Mr. and Mrs. Little Tramp

Screenshot 2015-03-17 12.29.14“Charlie Chaplin is in trouble again.” So began the next item in “The Talk of the Town” for the March 21 issue.

Over his head hangs a sword that was forged in the Californian sunshine of the cold metal that entered the souls of the native sons when they lived in Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. It is the sword of righteousness, the flaming blade of moral indignation.

The New Yorker, in its modesty of the times, refers to the “trouble” as Chaplin’s home life, which “has been a trifle irregular.” The magazine was referring to his sudden and secretive marriage to a much younger woman, Lillita McMurray.

Charlie-Chaplin-and-Lita-Grey
Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey (The Artifice)

According to the website The Artifice, Lillita McMurray was Chaplin’s second and youngest wife (he had four in all). In 1920 McMurray landed a small role as a “flirting angel” in Chaplin’s The Kid. When she landed another small role in The Gold Rush four years later (changing her name to Lita Grey) a serious relationship between Grey and Chaplin developed. Grey, just barely 16, soon became pregnant, and Chaplin, seeking to prevent scandal (and possible criminal charges), secretly married Grey in Mexico (She gave birth soon after to Charles Chaplin Jr. on May 5, 1925).

Not surprisingly, Chaplin was uncooperative with the story-hungry media, which The New Yorker noted took revenge by casting Grey as a innocent victim of a “rapacious roué.”

lita-charlie-flirtatious-angel
The 12-year old Lillita McMurray (later Lita Grey) in The Kid (1921) (Image from the flickchick1953 blog A Person in the Dark)

The The New Yorker noted that the California Women’s Clubs called for a boycott of Chaplin films, and even the famed L.A. theatre proprietor Sid Graumann bowed to their pressure and cancelled his booking for The Gold Rush (which the “Talk” writer calls an “extraordinarily good comedy”).

The magazine observed that it was the goal of Chaplin’s detractors to drive him out of the movies—“That way lies Fatty Arbuckle” (alluding to sex scandal that destroyed the career of one of the most beloved silent film stars three years earlier).

A footnote: Chaplin’s marriage to Grey soon crumbled, and a divorce was granted August 22, 1927. According to The Artifice, it was a bitter, public ordeal with rumors of affairs and sexual misconduct clouding Chaplin’s fame and reputation. In the end, Grey was awarded a massive $600,000 settlement and $100,000 for each child. After the scandal Grey became reclusive and was featured in only a few small films before her death on Dec. 29, 1995.

Another item of note in the March 21 issue: a review Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (“good, but not as good as Babbitt”).

And how about a little cartoon to end our segment on the March 21, 1925 issue:

Screenshot 2015-03-18 12.42.14
(New Yorker Digital Archive)

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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