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Hollywood Celebrity Scandals Charlie Chaplin & Joan Barry Affair Part 1

About the Hollywood celebrity scandal of 1943 involving Charlie Chaplin and Joan Barry, their affair and paternity case.

HISTORIC HOLLYWOOD SCANDALS

The Charlie Chaplin and Joan Barry Affair--1943

Hedda Hopper was working on her popular Hollywood gossip column when an excited red-haired young woman rushed into the office. She said that her name was Joan Barry, that she was pregnant, and that the father of her unborn child was 54-year-old millionaire movie star Charlie Chaplin. Hedda might well have whooped for joy. It was 1943. People were still titillated by the Hollywood marriage-divorce-remarriage cycle. As for documented fornication, that was hot stuff. Hedda understood this culture perfectly. She had made a career of pandering to it, trading in innuendos just this side of libel--"At the Brown Derby last night, what happily married leading man was snuggling up to. . . ?" So a real live bouncing baby on the way was a scoop.

Moreover, Hedda Hopper hated Chaplin. Already long at the top, he did not need her. And he had never clowned or groveled--every gossip columnist's price for a good press. He also had a long history of "relationships" with young girls (gossip writing was as priggishly moralistic as it was leering); and he was emotionally sympathetic to a number of left-wing causes. (Like most other successful gossip columnists of the time, Hedda was a red-baiter.) She printed the story and thus launched a series of trials which were not over until 1946, and which led to an extended estrangement between the U.S. and its greatest film comedian.

Chaplin admitted that he had been intimate with Joan Barry. Indeed, at 22, she was one of the eldest in a long list of his tender-aged Hollywood protegees. Like Errol Flynn, he had a weakness for teenagers. Twice, in 1918 and 1924, he had married 16-year-olds just a step ahead of statutory rape charges. During the Barry fracas, he wed Oona O'Neill, then 18.

Joan, a pretty but by no means stunning starlet, had come into his life in June, 1941. This was in the wake of Chaplin's divorce from Paulette Goddard, and it was no cooing love match. Charlie and Joan were not "seen together." The affair was totally unpublic until Hedda Hopper's ex post facto "exclusive." It sounded like the familiar Hollywood flesh-market story: Joan trading her favors for a teeth-capping job, acting lessons, and the promise of a movie role; Charlie able and happy to pick up the bills.

It is impossible to say whether the two were still having intercourse late enough to conceive the child which was born on Oct. 3, 1943. Chaplin claimed they had gone their separate ways more than a year before. Joan insisted otherwise. She related a tantalizing incident in which she had forced her way into Chaplin's posh house, held a gun on him, and so aroused both of them that they had promptly gone to bed together. This was around Christmas, 1942, an inauspicious date. Even more damaging: Joan said that in October, 1942, she had gone to New York City at Chaplin's expense, had been followed by him, and had had relations with him in his hotel room. This meant that Chaplin could be prosecuted under the Mann Act, a federal law which made it a serious crime (up to 25 years in prison and a fine of $25,000) to transport a female across a state line for immoral purposes. Originally aimed at organized prostitution ("white slavery"), the Mann Act was also used as a sort of "interstate intercourse act," a way of prosecuting people the authorities wanted to "get" for some other, not necessarily criminal, reason.

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