Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sydney Chaplin dies at age 82

I have just heard that Sydney Chaplin, son of silent film legend Charlie Chaplin, has died. He was 82, and had lived in Southern California. He was the second son born to Charlie Chaplin and his second wife, Lita Grey. Their other son, Charles Chaplin Jr., died in 1968. From the Associated Press article
Sydney was named for his father's older half-brother, who helped young Charlie launch his theater career in England. After Charlie became a superstar in the movies, he returned the favor by bringing Syd Chaplin into the business.
Lita Grey was 16 when she married the 35-year-old Chaplin in 1924. Sydney was born two years later and his parents divorced a year after that in a court battle that brought sensational headlines.
He spent much of his boyhood in boarding schools — "I had been thrown out of three schools by the time I was 16," he recalled — with occasional weekends at his father's house. He recalled playing tennis with Greta Garbo and turning the music pages for the violin-playing Einstein.
Sydney Chaplin was an accomplished actor in his own right, and scored big on the New York stage. He was a Tony-winning actor who starred on Broadway opposite Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing (1957) and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1964). He also appeared in two of his father's later films, Limelight (1952) and The Countess from Hong Kong (1967).

I had a chance to meet this gracious man a few years back. In 2003, author Jeffrey Vance convinced the elderly Sydney Chaplin to make a special appearance at the Castro Theater in San Francisco (as part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival) to help promote Vance's then new book, Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema, which had just been released. Chaplin spoke about his father after a screening of The Circus, and then graciously signed books and autographs for many fans. I still treasure my signed books. I think I will dip into them in memory of Sydney.

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