Saturday, April 16, 2011

Charlie Chaplin's Birthday

April 16 is Charlie Chaplin's 122nd birthday, but I would rather write about his wife Oona O'Neill Chaplin and her relationship with her father Eugene O'Neill. As you read on you can also watch Google's tribute to Charlie on his birthday.

Oona, Lady Chaplin was the daughter of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton, and the wife of British actor, director and producer Charlie Chaplin.

Eugene O'Neill was the author of Long Days Journey into the Night, the semi-autobiographical story of his own depression and alcoholism. Eugene and Agnes had two children Shane and Oona. Oona was born in 1925 while her parents were living in Bermuda, during a period of heavy drinking by her father. In 1929, dad left mom for another actress. Oona rarely saw her father after that.

Agnes Boulton wrote of O'Neill in her autobiography, Part of a Long Story (1953): "He never seemed to be what is called drunk, but there would be some sudden and rather dreadful outbursts of violence, and others of bitter nastiness and malevolence when he appeared more like a madman than anything else."

Oona decides to pursue acting instead of attending Vassar College. At age 17, she meets 53 year old Charlie Chaplin. Father Eugene O'Neill refuses to give Oona his consent to marry Chaplin and disinherits Oona continuing to ignore her for the rest of his life. Oona and Charlie wed and live happily thereafter, having 8 children over a marriage that spans 35 years.

Eugene O'Neill is a turd who obviously can't come to terms with his own life. He goes on drinking binges and speaks of suicide. When sober, he writes prodigiously. He projects his own insecurities and failures onto his children. Oona's older half-brother, Eugene O'Neill Jr., was the son of a woman to whom papa O'Neill had reneged on a promise to marry before attaining success as a writer. This younger O'Neill, like father, suffered from alcoholism then, unlike father, committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 40. Oona's brother Shane became a heroin addict. He moved into the family home in Bermuda, where he supported himself by selling off the furnishings. Father also disinherits him before the other son commits suicide by jumping out of a window years later.

Oona finds happiness with Charlie Chaplin despite the age difference and despite Charlie's fading success in movies as "talkies" replace the silent film. The couple eventually moves to Switzerland because of Charlie's tax problems and the label of communist sympathizer by the US government. Oona renounces her US citizenship in protest.

In 1981 when Oona saw Jack Nicholson film Reds, where he portrayed her distant father, she wrote him a letter saying, "Thanks to you, I now can love my father". Nicholson remarked that "that is the best compliment I ever got".

After Charlie Chaplin's death in 1977, Oona fought her own unsuccessful battle with alcoholism. She died in Switzerland of pancreatic cancer in 1991.

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