19th September 1952 America Banishes Charlie Chaplin

One of the 2060 pages of Charlie Chaplin’s FBI files

Today we recall the shameful expulsion from America of Charlie Chaplin – the great film-making pioneer and veritable icon – who, with his deft touch of comedy and pathos, brought enduring pleasure to the world and generated millions of dollars for his adopted country. It was on this day in 1952 when the longstanding hate campaign against the comic genius on account of his political views finally culminated in his banishment when the US Attorney General rescinded Chaplin’s re-entry permit. Such had been Chaplin’s status, power, wealth and popularity that his reputation had hitherto survived even the most sordid sex scandals. But in the paranoid and hysterical climate of Cold War America, there was no greater crime than to be a suspected commie. And just as we would see in the 1960s when government agencies and authorities set out to destroy the counterculture by targeting rock and roll, the film industry was similarly besieged in the ’40s and ’50s. In the most high-profile of all the Hollywood witchhunts, Charlie Chaplin – whose ‘radical’ views amounted to little more than a refusal to cross picket lines during the 1945-1946 Hollywood strikes, endorsing the Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential campaign and publicly admiring the Soviet Union for its (allied) role in World War 2 – was singled out by the FBI for systematic ruin.

After being blacklisted for refusing to co-operate when called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Chaplin’s career was dealt its deathblow when J. Edgar Hoover began to feed classified information and rumours to his friend, the staunchly conservative and enormously powerful Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper  – who, having long despised the ‘unpatriotic’ Chaplin, was only too happy to abet. As a result of her relentless vendetta, Chaplin’s once-adoring public abandoned him in droves; xenophobic lobbyists picketed outside cinemas until virtually all bookings of his 1952 film Limelight were cancelled. And so it happened that Chaplin, who had never renounced his British citizenship in the forty-two years he’d resided in America, had to look abroad to salvage his career. Whilst sailing to London for the premiere of Limelight, he was informed that Attorney General James McGranery had rescinded his re-entry permit on suspicion of Communist inclinations and ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to hold Chaplin for hearings should he attempt to return.

McGranery released a tellingly opaque statement: “If what has been said about him is true, he is, in my opinion, an unsavoury character [who] has been publicly charged with being a member of the Communist Party, with grave moral charges and with making statements that would indicate a leering, sneering attitude toward a country whose hospitality has enriched him.” It would transpire that McGranery based his case on unverifiable rumours and innuendo; according to a 1952 memo, the FBI had no substantial evidence against Chaplin that could have barred his re-entry into the United States. Chaplin, however, had no such difficulties clarifying his own position. Informed that he would not necessarily be welcomed back, he retorted, “I wouldn’t go back there if Jesus Christ were president,” and surrendered his U.S. re-entry permit. “My prodigious sin was, and still is, being a non-conformist,” added Chaplin. “Although I am not a Communist I refused to fall in line by hating them.”

Chaplin would return to the United States only once, in 1972, to accept a special Oscar presented to him at the Academy Awards, where he received a standing ovation – the disloyalty and treachery of just twenty years earlier seemingly forgotten.

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11 Responses to 19th September 1952 – America Banishes Charlie Chaplin

  1. Anonymous says:

    Saw a tweet about yesterday’s Rob Tyner post and thought I’d hang around and see what else you’ve been writing about. Half a day later and my mind is blown.

    This is some great thing you are doing.

  2. Richard says:

    Chaplain on silent film:
    “Action is more generally understood than words. Like Chinese symbolism, it will mean different things according to its scenic connotation. Listen to a description of some unfamiliar object—an African warthog, for example; then look at a picture of the animal and see how surprised you are”

    Chaplains speech from The Great Dictator:
    “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor. That’s not my business. I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone. I should like to help everyone if possible – Jew, Gentile – black man – white. “We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.”

    Chaplain was part of comedy troupes called The Eight Lancashire Lads, founded by Bill Cawley and J.W. (William) Jackson (1863-1940) of Wigan (famous for it’s catch-as-catch-can wrestling) and went on to work with Stan Laurel (from Ulverston in the Furness region of Lancashire) under Fred Karno for a brief period.

  3. Joe says:

    I don’t blame Chaplin for his attitude on USA…many are racists like Hoover. I used to teach, but since learing about CC, am an actor. I work for peace and people as we all should. RIP Charlie!!!

    • Cal says:

      Hoover was not only a racist, he was also a traitor. He was warned about the impending attack on Pearl Harbor, and made sure that the information DIDN’T get passed on to the President or the military. FDR should have had the man hanged.

      • NOT DECEIVED says:

        and also Prescot Bush, “W’s” grandfather, who greatly supported the German Nazi regime. Hoover was also a homosexual. Now we might understand a little WHY America has “morphed” into “Ratopia”!

  4. Dr. David says:

    America is just a fake country. All the lies, rubbish, buillshits , corruptions, cheaters, liars and the devils are in America. I got many times to move to America, but I never feel like moving to the West. Only hopeless, homeless, and criminals move to America. People good for nothing are accumulated in America. Only 25 % Americans are educated. The American education is going backward. There are millions of American are in Thailand teaching English and all these Asian countries. Most of all these Americans are uneducated. there are many more rubbishy about America.

    • NOT DECEIVED says:

      If YOU are so educated, WHY can’t YOU SPELL and use correct grammar?

    • Lin says:

      25%!?! Haaaaa. Hilarious. You would never move here because you can’t. I know college graduates that live in Taiwan .filthy place. To teach English. America is the greatest country because we care for each other. We fight for each other and I would give anything to anyone that asked. God have richly blessed me and my family to do good for Him.

  5. Pingback: America through my eyes | bblack

  6. Psychedelic Rob. says:

    Amazing story and amazing guy, I never knew.
    Of course as Rollo May notes the opposite of courage in society is conformity.
    To my brothers and sisters trading nationalist insults at each other: Don’t confuse the actions of a country’s acting despots with that of it’s people. The majority of us whether American, Syrian, Israeli or British just as Mr.Chaplin said in the above post: “..want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there’s room for everyone and the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.”
    Divide and conquer and all that..
    And after all Mrs. Cope is American and purveyor of this fine and educational blog.
    Peace out!

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