April 2nd, 1972 – Charlie Chaplin Returns to America

It was on April 2nd, 1972 that actor Charlie Chaplin returned to the United States for the first time since being labeled a communist during the Red Scare in the early 1950s.

CharlieChaplin

Back in April 1946, following a number of controversies in his personal life, Chaplin began filming Monsieur Verdoux, a project that had been in development since 1942. Monsieur Verdoux was a black comedy, the story of a French bank clerk, Verdoux (Chaplin), who loses his job and begins marrying and murdering wealthy widows to support his family. Chaplin’s inspiration for the project came from Orson Welles, who wanted him to star in a film about the French serial killer Henri Désiré Landru. Chaplin decided that the concept would “make a wonderful comedy,” and paid Welles $5,000 for the idea.

800px-Monsieur_Verdoux_posterChaplin again vocalized his political views in Monsieur Verdoux, criticising capitalism and arguing that the world encourages mass killing through wars and weapons of mass destruction. Because of this, the film met with controversy when it was released in April 1947; Chaplin was booed at the premiere, and there were calls for a boycott. Monsieur Verdoux was the first Chaplin release that failed both critically and commercially in the United States. It was more successful abroad, and Chaplin’s screenplay was nominated at the Academy Awards. He was proud of the film, writing in his autobiography, “Monsieur Verdoux is the cleverest and most brilliant film I have yet made.”

The negative reaction to Monsieur Verdoux was largely the result of changes in Chaplin’s public image. Along with damage of other scandals, he was publicly accused of being a communist. His political activity had heightened during World War II, when he campaigned for the opening of a Second Front to help the Soviet Union and supported various Soviet–American friendship groups. He was also friendly with several suspected communists, and attended functions given by Soviet diplomats in Los Angeles. In the political climate of 1940s America, such activities meant Chaplin was considered, as Larcher writes, “dangerously progressive and amoral.” The FBI wanted him out of the country, and early in 1947 they launched an official investigation.

Chaplin Gandhi 680Chaplin denied being a communist, instead calling himself a “peacemonger,” but felt the government’s effort to suppress the ideology was an unacceptable infringement of civil liberties. Unwilling to be quiet about the issue, he openly protested the trials of Communist Party members and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Chaplin received a subpoena to appear before HUAC, but was not called to testify. As his activities were widely reported in the press, and Cold War fears grew, questions were raised over his failure to take American citizenship. Calls were made for him to be deported; in one extreme and widely published example, Representative John E. Rankin, who helped establish HUAC, told Congress in June 1947: “[Chaplin’s] very life in Hollywood is detrimental to the moral fabric of America. [If he is deported] … his loathsome pictures can be kept from before the eyes of the American youth. He should be deported and gotten rid of at once.”

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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