Celebrity couples: Charlie Chaplin’s wife and others say Hollywood marriages destined to fail (1922)

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Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson - couple starring in Beyond the Rocks 1922

Why aren’t the movie “real” life stories like the reel life stories? (1922)

Why must Cupid, who smiles so happily in the first “close-ups,” so often frown in the final “fade-outs?”

Perhaps the explanation of the many infidelities in Reel Life is summed up in the statement of Mildred Harris Chaplin. She says, you can’t make a genius husband a fireside companion. Don’t wed a genius, even if he tells you that you are his sole inspiration, because it won’t last long. It can’t.

Classic Hollywood actors - silent movies c1922

by Marguerite Mooers Marshall

Why aren’t the movie real life love stories like the REEL life love stories?

Why do the greatest stars of the screen, successful in scores and hundreds of difficult roles, so often score a failure in the role of happy husband — or wife?

Hundreds of thousands of disenchanted movie fans must be asking themselves these questions, for in the short space of two years they have read of the matrimonial misfortunes of each individual member of that all-star quartet, the so-called “Big Four” of the moving picture world — Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin — and now William S Hart.

Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson - couple starring in Beyond the Rocks 1922
Rudolph Valentino, Gloria Swanson – couple starring in Beyond the Rocks 1922

It is Hart, the rough-and-ready lover of so many “dramas of the Great West where men are MEN, and yet even the roughest craves the love of a Good Woman” — you know how the caption goes — it is the same keen-eyed, square-chinned WS Hart, whose pictured countenance has given a thrill to so many little waitresses and ribbon-counter girls, whose romance in real life — as distinguished from reel life — is the latest to crack up.

And he’s been married only a little over six months.

Charlie Chaplin quote: “This is a ruthless world and one…”

It was on the seventh of last December that dainty, youthful, pretty Winifred Westover, herself a motion picture actress and the daughter of a San Francisco newspaperman, promised to love, honor and obey the two-gun lover of the screen. There was a charming story, at that time, about Hart’s exceeding diffidence as a wooer. A confirmed bachelor, he was said to be so devoted to the girl of his choice that he actually didn’t dare risk putting the question in person, and therefore sent a fervent but diffident proposal by mail. He got the “yes” back by wire, according to this account.

After the marriage, there were not merely the usual stories and pictures to illustrate the supreme happiness of the wedded pair, but there was an announcement that Hart intended to forsake even his art in order to devote his life to making his bride happy.

And now — the little girl-wife has gone home to mother, at No 307 Washington Avenue, Santa Monica, Cal, and “Bill” Hart is alone in his Hollywood home. He himself has stated:

“Mrs Hart and myself separated about three weeks ago, and a few days later property contracts were executed making ample provisions for her maintenance, as well as for our unborn child, which is expected in September. Whether she contemplates divorce proceedings or not I have no knowledge.”

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Iron Fox movie from 1924

In any event, it seems to be clearly the “fadeout” of conjugal happiness for one of the million-dollar-a-year masters of the movies — such a different “fadeout” from the familiar one of united lovers flashed almost nightly on the screen in the moving picture houses.

Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks are three other supreme successes of the screen who have failed where many of their poorest and most obscure admirers succeed — failed in their matrimonial relations.

Mildred Harris Chaplin, who married “the funniest man in the films” when she was only seventeen, found her marriage a failure in less than two years. Apparently, the comedian didn’t make life a very amusing affair for his bride. Before she received her decree, for cruelty, in November 1920, she made more than one public statement of her unhappiness as Charlie’s wife. Perhaps the most pathetic utterance was in the course of an interview in The Evening World.

MORE: I married a Hollywood movie star – and here’s why celebrities don’t stay married (1939)

“I do not think a genius cares for parenthood,” said the young wife, whose baby had died within a few days of its birth. “Our baby lived but three days and Mr Chaplin was very unhappy over the fact that I said I was ill. He wanted me to be bright, gay, always sparkling. Because I was a woman and wanted tenderness and a little affections just at that time he was disgusted with me. Just at a time when I needed him most, he left me alone.

“You can’t make a genius husband a fireside companion. Don’t wed a genius, even if he tells you that you are his sole inspiration, because it won’t last long. It can’t.”

Charlie Chaplin 1920s

Charlie hasn’t yet tried matrimony again, although when his engagement to May Collins was reported a year ago he admitted he was “flattered.” And he told me himself, last summer, that he “certainly wanted to marry again — very much!” So far, however, his matrimonial score must be marked a failure. Another fadeout showing conjugal unhappiness for a movie star was a reputed income of a million a year!

Although the union of Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford seems successful to date, this famous screen lover and equally famous sweetheart found love and marriage a failure the first time trying. Their romance doesn’t at all follow the lines of the popular scenarios.

MARY MARY: Want to know more? See some books about Mary Pickford here!

It was only a trifle over two years ago that “America’s Sweetheart” — Gladys Mary Moore, to give her legal name — obtained a divorce at Mindon, Nevada, forty-five miles outside Reno, from Owen Moore, the young motion picture actor, whom she had married in the early days of her career, but from whom she had been separated for some time.

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At that time, Mary of the curls, the sweet, childish pout and smile, publicly acknowledged her failure in the role of happy wife. Choking with sobs on the witness stand, she said that her husband had deserted her first in 1917, that he had stayed away from her months at a time despite her pleas that he return.

She obtained a decree for desertion. She was still weeping when she returned to Los Angeles. The next day she declared in an interview that she would never marry again, as she “wanted her freedom,” but before the month was out she became the bride of “Doug” Fairbanks.

He was the first of the “Big Four” to play a leading role in a real life — as distinguished from a reel life — domestic tragedy.

Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford
Douglas Fairbanks & Mary Pickford

In April, 1918, a few days after his trip East with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, on a whirlwind Liberty Loan tour, his wife, Mrs Beth Sully Fairbanks, gave out a statement in New York admitting their final separation. She said it was to protect herself and her seven-year-old son, Douglas Jr. She was the daughter of Daniel J Sully, the “cotton king,” and had been married in 1907 to “Doug” of the athletic prowess and the wide, gleaming smile.

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She declared at first that there would be no divorce proceedings. Her husband, who had returned to the West, attributed the whole story to “German propaganda.” Then Mrs Fairbanks asserted that her husband had admitted his love for a famous film actress, and said she had been the cause of all the trouble.

When the divorce actually took place, in December, 1918, the correspondent was not named. Mrs Fairbanks received the custody of her son, and financial arrangements were “amicably settled.” A few days after her interlocutory decree became final she was married in the Church of the Ascension by the Rev Percy Stickney Grant, to an old friend of her family, James Evans, Jr. He is a well-known oil man of Pittsburgh and New York.

Owen Moore also took a second matrimonial plunge and wedded Kathryn Perry, to whom New York artists once awarded a golden apple as the most beautiful girl in the city.

So the Fairbanks and Pickford fadeouts of conjugal woe were succeeded by sequels registering bliss — so far as the reels have been run off.

Nevertheless, it almost seems to be a law that triumph before the camera spells catastrophe in the home. The big screen stars make their scenarios end happily. But what’s the matter with their domestic dramas?

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