Christmas with(out) Charlie, Part 1

Excerpts from the divorce testimony of Charlie’s first wife, Mildred Harris Chaplin, from December, 1920.

(Charlie and Mildred were married on Oct. 23rd, 1918. Not long after their marriage, Mildred checked into the hospital with a nervous breakdown. After she was released, the doctor ordered her to bed rest.)

 Q.–Now, after the marriage became public, Mrs. Chaplin, just tell the court in your own way about the course of treatment Mr. Chaplin adopted toward you after that time?

 A.–Well, after I was taken out of the hospital I had to stay in bed until Christmas, Christmas Eve, and the doctor sent a nurse home with me, and Mr. Chaplin got us a home up in Laughlin Park, and I had to stay in bed until Christmas Eve, and that was the first time I was down after I got out of the hospital. And Christmas afternoon–I mean the day before Christmas, Mr. Chaplin told me that he would be home and have dinner with me and help me trim the Christmas tree, and I had had mother get all the Christmas presents. I was not able to get up and I had always thought a great deal of Christmas, and that evening, I dressed and went downstairs and waited for him, and he did not come home. And I waited until 11 o’clock, and he did not come, so I trimmed the tree and mother helped me and then I went to bed and stayed awake until about two or three, and Mr. Chaplin came home about three o’clock.

Q.–What occurred?

A.–And when he came home he came upstairs and was very angry at me for buying so many Christmas presents and making such a time over Christmas.
Q.–Then what occurred?

A.–Then the next day was Christmas Day, and he would not get up all Christmas morning, and I went downstairs and took him up his presents and he was very angry at me for making so much over Christmas.

Q.–What would he say? What did he say?

A.–Well, he said it was very foolish and that he did not believe in such things and that I should not be so silly over Christmas and over having presents and liking such things.

 Q.–Now, on this Christmas evening you have told about, the first Christmas evening after your marriage in October, you had invited your friends there to the house, had you?

 A.–No, I had not; Mr. Chaplin had all his own friends; he did not want me to have mine.

 Q.–Then, you allege, that he came home about what time on Christmas morning?

 A.–It was about two-thirty or three.

 Q.–Two-thirty or three.  Then, on Christmas morning what occurred?

 A.–He stayed in bed all day until four o’clock; he wouldn’t go downstairs with me to see the tree.  I took him his presents.

 Q.–Did he abuse you?

 A.–He was very angry at me for making so much over Christmas.

 Q.–What did he say?

 A.–He said it was very foolish and wasn’t right to make so much or for me to like presents and foolish things; that it was not his idea to have Christmas or celebrate Christmas; he had never done it.


Q.–Now, on that Christmas did he give you any present or token of any


 Q.–Would you buy anything for Mr. Chaplin himself?

  A.–On Christmas I bought him a silver set for his dresser; I bought him a great many things.  I bought him–

  Q.–His personal clothing and things of that kind, did you?

  A.–Yes; socks.

  Q.–Describe what you bought for him.

  A.–I bought all his handkerchiefs and socks and pajamas and ties.

  Q.–Did he pay for them or did you?

  A.–I did. 


 Q.–You have told about the first Christmas after you were married– tell the court about your second Christmas.

  A.–On the second Christmas he had been staying out in Beverly Hills,  He had been staying up there for quite a time and he would stay all night a good deal up there because he had a very good time, and the second Christmas he said he would be home and I invited some people, and on Christmas Eve he phoned he would not be able to come home until about nine, but he sent some presents home for the people.

  Q.–Did he send you a present?


  Q.–Go ahead.

  A.–He didn’t come.  So these people left and he came home about four in the morning.  I waited up until about two and then I went to bed and sat up in bed waiting for him.

  Q.–Then, as I understand it, on the second Christmas night, after your marriage, after he had promised to come home, he didn’t come until about four o’clock in the morning?

  A.–Yes, sir.

  Q.–What did he say when he came in?

  A.–Well, he said he had been detained; that he had met some people and had been talking with them.

  Q.–Did you afterward ascertain where he had been?

  A.–He had had dinner with a lady and gentleman at a little cafe on Fifth street.  I don’t know where he had gone.  I think afterwards he told me he had been talking business.**

**Charlie spent this Christmas with Florence Deshon. In a letter to her on again, off again lover, Max Eastman (who was also a close friend of Charlie’s), Florence wrote, “I dined with Charlie on Christmas Eve, and he gave me a Christmas present.”2 The two dined alone in Charlie’s room at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The gift was a set of monogrammed, hand-embroidered handkerchiefs.3

2 Max Eastman, Love & Revolution, 1964
3 Joyce Milton, Tramp, 1998 (I’ll add that Milton gives no source material for this information)


  1. First of all, Jess, I appreciate that despite your deep appreciation for and love of Chaplin, you are willing to show multiple sides of his personality. I love Chaplin,too, and must say it always shocks me a little when I read about his sometimes mercurial cruelty. That said, it was obvious that this was a man who, because of his upbringing and obvious confusion about women,often ended up being angry at the young women he bedded and wedded impulsively (both times "shotgun"). I'm certainly not saying either Mildred Harris or Lita Grey weren't complicit in reeling him in, but it couldn't have happened without Charlie. Despite his brilliance, he himself was a "man child", with obviously skewed (rather Victorian at times)views of women and sex. What is particularly strange is his abhorrence of contraception when he came from such an impoverished background and saw the consequences of unprotected sex. Anyway, the other loser in this story is Florence Deshon, who despite spending Xmas with Chaplin, lost in the end. So fascinating. I love this Chaplin Xmas series you're doing!

  2. Thanks for your information. Are you shure? Who wrote, it was not Charlie's? Who did it write instead and who has this mixed up with Charlie? I also read the german text "Life" (Das Leben), which he wrote on his 70's birthday.

  3. I love how you balance both Charlie and Charles. Its nice to see the understanding of someone who recognized his faults but still adores him.

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