In a 70-year career, Charlie Chaplin appeared in both silent and talking pictures—in both comic and dramatic roles—and was as prolific off the screen as he was on. As well as starring in all his movies, he also wrote, directed, produced, and even composed the music for many of them. He even found the time to co-found the United Artists production company!
That extraordinary career, however, was matched by an equally extraordinary personal life. Born into poverty in London, by the time he was ten years old, Chaplin had already been sent to a workhouse twice, and when he was 14, his mother was committed to an insane asylum.
A chance meeting with the theatrical impresario Fred Karno led to a career on the stage, and Chaplin finally left for America when he was 19. By the late 1910’s, he was one of the world’s biggest movie stars.
But Chaplin’s curious private life continued to dog him. In 1918, he married 17-year-old former child star Mildred Harris, swiftly arranging their wedding after he discovered that Harris was pregnant.
When that pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, the marriage crumbled. (Chaplin went on to marry a total of four times, three times to girls still in their teens.)
A short-lived, hastily arranged marriage was scandalous enough for the 1910s, but as if that weren’t bad enough, the situation soon caught the attention of one of the founders of MGM Studios, Louis B Mayer.
Looking to capitalize on the press attention the couple’s ill-fated relationship was getting—and with Harris’ name seemingly on the lips of everyone in Hollywood—Mayer signed her up to a lucrative multi-picture deal with MGM. Chaplin was furious.
The situation came to a head when both he and Mayer happened to be dining at the same restaurant in Los Angeles one night. The two men fell into a heated argument, with Chaplin accusing Mayer of profiting from his name and Mayer accusing Chaplin of being a “sexual deviant.” A fight ensued, and Mayer reportedly punched Chaplin in the face so hard that he was sent spiraling into a nearby pot plant.
The fight over, there was no love lost between the two, and they reportedly remained on frosty terms for the rest of their careers.