Confusion over Chaplin records
Published 17/02/2012 | 00:09
MI5 was baffled to discover there were no records of Charlie Chaplin's birth when it investigated his alleged communist sympathies, newly released files reveal.
British intelligence officers could find no documents confirming the silent film star was born in London in April 1889, and they dismissed claims that he was in fact originally from France.
The mystery of Chaplin's birth emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into the comic actor's background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links.
The star is believed to have been born on April 16 1889 in East Street, Walworth, south London - just four days before the birth of Adolf Hitler, whom he lampooned in his classic 1940 film The Great Dictator.
But after scouring the files at Somerset House in London for his birth certificate, including checks for his supposed alias "Israel Thornstein", MI5 concluded: "It would seem that Chaplin was either not born in this country or that his name at birth was other than those mentioned."
A police memo to MI5 noted: "There may or may not be some truth in this, but in view of the fact that no documentary proof has been obtained that Chaplin was born in the United Kingdom, it may well be that he was in fact born in France."
Despite the mystery, John Marriott, then head of MI5's counter-subversion branch, wrote: "It is curious that we can find no record of Chaplin's birth, but I scarcely think that this is of any security significance."
Having escaped grinding poverty to launch a career in British music-hall, Chaplin moved to the US in 1910 and made a series of hugely successful films in Hollywood. But in the early 1950s, when Washington was in the grip of McCarthyist paranoia about Soviet infiltration, he was reviled in the US as a communist sympathiser.
There was further controversy about his two marriages to 16-year-old girls, failure to take American citizenship, and claims he fathered an illegitimate child and owed two million dollars in back taxes.
Chaplin and his family sailed to Britain in September 1952 to attend the premiere of his new film Limelight. While they were out of the country, US attorney-general James McGranery announced he would deny the actor a re-entry permit because of his alleged Soviet connections.