First, Chaplin Got Screwed. Then He Was F*cked.
In June 1941 Charles Chaplin began dating aspiring actress Joan Barry, and their on again, off again relationship lasted until the fall of 1942. Barry claimed that she and Chaplin engaged in sexual intercourse in December 1942, at which point she became pregnant. When Chaplin denied being the child’s father, Barry filed the first of two paternity suits against him. Even though evidence would prove otherwise, Charlie Chaplin paid child support – for a child that wasn’t his!
Charlie Chaplin Had Enemies in High Places
Our story actually starts long before Joan Barry came into Charlie Chaplin’s life. In addition to the paternity suit, four additional indictments were filed against Chaplin in 1943. These charges, filed by the FBI as being related to the Joan Barry case, stemmed from the then director’s intense dislike and mistrust of Chaplin. For years J. Edgar Hoover had been watching the actor, hoping for an opportunity to generate negative publicity about him with the intent of diminishing his popularity. Barry’s pregnancy and paternity suit provided just the opportunity Hoover was hoping for.
Blood Evidence is Inadmissible. Sorry, Charlie!
At this point you might be asking: why were two paternity suits necessary?
Before the first trial concluded, Barry, Chaplin and the child, Carol Ann, all submitted to a blood test to confirm whether or not Charlie was the father. An agreement was signed between the parties: Chaplin would pay $25,000 and if the test confirmed he was not the father Barry was to dismiss the paternity suit. Although the test did prove that Chaplin was not the father, Barry refused to drop the charges and when the trial concluded, the jury could not agree on a verdict.
A second paternity suit was levied by the court, to which guardianship of the child had been transferred. It was in this trial that the blood evidence was inadmissible, resulting in an 11 to 1 verdict that Charles Chaplin was the child’s father. As a result, Chaplin was to pay all court fees and child support for Carol Ann until she turned 21.
As a result of the negative publicity surrounding his legal troubles, Charlie’s fame and image were severely damaged. His diminishing popularity coupled with his alleged ties to the Communist Party, kept Chaplin on Hoover’s watch list; eventually, when Charlie traveled to London, his re-entry permit was revoked and he decided not to return to America.
The controversy surrounding the Chaplin paternity case, and others like it, eventually resulted in revised paternity laws. In 1953 the Uniform Act on Blood Tests to Determine Paternity was adopted, deeming blood evidence allowable in cases where paternity is being contested.