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Biography of Sydney Chaplin – son of Charlie Chaplin, Tony-winning Broadway star

Sydney Earle Chaplin (March 31, 1926 – March 3, 2009)

Sydney Chaplin was an award-winning American film and theater actor. The third son of Charlie Chaplin, Sydney Chaplin was named after his half-uncle Sydney Chaplin, Charlie’s beloved older brother.   Sydney’s mother, Lita Grey was 16 when she married the 35-year-old Charlie Chaplin in 1924. Sydney was born two years later in Beverly Hills. His parents divorced a year later.

Sydney Chaplin, appearing in LimelightSydney spent much of his childhood being shuttled from one boarding school after another and was eventually kicked out of Black Fox Military Academy in Los Angeles, a school specializing in educating the sons of the famous.   After serving overseas in Europe during the final year of in World War II, Sydney turned to acting.

Sydney Chaplin’s stage career

He showed early promise as a stage performer, initially at the prestigious Circle theater in Los Angeles, which he co-founded.   He won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Bells Are Ringing, opposite Judy Holliday, and received a Tony nomination for his performance as Nicky Arnstein, the gambling first husband of Fanny Brice, opposite Barbra Streisand, in the Broadway musical Funny Girl in 1964.

Sydney Chaplin’s film career

Sydney appeared in supporting roles in two of his father’s sound pictures. In Limelight (1952), he played a young composer who steals away dancer Claire Bloom from the aged music hall performer Calvero, played by his father, Charlie Chaplin. He later had a secondary role in Charlie Chaplin’s final film, A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Sydney Chaplin said of his movie career, “I never had the burning desire for recognition and respect that had driven my father.” He acted series of cheap French and Italian productions and the campy horror film Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977). For many of his movie roles, he often played American Indians. “I sat around in the commissary in pigtails and said ‘Ugh!’ on camera,” he said.

Sydney Chaplin’s later career

When Funny Girl ended his stage career, he continued making movies in Europe and then started several restaurants, including Chaplin’s, a popular restaurant in Palm Springs, California.   He also enjoyed golfing in amateur tournaments. Although he stayed out of the public eye for decades, he did a round of interviews when a collection of his father’s films was released on DVD in 2003. He told one reporter, “Someone once asked me what I considered to be good retirement age, and I said ’15.'”

Sydney Earle Chaplin died on March 3, 2009, at the age of 82. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Beebe Chaplin, a son (by his first marriage) and a granddaughter.

Quotes from Sydney Chaplin

  • I’m no genius. I don’t have my dad’s capacity for work. I just want to be a good actor.
  • I never had the burning desire for recognition and respect that had driven my father.
  • I think anyone who feels his life has been scarred because of the fame of his father is a bore.

Trivia about Sydney Chaplin

  • Starred on Broadway in Bells Are Ringing opposite Judy Holliday (1956) (Tony) and Funny Girl opposite Barbra Streisand (1964).
  • He and Margaret had been engaged for fourteen years.
  • Son of Charles Chaplin and Lita Grey.
  • Appeared with his father in Limelight (1952) and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).
  • Romantically linked to Joan Collins during the time they were both making Land of the Pharaohs (1955).
  • Brother of Charles Chaplin Jr.
  • Half-brother of Geraldine Chaplin, Michael Chaplin, Josephine Chaplin, Victoria Chaplin and Christopher Chaplin.
  • Longtime owner/manager of “Chaplin’s”€, a popular restaurant in Palm Springs, California.
  • Unlike his famous father, Sydney Chaplin is primarily a stage actor who has made only occasional film appearances.
  • Stepson of Oona Chaplin. He is some six weeks her senior.
  • Won Broadway’s 1957 Tony Award as Best Supporting or Featured Actor (Musical) for Bell Are Ringing.
  • Was nominated for Broadway’s 1964 Tony Award as Best Actor (Musical) for Funny Girl.
  • Sydney’€™s father never witnessed his successes on Broadway due to the McCarthy witch hunts and the American public reception of him during those years.

Bibliography for Sydney Chaplin

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