Chaplin’s Mann Act testimony, March 30-31, 1944

Part of my 6-part series on the Mann Act trial. Read more here.

Charlie in court, March 30th, 1944

According to one reporter,  Charlie appeared in court on his first day of testimony wearing a navy blue suit and his “favorite” polka-dot blue tie but “no sign of a smile.”

His attorney, Jerry Giesler, later wrote that Chaplin was “the best witness I’ve ever seen in a law court. He was effective even when he wasn’t being cross-examined but merely sitting there, lonely and forlorn, at a far end of the counsel table. He is so small that only the toes of his shoes touched the floor.” He said Chaplin’s greatest quality on the stand was his “outward humility–whether he was inwardly humble or not. He wept as he described his relations with Joan Barry and said, ‘Yes, I was intimate with her. I liked the girl.’ Both during direct and cross-examination he gave the appearance of utter sincerity. He wasn’t arrogant, nor did he duck the verbal blows flung in his direction.”

Before Chaplin took the stand, several other witnesses were called including two of Joan Barry’s other lovers, J. Paul Getty & Hans Ruesch. Then, in rapid succession, Giesler called five employees of the Chaplin Studio to the stand. First was general manager, Alfred Reeves, who testified that Joan told him she had given up the idea of playing Bridget (her role in Shadow and Substance), given up the idea of a screen career, and that Chaplin had agreed to pay her fare to New York and that of her mother. He also said that, at Chaplin’s instruction, he had given her $500 to pay her bills.

Cameraman Rollie Totheroh took the stand next. He testified that he shot 4500 feet of test film of Joan, given her a voice test, and around September 1942 had a conversation with Joan in which she said that she was sick of rehearsing and wanted to go to New York for good. Other employees who testified were Chaplin’s secretary Catherine Hunter and bookkeeper Lois Watts.
Chaplin had been an intent spectator during earlier testimony but as his employees testified, he “cupped his chin in one hand and looked dreamily, aloofly toward the ceiling.”

Chaplin’s employees wait to testify for the defense (L-R):
 O.B. Gooding, Alf Reeves, Rollie Totheroh,
Frank Antunez, and Frank Testera.

Below is Chaplin’s testimony. I have tried to compile as much of it as possible from various resources:

Asked to state his full name, Chaplin smiled and said: “Charles Spencer Chaplin.”

Charlie then coughed, wiped his mouth with a handkerchief and settled into the witness chair.

“Where do you reside?”

“Los Angeles”

Giesler asked his address. Charlie fumbled. “Summit Rd,” he admitted. But what about the number? He ruffled his white hair and looked puzzled. “If I told you it was 1085?” prompted Giesler. “Of course,” Charlie said, relieved, “1085 Summit Drive.”

Charlie was still amused as he gave vital statistics. He caressed his chin with one hand as he said he is 54, has lived in Los Angeles since 1914, and has had his own studio since 1918.

Then came the questions about Joan.

“Do you recall the first time you met Miss Barry?” asked Giesler.

Charlie threw his arm over the back of the witness chair, studied the ceiling for a moment, then answered:

“Somewhere in 1941.”

“Thereafter did she sign a contract with your studio?”

“She did.”

“Afterwards, did you direct her to some dramatic coach?”

Charlie ran his fingers through his hair. Finally, he replied:

“Yes, the Reinhardt School.”

“Did you recommend other tests?”

“I gave her the tuition myself–I also directed the tests at the studio.”

“Did you have anything personally to do with her wardrobe?”

“I designed it myself.”

Costume tests for Joan Barry, 1941
“Was this for a particular part and a particular story you had purchased?”

“Yes, I purchased it for $20,000 dollars.”

Chaplin then explained it was Shadow And Substance, an Irish play.

“How many tests did you give her–camera tests, that is?”

“I suppose we worked three days on makeup, rendition of lines and I wanted to get teh photographic contours and see if she was photogenic, you know. I know we used a lot of film.”

“After the tests did you form any conclusion as to her screen possibilities? Did you think she was photogenic?

“I did before that.”

“Yes, but did you then?”

“Yes, afterward too.”

“What conclusion did you reach?”

“I thought that she photographed very appealingly. I thought she had histrionic ability.”

“Did she show any development as a result of her studies at the Max Reinhardt School?”

“No, I don’t think so. This is no reflection on the school, but I don’t think she concentrated. I don’t think she took her studies seriously enough.”

“The part in the story you bought, with the idea of making it into a picture, was it the leading part?”

“It was the leading part.”

“The role of Bridget?”


“It was the role of a simple girl, was it not?”

“The part was supposed to be this very humble little servant, who is sort of modern Joan of Arc whose implicit faith in Catholicism transcended the orthodoxy of the priests.”

Chaplin told of the termination, by mutual agreement,  of Joan’s contract to him because she wished to try her luck elsewhere.

“She was very adamant about it,” Charlie said with distress in his voice. “She wanted to go. I said, ‘If you feel it will further your career, by all means do.”

“I’m not sure what happened then, but two or three weeks later she came back. I told her she was more or less on probation, that if she studied and worked, well and good, but I was not going to put her under contract. It was a verbal contract.”

All this time, he said, he was working on Shadow and Substance, rewriting the play, injecting action and scenes.

“You were going to play a part in it?” asked Giesler.

“No. Well, yes. I had an idea of doing so, but I vacillated a great deal. I was directing.”

One day in September 1942, he said Joan wanted to talk to him. He hadn’t seen her for a month or so. He was distressed as he told the jury why. She had had the principle role in a Reinhardt amateur play, and had failed. “She couldn’t concentrate,” he testified. She couldn’t recall her lines.” Then she came to his house and said she wanted to go to New York. “I told her her that instead of going to New York, she should go back to school and study diligently. She insisted on going.  She made quite a scene and became hysterical, which is part of her nature.”

Prosecutor Charles H. Carr objected to the final phrase. It was stricken from the record.

Giesler prompted Chaplin to continue.

“Well, I told her she should concentrate, become more conscientious. She said, ‘Oh, you’ll never finish that [Shadow & Substance]. You’ve been on it a year. It’s getting very irksome.’ I said, ‘I can’t stop you from going, but if you’re not prepared for your part, I’ll have to get someone else.’ She left very upset.”

“Was there again any conversation on the subject?”

“The next time came while I was dictating to my secretary on the porch in the daytime. She came around the house to where I was and she was very excited. I was quite mad, I must say. She asked me: ‘Are you not going to send me to New York?’ and I said, ‘I am not.’ She turned on her heels and went out, back to where she came from. I was very upset and couldn’t work any more that day.”

Then again she came:

“She said, ‘Look here, I’m not an actress. I don’t want a career. I’m through with acting. I’m going to New York. Hollywood is no good for me.’

“I was distressed,” Chaplin continued, his eyes sad. “Then she said, ‘If you’ll pay the fare for me and my mother to New York, I’ll call the whole thing off.’

“I was discouraged, I was defeated. When you’ve worked a whole year on someone, putting heart and soul into it…” His voice trails away.

“Then there were two or three other little items. She had a few bills. Would I agree to pay them? I said I would. I was very philosophical about it. I said, ‘Now, I am completely finished. That is out of my mind. I’ll have to look for someone else to play the part.”

This was Chaplin’s version of why he paid Joan Barry’s railroad fare to New York. Giesler read him Joan’s testimony that he said he wanted her “to be near me.”

“Did you say that?”

“I did not. Nothing of that sort took place at my home or anywhere else.”

“When you authorized the purchase of the tickets did you have any intent or purpose that Miss Barry go to New York so you could have immoral relations with her?”

“I did not.”

And then for the controversial New York stay.

Chaplin said he made his speech at Carnegie Hall, had dinner with Paulette Goddard and Constance Collier.

“Who is Constance Collier?” asked Giesler.

Chaplin started to say she was “an old, old actress,” but corrected himself smilingly and said, “she was a very dear friend of mine and a very well-known actress.”

Chaplin delivering a Second Front speech at Carnegie Hall,
Oct. 16th, 1942

After the speech, Tim Durant and Arthur Kelly joined the party, which adjourned to the 21 Club.

“Then Durant, Kelly and I were invited to the Stork Club and we went.”

“Was there any prearrangement with Barry to meet her there?”

“There was not.”

The next day, his butler Edward Chaney, told him Joan had called. He wouldn’t talk to her. Later she called Tim Durant repeatedly.

“I believe,” he began, then corrected himself, “mustn’t say believe–well, I was in a quandary. I didn’t know what to do about it. Mr. Durant told me she seemed very excited. He said, ‘I think you should see her, she’s staying in New York and won’t be bothering you again. Otherwise she might come up tot he hotel and make trouble.’

“I said, all right. If we have an evening…then I think he made an appointment for dinner.”

He said he and Durant and Joan had dinner at the 21 club, then went on to “an amusement floor, a cabaret of some sort.” Later the three got into a taxi.

“Did you say, ‘Joan, I want to talk to you. Will you come to my hotel?”

“I did not.”

“What did you say?”

“Oh, ordinary pleasantries. I thought we were going to take her to her hotel first, but she said she wanted to see our suite, so I said all right, that’s all.”

“So we sat around for a while reading the papers. Just ordinary pleasantries. I remember Mr. Durant said he was tired, so he went to bed. Miss Barry and myself sat there and talked for about 20 minutes. Eventually I made the suggestion that I was tired–and saw her home.

This was Chaplin’s answer to the first count of the Mann Act indictment.

“Was there an act of sexual intercourse?”

“There was not.”

“Did you undress and redress?”

“I did not!”

“Was there any conversation on the way to her hotel?”

“Yes. I asked her how she was getting along, and she said she was putting up a front and everything, but she was very hard up. I said if she was hard up, how come she was staying at the Pierre. She said, ‘Well, that’s on Getty [referring to J. Paul Getty.] But I don’t have anything else. She said: ‘I need money for my mother. She’s in debt and she’s sick.'” Chaplin added that she was very convincing. “So she asked if I would loan her some money. I said: ‘All right. I’ll leave some with Edward.’ Then I dropped her at the Pierre. That was the sum and substance of the conversation.”

This was Chaplin’s answer to the second Mann Act count, which charges he gave Joan $300 to go back to Los Angeles.

“Had you given her money other than her salary any time before going to New York?”

“I had–on frequent occasions”

“Did you give her this money to go back to California?”

“I did not. Not at all, not at all.”

“Did you ask or suggest at any time that you wanted her back in California?”

“I did not.”

“For the purpose of sexual relations?”

“I did nothing of the sort. I gave her money for her mother because she was in debt and out of a job.”

“Did you see her again in New York?”


Now Giesler took him back to California. He said Joan called him so many times that he finally telephoned her. She told him she was only there for a brief stop on her way to Tulsa. She wanted to see him, but if he wouldn’t see her, she wouldn’t bother him.

“Naturally after that contrite statement,” he told the jury, but the remark was stricken. Anyway, he asked her for dinner and drove by her hotel the next night to pick her up. He thought she was acting strangely, but he took her to Romanoff’s. “She seemed to be worse,” he testified, “so I said, ‘You’d better go straight home.’

“She was quite inarticulate,” he added, and on the way home he lectured her severely.

“I told her there was only one person who could play Bridget and that was she. I saod that after the tremendous expense I had gone through I couldn’t afford to give her another chance. I told her she was very irresponsible.  I was very impatient with her. I told her I didn’t want to see her again.”

“You had not intent to have sexual relations at that time.”

“I did not.”

“Did you ever call her after the evening at Romanoff’s?”



“No. No. I think she left and went to Tulsa because I received some letters from her.”

“Ever try to locate her?”

“I did not.”

“You made a second trip to New York?”

“Yes. I returned around December 20th”

“When was the first you knew she had returned from Tulsa?”

“I think that was the time she came up with the gun.”

“Will you please explain that incident?”

Chaplin turned directly to the jury. He said he had just come home. It was after midnight and he was on the telephone.

“Suddenly I heard a noise. I turned around.” He acted it out, as he talked. “There was my bathroom door and Joan was pointing a gun. She made a half-circle around the two beds. She came to me and said, ‘I’m going to kill you.’

“Although it was rather melodramatic and absurd,” he said, ” I was scared.” I tried to reason with her. I said, ‘All your supposed love and affection for me is a pretense and a sham. Why do you resort to this violence?”

“I reminded her that I never put myself in a false position with her and she never had with me. From the beginning it was she who telephoned me night after night until, naturally, an intimacy grew. I admit it. I asked her why she embarrassed me night after night in front of servants with scenes and tantrums.”

“I told her I believed in her as an actress. I believed she had histrionic ability; that I bought a play for her on which I spent $250,000 overhead; that the whole experience was frustrating.”

“Then she said, ‘I’m not going to kill you. You’re not worth it. I’m going to kill myself and am going to do it in your bedroom.’

“At that moment I heard a disturbance in the hall. My children were downstairs.”

“I went to the archway and said, ‘there’s a little trouble, sons. You’d better go back to your mother and stay there tonight.” It was here Chaplin choked up.

“It appears they couldn’t go because they hadn’t a car or something.”

“So all the time Joan was holding a gun in the archway. I said to her, ‘You have to go. My children are here.’

“She said, ‘I haven’t any hotel. I haven’t any home. I’m destitute. I’m going to stay here!’

“I said, ‘I’m going to throw you out!’

She said, ‘If you come any nearer, I’ll kill myself.’

“I said, ‘Don’t be absurd. No one is coming near you.’

Chaplin told the jury that he assigned her to a bedroom separated from his room by a bathroom.

He related that the next morning she left his home after he had given her money.

“Did you in your home have an act of sexual intercourse with Miss Barry that night?”

“I did not”

“Did you have any under any circumstances?”

“I did not.”

“Did you see Miss Barry on December 9, 10, 11, 12, or 13th?”


“Did you have sexual intercourse with her on any of these dates?”

“I did not.”

“Did you say you were going to rehabilitate Miss Barry and give her another chance?”


“Did you tell her you would see her only when you wanted to?”

“No, I did not.”

This ended the first day of testimony.

Charlie talks to Jerry Giesler following his first day testimony, March 30th, 1944

 On March 31st, Giesler continued his questioning.

“On the early morning of Dec. 31st, did you see Joan Barry?”

“I did.”

“Will you kindly relate to the jury what happened?”

” I know I was home. I believe I was playing solitaire in my front room. I suddenly heard bells ringing in my kitchen. I went to the door. I saw lying on the mat outside Miss Joan Barry. I looked at her, I went to the kitchen. I rang all the bells to see if anyone was up. I knew we were going to have a lot of trouble.”

Carr objected to the last statement. The judge told Chaplin his conclusions were improper testimony.

“I see,” Chaplin said contritely. “Well, I beg your pardon. I wanted to see if I could get some help. I shouted and nobody paid any attention to me. I wanted help because on the night previous or two or three nights before she had come up with a gun.”

He said the only man he could rouse was someone new whom he didn’t know well, so he went back to the door alone.

“I aroused her. I said, ‘what do you want?’ She said, ‘I’m destitute.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what you are. You can’t stay here!’ She said, ‘I haven’t any car.’ I said, ‘I’ll drive you.’

“So eventually I got her to the car. She said, ‘Drive me to Olympic Blvd.’ She said, ‘Never mind that. I’m destitute. I’ll sleep at the police station.’

“Did she enter the…”

“She did not,” Chaplin replied before Giesler could finish.

The judge leaned over. “Mr. Chaplin you should wait until your council finishes the question.”

“I beg your pardon,” Chaplin said quickly, shaking his hands in vexation, and smiling at the judge. “It’s just my eagerness.”

Giesler repeated the question.

“Did she enter the house at all?”

“She did not.”

At this point, Prosecutor Charles H. Carr  began cross-examination. He asked Chaplin if on his second date with Miss Barry he hadn’t told her she was very pretty and very charming. “And didn’t you try to kiss her?” he insisted.

“I think I kissed her before that,” Chaplin said, smiling faintly.

“Did you ever tell Miss Barry you were in love with her?”

“No, never,” said Chaplin.

“Well, did she tell you she was in love with you?”

“Yes, she did.”

“Did you ever call her ‘Hunchy’?”

“Yes. I used that as a term of endearment. I often use terms of endearment.”

“When did you stop calling her ‘Hunchy’?”

“I don’t remember.”

Charlie during cross-examination, March 31, 1944

Carr started on the night Chaplin met Joan, an introduction arranged by Tim Durant. Chaplin said they went to Perino’s for dinner.

“Then you and Miss Barry drove to and from the beach several times?”

“That isn’t true. No, we didn’t.”

“Where did you go?”

“I think we drove to her home.”

“What did you do?”

“We talked a great deal in the car.”

“You saw her the next day?”

“No, two or three days later.”

“You had Mr. Durant get in touch with her again?”

“I did not.”

“You called her?”

“No, I did not.”

“Well, how did you get together?”

“I think we met at Mr. Durant’s home.”

“You had a long conversation with her?”

“I think so.”

“At that time you told her you were more or less enchanted by her?”

“No, I did nothing of the kind.”

“You told her she was a very pretty girl and interesting?”

“I told her she was interesting. I may have said something about her having personality.”

Chaplin recalled they had dinner alone a few days later, but couldn’t remember where.


“Now, this is a long time ago, you are pinning me down to dates and I cannot remember.”

“How long were you together that evening?”

“I don’t know.”

“You took her home then?”

“Very soon…I think it is the time you allude to…I’m trying to catch the entire scene.”

“She came to my house,” Chaplin explained, “and said she was going to New York to marry someone. And I said I thought it was a very good idea. She said, ‘Oh, don’t send me back to New York!’ I said, ‘My dear girl, I hardly know you.’ And I thought it very strange.  Oh (shaking his head at the words) I’m sorry, I couldn’t understand this conversation so very soon after I met her.”

“Had you signed a contract at that time?”


He admitted her took her to Santa Barbara and a yachting trip to Catalina Island.

“After the contract was signed,” asked Carr, “you were seeing Miss Barry quite often weren’t you?”


“Three or four times a week?”

“Maybe twice a week.”

“She spent the night there once or twice a week, didn’t she?”


“Did you read Shakespeare to her at your house?”


“You began to tell her you were in love with her, didn’t you?”


“Did she tell you she was in love with you?”


“Quite often didn’t she spend the night?”

“No, it wasn’t very frequent.”

“That relationship continued through December 1941?”


Carr asked about their time at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York and Chaplin insisted he only spent 20 minutes with her and did not take her into his room, and then escorted her to her hotel by taxicab

Carr brought the questioning back to Los Angeles. He tried to get Chaplin to admit to a series of quarrels with Joan at Romanoff’s restaurant.

Chaplin said there had been no quarrels, merely that Joan was not feeling well at Romanoff’s.

“But don’t you recall her coming to the back of your house and insisting that you come out on the night of December 11th or 12th?” Carr insisted.

“No, I do not recall any such thing.”

“Isn’t it true that you slapped her at that time?”

“No,” Chaplin said, turning to the jury, “I’ve never slapped a woman in my life.”

Carr tried to elicit testimony as to the frequency of acts of intimacy since first meeting her to the night of December 30-31, 1942:

“I will ask you, as nearly as you can remember, what was the last date you had sexual intercourse with Miss Barry?”

“Sexual intercourse isn’t that important in my life.”

Subsequently, Chaplin testified that he “might have been” having sexual relations with Barry in January 1942, and that “maybe” he did during the following May.

Chaplin wept again as he told the story of how Joan came to his house one day in January 1942 to tell him she had had an operation.

“She took me to one side,” he said visibly upset and halting frequently in his statement.

“She told me what she had gone through. I believed her, and I was very upset when I was confronted with all of this very suddenly.” Tears streamed down his face, and he burst out: “And that is why I have been suffering ever since. And that is why she is doing all this to me.”

“Isn’t it true,” demanded Carr, “that you took her in your arms and said to her, “you poor, dear thing.”

“Yes, I did,” Chaplin admitted. “I was so upset.”

“Don’t you recall that you embraced her on that occasion?”

“Yes, I did. When she told me.”

“Well, do you recall that Miss Barry was put to bed in your home?”

“That’s right.”

“You stated you changed the locks on your door three of four times. Did Miss Barry have a key?”

“Yes. She stole keys.”

“Did she steal three of four?”

“She must have done so.”

Chaplin and prosecutor Charles Carr.

Carr then questioned Chaplin about the gun episode.

“How long was she in your bedroom?”

“I don’t know, I was so excited, so upset, so bewildered. It seemed hours. Maybe two hours.”

“Do you recall saying having an affair under those circumstances [with a gun nearby] was a new wrinkle?”

“No, of course not.”

“She was destitute and had no place to sleep. That was her reason and motive for being there.”

“You didn’t call the police?”


“You had cars available to take Miss Barry away didn’t you?”


“Didn’t you have breakfast with her the next morning?”

“No, I had breakfast alone. Then I went up to see her. She was still asleep with the gun.”

“In her hand?”


“On Dec. 30th, when you said you found her on your doormat, was she unconscious?”

“No, because she spoke to me at the door.”

“What time was that?”

Running his fingers through his hair, Chaplin replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t look at the clock, I was too excited.”

“Didn’t you drive her around Beverly Hills while she argued that $25 was too little to pay for a hotel bill?”

“No, that is not true.”

“And didn’t you finally say, ‘Well, here’s a good place for you,’ and point to the police station?”

Chaplin flatly denied this and said he didn’t even know where the police station was. “I didn’t notice, I was very upset.”

Carr jumped to June 1943 when Joan told Chaplin she was pregnant.

“And did Joan at this time, referring to her unborn baby, say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ And you said, ‘I suggest you go to New York to have it.’ And she said, ‘Charles, why don’t you marry me?’ And you said, ‘I’m not marrying anyone, Joan, if you make this matter public, I’ll spend my entire fortune fighting it and if necessary blacken your name, and I will not be any issue at all.’ Didn’t that conversation take place, Mr. Chaplin?”

“No, that is not true.”

On redirect examination by Giesler, Chaplin examined his studio records and discovered that his final payment for film rights to Shadow and Substance was made on March 28th, 1942. He said he had been considering it two months.

On recross Carr asked, “Why did you raise Miss Barry’s salary from $75 a week to $100?”

“Because I thought she was worthy of it.”

“That’s all,” Carr said, and Chaplin stepped down.


Freeport Journal, March 31, 1944
Chicago Daily Tribune, March 30-31, 1944
Salt Lake City Tribune, March 31, 1944
Mason City Globe-Gazette, March 31, 1944
“The Jerry Giesler Story,” Saturday Evening Post, November 21, 1959
Accusations Against Charles Chaplin for Political and Moral Offenses,” Film Comment, Winter 1969

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