Charlie Chaplin and Claire Bloom in the 1952 film Limelight. The following year he was banned from returning to the US and settled in Switzerland. Photograph: Allstar/United Artists/Sportsphoto.
MI5 opened a file on Charlie Chaplin while he was being hounded by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI for alleged communist sympathies.
The FBI, which described the star of Modern Times and The Great Dictator as one of “Hollywood’s parlour Bolsheviks”, asked MI5 for information to help get him banned from the US.
The results, including information gathered through eavesdropping, are contained in an extensive personal MI5 file released on the National Archives.
“Chaplin has given funds to communist front organisations … He has been involved in paternity and abortion cases,” an MI5 liaison officer in Washington warned in October 1952. MI5 noted that a decade earlier Chaplin had told the Los Angeles branch of the National Council of American Soviet Friendship: “There is a great deal of good in communism. We can use the good and segregate the bad.”
Papers have been withheld from Chaplin’s MI5 file to protect the names of informants though there are unexplained, probably inconsequential, references to Jimmy Reid, the communist Scottish trade unionist; Larry Adler, the harmonica virtuoso who left his native US where he was branded a communist and blacklisted; and Humphrey Lyttelton, the Eton-educated jazz musician who once described himself a “romantic socialist”.
MI5 concluded that Chaplin was not a security threat.