Charlie Chaplin had a very tumultuous relationship with the women in his life, and seemed to be frozen in a moment from his youth when it came to them all. The woman considered to be his first love was a dancer named Hetty Kelly, whom he met when he was 19 and she 15. Eventually, he worked up the courage to ask her to marry him and she refused causing Chaplin to become despondent and never see her again. It was reported that in 1921, when he learned she died from the influenza epidemic that devastated the globe, he was heartbroken. That 15 year old girl seemed to be an image in Chaplin’s mind that guided all his relationships. He would become involved with many a 15 or 16 year old looking to get her break in Hollywood through the actor and more than not these relationships ended in publicly sour notes.
The woman most people assumed he would end up with was Edna Purviance. During his short film work with Essenay and Mutual they starred alongside each other often and appeared to have great affection for each other. Their romance ended three years before he would direct her in A Woman in Paris and that is attributed to his marriage to 16 year old Mildred Harris. Harris was a popular adolescent actress (think a Miley Cyrus type) and she gave birth to their first child at the age of 17. Norman Chaplin only lived three days. The death of child is assumed to have contributed to the crumbling of the marriage with Charlie filing for a separation in 1919. The subsequent divorce with Harris was publicly brutal, with Harris disclosing sexual indiscretions of Chaplin’s before the press. He seemed to harbor no ill will towards her and settled for $100,000.
At one point Chaplin was rumored to be involved with William Randolph Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies but that relationship appeared to be one of many short lived ones. His second marriage was to actress Lita Grey, a co-star in The Kid, who was only 16 at the time. While he prepared for The Gold Rush she became pregnant and they married. She gave him two sons: Charlie, Jr. and Sydney, and the marriage was unmitigated disaster. Chaplin was undergoing a tax evasion investigation at the same time the divorce trial was going on. Grey made it her mission to reveal all of Chaplin’s dirty secrets before the public. He gave in and settled for $825,000, however Grey tried to keep Chaplin from being involved in his sons’ lives as an act of vindictiveness.
It was actress Paulette Goddard, who he became involved with years later, that was able to talk to Grey and convince her to allow the boys to spend time with Chaplin. Chaplin and Goddard were rumored to have been secretly married but neither admitted to the fact, while parting ways amicably in 1942. The saddest of all Chaplin’s relationships was with actress Joan Barry, whom he had considered casting in a film until she began showing signs of severe mental illness, something that triggered painful memories of Chaplin’s mother. Barry broke into Chaplin’s home later, and held him at gunpoint. Charlie, Jr. has recounted being there and watching his father remain completely calm and talk Barry into handing him the gun before she hurt anyone. She eventually gave birth to a child, whom blood tests showed was not the actor’s, but the court ruled that the test was inadmissible and he had to pay support. Chaplin support the child till it was 18 and reportedly never complained, believing he had plenty of money to help a needy child out.
Chaplin’s last relationship was with Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill. It’s disturbing to note that Chaplin was 54 to Oona’s 18. However, it seems to have been a deep and long lasting marriage. They were together for 34 years, decades longer than any relationship he had ever had before. They had eight children, the last born when Chaplin was 73. At this point he had had his Visa revoked because of political beliefs and had settled in Switzerland with his large family.