tree when the postman pushed the doorbell and delivered a parcel addressed to Todah. We opened it and the enclosed card read, “Have a Nice Christmas.” It was signed “Charlie.” Sadly, Charlie never came over to see us Christmas Day.

Christmas 1925, Wife Of The Life Of The Party:

Our second Christmas as husband and wife was as disappointing as our first. Mama, Grandfather, Grandmother, Charlie, Jr., and I were to have a nice Christmas dinner with Charlie. However, before Grandfather and Grandmother arrived, Charlie left without explanation and did not return until late that night. It was like a scene out of The Gold Rush, we were reluctant to begin without him, waiting for the arrival of the guest who never came.

Christmas 1925, Lita Grey Chaplin’s Complaint for Divorce, 1927 (reprinted in Wife Of The Life…)

(j) That on Christmas Day, 1925, defendant promised plaintiff that he would have Christmas dinner at home with her. That defendant started to leave the house about five o’clock in the afternoon. That plaintiff thereupon said: “Dinner will be ready at seven; you will be back now won’t you?” That defendant promised to return at seven; that plaintiff did not see or hear from him until about two o’clock the next morning, when he came home intoxicated.

Charlie, Jr. describes the story of his father’s drunken return on Christmas night in his book, My Father, Charlie Chaplin, but in his version it’s Christmas 1924:

The Christmas Day that followed their marriage she and Nana heard him in the early morning hours. His weaving footsteps coming up the stairs and groping uncertainly down the hall told them he was drunk. My father drunk! That tells me more than anything else the extent of his anguish and despair, because it’s the only time I have ever heard of his drinking too much. He always had an aversion to liquor.

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