Charlie Chaplin is among the most prominent movie stars of the 20th century, thanks to his unforgettable roles that transformed Hollywood forever. However, Chaplin’s off-screen life involves:
- A series of marital affairs.
- Allegations of abuse with women half his age.
- Estranged children.
This string of scandals has stained the actor’s reputation. Despite a flourishing career in film and acting, Chaplin was plagued with personal drama worldwide, which ultimately forced him to leave the United States.
Learn more about Chaplin’s wives and the story of their relationships below.
Chaplin married The Inferior Sex and For Husbands Only 16-year-old actress Mildred Harris at the age of 29. He believed her to be pregnant with his baby. The matrimony only persisted for two years, and although Harris eventually gave birth to Chaplin’s firstborn, the baby died only after three days. Their union initially proved beneficial for Harris, who received more movie offers; however, her husband was unsupportive and doubted her talent due to her young age. This behavior would eventually manifest as a toxic pattern for the actor.
Chaplin married his second wife, Lita Grey, whom he cast in his movie, The Gold Rush, in 1924. A seemingly recurring pattern, the 16-year-old actress claimed that Chaplin forced her to marry him after unexpectedly becoming pregnant. Later, in an ugly 50-page divorce, Grey revealed the actor’s harsh measures to cover their private affairs, including Chaplin’s demand for an abortion after she became pregnant. Grey endured her marriage with Chaplin for three years and birthed two sons before finally leaving. Their nasty court battle complicated things, with Grey benefiting $100,000 for every child and openly defaming her ex-husband as a manipulative playboy. Their divorce was the hugest public Hollywood controversy at the time, tainting Chaplin’s name.
Undeterred by his past failed marriages, Chaplin proceeded to work as the most prominent movie star of his generation. He then married Broadway star and former child fashion model Paulette Goddard nine years later. Goddard was 22 when she first met Chaplin but lied to him, claiming to be 17. However, that didn’t hinder Chaplin from moving Goddard into his home soon after. Although, contradictory sources question the legality of their marriage.
Nonetheless, the twosome lasted seven years until Chaplin’s jealousy separated them. Chaplin’s domineering ways resurfaced as his efforts to take control of her career pushed Goddard to her limits. As a result, the couple broke up shortly after the premiere of their 1940 film, The Great Dictator. Unlike Chaplin’s previous wives, Goddard was an independent starlet who was successful before and after her relationship with the actor, scoring contracts with Paramount Studios.
Chaplin and O’Neill met in 1942 when he was still considering her for a part in one of his films. They hit it off and immediately became inseparable, eventually marrying the following year. At last, Chaplin found genuine happiness, and it appears they both found their soul mates in each other, even though O’Neill was only 18 and Charlie was 53.
Oona O’Neill was older than Chaplin’s f his first two wives when they married. Still, the pair’s age gap raised eyebrows. But for the actor, this was the happy marriage he had been waiting and searching for his entire life. Chaplin and O’Neill had eight children together: Geraldine, Michael, Josephine, Victoria, Eugene, Jane, Annette, and Christopher. The couple remained married until Chaplin’s passing in 1977. Some of their children ventured into acting, with stage and film actress Geraldine Chaplin and Oona Chaplin, her daughter who showed up in Taboo and Game of Thrones, gaining the most recognition.
O’Neill was the daughter of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, whose lauded plays include Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh, who divorced Oona’s mother when she was only two years old. Already irritated that his teenage daughter was seeking to go into acting against his judgment, the playwright quickly disowned her upon hearing she married Chaplin, who was as old as he.
Being wedded to Chaplin wasn’t always smooth sailing, but O’Neill handled the controversies surrounding him gracefully. The ’40s brought Chaplin violent press attacks, lawsuits, failure of his only film of the decade, and lawsuits. In one particular instance, Chaplin was involved in a paternity suit with the starlet Joan Barry. And although the blood test proved Chaplin wasn’t the father of Barry’s child, a jury decided contrarily, and a judge commanded him to support the child still.
O’Neill continued to stay by Chaplin’s side and was with him in London for the world premiere of his 1952 film Limelight. However, he received word then that Chaplin would have to be questioned regarding his moral behavior and political views to reenter the United States. So the couple elected to reside in Switzerland with their children and relocated to Corsier-sur-Vevey near Lake Geneva. They remained there until the actor’s death.
O’Neill lived another 14 years after Chaplin’s death in 1977 on Christmas day. After that, she lived her life mainly in seclusion in New York and Switzerland. In 1991, she died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 66. O’Neill and Chaplin are buried beside each other in Corsier-sur-Vevey.