Chaplin’s own story – an interview with Charlie Chaplin about his then-ongoing divorce from Lita Grey. Originally published on January 15, 1927, by Austin O’Malley, in the Los Angeles Examiner
New York, Jan. 14 — Universal Service and the Chicago Herald and Examiner herewith present Charlie Chaplin‘s own amazing story of his marital difficulties. The world-famous comedian related the story to this writer today as he was speeding to New York from Chicago on the Twentieth Century Limited.
It took six hours in its recital. Exhausted at the conclusion, the wearied-eyed comedian heaved a deep sigh and in a weak voice exclaimed:
Just as his moving pictures are tinged with pathos, so did Chaplin’s remarkable tale contain both the familiar comic and tragic elements. Flashing eyes, lowering brow, banging fist–and every now and then the famous smile–punctuated the story.
Chaplin was utterly frank. He realized, he explained, that he is tremendously handicapped in his battle to maintain his reputation by the fact that he is fighting a woman who bore him two babies. He feels, however, that judgment of him should be made after both sides of the story are told.
Curled up in a seat in his drawing room, smoking cigaret after cigaret, he unfolded the story which he says he some day intends putting on the screen, himself enacting the part he is playing in real life.
“I know,” he stated, “that I will be vindicated by any judge or jury that gives me a fair hearing. I have a sad story to tell, and I hope the public will believe it.
“I find myself in this unfortunate predicament because I am a victim of a dastardly plot, not only to besmirch my character, but also to deprive me of the fruit of my life’s work.
“My wife’s mother is responsible for my misfortune. She forced me to marry her daughter; she caused the separation, and now she wants me to give her daughter nearly everything I possess. She will stop at nothing to attain her purpose.
“Lita, my wife, was only 15 years old when I selected her as my leading lady in a picture I was making. She seemed to worship me. Her mother often came to me and said: ‘Mr. Chaplin, my daughter adores you; please be nice to her.’ Well, I fell in love.
“We often went to parties and took drives out in the country. At that time Lita was wonderful.. She was so different from many of the flappers of today. She did not smoke or drink.
“She told me I was everything to her. I was in a very Heaven [sic]. Shortly after that we were married. I shall never forget that day. The ceremony took place in a little hamlet in Mexico. It was performed in a rude cabin, the home of the Mayor. The sun was just coming up over the desert; there was a heavy mist. Always I have had an eye for the dramatic, and I realized that here was drama in the nth degree.
“Just as the magistrate, speaking in Spanish, little of which I understood, was pronouncing us man and wife, a ray of sunlight penetrated through a tiny window which was crossed by four wooden bars. The shadow of the cross was thrown full on my breast and I gasped, wondering at its significance.
“After the ceremony we went out into the sea–the illimitable sea–in a rowboat. I was exhausted by the ordeal I had gone through. Later, we returned to Los Angeles.
“We got along splendidly–Lita and I–for a while. Then one day she told me she did not love me.
“She said she did not love me when she married me. I begged her to retract her statement. I was so blinded in my infatuation that I was trying to convince myself she did not mean what she had said.
“Well, the baby was born, and I thought that would make her attitude change. She was lovely to me for a while. Then she became cold again. Later again, she would nestle up to me and purr, and tell me she was so sorry she had mistreated me.
“Our second baby was born. I adored both of the babies. I have always wanted children. Not long after the baby came, I noticed a most radical change in Lita’s behavior. She started to smoke and to drink. She went to wild parties. Reports came to me about her conduct. I begged her, for the babies’ sake and my reputation, to conduct herself in a manner befitting her name.
“Then again she told me she did not love me. With tears in my eyes I begged her to tell me the reason. She did not reply.
“Soon I got the biggest shock of my life when friends told me Lita was circulating infamous slanders on my character. These reports were so amazing that I suffered a nervous breakdown. I demanded an explanation. She meekly answered she had not meant to harm me. She added she was sorry.
“Then came the most terrific wallop of all. I had engaged Merna Kennedy, a sweet young girl, to play opposite me in “The Circus.” The picture I have half completed. Merna and Lita were inseparable companions. She often visited at our home.
“One night Lita, Merna and myself were in the kitchen making sandwiches. The servants had retired. I was standing across the table from Merna, cutting the bread, when Lita left the room, explaining she would return immediately.
“Her departure struck me as strange at the time, because Lita had never before gone into a room in my home alone. She had a fear complex which is still inexplicable. She returned in five minutes.
“Merna left a few minutes later. The door had hardly closed on her when Lita turned on me and exclaimed:
“Well, I caught you that time–I saw you ‘necking’ Merna. You thought I had gone upstairs, but I remained outside the door and saw it all.’
“I was dumbfounded–I reeled.
“‘For God’s sake, Lita! How could you make such an infamous statement?’ I cried.
“She insisted she had seen me with my arms around Merna’s neck.
“‘Lita!’ I screamed. ‘Will you swear that what you are saying is the truth? I will give you an oath that you dare not take.
“‘Swear that you hope our darling babies will die before the week is out, if you are not telling the truth.’
“You could have killed me when she calmly repeated the oath.
“Even after that I tried to win her back. I failed. Then I offered her a divorce. Her mother entered the negotiations. Their demands were so exorbitant that I refused to consider them.
“You can’t understand my anguish. I would pace up and down my room, stand in front of the mirror, shake my finger at my image and exclaim: ‘Charlie, you must find a way to make her love you. Think of the babies!’
“All my pleas were in vain.
“Not only did she scorn my love, but she boasted of the fact in public. Friends told me she was in the habit of declaring before her associates: ‘Charlie is a genius, but I know how to handle him.’
“I learned she had again been making defamatory remarks against me in public. I reproached her as gently as possible.
“‘Lita,’ I would say to her, ‘even if you do not love me, please, for God’s sake, do not slander me. Why do you insist on circulating these damnable stories?’
“She would only stare at the ceiling and promise never to do it again.
“Little did I then realize that that was all part of the scheme to force me to terms.
“At last I could endure the torture no longer. I suddenly awakened to the fact that Charlie Chaplin was being used as a fool. I called Lita in my room one night and told her that I would give her a divorce. I offered her $300,000 in cash and $100,000 for each of the babies. I insisted on keeping the babies. I suggested the easiest way out of the difficulty–a trip to Paris and a decree there.
“I asked her to await the completion of ‘The Circus.’ I had very little available cash. I pointed out I would have plenty after the picture was marketed. Lita accepted the proposition.
“She agreed to take a trip to Hawaii to wait until the picture was finished. There were tears in her eyes when I said good-by at the boat.
“She returned from Hawaii in two weeks, just as I was getting in some real work on my picture. The very first day she was back she bought $8000 worth of clothes in one shop and $600 worth of shoes in another.
“When I remonstrated with her for her extravagance, she told me I had no occasion for complaint. She said I had spent $50,000 in one trip to New York. That, of course, is absurd.
“A few days later, Lita asked me for permission to ‘throw a little party’ at the house. She had been befriended by a baron and baroness on the boat returning from Hawaii. I consented. Later I learned she had entertained the party that same night at the Ambassador at dinner. There were nineteen guests.
“Well, they all came to the house later, and you know that I made her take them all out when they started up the Victrola, piano playing and organ at the same time. Lita was incensed and insulted me.
“She did not return, and I have not seen her since. The next day her mother and attorneys notified me they were going to sue me and demanded a settlement of $1,000,000. I replied that I would give Lita $500,000 and $100,000 for custody of one baby.
“I allowed them to examine my books. They learned I had very little cash. I had invested $900,000 in making my last picture, ‘The Gold Rush.’ It brought in $2,500,000. Out of that I had to pay the cost of a picture that was shelved. That picture featured Edna Purviance. She is still on my payroll for $250 a week.
“‘The Circus’ has cost $900,000 to date, and I don’t know when it will be finished. After all obligations were settled, I had around $135,000 cash left when Lita’s attorney’s demanded a million. Besides, I have earned most of the money I have–which is closer to three million than the sixteen million they claim I have–before I ever met Lita.
“The negotiations continued for six weeks. Then they sued. Just before I left Los Angeles they had cut their demand to $525,000. I refused to give more than $400,000.
“I am innocent of all the charges Lita has brought against me, and I know I will be vindicated.”