The Spouses of Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin, renowned for his groundbreaking contributions to cinema as a director, writer, producer, and actor, created films that achieved both critical acclaim and commercial success. Despite his illustrious career, Chaplin’s personal life, marked by tumultuous and controversial relationships, often made headlines and captivated public attention.

His romantic life experienced numerous ups and downs, leading to moments of heartbreak and public scandal that shocked his fans and the wider world alike. However, his search for love concluded on a joyful note when he met his true love in 1943. For a closer look at his romantic history, here is an in-depth examination of the spouses of Charlie Chaplin.

Mildred Harris

Mildred Harris ca 1918 – 1920

Mildred Harris was Charlie Chaplin’s first wife, whom he married in 1918. Their marriage was marked by youth and the pressures of early Hollywood fame, with Chaplin at 29 and Harris only 16 years old. Mildred was already a rising actress in the silent film era, having started her career as a child star. The union was hurried along by a pregnancy scare, which ultimately turned out to be a false alarm, adding strain to their relationship.

Marriage Challenges and Personal Tragedy

The marriage faced significant challenges from the start. The couple’s age difference and differing levels of maturity put a strain on their relationship. Harris’s career was overshadowed by Chaplin’s burgeoning fame, leading to tensions over their respective roles in the film industry. Tragically, their only child together, Norman Spencer Chaplin, died three days after birth in 1919, which was a profound loss that added to the already strained relationship.

Divorce and Aftermath

The marriage lasted only two years, ending in divorce in 1920. The dissolution of their marriage was largely attributed to their personal differences and the pressures of living in the public eye. Following their divorce, Mildred Harris continued her acting career, although she never reached the same level of fame as during her early years. Her life after Chaplin included further ventures in film and brief marriages but remained marked by her early association with one of cinema’s greatest figures.

Lita Grey

Studio publicity photograph of Lita Grey, 1925

Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita Louise MacMurray, became Charlie Chaplin’s second wife under circumstances that bore a stark resemblance to his first marriage. Born in 1908, Grey met Chaplin while she was performing as a child actress in Hollywood. Their relationship took a significant turn when Grey, at the age of 16, became pregnant, leading to their marriage in 1924. Chaplin was 35 at the time, and the union was largely prompted by the need to avoid scandal in the conservative societal norms of the era.

Marriage Life and Public Scandal

The marriage between Lita Grey and Charlie Chaplin was marked by intense media scrutiny and personal discord. Grey was thrust into the limelight not just as Chaplin’s wife but also as a young mother in a highly publicized and scrutinized relationship. They had two sons together, Charles Chaplin Jr. and Sydney Earle Chaplin, but domestic bliss was short-lived. The couple’s relationship was fraught with challenges, exacerbated by their age difference, Chaplin’s controlling nature, and the immense pressure of living up to public expectations.

Contentious Divorce and Its Aftermath

The breakdown of their marriage culminated in a highly public and acrimonious divorce in 1927, which was one of the first celebrity divorces to garner such widespread media coverage. The divorce proceedings were sensationalized, with Grey’s legal complaints about Chaplin’s alleged infidelities and cruelty becoming fodder for newspapers around the world. The settlement reached was substantial for its time, securing financial stability for Grey and her sons but at the cost of continuing Chaplin’s pattern of troubled marriages.

Following the divorce, Lita Grey continued to work in the entertainment industry, though she never achieved significant fame as an actress. She later authored two autobiographical books that detailed her life and tumultuous marriage to Chaplin. Her relationship with Chaplin remains a notable example of the difficulties faced by young actresses in early Hollywood, particularly those who found themselves intertwined with its most iconic figures.

Paulette Goddard

Paulette Goddard in Modern Times (1936)

Paulette Goddard was Charlie Chaplin’s third wife, and unlike in his previous marriages, their relationship was rooted in both personal and professional compatibility. Born Marion Levy in 1910, Goddard was an accomplished American actress by the time she met Chaplin. Their relationship began in the early 1930s, and she starred alongside him in several of his films, most notably “Modern Times” (1936) and “The Great Dictator” (1940). Their collaboration on screen was a reflection of a deeper partnership that extended beyond the cameras.

Marriage and Collaboration

Goddard and Chaplin were married in 1936, after having lived together for several years. This marriage was distinct from Chaplin’s earlier ones, as it was less scandalous and more a partnership of equals. Goddard brought her own star power and talent to the relationship, which helped stabilize Chaplin’s public image and brought a new era of creativity to his work. Her influence in his life was not only personal but also professional, as she contributed significantly to the success of his films during their marriage.

The End of Their Union

Despite the strength of their initial partnership, Goddard and Chaplin’s marriage began to falter by the end of the 1940s. They were divorced in 1942, a separation that was much less contentious than Chaplin’s previous divorces. The end of their marriage did not involve scandal or public dispute, reflecting a mutual respect that both retained post-separation. After their divorce, Goddard continued to have a successful film career, appearing in a number of successful films throughout the 1940s and beyond.

Legacy and Later Life

Paulette Goddard’s relationship with Charlie Chaplin remains one of the most notable aspects of her legacy, though her career and life extended far beyond their partnership. She later married Burgess Meredith and Erich Maria Remarque and continued acting until the 1970s. Goddard was also known for her philanthropic efforts, particularly in support of the arts and sciences. Her marriage to Chaplin, though ended, is often remembered for its blend of personal affection and professional collaboration, marking a significant chapter in the life of one of cinema’s greatest figures.

Oona O’Neill

Oona O'Neill (1943)

Oona O’Neill, daughter of the famous playwright Eugene O’Neill, became Charlie Chaplin’s fourth and final wife. Born in 1925, Oona was only 18 years old when she married Chaplin in 1943, who was then 54. Despite the significant age gap and the initial disapproval from her father, their marriage unfolded as one of the most enduring and supportive partnerships in Hollywood history.

Marriage and Stability

Oona met Chaplin during the turbulent period of his career when he was facing immense political scrutiny in the United States. Her unwavering support during these challenges proved foundational to their relationship. The couple married quietly in Santa Barbara, California, and soon after, Chaplin’s career and personal life faced escalating pressures during the McCarthy era, leading them to relocate to Switzerland for what would be the remainder of their lives.

Family Life and Personal Sacrifice

Oona gave up a budding acting career to focus on her family, providing a stable home environment for Chaplin and their eight children. Her role as a devoted wife and mother was a stark contrast to the often-tumultuous relationships Chaplin had experienced in his earlier years. Oona’s commitment to her family and her ability to maintain privacy and dignity amidst public scrutiny was central to her identity.

Later Years and Legacy

Oona remained married to Chaplin until his death in 1977. Her dedication to him never wavered, and she was known to be a protective figure over their shared legacy and their children’s well-being. After Chaplin’s death, Oona lived a relatively quiet life, avoiding the public eye and focusing on her family until her own death in 1991.

Oona O’Neill’s marriage to Charlie Chaplin is often remembered not only for its endurance but also for the profound mutual support and love that defined it. Her ability to navigate the complexities of life with one of cinema’s most iconic figures, all while maintaining a strong family unit, is a testament to her resilience and commitment.


In exploring the lives of Charlie Chaplin’s spouses—Mildred Harris, Lita Grey, Paulette Goddard, and Oona O’Neill—we gain a deeper understanding of how his personal and romantic life intertwined with his illustrious film career. Each marriage reflected different aspects of Chaplin’s life and era, from youthful mistakes to mature partnerships.

While each relationship brought its own set of challenges and stories, it was his lasting union with Oona O’Neill that provided the stability and support that marked the final chapters of his life. The narrative of Chaplin’s spouses not only highlights the complexities of his character but also underscores the profound impact of personal relationships on one’s legacy.