The Spouses of Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin has directed, written, produced, and starred in great films that received wide critical acclaim and commercial success. However, the one aspect of his life that didn’t get as much success as his movies was his love life, as it is filled with tumultuous, controversial, and heartbreaking moments and events that shocked not only his fans but also the entire world. Thankfully, his love life reached a happy ending when he finally met his true love in 1943. To know more about his relationships, here is a detailed look at the spouses of Charlie Chaplin.

Mildred Harris

Mildred Harris was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, U.S.A on November 29, 1901, and started her career as an actress when she was just 11 years old. The first film that she appeared in was The Post Telegrapher, a short silent film directed by Thomas H. Ince and Francis Ford. Her most well-praised film appearance was in No, No Nanette, which is a film adaption of a Broadway musical of the same name in 1930. 

In 1918, when Harris was 16 years old, she met Charlie Chaplin and believed to have become pregnant with his child. However, Mildred’s announcement of pregnant was only a false alarm, although she did give birth to a son a few months after she married Chaplin on October 23, 1918. Sadly, Chaplin and her son named Norman Spencer died just three days after being born. Many believed that the death of their son caused the misunderstandings and fights between Chaplin and Harris.

Harris eventually filed force divorce in 1920, saying that Chaplin was mentally abusive. According to Harris, Chaplin said that she was not on par with him in terms of talent and intellect. During the process of the divorce, Chaplin accused Harris of cheating on him with an actress named Alla Nazimova, which further brought more scandal and attention to their divorce since lesbian relationships weren’t widely accepted in that period.

The divorce was finalized in November 1920, and Harris received $100,000 in the settlement. Harris would marry for the second time in 1924 with Everett Terrence McGovern, but they divorced on November 26, 1929, due to McGovern deserting Harris. McGovern and Harris had one son named Everett Terrence McGovern, Jr., who was born in 1925. The third and final marriage for Harris happened in 1934 with William P. Fleckenstein, a former football player. Harris would remain married to Fleckenstein until her death on July 20, 1944, due to pneumonia.

Lita Grey

Lita Grey was born in Hollywood, California, U.S.A on April 15, 1908. According to her, she first met Charlie Chaplin when she was eight years old, but it was when she was 12 that she was given an opportunity to work with and for Chaplin as the “flirting angel” in The Kid, which was released in 1921. 

When she auditioned for the role of the lead female character in the 1925 Chaplin film The Gold Rush, she and the actor both developed feelings for each other. Having suspected that she became pregnant at only 15 years old, Chaplin was prompted to marry her in secret in order not to be sent to jail for having sexual affairs with a minor. They married in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico, to stay away from the limelight.

During their marriage, both she and Chaplin realized that they only had a few things in common, and they also don’t share the same interests. Because of their differences, Chaplin would always stay away from home and would rather work on the studio for his films.

Grey filed for divorce on August 22, 1927, with her saying that Chaplin had several affairs with other women during their marriage. The divorce got settled, and Chaplin was required to pay more than $600,000 to Grey and $100,000 for each of their two children. The total amount of money that Chaplin gave to Grey and their children was the largest for divorce during that time, and many media outlets covered their divorce in full detail, with Grey’s legal complaint about Chaplin’s affairs being published in newspapers.

After divorcing Chaplin, Grey went on to marry Henry Aguire in 1936, but they divorced in 1938. She will then marry for the third time to Arthur Dy in 1938, but they also separated in 1950. Her last marriage, which was with Patsy Pizzolongo, lasted from 1956 to 1966. Lita Grey died of cancer at the age of 87 in Los Angeles, California.

Paulette Goddard

Marion Levy, who used the stage name Paulette Goddard in her acting career, was born in Queens, New York, U.S.A on June 3, 1910, and is most notable for starring as the leading lady for Chaplin in the 1936 film Modern Times and the 1940 film The Great Dictator. In addition, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Lt. Joan O’Doul in the 1943 film So Proudly We Hail! directed by Mark Sandrich.

Charlie Chaplin was her second husband, with the first being Edgar James, a lumber tycoon who she married when she was just 17 years old. James and Goddard divorced in 1932. In the same year, the actress had a relationship with Chaplin, and the couple got attention from the press because they are both popular actors during that period. Four years later, she was cast as the leading lady for Chaplin in Modern Times, and because of their chemistry on the screen, they continue to be partners until the next movie, The Great Dictator.

In 1936, Goddard and Chaplin married secretly in June 1936, at an unknown location within Canton, China. They separated peacefully and in good terms on June 4, 1942. Goddard then went on to marry actor Burgess Meredith in 1944, but they divorced in 1949. Her last marriage was with Erich Maria Remarque, whom she married in 1958. When Remarque died in 1970, Goddard never married again, and she died at the age of 97 on April 23, 1990, due to heart failure. Goddard never had a child, although she suffered from a miscarriage while she was married to Meredith in October 1944.

Oona O’Neill

Oona O’Neill was born in Warwick Parish, Bermuda on May 14, 1925, and was the daughter of Eugene O’Neill, a famous playwright, and Agnes Boulton, a pulp magazine writer. Her parents divorced when she was only four years old, with her mother raising her alone in Point Pleasant, New Jersey.

O’Neill decided to pursue a career in acting after being discovered at the Stork Club, a well-known nightclub in New York City. The 17-year old O’Neill then met Chaplin after she was introduced by her agent, Minna Wallance, to the actor to audition for the lead female role in Chaplin’s then-upcoming film Shadow and Substance. Although Chaplin was impressed by her acting, he stated that O’Neill was too young for the role. But he gave her a contract to play the lead role in the film after Wallace persisted that she fits the character perfectly.

Unfortunately, Shadow and Substance was never released, but Chaplin’s relationship with O’Neill bloomed from friends to lovers between 1942 and 1943. The couple married on June 16, 1943, just one month after O’Neill turned 18 years old. The marriage occurred in Carpinteria, California, and was witnessed by only two people, which were Chaplin’s secretary Catherine Hunter and assistant Harry Crocker. Chaplin allowed photographer Louella Parsons to take pictures of the event and publish it under her name, as he believed that Parsons would write a more positive article about him and O’Neill instead of other reporters like Hedda Hopper, who was known to dislike the actor.

When she was married to Chaplin, she gave up her acting career to focus on being a normal housewife. She did act in Chaplin’s 1952 film Limelight, however, but only as a stand-in for Claire Bloom, the lead actress who was unable to go to the studio to film reshoots.

In 1952, when Chaplin was barred from entering the United States during the premiere of his film Limelight, O’Neill accompanied her husband and children and stayed in London. As Chaplin is unable to get the assets that he had in the United States, O’Neill was the one who flew to the country to transfer her husband’s money to his European bank accounts. She was also the one who closed the house that they lived in the United States as well as Chaplin’s studio.

One year later, they officially moved to Switzerland after acquiring their new home named Manoir de Ban. In 1954, O’Neill renounced her citizenship as an American and became a British citizen. When Chaplin’s health started to worsen, O’Neill stayed by her husband‘s side until his death at the age of 88 on December 25, 1977.

In March 1978, a few months after the burial of Charlie Chaplin, two men named Roman Wardas and Gantcho Ganev stole Chaplin’s body and coffin from his grave and demanded O’Neill to give money in exchange for the actor’s coffin. Their scheme was eventually thwarted by the police, and it was discovered that the coffin was buried in a field near Noville, a town in Switzerland.

According to friends and family members, O’Neill became an alcoholic in the 1980s to cope with his husband’s death. Her excessive drinking led to her suffering from pancreatic cancer before her death at the age of 66 on September 17, 1991. She was buried next to her beloved husband in Corsier-sur-Vevey.