Guest Author - Amber Grey
After World War II, America became paranoid against an enemy they thought would eventually overthrow democracy. Their enemy was Communism. When it came to Hollywood’s gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, she knew her pen was mightier than the sword; making and breaking careers with one slight of hand from ink to paper. An extreme right-wing political supporter herself, Hopper decided if she had the power to destroy the careers of people suspected of Communist behavior, why not do it?
With Hopper’s self-taught investigative journalist skills, she took advantage of her close friendship with J. Edgar Hoover, the President of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In one of Hopper’s correspondences with Hoover, she signified her mission with one sentence, “I’d like to run every one of those rats out of the country starting with Charlie Chaplin.” Hopper embellished on her word with, “You give me the material and I’ll blast.”
When Hopper began her attack on Chaplin, she magnified his multiple marriages and illicit affairs, knowing full well that her public would find his promiscuous behavior morally unacceptable. In order to further Chaplin’s alienation from his adoring public, Hopper made it known that he was not a legal U.S. citizen while maintaining to work in the country for forty years. In addition to Hopper’s exposure of Chaplin, the gossip columnist also covered the paternity suit set against Chaplin by actress Joan Berry. Although Chaplin’s paternity test proved false, he was charged with violation of the Mann act and was ordered to pay child well-fare until the child’s twenty-first birthday. Hopper also went after his films. When “Monsieur Verdoux” (1947) premiered, Chaplin’s publicity agent wrote to Hopper hoping a gentle letter of recommending the picture would put Chaplin into her good graces. The publicity agent said he would publicly eat the film’s negative if he was wrong about the film. Hopper responded with, “Start Eating.”
It is not confirmed whether or not Hopper’s columns had a significant impact on Chaplin’s estrangement from America. However, actor James Mason wrote his thoughts in his autobiography “Before I Forget,” “. . .she [Hopper] practically went to war against Charlie Chaplin. So much so that I would say that she, more than any other individual, was responsible for Chaplin's shabby treatment at the hands of the United States Immigration Department.” Despite Chaplin’s repeated comments of not belonging to the Communist party, the FBI continued a close watch on his movements and behavior. By the time Chaplin left America, Chaplin’s FBI file reached an astonishing 2,063 pages.
In 1952, Chaplin left the states to attend the premiere of “Limelight” in London, England. When he returned to the United States, he was not allowed to re-enter the country. Chaplin did not put up a fight to re-enter the country. Instead, Chaplin moved his family to Switzerland with one response to the treatment he received from the States, “I have no further use for America. I wouldn't go back there if Jesus Christ was President.” In 1972, Chaplin did return to America on a two-month visa in order to receive his Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement. After, Chaplin never returned to America again.