Charlie Chaplin persecuted for sex with Joan Berry

Many regard the prosecution of President Bill Clinton in the Lewinsky affair as a travesty of justice.  In important respects, persecuting film star Charlie Chaplin for having sex with Joan Berry was a worse travesty of justice.  In Hollywood in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Chaplin had sex with many women in addition to Berry.  Berry, very much part of that Hollywood scene, had sex with other men in addition to Chaplin.[1]  Berry, pregnant, filed a paternity suit against Chaplin.  That suit quickly generated enormous anti-Chaplin public sentiment, an extensive federal law-enforcement investigation into Chaplin’s sexual relations with Berry, and an array of legal charges and court cases against Chaplin.  The Berry affair became an enduring nightmare for Chaplin.

Public sentiment shifted strongly against Chaplin when he became pitted against the pregnant Berry.  In May, 1943, Berry, who also went by the name Joan Barry and several other names, attempted to negotiate paternity payments from Chaplin.  Leading Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Florabel Muir worked closely with her in the negotiations.  Chaplin insisted that he was not the father and refused to pay Berry.  On June 3, 1943, Berry filed a a paternity suit against Chaplin.  On that same day, the Chicago Tribune published a column by Hedda Hopper attacking Chaplin.  Her column concluded:

Will her child have a name?  What is to become of that child and its mother, Joan Barry? … Those are the questions Hollywood is asking today.  Those are the questions Hollywood has a right to ask and not only hope for an answer but to demand one. [2]

Whether a pregnant woman’s child “will have a name” is an incomprehensible question today.  But the social power of mother and child remains. Hopper and Muir attacked Chaplin in many subsequent gossip columns.  Major newspaper produced front-page news article highlighting Chaplin’s legal difficulties and slanted against him.  Chaplin was popular enough to have been invited to give a speech at Roosevelt’s preinaugural concert in 1941, and to receive an enthusiastic ovation for his speech.  After the pregnant Berry burst into the public spotlight, Chaplin became widely condemned.[3]

Chaplin faced federal criminal charges as a result of his affair with Berry.  About three weeks after Berry filed her paternity suit, J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, received a memorandum describing Chaplin’s relationship with Berry.  About two months later, Hoover learned that, in October of the previous year, Chaplin had paid for Berry to visit New York.  Hoover encouraged FBI agents to investigate whether Chaplin had committed a “White Slave violation.”  An FBI memorandum two weeks later was headed:

Re: Charles Chaplin
 Joan Berry - Victim
 White Slave Traffic Act

The memorandum outlined Chaplin’s victimization of Berry:

The allegations are as before stated that at Chaplin’s request Berry came from Los Angeles to New York and engaged in immoral activities there at his suggestion. [4]

The FBI subsequently uncovered the facts that Chaplin paid for Berry’s train tickets to and from New York, but not her New York hotel room, and that Berry had spent one night in Chaplin’s hotel room.  The U.S. Attorney General secured an indictment of Chaplin on two counts of violating the White Slave Traffic Act: one count for paying for Berry’s ticket from Los Angeles to New York, and a second count for paying for her ticket from New York back to Los Angeles.  The indictment specified that Chaplin paid for these tickets for the intent and purpose of having Berry “engage in illicit sex relations with him and live with him as his mistress.”  On this basis Chaplin, but not Berry, was charged with the federal crime of consensual, adult, non-commercial sexual activity that involved travel across interstate lines.  The two counts against Chaplin carried a total penalty of up to ten years of imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.[5]

Chaplin and six other persons were also indicted on federal charges for allegedly violating Berry’s civil rights.  The circumstances of the alleged civil rights violation involve Berry stalking Chaplin.  In his autobiography, Chaplin described their deteriorating relationship:

Then {early 1942} strange and eerie things began to happen.  Barry {Berry} began driving up in her Cadillac at all hours of the night, very drunk, and I would have to awaken my chauffeur to drive her home.  One time she smashed her car in the driveway and had to leave it there.  As her name was now associated with the Chaplin Studios {which had her under contract as an actress}, I became worried that if she were picked up by the police for drunk driving it would create a scandal.  Finally she got so obstreperous that when she called in the small hours of the night I would neither answer the phone nor open the door to her.  Then she began smashing in the windows. [6]

Berry spoke in detail to the FBI about an incident on December 19, 1942:

At a date which I believe was about December 19, 1942, I again saw Charles {Chaplin}.  During this time I was exceedingly upset and bought a gun down on Main Street, corner of Fifth and Main, approximately.  I  bought this gun on a Saturday night before the night time I was with Chaplin.  During this period I was trying to see him and called him daily on the telephone, but he would not talk with me.  I lost this first gun at the Beverly House or when I was with Erica Seahan, just where I don’t know.  I then bought another gun at the Hollywood Gun Shop, just a day or so before I went up to Chaplin’s on this date which I believe to be about December 19.

The reason I bought these guns was because I was going to kill myself.  I finally resolved to see Charles, thinking that when I got up there I would kill myself right in front of him.  I believe I must have taken a taxi up there that night and when I arrived the lights were out in the house downstairs, which meant he had not come home.  I got out of the taxi down on Summit Drive and walked up the grade to the house and went around in back.  While there I heard a car drive up and Tim Durant bid Charles good night.  Charles went into the house and I thought he would probably be in the living room or sun porch if the lights were not on.  I  went to the front door and rang the bell several times and no one answered {although at least five persons were in the house}.  As a matter of fact, no one upstairs or in the servant’s quarters can hear the front door bell ring.  I went around in back and knocked on the door and when nobody came, I broke the glass and went in.  I went upstairs, finding no one downstairs.  Charles told me afterwards that he had heard me down there, but did not care.  When I got upstairs he was on the telephone talking to someone in affectionate tones.  I listened for five minutes or so to him from the dressing room and became jealous and took the gun out of my pocket and pointed it at him as I came into the room.  He saw me and said goodbye to the person he was talking to, and hung up.  He said, “What are you going to do, are you going to kill me?”  Then he said, “Oh, I know, you are going to kill yourself.” [7]

Other witness corroborate the facts that Berry broke into Chaplin house and confronted him with a gun.  That was not the only instance of Berry breaking into Chaplin’s house.  The FBI file on Chaplin described evidence that the FBI collected from Louise Runser.  Runser worked at Chaplin’s studio.  The FBI reported:

She {Miss Runser} was asked what knowledge she had of the time Berry came to Chaplin’s house on or around New Year’s Eve, 1942, at the time her husband, Mr. Watts, was serving as a watchman.  She related that her husband told her that Berry came in a taxicab, left her fur coat with the driver, and that when she got in the house, went for a gun which was kept in the pantry.  She said that her husband told her that he grabbed her, tried to keep her from getting the gun, and that Berry kicked and screamed; that thereafter, Berry asked to go to the bathroom, where she turned on the water and jumped out the window.  She said that her husband called her, Miss Runser, and asked her what they should do. [8]

The following morning (January 1, 1942) the Beverly Hills Police Department, responding to a suicide call, found Berry, dressed in a man’s bathrobe, pajamas, and slippers, with iodine on her lips, in a car in front of the house of another man which whom she was closely associated.  Berry told the police that she had no home, no address, and no money.  Berry was charged with vagrancy.  She pled guilty.  Police Judge Charles Griffin of Beverly Hills gave her a three-months suspended sentence on the condition that she get out of town.  Berry got on a train to New York, but returned to Los Angeles that spring.[9]

Berry’s stalking of Chaplin evidently continued when she returned to Los Angeles.  On May 7, 1943, Chaplin complained to police that Berry was at his house.  She was then arrested for violating terms of her probation.  Judge Griffin allowed Berry to be released from jail because she was pregnant.[10]  On the last Sunday in May, Berry again appeared uninvited at Chaplin’s home.  Berry told the FBI:

I went up to Chaplin’s house, in the back way and up in his bedroom.  I saw Oona {Oona O’Neill, Chaplin’s new girlfriend and soon-to-be wife} and Charles coming in the house before I got up there.  I heard him go out the front door with her and he told me later he drove her home.  He came back upstairs and saw me and we talked.  I was a little hysterical.  He said, “You can’t talk now sensibly.  You stay here, and I’ll got to a hotel.”  Then he said, “No, I’ll drive you home.”  He was coming downstairs, putting on his coat and was going to drive me home, and Edward {Chaplin’s butler} came in and said he would drive me home.  Then he came and took me to the hotel. [11]

The next day Berry again appeared uninvited at Chaplin’s home.  Berry told the FBI:

On Decoration Day {Memorial Day} I again went up to Chaplin’s house.  My mother was in the hotel with me at the time.  I went in the side door and Edward {Chaplin’s butler} told me that Charles had already gone out.  I said I wasn’t going to leave until he returned, and he said, “Wait, I’ll call his attorney.  Will you speak to his attorney?”and I said “Yes,” I would.  I spoke to the other attorney Doherty.  Doherty said, “Why don’t you let your attorney take care of it?  Be a good girl and go home.  Will you?” and I said, “Yes, I will,” so I decided I would.  Then I called home and they said my mother had gone up to Hedda Hopper’s {Hedda Hopper was a prominent Hollywood gossip columnist}, so I knew the number and would I call her there, and I called her there and Florebel (prominent Holly gossip columnist Florebel Muir} was there and I called Hedda and she said my mother was expected.

Then Edward drove me down to her house and I went in and talked to Hedda. [12]

The next day Berry asked her lawyer to prepare a paternity suit against Chaplin. The paternity suit was filed three days later.

The FBI investigation of Chaplin’s attempts to protect himself from Berry resulted in an indictment against Chaplain and six other persons for conspiring to violate Berry’s civil rights.  The indictment was for two federal felony criminal conspiracy charges and a federal misdemeanor charge.  These criminal charges centered around an alleged conspiracy to railroad Berry out of town.  The six other persons indicted were:

  • Capt. W. W. White of the Beverly Hills Police Department
  • Police Judge Charge Griffin of Beverly Hills
  • Robert Arden, radio commentator and a Chaplin confidant
  • Thomas Wells Durant, another Chaplin confidant
  • Lt. Claude Marple, of the Beverly Hills Police Department
  • Jessie Billie Reno, Beverly Hills police matron [13]

Chaplin, Arden, and Durant allegedly conspired to encourage the Beverly Hills Police Department to pressure Berry to plead guilty to a vagrancy charge resulting from the New Year’s Eve events that began with Berry appearing uninvited at Chaplin’s house, grabbing a gun, and then fleeing out of a bathroom window.  Chaplin and his co-conspirators allegedly paid for her train ticket to leave Beverly Hills under the conditions of her suspended sentence for vagrancy. On the day that she received that sentence, Beverly Hills Police Department Capt. W. W. White reportedly entered Judge Griffin’s chambers and “mentioned something about ‘Chaplin would probably be glad to get rid of her’.”[14]  That seems plausible.  Stalking today is recognized as a serious public concern.  To the extent that the justice system showed concern for Berry’s stalking of Chaplin, the results were indicting Chaplin and justice system officials for violating Berry’s civil rights.

Chaplin choosing fatherhood in The Kid (1921)

A week after Berry’s paternity suit was filed, the parties reached an agreement to suspend the suit until after the child was born and paternity blood tests were performed.  For performing the blood tests, one physician was selected by Berry’s representatives, another physician was selected by Chaplin’s representatives, and those two physicians together selected a third.  All three physicians then supervised the relevant blood tests.  Along with the legal representatives to the paternity suit, Berry stipulated:

That she is represented by counsel of her own choosing and is acting under their advice; that she has read the stipulation and agrees to all of its provisions and in consideration thereof agrees to release defendant of all claims that she now has or may hereafter have against him except as set forth in said stipulation; … that she further agrees that in the event the physicians’ report shall show that defendant is not the father of her child she will accept said report as establishing that fact and will not, personally or on behalf of the child, make any further claims against defendant for the support, maintenance, care and education of the child or of herself. [15]

In exchange for the stipulation, Berry received considerable monetary compensation:

The stipulation which was signed on June 9, 1943, provided that defendant {Chaplin} should pay to the guardian ad litem {Berry’s mother} forthwith the sum of $2,500 together with the sum of $100 each week until the trial, for medical care and for the living expenses of Miss Berry and the infant plaintiff; also the sum of $4,600 for expenses connected with Miss Berry’s confinement, $500 of which was to be paid before the birth of the child, $1,000 at birth, $500 per month for four months after birth, and $1,100 after the child had been submitted to physicians for blood tests. All of said payments were made by defendant. [16]

On Feb. 15, 1944, the blood tests were performed.  All three physicians concurred that the blood tests showed conclusively that Chaplin was not the father of Berry’s child.[17]  Scientific blood tests thus objectively revealed that Chaplin was not the father of Berry’s child.

Blood tests showing that Chaplin was not the father of Berry’s child did not resolve Berry’s paternity suit.  The results of the blood test were quickly leaked to the press and appeared in Los Angeles evening newspapers on the day the tests were performed.  Berry refused to accept the finding, broke the stipulation she had signed, and continued to pursue the paternity suit against Chaplin.  Others helped to provide justification for Berry denying the results of the blood tests.  Chaplin’s FBI file reports:

The following morning, and for several days thereafter stories circulated in Los Angeles that the test was not accurate; that Chaplin had taken some chemical to change his blood type, etc.  One newspaper printed that the Federal Government was investigating the possibility that Chaplin had taken such steps.  None of these stories has the appearance of any truth. [18]

Even today, Wikipedia, a highly influential source of public knowledge, concludes its paragraph on the Berry’s paternity suit with the incredible claim:

Chaplin’s second wife, Lita Grey {who was divorced from Chaplin in a bitter, highly public legal proceeding in 1927}, later asserted that Chaplin had paid corrupt government officials to tamper with the blood test results. She further stated that “there is no doubt that she {Carol Ann} was his child.”

Lita Grey surely did not know without a doubt that Joan Berry only had sex with Chaplin during the relevant period.  Hence Lita Grey could not have known without a doubt that the child was Chaplin’s.  Moreover, the three physicians chosen to do the blood tests performed the tests and reported the results without any government involvement.  Thus the above claim about paternity is intellectually preposterous.[19]  But true knowledge of paternity matters little in social circumstances that demand false beliefs.

Despite the blood tests showing that Chaplin was not the father of Berry’s child, the jury deciding Berry’s paternity suit found that Chaplin was the father.  Berry’s lawyer employed a wide variety of ethnic, class, and misandristic slurs against Chaplin in urging the juries to reach that decision:

This pestiferous, lecherous hound. . . . I’m sorry he isn’t here so I could . . . hand it to him right on the chin. . . . Did you ever hear the story of Svengali and Trilby? This fellow is just a little runt of a Svengali. He’s not even a monster . . . just a little runt. . . . This fellow doesn’t lie like a gentleman. He lies like a cheap Cockney cad. … That man goes around fornicating . . . with the same aplomb that the average man orders bacon and eggs for breakfast. He is a hoary headed old buzzard . . . with the instincts of a young bull … a master mechanic in the art of seduction [20]

Berry’s lawyer emphasized to the second jury that they should send a message to other men that “irresponsible” behavior would not be tolerated:

After all, every rooster wants to do the same thing as Chaplin, and this is why I … am in this case, why I am doing it, because I love this town and this community and our government. [21]

In the first paternity trial, the jury returned deadlocked, with seven votes against finding paternity (six women and one man) and five votes in favor of paternity (four men and one woman).  A newspaper report described the jurors’ deliberation:

In arriving at their deadlock, the jury finally discounted the blood experts’ testimony that Chaplin could not be the father of the child “pretty thoroughly toward the end,” Gay {the man who was head juror} said later.

Argument and discussion centered solely around whether Chaplin, Hans Reusch, or J. Paul Getty, Tulsa oil man, the latter two men with whom the defense contended Miss Berry was intimate, was father of the child.  Lionel Vasco Bonini, third man whom the defense sought to interject into the young woman’s life, was ignored.  “The men were much more emphatic than the women in their attitude,” Gay said.  “They were pretty wild.” [22]

A second trial found Chaplin the father with a vote of eleven jurors for paternity (ten women and one man, who served as head juror) and only one woman juror against a finding of paternity.  The woman juror voting against a paternity finding explained:

I came into this court determined to see that the honor of American womanhood was upheld, but after what I heard here, I couldn’t vote for that girl. [23]

The biological fact that Chaplin was not the father of Berry’s child mattered little in the jurors’ decisions.

Cases like Berry’s paternity suit against Chaplin do not serve the best interests of children.  When Berry faltered in her claim that she had sex with Chaplin on a night that became a focus of the trial, Berry’s attorney objected:

I object to any statement of that kind, I am representing a baby here …. I have a baby to look out for. [24]

Overall, Berry keep to the script of advocating for the child.  For example, Berry testified that she asked Chaplin to marry her:

“I said,’If you’ll just give the baby a name I don’t have to have any further contact with you.'” Miss Berry previously testified she had offered to give Chaplin an immediate divorce if they were wedded.[25]

After the jury declared Chaplin to be the father of Berry’s child,  the judge awarded Berry $75 per week.  That’s about a third more than median weekly family income for all families in the U.S. in 1945.  Berry, seeking more, appealed that financial award.  She sought $1000 to $1500 a week. That amounts, per week, to roughly half of median family income per year.[26]  Why should a court order support tremendous family-income inequality for children in America?  Berry’s appeal for more money was denied.  Berry’s lawyer was initially awarded $5000 in legal expenses.  That’s more than Berry got for her child per year.  Berry’s lawyer sought greater financial compensation.  After nearly a two-year legal battle, Berry’s lawyer secured a court order requiring Chaplin to pay him $42,706 in legal fees.[27] The biggest winner in Berry’s paternity suit was Berry’s lawyer.

Through the workings of a public sphere highly attuned to the personal lives of Hollywood stars, having sex with Joan Berry created very big problems for Charlie Chaplin.  Chaplin’s many other sexual affairs had not impeded his rise to extraordinary popularity.  Public reaction to the story of the pregnant Berry, however, seriously damaged Chaplin’s public standing.  The ensuing federal cases charging White Slave Traffic Act violations and a conspiracy against Berry’s civil rights seriously threatened Chaplin’s personal freedom.  Those cases failed legally, but not before causing Chaplin acute personal anxiety and considerable legal costs.  As a result of Berry’s paternity lawsuit, Chaplin was legally declared to be the father of Berry’s child even though he was not the child’s biological father and had no social relationship with the child.

Chaplin’s troubles from his affair with Berry are not just a sensational Hollywood story.  The Chaplin-Berry affair points to deeper social patterns.  Legal cases of contested paternity show the social regulation of male sexuality.  A review of contested paternity cases in the U.S. across the twentieth century found:

Rather than assuming that paternity should be rooted in a genetic or biological connection to a child, many juries decided that what rendered a man responsible for financially supporting a child was having had sex with the mother.  Paternity, then, hinged not on the existence of a current biological relationship between the child and the accused, but a prior sexual relationship between the mother and the accused. [28]

Legally conflating having sex and fathering a child denies men sexual freedom.  In social circumstances in which sexual freedom is celebrated, denying men, but not women, sexual freedom under law is socially demoralizing, especially if serious discussion of this issue is socially suppressed.  Moreover, in social circumstances in which women commonly have sex with multiple men, equating having sex and fathering a child requires either recognizing multiple legal fathers for a child or an extra-legal choice among men in imposing legal fatherhood.  Recognizing multiple legal fathers would make administering family law much more difficult.  On the other hand, arbitrarily imposing legal fatherhood corrupts law and fatherhood.

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Read more:


[1] On Chaplin’s sexual relations, see FBI 1:114-21 (report made 11/9/43).  That Chaplin had sex with many young, beautiful women was widely known and not contested.  The FBI records of its investigation of the Chaplin-Berry affair provides evidence of Berry’s sexual relations.  Berry lived in New York City prior to coming to Los Angeles and Hollywood at age nineteen looking for work as an actress.  FBI 1:97 (citing Los Angeles Herald, June 4, 1943).  Joan Berry was born as Mary Louise Gribble, but in Los Angeles used a variety of names: Mary Louise Berry, Joan Barratt, Mary L. Barratt, Joanne Berry, JoAnne Berry, and Joan Barry.  The most common alternate name for Joan Berry is Joan Barry.  The first official record of Berry that the FBI found was her arrest on Dec. 17, 1938, for stealing a dress in Los Angeles.  FBI 1:103 (report made 11/9/43).  Id. observes:

It is understood that a local businessman became acquainted with Berry in September, 1938, and kept her in a local apartment house and hotel over a period of several years.  During this time it was necessary to have an abortion performed on her.

The first available FBI report concerning Chaplin and Berry, “Memorandum for the Director {J. Edgar Hoover}”, dated June 24, 1943, reports a confidential source informed the FBI:

Jean Paul Getty, wealthy oil man of this city {Los Angeles}, and A. C. Blumenthal, wealthy member of the international set living between Los Angeles and Mexico, lived with Joan Barry in Mexico City for a time and, in addition, she has been passed around freely to various motion picture actors in Hollywood prior to and subsequent to her affair with Chaplin.

FBI 1:5.  Berry had two more abortions that she attributed to pregnancies resulting from sex with Chaplin.  Berry’s testimony and other evidence indicates that Chaplin and his confidants pressured Berry into having these abortions and paid for the abortions.  FBI 2:152-7 (report dated 2/25/44).  Newspaper articles of the time refer to these abortions obliquely as “operations”.  Berry first met Chaplin about May 27, 1941, signed a contract with Chaplin’s studio on June 23, 1941, and first had sex with Chaplin about this time.  In her testimony at the first Chaplin paternity trial (started Dec. 19, 1944, jury returned deadlocked Jan. 4, 1945), Berry “denied positively that she had been intimate with any other man since she met Chaplin.”  See “Joan Berry Asks Juror to Name Chaplin Father,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 1944, p. 2.  Paternity blood tests conducted and reported in Feb. 1944 clearly indicated that Berry had sex with a man other than Chaplin since she met Chaplin.  FBI records on the Chaplin-Berry affair make clear that Berry was active in Hollywood night life apart from her relationship with Chaplin.  FBI 2: 158-66.  From Nov. 6-17, 1942, Berry took a trip with J. Paul Getty to Miami Beach, Florida.  FBI 1:108-9.  Following the legal resolution of her relationship with Chaplin, Berry had a troubled life.  See further biography of Berry, see the occasionally misleading Mandarano (c. 2009).

[2] Hedda Hopper, “Looking at Hollywood,” Chicago Daily Tribune, June 3, 1943, p. 22.

[3] Maland (1989), pp. 207-220, reviews the effects of the gossip columnists and news reports on the Berry-Chaplin case and on Chaplin’s public standing.

[4] The released FBI Chaplin file includes a “Memorandum for the Director {J. Edgar Hoover}”, dated June 24, 1943.  FBI 1:5.  The earliest document with subject line including “Joan Barr, Victim – White Slave Traffic Act” in the released FBI Chaplin file is dated Aug. 17, 1943.  FBI 1:9. Hoover’s direction and the description of the White Slave Traffic Act allegation is in an FBI memorandum, dated Aug. 26, 1943.  FBI 1:10-11.

[5] “Jury Indicts Chaplin on Mann Act Charge,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 1944, p. 1.  For the relevant FBI documents, see FBI 2: 179, 186-94.

[6] Chaplin (1964) p. 415.  Chaplin’s account places these events between when Berry started acting lessons at Max Reinhardt’s school of acting and when Chaplin canceled Berry’s acting contract.  According to Berry, she was taking lessons at Reinhardt’s school from Feb. 1942 through early May, 1942.  FBI 2:158. J. Paul Getty gave Berry the money to purchase her Cadillac.  FBI 2:152.

[7] FBI 2:166.

[8] FBI 2:179.  Berry bought the fur coat around November, 1941, for $1100.  Chaplin apparently paid for it.  FBI 2:159.

[9] “Court Orders Chaplin to Answer Suit,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1943, reporting on statements of Beverly Hills Policy Chief C. H. Anderson.  A doctor examined Berry.  He pronounced that she was not suffering from poisoning and had simulated suicide.  FBI 1:98 reports the contents of this news article.  Upon leaving from Los Angeles, Berry got off the train in Omaho, Nebraska, and then traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Kansas, New York, and then back to Los Angeles.  See FBI 2:169.

[10] FBI 2:169.

[11] FBI 2:171.

[12] Id.

[13] “Jury Indicts Chaplin on Mann Act Charge,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 11, 1944, p. 1.

[14] “Filmland Great to Get Roles in Chaplin Suit,” Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1843, p. 2.

[15] Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 652 – Cal: Court of Appeal 1946 at 656.

[16] Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 669 – Cal: Court of Appeal 1946 at 676.

[17] “Chaplin Not Father of Miss Berry’s Baby, Blood Tests by Three Physicians Show,” The Associated Press / The New York Times, Feb. 16, 1944, p. 19.

[18] FBI 2:210-11.  When Chaplin’s attorney attempted to have the stipulation upheld, the court balked.  The formal legal reasoning was that the court that had ratified the stipulation had not independently considered the best interests of the child.  Legal guardians are not legally free to make stipulations not in the best interests of the child.  See Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 652 – Cal: Court of Appeal 1946.

[19] Mandarano (c. 2009) relays this claim from an interview in 2009 with Richard Lamparski:

Richard Lamparski, author of the popular “Whatever Became of…” series which details the then and now lives of many famous celebrities, was a friend of Lita Grey Chaplin (1908-1995), Chaplin’s second wife and father of his elder sons, in her later life. According to Lamparski, in person at Grey Chaplin’s residence, she confided to him that during that time many Los Angeles government agencies and the justice system were “extremely corrupt and you could buy anything” (Lamparski Interview). She further relayed to Lamparski that Chaplin had paid to have the blood tests tampered with and that “there is no doubt that she (Carol Ann) was his child” (Lamparski Interview).

This claim is far removed from credible historical evidence.  An appreciative review of Lamparski’s work described him as a “catty man with an eccentric writing style.”  Here’s further Lamparski biography.  Die-hard conspiracy theorists might ponder that the AB test excluded Chaplin, but the MN test did not.  Either AB or MN exclusion is scientifically conclusive for non-paternity.  But not having both exclusions made presenting the tests more complicated and more prone to mis-interpretation.  See Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 652 – Cal: Court of Appeal 1946 at 665.

[20] Quoted in untitled article in Time Magazine, Jan. 8, 1945 (v. 45, n. 2).

[21] Rudavsky (1996) p. 8, citing Trial Record of Berry v. Chaplin: 665-667.

[22] “Chaplin Jury Deadlocked, 7-5; Is Discharged,” Winn, Marcia, Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan. 5, 1945, p. 6.

[23] “Father of Carol Ann,” Newsweek 45 (Apr. 30, 1945) p. 41.

[24] Rudavsky (1996) p. 7, quoting Trial Record of Berry v. Chaplin: 245.

[25] “Joan Berry Asks Jurors to Name Chaplin Father,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 1944, p. 2.

[26] “Joan Berry Wants More Money From Chaplin,” The Baltimore Sun, Sept. 27, 1945, p. 7.  U.S. median annual family income before taxes in 1947 was $3031.  The Consumer Price Index (BLS) rose from 18 to 22.3 from 1945 to 1947.  Carter (2006), Tables BE67-84 and CC1-2.  See alternatively online historical statistics.  For a legal judgment on the award appeals, see Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 669 – Cal: Court of Appeal 1946.

[27] See Berry v. Chaplin, 74 Cal. App. 2d 669, and “Chaplin Must Pay $42,706 to Joan Berry’s Lawyer,” Daily Boston Globe, Dec. 21, 1946, p. 3.

[28] Rudavsky (1996) p. 35.

[image] From Chaplin in his movie The Kid (1921), deciding what to do with an abandoned child.  On Chaplin’s own impoverished childhood, see Weissman (2008).


Carter, Susan B. 2006. Historical statistics of the United States: earliest times to the present. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Chaplin, Charlie. 1964. My autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster.

FBI Charlie Chaplin file online.  Referenced as FBI A:B, where A is the online section number (1 or 2 of 10), and B is the pdf page number in the online section.  The first pages of online section 1 have cover sheets stating “Subject: Charlie Chaplin; Part 3 of 5; File number: 31-68496; Part 1 of 3.”  Online section 2 has no cover sheets.

Maland, Charles J. 1989. Chaplin and American culture: the evolution of a star image. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Mandarano, Matthew (c. 2009). “Joan Barry: The Most (In)famous Actress to Never Appear on Screen.”

Rudavsky, Shari. 1996. Blood will tell: the role of science and culture in twentieth-century paternity disputes. Thesis (Ph. D.)–University of Pennsylvania.

Weissman, Stephen M. 2008. Chaplin: a life. New York: Arcade Pub.

8 thoughts on “Charlie Chaplin persecuted for sex with Joan Berry”

  1. Fascinating.

    “Legally conflating having sex and fathering a child denies men sexual freedom.”

    Yes. Yes it does. Because “sexual freedom” (among more than one participant) is, I think, largely, impossible.

  2. He’s STILL a pervert aka Woody Allen style and Roman Polanski. He was probably boning Ooona BEFORE she was 18 and had married his second-? While she was just 16! Any 18 year old who hooks up with a man old enough to be her grandfather needs to have her head examined and her family history Yecchh and he KEPT her pregnant with six kids, other than finishing school, it’s not like she was highly educated. Another old fart taking advantage of a dumb young thing.

  3. I thought her name was Barry, with an A? I suppose Berry is ok as well, since neither was her real name, I think it was “Gribble” or similar. All the info above keeps repeating Berry instead of Barry. Odd.

    1. The sources use both the names Joan Berry and Joan Barry. The court record quoted above uses Joan Berry. Her name at birth was Mary Louise Gribble. See note [1] above.

  4. Douglas, my maternal grandfather was Charles E. Millikan, the lead attorney on this case. It was a circus by all accounts I have read, the plaintiff’s attorney, was outrageous in the things he said, but he was supposedly one of the best at that time and he used the strategy of the “defenseless young woman” vs the “immoral” Chaplin, implying that Chaplin was the wealthy (and therefore more powerful) of the two. Chaplin was well-known as a philanderer and at that time he was also accused of being a communist. It was such a different time with different standards. That Joan Barry was also loose with her morals did not seem to enter in, I think my grandfather was not the type to tear someone else’s reputation down, because he was focused on the legal issue of paternity. As I understand it, it was mostly was about the judge deciding not to allow the blood evidence as proof of paternity (I don’t think it was part of CA law at the time). My mother said it was the only case her father lost and he never quite got over it. He passed away in 1949 of a heart attack. Who knows if that trial contributed but mom said it “took a lot out of him.” I would have loved to have known him. Interestingly, my grandfather was also Shirley Temple’s attorney when she was a child actor. Her parents took good care of her finances which I am sure helped her in later life to live a “normal” life of public service. Thanks for this perspective on history. Hedda Hopper helping negotiate the terms of the settlement? Seriously?

  5. Actually, I should clarify…the point was that the judge did not allow a motion for dismissal based on the submitted and agreed upon stipulation (and signed)that said: if it was determined by three physicians and three blood samples that he was not the father, Barry would essentially walk away from all further claims and Chaplin would pay what was agreed to, INCLUDING her attorney fees. Judge ruled against the motion, Barry ignored the stipulation, jurors bought the “moral turpitude” argument (ignoring the stipulation and blood results) and found for the plaintiff. THAT was the miscarriage of justice. From what I know about my grandfather (a very good attorney with high integrity), he would have been outraged that a trial, in the end, was not about the law.
    Wasn’t Barry eventually found wandering the streets in the middle of the night and committed to a mental hospital? Sad story…no one really won in the end.

  6. As a result of Berry’s paternity lawsuit, Chaplin was legally declared to be the father of Berry’s child even though he was not the child’s biological father and had no social relationship with the child.

    This situation has NOT CHANGED…. Happens today all the
    time to guys. A pregnant girl is pressured to give a name so
    she does…even through you may never even met her. Maybe
    she has your business card, maybe she work in your place
    of employment, you helped her by the road… Many men I
    know now NEVER help a women, or give out ANY names
    or personal information. Extreme you say? Nope…Ask
    Mr. Chaplin….

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