Foolish Liaisons: The Wives of Charlie Chaplin

2. Paulette Goddard

Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin in 'Modern Times' (1936)
Paulette Goddard and Charlie Chaplin in ‘Modern Times’ (1936)

Paulette Goddard, the oldest and most successful of Chaplin’s wives, was a divorcee and in her twenties when she met the actor/ director at a party in 1932. They formed an instance friendship which turned into a romantic relationship. After their meeting, Goddard landed a contract as ‘Goldwyn Girl’ by featuring in several early 30’s musicals, such as, ‘Roman Scandals’ (1933) and ‘Kid Millions’ (1934). Over this time it was reported that Goddard was now living at Chaplin’s Beverly Hills estate. Their relationship also moved into the creative realm with Chaplin giving Goddard the much sort after lead role in ‘Modern Times’ (1936) which cushioned her entry into film stardom. It was the after the release of the film that the pair reportedly got married in China but this was never proven. Chaplin and Goddard both argue the wedding was not an entirely legal marriage but that it still existed in the common law; however, no papers were found to corroborate this claim. The ‘marriage’ continued happily for the next four years until the couple’s last film together, the controversial, ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940). The relationship began to crumble after the release and they officially divorced in June 4, 1942. They remained distant friends until Chaplin’s death and Goddard continued making movies until her death in April 23, 1990 from emphysema.

1. Oona O’Neill

Charlie Chaplin and Oona O'Neill

It would be fourth time lucky for Chaplin who, at age 54, appeared to find his soul-mate and contentment in eighteen-year-old Oona O’Neill. The couple met in late 1942 with the newly divorced Chaplin attempting to bolster his waning career. She was suggested by some of Chaplin’s associates for a part in his upcoming film, ‘Shadow and Substance’. Although, he though her too young to play the role, Chaplin signed her up and began giving her acting and speech lessons. A romance soon blossomed with Oona rather than Chaplin promoting the relationship. They married on June 16, 1943 in Santa Barbara, California and Oona soon abandoned her acting career for a family. Over their happy 34-year marriage they had eight children together, including actress Geraldine Chaplin, actor Michael Chaplin, circus performer Victoria Chaplin and composer and actor Christopher Chaplin. Oona outlived Chaplin and died on September 27, 1991 from pancreatic cancer.

What About the Others?

Outside his marriages, Chaplin has also been connected to several other more illustrious women and, in some ways, more problematic scandals. His first public girlfriend and, many said, the person Chaplin should have married was film actress and constant collaborator Edna Purviance. They appeared in 35 films together and may have had a more long lasting relationship if the beautiful Mildred Harris hadn’t captured Chaplin’s attention.

Joan Barry and her child Carol Ann
Joan Barry and her child Carol Ann

However, it would be with a little known aspiring actress Joan Barry that would cause Chaplin the most pain. They had a small affair in 1942 that ended when Barry began behaving irrationally and harassing the director. A short time after Barry gave birth and immediately sued Chaplin to financially support the child. Although, blood tests showed that Chaplin was not the biological father, the evidence was argued as inadmissible by the prosecution and he was ordered to support the baby.

In addition, Chaplin was also rumoured to also had brief flings with actresses Pola Negri, Louise Brooks and, controversially, with fellow actress and mistress of media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies.

All through his successful and groundbreaking career, Charlie Chaplin had been followed by several scandals, rumours and controversies. His was accused of being inappropriately attracted to young girls and fathering children by them, being falsely married to another and having many extra-marital affairs. No one could call Charlie boring, but thankfully, his immense and groundbreaking input into filmmaking has overtaking his personal life to shape the legacy Chaplin has today.

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  1. Taylor Ramsey

    Great post again!
    Another bit of trivia is that Oona’s father, the writer Eugene Oneil shut her out because of her marriage to Chaplin. The two barely spoke the rest of thier lives.

  2. Amanda Duke

    Who would have known that Chaplin was such a ladies man!

  3. He had a fondness for young wives! Mildred Harris was gorgeous.

    • Louisa Prisco

      Miss Harris had a great presence. There goes without saying that it is a shame many of her movies are lost and cannot be watched anywhere.

  4. Jey Jackson

    Biological age is only one indicator of someone’s capacity for a relationship. So many motives, needs and other dynamics involved. The age issue is over rated.

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