A day after Charlie Chaplin boarded the QEII for London to attend the opening of his semi-autobiographic film, Limelight, U.S. Attorney General James P. McGranery (no doubt acting at the behest of J. Edgar Hoover) revoked Chaplin’s re-entry permit and stated that he would have to submit to an interview concerning his political views and moral behavior in order to re-enter the US.
Although McGranery told the press that he had “a pretty good case against Chaplin”, on the basis of Chaplin’s FBI files that were released in the 1980s, [Chaplin biographer] Maland has concluded that the US government had no real evidence to prevent Chaplin’s re-entry, and that it is likely that he would have gained entry if he had applied for it. When the star received a cablegram informing him of the news, however, he privately decided to cut his ties with the United States:
“Whether I re-entered that unhappy country or not was of little consequence to me. I would like to have told them that the sooner I was rid of that hate-beleaguered atmosphere the better, that I was fed up of America’s insults and moral pomposity”
. . . Chaplin did not attempt to return to the United States after his re-entry permit was revoked, and instead sent his wife to collect his fortune. The couple decided to settle in Switzerland, and in January 1953 the family moved into their permanent home: Manoir de Ban, a 37-acre estate overlooking Lake Geneva in Corsier-sur-Vevey. Chaplin put his Beverly Hills house and studio up for sale in March, and surrendered his re-entry permit in April. He released a statement saying, “Under these conditions [of McCarthyite America] I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion picture work, and I have therefore given up my residency in the United States.”The next year, Oona renounced her US citizenship and became a British citizen.
Chaplin returned to the U.S. only once thereafter, in 1972 when he was awarded a honorary Oscar for “the incalculable effect he [Chaplin] has had in making motion pictures the art form of this century.”
He died five years later at the age of 88. Six of Chaplin’s films have been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry: The Immigrant (1917), The Kid (1921), The Gold Rush (1925), City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), and The Great Dictator(1940).