Photo Essays
1. Exile’s Return
2. Chaplin’s Parents
3. Hannah Chaplin’s Femmes Fatales
4. Playing Dress-Up  In The Land of Make Believe
5. Teenage Girls and Fear of Aging
6. Chaplin’s Three Teenage Wives
7. Mildred Harris
8. Lita Grey
9. Oona O’Neill
10. Chaplin’s Father
11. A Royal Lion
12. Vesta Tilley as Bertie
13. Ella Shields as Bertie
14. Making A Living
15. The Lion Comique’s Son: Dressed Like A Bum
16. Monsieur Verdoux as a Lion Comique
17. Calvero as a Lion Comique
18. The Lion Comique’s Son in the Limelight
19. Charlie as a Child
20. The Kid’s Lucky Break
21. Syd Chaplin
22. A Family Album of Theatrical Drunks
23. Chaplin’s Family Romance
24. Edna Purviance
25. Purviance’s Influence on Chaplin’s Character
26. Essanay
27. Chaplinitis
28. Chaplin’s Predecessors
29. Eye Contact: Audience-Performer Intimacy
30. Chaplin the Auteur
31. Chaplin’s Two Autobiographies
32. Going It Alone
33. The Circus
34. Autobiographical Starvation Scenes From The Gold Rush
35. Autobiographical Madness Scenes in Modern Times
36. Two British Music Hall Traditions and Topical Comedy
37. The Great Dictator
38. Fatal Attraction: Joan Barry
39. Monsieur Verdoux: Guillotine or Hatchet Job?
40. Limelight
Chaplin: A Life In Film
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 The Circus

© Roy Export

© Roy Export

Top photo: Charlie cavorting like Pan  with a quartette of  nymphettes in his film  Sunnyside. Lower photo,  a  snapshot of Hannah Chaplin (circa1925).

Chaplin is remembered—due in part  to that FBI-orchestrated,  politically motivated smear campaign in the 1940s  and Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita--as a lecher with a penchant for  adolescent girls. Three  of his four wives were teenagers: Mildred Harris, Lita Grey and Oona O’Neill (the playwright’s daughter).  But    many, many   more non-adolescent  women  were important to him over the years (Edna Purviance, Clare Sheridan, Sari Maritsa, Peggy Hopkins Joyce, Pola Negri, Louise Brooks, Marion Davies, Georgia Hale  and Paulette Goddard, to name but a few).

By his own   admission  (or gross exaggeration), Chaplin claimed intimacy   with 2,000 women in his life. Tactfully alluding to his own promiscuity in My Autobiography, he wrote “to gauge  the morals of our family by ordinary standards would be like plunging a thermometer into boiling water.” (That   casual remark    was also a reference   to his mother and  brother’s promiscuous behavior).

Without putting Chaplin  on the couch, it is impossible to know precisely why he had such a weakness for     nubile women. Attempting to explain  his attraction to  young girls, his friend Sam Goldwyn and his son Charlie Jr. each wrote of Chaplin’s “horror” of old age.  Much more significantly--and poignantly—Chaplin himself  recalled  his shock and dismay at the painful   loss of all  emotional  contact with his  prematurely  aged and no longer  vivacious or attractive  38-year-old  mother as she descended into madness. That traumatic  adolescent experience of permanent estrangement  from Lillie Harley was   followed  25 years later by Hannah Chaplin’s actual physical death in 1928. For an in-depth  discussion of this Hannah Chaplin/Lillie Harley memory split  and the Loss-Restitution Hypothesis of Creativity (see Chaplin A Life,  Chapter V.)

Briefly stated: as a loss-sensitive  artist with a tendency to live in the past,   Charlie Chaplin drew his creative strength  from his powerful need  to   recapture a poignant attachment to  his formerly  beautiful and vivacious  young   mother.  Those idealized images   of Lillie  (not Hannah) served  as templates  for all of  the screen heroines that his  boyishly infatuated   tramp  character quixotically  rescued   from predicament after predicament in his greatest comedies (including The Kid, The Gold Rush , City Lights and  Modern Times ).

From an artistic  point of view, Charlie’s need  to re-live and re-write the past paid off. However his arrested emotional development was more problematic in his private life. On numerous occasions, as an apparently mature man in his thirties, Chaplin frequently  described himself as still feeling (and  behaving ) like a lost boy of fourteen: a self-observation independently confirmed by many of his friends and confidantes (including Thomas Burke). When the mood struck him,  Chaplin occasionally autographed studio stills of himself from that little waif, Charlie Chaplin.

Lita Grey--his second teenage wife--recalled Charlie’s begging   her never to grow old during the torrid-romantic,  “Napoleon-Josephine” courtship  phase of their relationship  that preceded their shotgun wedding. Fifteen-year-old  Lita was in the dark about what this meant. Why Napoleon? Why Josephine? And what was this  handsome 35-year-old man’s morbid dread of aging about?
© 2008 All Essay Rights Reserved.

All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy
Export Company Establishment._Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or
service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export Company
Establishment, used with permission.

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