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Charlie Chaplin's Women; Wives and Affairs

Updated on August 1, 2015

The Handsome Charlie Chaplin

Charlie and His Women/Girls

Charlie Chaplin is without a doubt one of the greatest talents ever to reach Hollywood. His talents were endless and he is still admired 100 years later due to the fact that he is so unlike the modern actors of today. He strove to truly conquer life. Born into Victorian London poverty, Charlie was practically illiterate due to his scant formal education, yet he evolved into a highly literate and educated man.

Chaplin was always trying to learn more and improve himself. As a boy trying out for parts in music halls he always feared being asked by the casting director to read for a part because his reading was so poor. He agonized when given a new part that he may be put on the spot and his lack of reading skills exposed. He was relieved when the director would hand him his lines and tell him to go home to memorize them. This way he could run home to his older brother, Sydney, and together they would practice his lines so that Charlie knew his part inside out and would not suffer the embarrassment of struggling to read. Rather than sail through life with the bare minimum of knowledge, Charlie strove to be a better, more knowledgeable man in every way.

By the end of Charlie's life he had read all the classics and even wrote two books in which he displayed a vast vocabulary and ability to describe characters almost as well as Charles Dickens himself. Charlie could play several instruments by ear, the violin was his favorite, and learned the language of music so well that he began composing. His most notable piece is 'Smile".

Through his life he met many women. As a practically illiterate youth he yearned to be accepted by beautiful and desirable women, but they were out of his league. Once Charlie received a degree of fame his luck and changed and women were at his disposal; and he did dispose of them fluently.

By 1915 Charlie Chaplin was a man of great power and magnetism who in the prime of his youth attracted women who wanted to spend their lives with him. Many were starry eyed youths who fell head over heels for this powerful millionaire celebrity. In Hollywood he had quickly achieved a position of high power where he could easily leave a woman bewildered and hurt, ad this is precisely what Chaplin did many occasions. He left a trail of broken hearts behind him before meeting his match with Paulette Goddard and then relaxing into family life with Oona O'Neal.

Sadly, the movie, Chaplin, did not accurately depict the man and his experiences. It, like so many modern films tried to be appealing to modern audiences and therefore sacrificed the true Charlie Chaplin in the process. When Charlie was a young man backstage falling in love with the actresses, these women he was falling for were not showing him their bare breasts and he was not in any way nonchalant in their presence. How much more attractive the movie would have been had they depicted an untouchable beauty, such as Hetty Kelly and Marie Doro, and Charlie being in awkward awe. That was the reality of Chaplin's world around the turn of the century London and not the bizarre scene that the movie created. He also admired Mary Pickford for her beauty and brains. Chaplin, a man who was self composed, was very dignified and even on the serious side. Not a man who one would hear dropping four letter words.


Hetty Kelly Around 1908

Hetty Kelly; Chaplin's First Love

Charlie fell head over heels in instant love with Hetty Kelly as a youngster in London. They were both in the same play. It was 1908 and Chaplin was getting his first real break. He was signed with Fred Karno's comedy troupe and the object of his affection Hetty Kelly was15 when Charlie first discovered her dancing on stage while Charlie, 19, was in the wings transfixed on her stunning oval face, full lips and large dark eyes. Hetty saw Charlie looking and perhaps as an act of flirtation, she asked Charlie to hold a mirror as she adjusted her face. That was the beginning, Chaplin was smitten. They went out several times, mostly walking through London, but Hetty made it clear that she was too young for marriage. Chaplin was deeply hurt and kept trying to woe her into an engagement but she shunned him.

As years passed his mind would keep coming back to Hetty Kelly. He would even take long walks in London and feel the urge to walk by her home long after they had parted ways.

Charlie went about his business but Hetty and her rejection of his love would forever haunt him.

A few years later when Chaplin was booked to tour America with the Karno comedy troupe Charlie heard a car screeching. It was a black limo and a white gloved hand waving out of the window. He heard a feminine voice, "Charlie", and he discovered it was Hetty all dolled up and getting ready to head to the Continent for work. Charlie and Hetty caught up and Hetty told Charlie that she has thought about him a lot and that he should keep in touch and pay her a visit if they should find themselves him the same city. Her older sister had married an American multimillionaire, this could be why she was in a limo.

Chaplin left England with his comedy team with Hetty in the back of his mind. He may have thought that he would return to England successful and eventually marry her. But Chaplin was not one to let emotions get in the way of his career.

Chaplin enjoyed success in America with the Karno company and as luck would have it he was spotted by Mack Sennett playing the his part of a drunk. Sennett was so impressed with Charlie that he asked if he would like to take part in some Keystone shorts. Chaplin's success escalated quickly as he went from being an amusing character on the stage to quickly becoming Sennett's most popular movie comic. His fame was not just among those who saw this recent show but was all over the country. With his overnight success Sennett put Chaplin in charge of his own pictures. All Charlie needed was the opportunity, and from that moment on he was his own writer, director, producer. It is difficult for the modern movie goer to understand the excitement and popularity of a major star of the silent era. Films were universal and stars who achieved super stardom were international celebrities.

As Chaplin put together his movies he continued to think of Hetty Kelly and arranged his leading lady in her likeness. Mabel Normand was usually the female foil for Charlie, and she featured the same dark hair, white skin,and large dark eyes that Hetty possessed. By 1918 Chaplin was the most familiar figure in the world and Hetty send him a letter stating that he should come and pay her a visit. Even though he had dozens of beautiful women throwing themselves at him, including his stunning leading lady of the time, Edna Purviance, he could not get Hetty off his mind and had wondered what her reaction to his success might be. He was all set to see his first love as he waited on board the Olympic, when he received news that Hetty had passed away three weeks prior due to the flu epidemic that had swept through Europe. Charlie was stunned and greatly disappointed by the news and his encounter with Hetty had never really achieved closure.

Edna Purviane; Chaplin's First Leading Lady

Mildred Harris

Pola Negri & Charlie Playing Golf

Chaplin Finds His Leading Lady

Throughout Charlie's life he seemed to gravitate towards brunettes. Many of Chaplin biographers and Chaplin scholars have assumed that he was trying to find a new Hetty Kelly while others dismiss this as simply the fact that there are more brunettes in thew world than blondes. Either way, Edna Purviance stands out as the only blond woman to take a major place in Chaplin's love life. He was still in his early stages of success when He met her and in the prime of his youth.

He needed his own leading lady to dress up his comedies when he signed with Mutual, and began auditioning pretty women for his comedies. Young Gloria Swanson was one girl Chaplin thought was immensely attractive and he spent some time trying to get her to laugh. He eventually dismissed her due to her inexperience and lack of humor. One of Chaplin's business associates mentioned that he sees a pretty girl who has aspirations for being an actress and works as a secretary. When Chaplin was introduced to Edna for the first time he found she to be more than pretty, she was stunningly beautiful. He was so taken by her looks alone that he decided to sign her even though he thought that her demeanor was too sad for comedy. Edna improved and her air of sadness eventually vanished as she became Chaplin's leading lady in real life. Edna did not have it easy. She was with Charlie while he still carried the arrogance of youth with him. They were a couple, and were seen together at all the swankiest hot spots in Hollywood, but Charlie wanted to conquer everything and a wife and family were not something he was thinking of in his near future. When Edna became pregnant Charlie arranged for an abortion. Edna was trying to keep Charlie interested in her, but he was being tempted by all the young starlets who were vying for his attention. When she became pregnant again, Charlie again told Edna that this was not the time to get married and start a family. Edna knew that her lover was playing around on her and realized that if she wanted a future she had better make herself available for other men. Chaplin sites Edna as pulling away from him with a married director, Marshall Neilan. The truth is that Chaplin was running around first. As Edna was trying to get closer to Chaplin he was becoming entangled with Mildred Harris and various other women.

Soon the teenaged Mildred Harris was pregnant and hoping Charlie to marry her. This girl would not follow Chaplin's idea of an abortion and he quickly agreed to a marriage though he had no intention of living with the girl as a husband. Edna was deeply hurt by the marriage because she had been hoping for a future with Chaplin and because when she herself had become pregnant by Chaplin had gotten an abortion at his insistence, not once but twice. Mildred's pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm though now that she was Mrs. Charlie Chaplin it was not long before Mildred really was pregnant. Her pregnancy was unhappy due to Chaplin's cruelty, and her baby was born severely retarded, dying only three days after birth. Charlie and Mildred were soon divorced. Chaplin took out his guilt about how Edna was cast aside on Mildred, and she never really stood a chance of achieving any happiness because Chaplin considered her nothing more than a forgettable fling that hung on.

Somehow immediately after his divorce Chaplin met and began dating Pola Negri. She was a publicity hound and there is not doubt that her intentions were to suck as much attention from him as possible. The press cooked up the romance to further heights by headlining "The King of Comedy and the Queen of Tragedy". The headlines faded fast as Charlie was seen with other women.


Florence Deshon

Charlie, May Collins and Unknown

Early 20s, Florence Deshon & May Collins Overlap

Charlie began an affair with Florence Deshon. A woman who was taken though not formally engaged to Max Eastman. Chaplin was genuinely taken by her charm and beauty though he had to share her with Max Eastman.

Around this period he was seen with the ever beautiful May Collins. May was only seventeen years old and when rumors began to circulate that Chaplin and she may marry or soon become engaged Chaplin stated to the press that he liked May Collins and that was as far as things went. Soon the two were no longer seen together. It seems that Charlie had a habit of being attracted to beauty and when substance was lacking, as it often was with the very young girls he was attracted to, he would grow board and take a powder before more was expected of him.

Both of these romances were short lived. Florence died suddenly on February 4, 1922 at the age of 28. She was discovered unconscious in her apartment with her window open and gas illuminating from a jet that was left wide open.

Chaplin and Eastman both believed she had no reason to kill herself and her death was ruled accidental.

Lita Grey

Georgia Hale; On Again, Off Again

Georgia Hale& Lita Grey

Lita was born on April 15, 1908. The same year that Charlie was hotly pursuing Hetty Kelly. She was christened Lillita MacMurray in Hollywood, worked as child extra, even landing a role in Chaplin's "The Kid" in 1921 when she was just 12 years old. She must have impressed him because both she and her mother appeared as Maids later that year in "The Idle Class". It makes one wonder just what was brewing in Chaplin's mind during this time. It seems that Lita Grey had some of the physical characteristics of Hetty Kelly, and Chaplin signed her to be his leading lady in The Gold Rush at the age of 15 in 1924. Things did not go as planned and Lita wound up pregnant by Chaplin who encouraged her to have an abortion. Lita refused to terminate her pregnancy resulting in she becoming the second Mrs. Charles Spencer Chaplin. Lita gave birth to Charles Chaplin Jr. on June 28, 1925.

Chaplin had shot yards of footage of Lita in the role of the dance hall girl, but because she would not terminate her pregnancy she would no longer be suitable in the role. Charlie had seen Georgia Hale in one of her only films to date and was very impressed with her acting and looks. She had won a beauty contest in Chicago and with her winnings decided to head to Hollywood in hopes of meeting Charlie Chaplin in person. With Georgia being beautiful and completely in awe of Charlie the inevitable happened. During the making of The Gold Rush she and Chaplin had an affair. The love triangle must have been deeply passionate as Lita Gray gave birth to her second son who was named after Charlie's brother, Sydney Chaplin, and Charlie was steeling away on excursions with Georgia.

In 1927 Lita Gray filed for divorce and Charlie continued his on again off again relationship with Georgia, who desperately hoped to win Chaplin for her own.

May Reeves; The First To Write About Chaplin

Charlie and May Enjoying an Extended Vacation

Chaplin Goes Oversees

In 1931 Chaplin had just finished filming City Lights and headed to France for a much needed vacation. He was leaving behind a broken hearted Georgia Hale, who after spending so much time with him on trips wondered why he was leaving her behind. Chaplin's press agent hired May Reeves to translate his French fan mail to him while on this trip. Reeves only worked one day as Charlie was immediately infatuated with her and instead of reading fan mail she was his private interpreter, companion and lover, a position that Georgia Hale would have enjoyed immensely.

Reeves and Chaplin were inseparable for one full year as they traveled the south of France together. May is the very first of Charlie's women to write about her relationship with him and profit. Shortly after they parted ways she wrote a book that was titled, Charlie Chaplin Intime. This was later translated in English, Intimate Charlie Chaplin.

She spent a year frolicking on the beach and going out to dinners and shows. It seems that when two people are having that much fun together they are bound to become serious, but for some reason Charlie returned to the states without Reeves. There have been several theories. One is the story that Charlie himself tells. May was a flirt who had another man who caused Chaplin agonizing jealousy. The kind of Jealousy that makes powerful men run away and hide. Another theory is that May began an affair with Charlie's brother, Sydney, who was seen with the two for a time during this period.

1930s Memoir by May Reeves. Intimate Chaplin

The French Riviera

Charlie, Unknown Man, and May Reeves
Charlie, Unknown Man, and May Reeves

Charlie & May Relax on the Beach

Chaplin with Blond Paulette Goddard

Charlie and Paulette Goddard

After arriving back in the united states 1932, Chaplin took up again with Georgia Hale who was desperate to steer their relationship back where it was before he left, but Chaplin did not have the strong attachment to Hale as she had for him. Charlie would get shed of her but she would remain obsessed with Chaplin for the rest of her life. Georgia Hale never married and always clung to hope that she might get to spend some time with the man she loved once again.

Chaplin continued to date other women and was soon seriously entangled with Paulette Goddard, a bit player with Jean Harlow type Platinum Blond Hair.

Charlie talked Goddard out of keeping up with the peroxide blondes and persuaded her to go back to being a brunette. Paulette did as Chaplin said but she manipulated him as no other woman ever had.

Goddard got Chaplin to buy her hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, which she gloated with around all the other showgirls she had been working with before she met Mr. Chaplin.

Paulette was one of the few women to have hooked up with Chaplin and walked away unscathed. She boosted her career and her finances, and then moved on with her life and career.

Was Chaplin simply becoming softer with age or was Goddard's personality responsible for the balance of their relationship? She had been married before hooking up with Charlie and was over the age of 20, old in chicken hawk Charlie's book. In fact, Goddard was about 26 years old when she and Chaplin married making her the only adult, the only divorcee, and the only one with a full fledged career who the king of comedy ever married.


Charlie and Paulette Taking a Trip

Charlie and Paulette Enjoying Night Life

Charlie Marries for the Fourth Time. Oona O'Neil

Oona O'Neil had lived a privileged life, attending Brearley, a prestigious all-girl school in Manhattan, at the age of 18, she decided to head to Hollywood and attempt an acting career. Charlie was making a new movie and Oona was immediately suggested for a bit part. Charlie and she began dating almost instantly. She was the daughter of famous writer, Eugene O'Neal, who divorced her mother when she was only 2 years old. Oona lived the life of a socialite during her teens, and it was generally expected that she would marry a well heeled young suitor, but, Oona was a very insecure young girl and as soon as the 54-year old Chaplin began dating her she lost interest in pursuing a career as an actress and wanted to be taken care of by father figure Charlie Chaplin. in 1943. Oona and Charlie married, Oona's father was so greatly opposed to the union that he disinherited her, at the time Oona stated that she had barely seen her father at all during her childhood and therefore life with Charlie was far more appealing than trying to please her father. Chaplin was still wildly seeing other women as he dated Oona, and Georgia Hale states that she was with him the night before the wedding.

The couple stayed together until Charlie's death at the age of 88. They had eight children together, and moved to Switzerland when Charlie took an arrogant stance, refusing to be questioned about communism. These days Chaplin has been romanticized into a folk hero, with his relationships and his arrogance towards America being haled in a positive way. He is looked upon as a victim, however, one must think that if this were Donald Trump, throwing his weight around, refusing to cooperate, and committing statutory rape, Americans would be cheering if he were to get his comeuppance. Chaplin was an extremely wealthy man who refused to play by the rules that the rest of America played by, and the general public despised Charlies apparent air of superiority, arrogance and disrespect. All Chaplin had to to was to answer questions, the same as anyone else, but he refused. He also, just as many modern day celebrities, spoke of the virtues of communism while reaping the grand rewards of capitalism. The public spoke out, "is capitalism only goof for you?" "Are we to live in slots carrying bowls to the bread line as you live in a palace and use our women?" In 2015, this type of hypocrisy would fly, but in the 1950s America did not want to play the patsy.

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    • Melissa Scanlan profile image

      Melissa Scanlan 2 years ago from San Diego, CA

      My mom was married to his producer Jerry Epstein. She passed away a few years ago but I have a letter from prime minister of Britain thanking her and her husband for arranging Charlie Chaplin's knighting.

    • GlendaGoodWitch profile image
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      GlendaGoodWitch 2 years ago from California

      How interesting Melissa. That letter is truly something monumental for the family to keep.

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