Charlie Chaplin is one of the most well-known comedic actors of all time. But was his name really Charlie Chaplin? And where did he come from?
The Mysterious Charlie Chaplin?
Back in 1952, during the height of McCarthyism, the U.S. government was convinced Charlie Chaplin was a communist. They asked the British Secret Service, MI5, to investigate his background. After sixty years, that MI5 file has finally been released to the public. By the way, that’s an impressive length of time to keep such a secret although in pales in comparison to the CIA’s epic protection of invisible ink secrets.
Anyway, it turns out there is no official record of Charlie Chaplin for the first 31 years of his life. As a result, the CIA believed he was really a Frenchman named Israel Thornstein. More recent evidence suggests another reason for the lack of records: Charlie Chaplin might’ve been born into a British gypsy family. Here’s more on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity from The Telegraph:
MI5 investigated whether Charlie Chaplin was actually a Frenchman called Israel Thornstein, previously secret files on the Hollywood film star have revealed. Intelligence officers could find no trace of the actor’s birth in Britain despite Chaplin always claiming he was born in London in 1889.
The mystery surrounding his origins emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into the comic actor’s background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links…
…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”.
(See MI5 files: Was Chaplin really a Frenchman and called Thornstein? for the rest on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity)