What Happened To Charlie Chaplin's Children?

Silent film star Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. was born in 1889. His parents were respected actors and singers, who ultimately inspired his career. By the age of 12, Chaplin was acting on a professional stage and soon after was a comedian in vaudeville. By 1910, he had joined the Fred Karno Repertoire Company and moved to the U.S. (via Charlie Chaplin).

Chaplin was funny and charming, and soon became well-known for having affairs with young actresses in his films. The divorce from his second wife was one of Hollywood's biggest scandals of the time and cemented Chaplin's reputation as a playboy who was allegedly manipulative and emotionally abusive (per Biography).

Along the way, there were accusations of extramarital affairs and secret babies. In 1943, Joan Berry — an actress Chaplin had an affair with during his third marriage — sued Charlie Chaplin for paternity payments. Although Chaplin admitted the affair, he denied he was the biological father of the baby, and blood tests (the only pre-DNA way to determine paternity in the 1940s) confirmed he was right. Still, a jury determined he was the legal father, and he was forced to pay child support until the child turned 21 years old (per Mental Floss).

Norman Spencer Chaplin

It was said of Charlie Chaplin that he had over 2,000 sexual partners in his life, most much younger than he (per VICE). Most of them meant little to Chaplin, an exacting personality who put his work first. Actress Mildred Harris, 16 to Chaplin's 29, could have been just another fling until she told him that she was pregnant with his child. A marriage was hastily arranged in 1918, likely out of fear more than love. Chaplin carried on affairs and often left his new bride alone. According to David Robinson's "Chaplin: His Life and Art," Chaplin felt that tying the knot had affected his work. No warmth came to the marriage after Harris' pregnancy proved to be a false alarm — or perhaps, Chaplin suspected, it had been a trick all along.

A year after their wedding, Harris did truly become pregnant. The news didn't exactly bring unbridled joy to the expecting mother; according to the Daily Mail, Harris was hospitalized for three weeks during her pregnancy on account of a nervous breakdown. And when Norman Chaplin was finally born on July 7, 1919, he was malformed. Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life" records the deformity as a "rudimentary development of the large intestine," and the child only lived three days.

Chaplin and Harris divorced — with considerable acrimony — the following year. But asked to remember her former husband years later, the one thing that Harris could recall was Chaplin's tears at the death of their son.

Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr.

Charlie Chaplin's second marriage came about much like his first: an infatuation with an underage actress led to an unplanned pregnancy and a shotgun wedding. In the case of his second wife, Lita Grey, the absence of love in the relationship was mutual (per the Daily Mail), but she refused to grant Chaplin another way to avoid scandal. Unlike Mildred Harris, Grey's pregnancy proved genuine, and Charles Spencer Chaplin Jr. (above left) was born on May 5, 1925. Chaplin was reluctant to pass on his name, though accounts vary as to why. Per Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life," the father claimed that a famous name would hinder a child; the son, once grown, suspected that Chaplin's ego was so big that he didn't want to share a name, even with blood.

Chaplin and Grey's bitter divorce in 1927 saw Grey awarded primary custody of Charles Jr. and his brother Sydney Chaplin (above right). According to The Guardian, Grey's singing ambitions meant that the boys were primarily raised by their grandmother. Their father came back into their lives when Charles Jr. was 7 (per Ackroyd), though his explosive temper often left them terrified. As an adult, Charles Jr. wrote "My Father, Charlie Chaplin" and tried to give a fair account of both his parents. He followed his namesake into movies and co-starred with Sydney on stage in "Ethan Frome" (per the Charlie Chaplin Archive) but died young at 42 of a pulmonary embolism (per The New York Times).

Sydney Earl Chaplin

Despite the animosity in their marriage, Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey had a second child less than a year after their first. Sydney Chaplin, born March 30, 1926, was named after his father's half-brother. According to The Guardian, the animosity between the elder Sydney and Grey was so fierce that she called her son "Tommy." As for his father, Sydney recalled (per the Los Angeles Times) that "he had great difficulty expressing his feelings to me, which was odd because he expressed emotion on-screen so marvelously.

After serving in World War II, Sydney took up acting. He co-founded the Circle Theater in Los Angeles ⁠— an enterprise helped along by borrowed materials from Charlie Chaplin Studios. With time, the Circle became a hub for avant-garde productions. Sydney would go on to have a notable career on Broadway, earning a Tony for his role in "Bells are Ringing" in 1956 and another nomination for his farewell performance in "Funny Girl" in 1964.

Sydney acted in movies as well, starting with his father's "Limelight" in 1952, but he never pursued movies with the same zeal as the elder Chaplin. "[I] never had the burning desire for recognition and respect that had driven my father," he said, per the Los Angeles Times. "But then I never had to dance on the streets of London for pennies to stay alive." After retiring from acting, Sydney played the gregarious host at Chaplin's, a Palm Springs hot spot. He died in 2009.

Geraldine Leigh Chaplin

Of all Charlie Chaplin's children to follow him into the acting profession, Geraldine Chaplin has perhaps had the most success. She is his oldest surviving child and the first born to Chaplin and his fourth and final wife, Oona O'Neill. It was the most enduring of Chaplin's marriages, lasting from 1943 until his death in 1977, and in his autobiography (via Country Living), Chaplin described meeting O'Neill as "the happiest event of my life." According to The New York Times, O'Neill was content to be a supportive wife and mother through her husband's ordeals — like the revocation of his re-entry permit to the United States in 1952, which landed the family in Switzerland. Geraldine was 8 at the time (per Film Talk).

Geraldine's initial performing ambitions were for the dance, and when she shifted her focus to acting, her father warned against it. "But once I became an actress," she told Film Talk, "he became a fan." Her breakthrough into movies came as the wife of Omar Sherif's titular character in "Doctor Zhivago," and she's been working steadily since. Among her roles is her own grandmother, Hannah Chaplin, in Richard Attenborough's 1990 biopic "Chaplin" (per TCM).

As O'Neill had set aside her acting career to support Chaplin's, Geraldine's partner (and, as of 2006, husband) Patricio Castilla put his cinematography career aside to support Geraldine's (per The Independent). Their daughter, Oona Chaplin, continues the family's acting legacy; she played Talisa Stark on "Game of Thrones" (via The Express).

Michael John Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin's oldest surviving son, Michael Chaplin, was born on March 7, 1946. According to writer Donald Travis Stewart (stage and pen name Trav S.D. for Travelanche), Michael's impression of his father was that of an amazingly wealthy man, caring at times but often removed and intimidating. The family staff was closer to him than his father was, as was his half-brother Sydney Chaplin. Living within the cloistered world of the Chaplin family grew frustrating, and Michael ran away from home as a teenager. He landed at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), where he indulged in the counterculture of 1960s London.

As a rebellious son of a famous name, Michael's life story, brief as it was in the '60s, proved attractive to publisher Leslie Frewin. They convinced him to put out an autobiography, ghostwritten by Tom Merrin and Charles Hamblett. "I Couldn't Smoke the Grass on My Father's Lawn" is a slim memoir of a rich teenager's antics, and just before publication, Michael got cold feet on presenting himself to the world as such. He filed an injunction against the book, but the judges found his contract with Leslie Frewin binding and allowed it to be published (via The Cambridge Law Journal).

His experience at RADA has convinced him that acting wasn't the right field (per his official website), and Michael has since focused on writing and music. He's also worked behind the camera as a producer for stage and screen.

Josephine Hannah Chaplin

Josephine Hannah Chaplin was born on March 28, 1949. Like so many of her siblings, she was tempted into the performing arts. An early outing as a dancer in a school play at age 7 was written up in LIFE magazine, and she made brief cameos in her father Charlie Chaplin's films "Limelight" (1952) and "A Countess from Hong Kong" (1967) (per the Chaplin Office).

Most of Josephine's appearances were in European films. According to Turner Classic Movies, some of her more notable parts include the 1972 Italian adaptation of "The Canterbury Tales," the French drama "Docteur Françoise Gailland" in 1976, and most recently, the action film "Downtown Heat" in 1994. She was the Chaplin responsible for managing the Chaplin Office in Paris for many years before stepping down to care for her ailing husband. She has since continued to support the family legacy by sponsoring a statue of her father's legendary character, the Little Tramp, in Waterville, Ireland, and by supporting the Chaplin AmAm golf tournament.

Victoria Chaplin

So many of Charlie Chaplin's children followed him into acting, and he was in turns supportive and critical. Geraldine Chaplin has said that she could never get even constructive criticism out of her proud papa (per Film Talk), while Marlon Brando claimed in his autobiography (via Entertainment Weekly) that the elder Chaplin was cruel toward his son Sydney on the set of "A Countess from Hong Kong." But the one member of his brood that Chaplin singled out to carry on his legacy in the comedy genre was his daughter Victoria Chaplin, born May 19, 1951. According to Robert Davidson's "Chaplin: His Life and Art," Chaplin began to develop a vehicle for his seventh child in the late 1960s called "The Freak," an unfinished project about a girl who grows wings.

Per Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life," Victoria was keen to do the film — until she made the acquaintance of the French actor Jean-Baptiste Thierrée. According to their son James via The New Yorker, they met because Thierrée read a quote of Victoria's in a magazine that said she aspired to be a genuine circus clown; Thierrée had similar ambitions. The two met in secret and eventually eloped in 1969. The runaway marriage spoiled any hopes Victoria's father had for "The Freak," but she and Thierrée went on to found their own circus, Le Cirque Imaginaire. Victoria is the only of Chaplin's living children to refuse to have a biography featured on the Chaplin Office website.

Eugene Anthony Chaplin

The children of actors are often tempted to pursue the same line of work, but there's more to show business than performing. Eugene Anthony Chaplin was the eighth of Charlie Chaplin's children, born August 23, 1953, and like several of his older siblings, he tried his hand at acting. But Eugene only got as far as school plays before he realized that performing wasn't for him, according to an interview he gave with MP3 Box. Instead, he enrolled in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and came out as a stage manager for the Geneva opera house (per the Chaplin Office).

Eugene eventually transitioned to work as a sound engineer, helping to record such notable musicians as the Rolling Stones and David Bowie. His interest in music extended to producing the 1998 musical "Smile," a revue of Charlie Chaplin's life and career. And in 2002, Eugene made his directorial debut with "Charlie Chaplin: A Family Tribute," an independently produced documentary about his father. "I think [Dad] would be surprised that this tribute came from me," Eugene told Independent Film Quarterly, "as I am the quiet member of the family. But I think he would have been pleased. If not, I would not have done it."

Jane Cecil Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin's ninth child became the third to pen a memoir about him. Jane Chaplin was 20 when her father died, and by her own assessment (via the Orlando Sentinel), she didn't know him well. In another interview with Reuters (via the Newsgroup Archive), Jane admitted that Charlie's reputation as an aloof genius frightened her, all the more because the attitude was encouraged by her elders. "I was brought up to believe he was a son of a b****," Jane said.

A chance at a private conversation with her father finally came in 1974, when Jane was 17. The heart-to-heart revealed a man plagued by doubts but not lacking in warmth. After both her parents had passed and Jane began work on her book, her research convinced her that, contrary to all she'd been told growing up (and many a biographer's assessment), her father was a kind man. "Seventeen Minutes With My Father" was published in 2006 in French, though Jane admitted her siblings were unlikely to approve of her perspective.

Away from the Chaplin family, Jane became embroiled in a Hollywood scandal in the early 1990s as the wife of producer Ilya Salkind. She was among those joining Ilya in a lawsuit against his father and partner, Alexander Salkind, and Alexander blamed Jane for the ill will his son bore him (per the Los Angeles Times). As Mrs. Salkind, Jane attempted to produce her father's last screenplay, "The Freak," but her siblings firmly rejected the idea.

Annette Emily Chaplin

The youngest daughter to Charlie Chaplin and Oona O'Neill, Annette Emily "Annie" Chaplin was born December 3, 1959. Compared to her father and many of her siblings, Annie has maintained a quiet and private life, though that doesn't mean she hasn't inherited the family enthusiasm for performing; according to the Chaplin Office, her acting credits include theatrical tours with the monologue "Shirley Valentine" and "La Belle Vie" by Jean Anouilh. With her husband, Jacques Auxenel, Annie converted an old silo into a stage. Le Théâtre LeSilo, located in the commune of Montoire-sur-le-Loir (per Culture 41), stages modern comedies under Auxenel's direction, with Annie often among the cast. In 2014, Annie hosted the second annual Charlie Chaplin Festival in the theater (per the Chaplin Office).

Away from the theater, Annie breeds and rides horses — Arabian thoroughbreds and Freibergers. She and her husband split their time between Montoir-sur-le-Loir, Paris, and Switzerland, where Annie was born.

Christopher James Chaplin

Christopher James Chaplin, the youngest child of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O'Neill, was born July 6, 1962, in Switzerland (via Chaplin Office). Charlie was already in his later years when Christopher was born, his health slowly deteriorating. A debilitating stroke in 1976 severely damaged his speech and memory, and according to Peter Ackroyd's "Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life," Christopher's most vivid final memories of his father were of his staring across the dinner table at him, unable to communicate.

Per his biography on his official website, Christopher relocated to London to pursue an acting career. His most recent credit is the short film "Je Suis le Ténébreux," which he also directed and co-wrote (per IMDb). But since 2005, Christopher has focused on his work as a composer. His work has included orchestral pieces, electronic and experimental music, and children's theater projects, alone and in collaboration. Despite hearing loss in one ear (per an interview with 15 Questions), he mixes all of his solo work himself. His latest work is the album "Patriarchs," described by Forced Exposure as "a progressive uprooting from a dark and confused world to a world with more light and consciousness."