When Charlie Chaplin picked Lita Grey Chaplin to be his leading lady for The Gold Rush, the two became romantically involved and later married. Her marriage to the world-famous comedian was not a happy one, and in August 1927, Lita received a divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty. She went on to a singing career and wrote two memoirs about her life with Charlie Chaplin.
Relationship with Chaplin
Actress, singer, author. Born Lillita Louise MacMurray on April 15th, 1908, in Hollywood, California. Lita Grey Chaplin was the second wife of film star and comedian Charlie Chaplin. At the age of 12, she met Chaplin when he cast her in a small role in The Kid (1921) with Jackie Coogan. Lita and her mother, Lillian Parker, appeared as maids in another Chaplin production The Idle Class (1921).
When Chaplin picked her to be his leading lady for The Gold Rush (1925) in 1924, he reportedly renamed her Lita Grey. He also misled the media about her age, saying that she was 19. She was, in fact, 15 years old at the time. The two became romantically involved, and Lita discovered that she was pregnant by that fall. She dropped out of the production and was replaced by actress Georgia Hale.
At first, Charlie Chaplin wanted Lita to terminate the pregnancy. She refused, and he eventually agreed to marry her. The two were wed on November 25th, 1924, in Empalme, Mexico. A New York Times report on the event listed Lita's age as 17. They welcomed their first child, Charles Jr., on May 5th, 1925, but the news of their son's birth was withheld from the media to avoid scandal. Lita, her son, and her mother went into hiding for a time, emerging for Charles Jr.'s new birth date of June 28th, 1925.
Her marriage to the world-famous comedian was not a happy one. Even the birth of their second child, a son named Sydney, in 1926 did nothing to save the eroding relationship. Her husband had several affairs during their short union, including one with her friend Merna Kennedy, who appeared in The Circus (1928) with him.
In early 1927, Lita Grey Chaplin filed for divorce, accusing her husband of all sorts of misdeeds and indiscretions. Her lawyers had a judge issue a restraining order on Charlie Chaplin's sizable estate. She reportedly threatened to publicly name some of the women he had affairs with unless a settlement was reached. The ensuing legal battle made headlines for months. Some thought that Lita was just after Charlie's money, while others objected to a much older man marrying a teenager.
On August 19th, 1927, Lita received a divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty. The $825,000 settlement was a record-breaking amount for California at the time. She was only 21 years old at the time, and had to use much of the settlement to pay her legal fees. Starting a career as a singer, Lita Grey Chaplin spent years performing on the vaudeville circuit.
In 1932, Charlie Chaplin took Lita to court to prevent their two sons from appearing in a film. She had signed a contract with a movie studio, but the court ruled in Charlie's favor. While her attempts to launch acting careers for her sons were thwarted, she continued to make theatrical and night club appearances on her own. (Both sons later found some work as professional actors.) She married three more times after her union with Chaplin, all of which ended in divorce.
Lita later wrote about her experiences as the wife of a comedic genius in My Life with Chaplin (1966) with Morton Cooper. Two years later, she suffered a great personal loss when her oldest son Charles Jr. died from causes related to his alcoholism. According to Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, Lita spent many of her later years working in a department store in Beverly Hills.
On December 29th, 1995, Lita Grey Chaplin died in Woodland Hills, California. She had spent her final years working on another biography with Jeffrey Vance, reportedly to set the record straight about some exaggerations found in her earlier work. The volume, Wife of the Life of the Party, was published in 1998. Today, she is largely remembered for her role in one of Hollywood's biggest scandals of the 1920s.
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