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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Charlie Chaplin Barred From Re-entry into the US 75 Years Ago Today

As you may know, Charlie Chaplin was born into poverty in England and started performing on the stage from a very young age. After moving to America when he was a member of a traveling performance group when he transitioned into a film career and ultimately became famous worldwide for his little tramp character in silent films. In 1919 he founded the United Artists Studio in Hollywood with Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., which produced such famous silent Chaplin films as The Kid, Modern Times and Gold Rush. These were the films in which Chaplin wrote, directed and starred.

Years later, the United States barred Charlie Chaplin from re-entering the country after a trip to England in 1952. Having become a controversial figure for his political views and personal life, Chaplin settled in Switzerland for the remainder of his life. You may ask why? Why would the United States of America ban such an incredible talent such as Chaplin? Well, to begin with you must remember the times which were conservative, and the man who was liberal, if not down right European.

Chaplin's life and career was always full of scandal and controversy. His first big scandal was during World War I, when his loyalty to his home country of England was questioned. He never applied for American citizenship, but claimed to be a "paying visitor" (whatever that means) to the United States. Many British citizens at the time called Chaplin a coward and a slacker. This and his other life long career eccentricities sparked suspicion with FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), who believed that the comedian was injecting Communist propaganda into his films. Chaplin's first "talkie" in 1940, The Great Dictator, created a stir because in the film Chaplin plays a humorous caricature of Adolf Hitler. Although some thought the film was poorly done and in bad taste, the film did gross over $5 million and earned five Academy Award Nominations.

Another scandal occurred when Chaplin briefly dated a 22-year-old. However, Chaplin's relationship with the women came to an end in 1942, after a series of harassing actions. The woman informed Chaplin that she was pregnant and filed a paternity suit claiming that the unborn child was his. Blood tests proved that Chaplin was not the father, but at the time blood tests were inadmissible evidence (which sounds crazy to me), and he was ordered to pay $75 a week until the child turned 21. All in all, this is another example of the government enforcing so-called American values and morals upon what they considered the eccentric Hollywood life styles.

Chaplin was also scrutinized for his support in aiding the Russian struggle against the invading Nazis during World War II (our allies at the time against the recognized enemy). The United States government questioned his moral and political views, suspecting him of having Communist ties. For this reason, HUAC (the House Un-American Activities Committee) subpoenaed him in 1947. However, HUAC finally decided that it was no longer necessary for him to appear for testimony. Conversely, when Chaplin and his family traveled to London for the premier of Limelight in 1952, he was denied re-entry to the United States. In reality, the government had almost no evidence to prove that Chaplin was a threat to national security. Regardless, he and his wife decided to settle in the famously neutral country of Switzerland.

So, what does that ultimately mean regarding Charlie Chaplin's legacy? After all, six of Chaplin's films have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress: The Immigrant (1917), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). Chaplin is considered one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of American cinema, whose movies were and still are popular throughout the world, and have gained notoriety as time progresses. His films show through the Little Tramp's positive outlook on life, that the human spirit will remain the same.

Chaplin died at age 88 of natural causes on December 25, 1977 at his home in Vevey, Switzerland. His funeral was a small and private Anglican ceremony according to his wishes.

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