Video: US feared Charlie Chaplin was from Russia
Published 17/02/2012 | 05:00
THE British Security Service investigated Charlie Chaplin to see if he was actually a Frenchman or a Russian Jew called Israel Thornstein.
According to previously secret files, intelligence officers could find no trace of the silent movie star's birth in Britain despite his claim that he was born in London in 1889. The mystery surrounding his origins emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into Chaplin's background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links.
However, British intelligence rejected American claims that Chaplin was a high-risk communist, concluding that while he may have been a "sympathiser" he was no more than a "progressive or radical".
Scotland Yard's Special Branch added to the intrigue by passing on a tip from a source who claimed that the actor was born near Paris, while the Americans claimed he may have been a Russian Jew.
A letter discovered last year suggested he had been born in a gypsy camp near Birmingham.
Chaplin moved to the US in 1910 and made a series of hugely successful films in Hollywood in his persona of the Little Tramp.
In the early 1950s, when Washington was in the grip of McCarthyist paranoia about Soviet infiltration, he was reviled 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 $2m in back taxes.
For nearly 20 years the UK government blocked a knighthood for Chaplin because of US concern about his private life but he was knighted in 1975.
He died on Christmas Day 1977, aged 88. (© Daily Telegraph, London)