Cold War and Exile


Film still for Cold War and Exile

From his very first films, Chaplin's realistic portrayal of the life of the underdog had attracted the left-wing intellectuals, while arousing alarm in reactionary America. From as early as 1923 the Federal Bureau of Investigation kept records on his activities and his associates. The long-time Chief of the FBI, J.Edgar Hoover regarded him as a special target, and kept agents busy for years endeavouring, without success, to prove that Chaplin gave support to the Communist Party. Chaplin's patriotic war-time activities, when he made speeches in support of America's then ally the Soviet Union, were especially held against him in the McCarthyist 1940s and 1950s. Right-wing journalists were primed to build up the campaign against him, and the FBI engineered an unseemly paternity suit unwillingly brought against Chaplin by a disturbed young actress, Joan Barry.

Reactionary organisations like the American Legion eagerly joined in the campaign. Cinemas showing Chaplin's films were picketed, and his name was blackened to a point where many in Hollywood were afraid to be associated in any way with Chaplin and his family. The Un-American Activities investigators considered calling Chaplin to the tribunal, but thought better of it; he was almost disappointed, since he had planned his own means of ridiculing the investigations by turning up in his familiar screen costume.

On September 17 1952, Chaplin, with his young wife Oona and his four children, set sail for London in the Queen Elizabeth to attend the world premiere of Limelight in London. When the ship was two days at sea, the American Attorney-General announced that the re-entry permit which Chaplin needed, as an alien (he had retained his British citizenship), had been rescinded. In fact the State Department and the FBI were terrified of Chaplin's return, knowing that they had exceeded their powers, but they need not have worried, he had no intention of returning to "that unhappy country".

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