World Tour Revisited: Chaplin bids farewell to May Reeves and embarks for Japan, March 6th, 1932

Charlie, May, and Syd in Naples, March 6th, 1932.
Boris Evelinoff, European representative for United Artists, is standing (I think)
behind Charlie to his right. May was left in the care of Evelinoff after his departure.
He eventually lost his position at UA because of his continual appeals to Chaplin on May’s behalf.

The Japanese ship, Suwa Maru, was set to embark from Naples at 5:30pm on Sunday, March 6th. In their hotel room in Rome that morning, Charlie was in such a rush to catch the train and the ship that May didn’t have time to put on makeup or finish dressing. When they were alone in their compartment on the train, Charlie told her, “Dear, I want to thank you for all you’ve given me. You’ve made me very happy, and my only wish is that this should continue. This short separation is just a chance to prove yourself. Remember to keep me informed of everything you do. Only swear to me that you’ll be faithful and that you won’t look at other men.” She remembered holding his “feverish hands.” “Why were they so hot?” she wondered, “Was it the thought of separation, or of his departure.” At Naples, they lunched at the Exselsior Hotel and then visited the poor section of town–something Charlie often did when he was in new city. May spent the afternoon going through the motions in a tearful haze. To keep his courage, Charlie would avoid looking at her.

May (far right) accompanies Charlie as he boards the ship. 
Charlie and Syd pose for photos aboard the Suwa Maru. May Reeves & Kono
are standing behind them.
Chaplin poses with crew members, March 6th, 1932

The captain of the ship invited them to his cabin to drink champagne with the other officers. Charlie looked at May and lifted his glass, “To our love, darling. To you forever. Be faithful to me. We’ll see each other again soon.”

A short time later an officer opened the door: “Return to the dock. We’re leaving.”

Here Charlie and May said their final farewells. Chaplin remembered that there were no tears. “As the boat pulled out, she was imitating my tramp walk along the quay. That was the last I saw of her.”

May’s recollection of their separation was more vivid:

Everything passed before me in a flash. Charlie took me in his arms: “Goodbye, dear, till we meet again.” They led me to the dock. I can still see myself, lost in the middle of the crowd, watching the ship pull slowly away. Near the dock, in a small boat resting on the oily water, an accordionist played one of those Neapolitan songs that wring the heart. 

All the passengers waved their handkerchiefs. Charlie leaned out from a spot on the bridge where there was no railing, which seemed so dangerous to me that I uttered a loud cry. I was afraid he would fall into the sea. Finally he stood alone at his post, his white hair waving in the wind. As long as he could see me, he held up two fingers to signify two months of separation, and then he pointed to the third to signify the clinching of an imaginary alliance. 

May waving to Charlie from the dock.

Charlie waving back.

Those unfamiliar with May’s story may wonder what ever became of her pregnancy (Spoiler Alert: the following is the last chapter of May’s book, so if you haven’t read it, you might want to skip this part):

Four weeks later, after atrocious suffering, Charlie’s wish was granted. He wouldn’t have a third child…For several weeks I struggled with death. I telegraphed the news to Charlie on several occasions and wrote long letters of explanation, but I never received a response. Only when I was convalescing did I receive a telegram: “Hope you are better–cheer up–Love Charlie.” And as a last sign of life, Charlie’s representative in Paris [Boris Evelinoff] received a cable asking him to send the doctor’s bill. 

Thus ended my romance with Charles Spencer Chaplin


Charles Chaplin, My Autobiography
May Reeves, The  Intimate Charlie Chaplin
Lisa K. Stein, Syd Chaplin: A Biography


  1. Again I have to say – I've read this book and always felt May was making A LOT of this stuff up. Why in the heck would anyone (gold digger or not) put up with as much abuse as he allegedly shoveled her way over the course of their relationship? The truth always lies somewhere in between, and I completely believe that in this case!

  2. Agreed. I really enjoyed Georgia's book, it seemed much more balanced (ignoring her fantasy/dream sequences, of course). How I would have loved a Goddard tome on that relationship. For a woman with such a strong business acumen, I am surprised she did not give in to the temptation to tell all. She could have made a fortune.

  3. I remember thinking the same thing when I was reading the Gilbert book…give me more! However, I am the one who truly believes Gilbert stilted what she wrote to make Goddard look bad. I think the author was far more involved in writing about Remarque – I even learned later she wrote a play about him, and wrote about his time with Dietrich in much more detail.

  4. Nobody could fool around with good ol' Charlie. I guess only Mildred did so, and she payed quite a price. It seems it was his way or highway to everyone, especially women. He had the thicker skin of Hollywood, and probably it was a bad deal to be his girlfriend.Do you know if Syd and Charlie had a problem (besides that thing with May)? Because they were so fond of each other in the beggining and apparently a little too distant in the middle, recovering later when they were both older. *Just for the record, I really don't like Syd, and I don't have a clue why!

  5. I think Paulette kept her end of a semi-business relationshio with Charlie. She seemed to genuinely be interested and participated in his every whim. She was a fella's Huckleberry friend. I just had to get that in there…as I heard Dietrich sing the Bacharach tune last week. I was moved hearing Audrey Hepburn sing it at the end of….whatever film it was.

  6. It's funny he should put distance between Syd and May both around the time of the voyage to Japan. I hope Syd did not stab May in the back by betraying any boohoo confidences. And I thought May miscarried after skiing with CC when she would rather not have. But that is a good show he put on with the finger signs as he pulled out of port.I don't hold with a man being trapped into marriage but May looks pathetic waving her white hanky goodbye. Maybe if CC didn't get cold feet at the thought of marriage he would've kept her longer. She might not have been marriage material. He said in his biography that he knew she was footloose when he met her. Did I already ask if Syd had met her on one of the Riviera's remote nude beaches? When I look at the Paris nightclub escorts and Follies Begere (?) beauties of the early 30s I blush. Tres moderne

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