Charlie Chaplin first paid a visit to the United States at 21 years old. It was in America that he broke into the film industry, owing to his talent and lively personality.
Chaplin was considered one of the best directors and actors of the silent-film era. But behind his success, many scandals and controversies surround him, which ultimately led to his ban from the United States.
Banning from the US
Perhaps the most damaging controversy Charlie Chaplin encountered was in the 1950s when the US government accused him of being anti-American. In 1922, the FBI started to keep an eye on him, monitoring him for potentially being a communist due to his portrayal of The Tramp character. In his movies featuring The Tramp as the lead, they frequently display the dehumanization of workers in factories, possibly symbolizing the evil ways of capitalism that give the rich more money and take advantage of the poor. One of his more controversial films, The Immigrant, shows Chaplin as a lead character, booting an immigrant officer. The government then proceeded to use the exact scene as proof of his being anti-American.
In 1952, the US government officially banned Charlie Chaplin from entering the country after attending his film Limelight’s premiere in London. Along with his family, Chaplin was forced to relocate to Europe since his wife, Oona O’Neill, declined to live with their kids in the United States without him.
Since Chaplin wasn’t permitted to enter the United States, his wife decided to travel back to the US to transfer the actor’s money to his European bank account. The banning of Charlie Chaplin also brought on the decision to close down his studio in the US that he used and took care of for years. Chaplin declined to answer inquiries about America and his banning since he didn’t want the circumstances to worsen. Limelight received massive success in Europe, but most American theaters boycotted the film.
In the following years after Chaplin’s banning, the American citizens eventually warmed up to him. They once again applauded his older films while almost forgetting his political views. The Plaza Theater in New York City launched a one-year Charlie Chaplin movie marathon where people can get tickets to see his iconic films to show appreciation. Limelight was among the movie shows during the marathon, ultimately receiving due praise from American film critics.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts presented Chaplin with an Honorary Oscar in 1972. Numerous people stated that the award works as a symbol of the US making amends with the actor after the controversy. Chaplin was met with a 12-minute long standing ovation during the awarding ceremony, which is currently the most prolonged standing ovation in the history of Oscars.
Charlie Chaplin underwent two messy divorces during the early years of his career. His first divorce was with Mildred Harris, who claimed Chaplin was mentally abusive. Additionally, Harris said that Chaplin proclaimed her intellect does not equal his. The comic actor and filmmaker also countered during the divorce procedure that his then-wife was cheating on him with a woman identified as Alla Nazimova. Although, he didn’t reveal the woman’s name to the public. In the end, they never proved the accusation to be true, and the divorce was sanctioned. Chaplin ended up having to give Mildred Harris $100,000 for their separation settlement.
Chaplin’s other divorce was with Lita Grey, who accused him of cheating on her several times with other women. As the divorce was being processed, the media got hold of the divorce complaint, declaring the cheating accusations against the actor.
His career took a blow from the damaging consequences he and Grey received from the press due to their divorce, although Chaplin took the negativity he received and used it as fuel to continue directing and acting in films. As a settlement for their divorce, Chaplin had to give Grey $600,000 and his two children with her $100,000.
Accused of Pedophilia
One concerning thing about Charlie Chaplin’s relationships is the age gap between him and his partners. When he was 29, he tied the knot with the then 16-year old Mildred Harris, and when Chaplin was 35, he married Lita Grey, who was only 15 by that time.
A rather unsettling fact about his marriage to Grey is that to avoid getting arrested for having a sexual affair with a minor, Chaplin concealed his marriage to her by moving to Mexico to hide from the press who might report about what happened. So, when the media disclosed Grey’s divorce complaint, many believed that several relationships Chaplin had throughout his marriage with her were with minors.
However, some defended Chaplin, saying that what he had with his wives transpired with their consent, and there were no allegations that the actor forced himself on them. Nevertheless, the pedophile accusations will remain surrounding Chaplin’s life, even when he stopped marrying younger women after Grey.