A Comedian in New York (1925), Part III: Who bit Charlie’s lip?

Here’s Variety‘s version the lip-biting incident:

Previous to the opening of “The Gold Rush” Chaplin got a flood of publicity in New York without the assistance of a press agent. It was suspected the p. a. sent out, verbally, an account of the comedian’s illness. That was picked up by the dailies and carried along, until the “News”published a story that Chaplin had been bitten on the lip by a chorus girl of the Ziegfeld “Follies.” The “News” named Katherine Burke of the “Follies” as the biter. It was not Miss Burke, but Flo Kennedy. According to report, and It was not a bite but a sort of crush.

At a dinner given for Chaplin about eight of the “Follies” girls attended. After the dinner Chaplin was asked for a memento by the girls, but, not having eight of anything that could be distributed, he proposed to give away his gold cigarette case to the girl drawing the winning number from a hat. Miss Burke got the case. Miss Kennedy, It is said, in appreciation of Chaplin’s good nature, sought to give him a collective kiss for all of the girls, and enthusiastically started to do so, misjudging the distance, however, on a flying leap, with her teeth making a slight mark on the comedian’s lips.1,2

Burke later told reporters that she didn’t know what all the fuss was about because she didn’t see anyone bite Chaplin. “I don’t think he was bitten at all,” she said.3

Nevertheless, headlines touted that Chaplin had been bitten on the lip, blood poisoning had set it, and that he was near death. It seems Chaplin was ill, but not from a bite on the lip. In a statement made by his doctor, James B. McKenzie, Chaplin was suffering from “low blood pressure” brought on by “overwork” and “the tedious trip from the coast.” He called the reports that Chaplin was blood poisoned from a kiss: “a lot of rot.” Besides exhaustion, Chaplin was also suffering from a cold.4 Years later in his autobiography, however, Chaplin stated that he had had a “collapse”:

I was staying at the Ritz Hotel and I could not breathe, so I frantically telephoned a friend. “I’m dying,” I gasped. “Call my lawyer!”

“Lawyer! You want a doctor,” said he, alarmed.

“No, no, my lawyer, I want to make a will.”

His friend (Harry d’Arrast?) called both. His lawyer was in Europe but he was examined by his doctor who said he had an attack of nerves brought on by the oppressive heat in New York. He suggested that Chaplin leave the city and head to the ocean where he could relax in peace and quiet and get the sea air.5

Chaplin & d’Arrast headed to Brighton Beach. On the way he recalled that he “cried for no reason.”

No sooner had they arrived at their beachfront hotel that Chaplin heard a barking dog. “It was a man drowning,” recalled Chaplin. “The lifeguards brought him in right in front of my window, and gave him first aid, but it was too late; he was dead.” He said that two others were also brought in by lifeguards but they recovered. “I was in a worse state than ever,” he wrote, “so I decided to return to New York.”6

Coming up on the 16th: Chaplin attends the New York premiere of The Gold Rush.


1Variety, August 19th, 1925.
2Louise Brooks later asserted that it was actress Blyth Daly who bit Chaplin’s lip when she took offense at an unwanted kiss. Walter Wanger, who was present at the incident, told her that Charlie “made a hysterical scene , screaming ‘blood poison!’ and required the services of several doctors.” (Barry Paris, Louise Brooks)
3Harrisburg Telegraph, August 14, 1925
4Los Angeles Times, August 12, 1925
5Chaplin, My Autobiography, 1964. Chaplin also states that two days after returning to NY, he was well enough to return to California. He is a bit off in his chronology here. Newspaper reports state that he arrived in Brighton Beach on August 14th. He didn’t stay long because he was back in the city for the premiere of The Gold Rush which took place at midnight on August 16th. He didn’t return to California until October.

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