Sydney Chaplin

Sydney Chaplin
Sydney Chaplin

Sydney Chaplin obituary in “The Guardian” in 2009.

Sydney Chaplin was the third son of the great Charlie Chaplin.   His mother was the actress Lita Grey.   He was born in Los Angeles in 1926.   His films include “Limelight” in 1952, “Land of the Pharoahs” and “Confession”.   In 1957 he starred on Broadway opposite Judy Holliday in “The Bells Are Ringing” and in 1964 he was starring with Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl”.   He died in 2009.

David Robinson’s “Guardian” obituary:

Sydney Chaplin, who has died aged 82, achieved brief Broadway fame, an on-and-off film career, and a vivid private life, without being too much awed or overshadowed by being the son of the great Charlie Chaplin. He was the second son of Chaplin’s tempestuous second marriage to the teenage actor Lita Grey. By the time of Sydney’s birth, relations between his parents had totally broken down. In November 1926 Lita removed Sydney and his older brother, Charles, from the Chaplin home.

The 1927 divorce settlement granted her custody, but the boys were mostly brought up by their still-youthful maternal grandmother, while Lita attempted to make a career as a singer. With their grandmother and her boyfriend, they spent most of one year in and around Nice, where they learned French. Lita insisted on calling her son “Tommy” on account of her distaste for Charlie Chaplin’s half-brother Sydney, after whom he had been officially named.

In 1932 Charlie Chaplin brought a successful action to prevent Lita putting the children into films. A positive result of this conflict was that Chaplin was stirred to re-establish contact with his sons, who from this time spent most weekends with him, incidentally falling deeply in love with his new live-in companion, Paulette Goddard. As they grew older they became still closer to their father, and, in the 1940s, after his separation from Paulette, were favourite chaperones when Chaplin Sr dined out with female stars who were nearer their age than his.

Sydney was variously educated at the Black-Foxe military institute, Lawrenceville preparatory school, New Jersey, and North Hollywood high; and did war service in the 65th Infantry Division. In 1946, he joined his friend Jerry Epstein, the actor Kathleen Freeman and students from UCLA in forming the Circle Theatre. The first performances were given in a friend’s drawing-room, but later a corner grocery store was converted into a theatre.

Props were borrowed from the Chaplin studios, and, nostalgic for his own theatre days, Charlie Chaplin himself took a hand with direction, or would happily sit beside Epstein in the box office. The theatre became Hollywood’s first centre of avant-garde drama; William Saroyan gave them the play Sam Ego’s House; and the Circle became a meeting place for Hollywood’s brighter people, including Katharine Hepburn, George Cukor and Edward G Robinson.

Sydney made his screen debut in 1952 as the young romantic lead, opposite Claire Bloom, in his father’s film Limelight, but effective though he was, he found few subsequent rewarding roles. The best of them were Treneh in Howard Hawks’s Land of the Pharaohs and the leading role in a good British thriller, Ken Hughes’s Confession, both in 1955.

Tall and handsome, he was constantly in and out of love. On Land of the Pharaohs he was romantically involved with the female star, Joan Collins; and later the same year, working on Gregory Ratoff’s Abdulla the Great, he embarked on a much-publicised affair with the film’s star, Kay Kendall.

He had supporting roles in George Marshall’s western Pillars of the Sky (1956) and Jack Sher’s Four Girls in Town (1957), but had greater success on Broadway. His first starring role was opposite Judy Holliday in Bells are Ringing (1956), which ran for 924 performances and earned him a Tony award as best supporting or featured actor in a musical. In George Axelrod’s comedy Goodbye Charlie (1959) his co-star was Lauren Bacall. This was followed by another musical, Subways are for Sleeping (1961), with a book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and music by Jule Styne. Then came a less fortunate play, In the Counting House (1962), which closed after four performances. His best and last Broadway role was in Funny Girl (1964), for which he was again Tony-nominated. His eventual departure from the cast and disillusion with the stage appear to have been the result of deteriorating relations with his Tony-winning co-star Barbra Streisand.

Twice he came to Britain to star in independent low-budget comedies directed by his Circle Theatre collaborator Epstein: Follow That Man (1961) and The Adding Machine (1969), from the Elmer Rice play that had been the Circle’s first notable success. Also in England, he played alongside Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in his father’s last film, the romantic comedy A Countess from Hong Kong (1967).

Otherwise, between 1966 and 1971 he worked in France and Italy, accepting secondary roles in films now best forgotten. Back in Hollywood he appeared in a horror film, So Evil, My Sister (1974), and thereafter made occasional appearances in TV dramas. His last big-screen appearance was in a horror comedy, Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), though he continued to make appearances in documentaries about his father until 2003, when he was seen in Richard Schickel’s Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin.

After 40, however, it seemed as if he had determined not to allow work to intrude upon his insatiable zest for social life. He loved good living, rich friends and golf. He could imbibe startling quantities of whisky without any apparent ill effect. If anything it only brightened his gifts as raconteur, with an endless stock of anecdotes, quite liberated from pedantic concern with fact. This endeared him to his stepmother, the former Oona O’Neill (only six months his senior), and the eight children she had given Chaplin; and he remained a favourite guest at their home in Vevey, Switzerland, until Oona’s death in 1991, 14 years after her husband. For some years he ran a stylish restaurant – Chaplin’s – in Palm Springs, which suited his gregarious inclinations, but was probably more popular than profitable: Sydney’s talent for spending money never pleased his financially prudent father, who had too many memories of early penury.

An early marriage to Susan Magnes ended in divorce, and in 1960 he married the French dancer and actress Noëlle Adam, by whom he had one son. In 1985 this marriage also ended in divorce. In 1998, after a 14-year engagement, he married Margaret Beebe, who was with him when he died at his home in Palm Springs.

• Sydney Earl Chaplin, actor, born 30 March 1926; died 3 March 2009

• This correction was added on Monday 16 March 2009. The obituary above named Susan Magnes as the first of Sydney Chaplin’s three wives. In fact he was married only twice; Susan Magness (not Magnes) was the wife of his elder brother, Charles Chaplin Jr.

The above “Guardian” obituary can also be accessed online here.

Gary Brumburgh’s entry:

In choosing a professional acting career for himself, bon vivant Sydney Chaplin had to deal with the powerful and pervasive shadow of his famous father, the legendary Charles Chaplin, hovering over him every step of the way. While his older brother, actor Charles Chaplin Jr., buckled under the pressure and died of an alcohol-related illness at age 43, the dashing and debonair Sydney achieved respectable success on his own terms by avoiding films and focusing on the theater.

Sydney was the oldest surviving Chaplin child at the time of his death following a stroke on March 3, 2009. While in no way could he match his father’s ambitious nature and incredible genius, Sydney managed to do things his way. Fortunately, he wasn’t weighed down by his father’s all-encompassing obsession for recognition. Easygoing to a fault, Sydney was both charming and charismatic – a winning combination on the stage. A wonderful mimic, he also possessed a fun and witty idle-rich mentality that tended to reflect his stage and film persona.

Sydney Earle Chaplin, who bore a similar, slightly forlorn facial resemblance to his famous dad, was born in Beverly Hills, California, on March 31, 1926, and was the second son born to Charlie and his second wife, Lita Grey. Lita was an aspiring actress who married the 35-year-old legend when she was 16. Sydney was named after his half-uncle, actor Sydney Chaplin (1885-1965). His parents’ marriage was doomed from the start and indeed was over before Sydney was even a year old. Charlie created just as many headlines off camera as he did on, and this breakup was no exception. The acrimonious divorce proceedings was a feast for the tabloids in 1927. Sydney was thereafter raised by his maternal grandmother and saw almost nothing of his father during his most irregular upbringing.

Growing up, the boy suffered from extreme restlessness and a lack of discipline, and his education was erratic as a result. He was expelled from three boarding schools by the time he was 16. Things changed for him, however, with his country’s participation in World War II. Drafted into the infantry at age 18, a new sense of purpose took over him when he was sent to Europe to serve as a bazooka man in the Third Army commanded by Gen. George S. Patton.

Sydney had avoided his father’s profession up until this point. After his discharge from the army, however, he was asked by a friend to try acting and he found out that he liked it. In 1946 he became the co-founder (with George Englund) of the Circle Theatre in Los Angeles. Father Charlie actually directed Sydney in a couple of the company’s endeavors, including a production of “Rain”. Impressed by Sydney’s new-found seriousness, Charlie gave him his first movie role as the composer in the classic Limelight (1952). Despite a fine introduction into films, Sydney’s later output would be largely overlooked.

Despite his inbred elegance, he was not the leading man type on film and was often cast in ethnic support roles (Indian, Egyptian). His credits included such foreign films as Act of Love (1953) [aka “Act of Love”] starring Kirk DouglasColumbus Discovers Kraehwinkel(1954) [aka “Columbus Discovers Kraehwinkel”], which co-starred brother Charlie Jr., the British entry Land of the Pharaohs (1955), which starred one-time paramour Joan Collins, the English/Egyptian co-production Abdullah’s Harem (1955) starring Kay Kendall, and another British programmer, Follow That Man (1961) with Dawn Addams. He did not have any better luck with the American films he made–Pillars of the Sky (1956)–a actionful western in which he played an Indian scout working for the army–Four Girls in Town(1957) and Quantez (1957). Sydney did star in one above-average picture, the British thriller The Deadliest Sin (1955) co-starring Audrey Dalton, but the second-string film came and went without much fanfare.

Stardom finally occurred for the actor on the New York stage — not in a chic comedy, for which he was known, but in a musical. He opened on Broadway in November of 1956 in the hit Betty Comden and Adolph Green effort “Bells Are Ringing” after femme star Judy Holliday encouraged him to audition. Having never sung before, it took 15 rounds before the director gave him the part of Jeff Moss, the gent who falls for Holliday’s switchboard operator. Both Sydney and Judy wound up winning Tony trophies in 1957 for their performances (Sydney in the “featured” category) and he also earned a 1957 Theatre World Award as a new “promising personality”. He and Holliday became involved at one point, which did not work out, and the uncomfortable situation led to his agreed replacement (by Hal Linden). Sydney would not return to perform with Holliday when the show made its London debut. Nevertheless, he continued on Broadway in both musicals and comedies, including “Goodbye, Charlie” (1959), “Subways Are for Sleeping” (1961) and “In the Counting House” (1962). His modest baritone was utilized on TV as well in the musical version of Wonderful Town (1958) starring Rosalind Russell.

Sydney’s second greatest triumph came again in a Broadway musical — 1964’s “Funny Girl” co-starring meteoric newcomer Barbra Streisand. Playing the inveterate gambler and ladies’ man Nick Arnstein opposite Streisand’s love-torn comedienne Fanny Brice, both actors received Tony nominations for their performances, but neither won. His problems working with the young and eccentric Streisand resulted in a feud that led to his eventually leaving the cast. Due to the problems with his leading ladies, both of his original roles in “Bells Are Ringing” and “Funny Girl” went to other more famous stars (Dean Martin and Omar Sharif, respectively) when they transferred to film.

In the late 1960s Sydney appeared in another of his father’s pictures, supporting Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren in the poorly-received A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). Sadly, this was Charlie’s last hurrah as a director. Sydney later worked in foreign-made film fare, most of them unworthy of his talents. He ended his career in the late 1970s on an uneventful note with some standard TV guest appearances and roles in a couple of abysmal horror films: So Evil, My Sister (1974) and Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), the latter movie featuring other veteran actors on the wane, including John IrelandJohn Carradine and Yvonne De Carlo.

In later years Sydney opened a celebrity-friendly bistro and dinner club called Chaplin’s in Palm Springs, California. It ran for about a decade. He also enjoyed trophy-winning celebrity status out on the desert’s golf courses. Sydney was survived by his third wife, Margaret Beebe, and his only child Stephan from his first marriage.

– IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh /


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