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Oona Chaplin
Birth name Oona O'Neill
Born 14 May 1925(1925-05-14)
Died 27 September 1991 (aged 66)
Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland
Spouse(s) Charles Chaplin (1943-1977)
Children Geraldine Chaplin (b.1944)
Michael Chaplin (b.1946)
Josephine Chaplin (b.1949)
Victoria Chaplin (b.1951)
Eugene Chaplin (b.1953)
Jane Chaplin (b.1957)
Annette Chaplin (b.1959)
Christopher Chaplin (b.1962)
Parents Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953)
Agnes Boulton (1890s-1968)

Oona, Lady Chaplin (née O'Neill) (May 14, 1925 – September 27, 1991) was the daughter of Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton, and the wife of British actor, director and producer Charlie Chaplin.

Oona was born while her parents were living in Bermuda, during a period of heavy drinking by Eugene O'Neill. She was two years old when he left the family for actress Carlotta Monterey who became his third wife. Oona and her brother Shane (born in 1919) rarely saw him afterward.

Oona spent her summers in the Boulton family's rambling Victorian house in Point Pleasant, New Jersey; the rest of the year she lived in Manhattan with her mother, where she attended the Brearley School. In 1942, seventeen-year-old Oona was named "Debutante of the Year." When asked by a reporter whether she considered herself "lace curtain" Irish or "shanty" Irish, she replied, "Shanty Irish!" Deciding to pursue an acting career instead of attending Vassar, she got a part in a stock company stage production of Pal Joey and formed close friendships with Carol Grace Saroyan and Gloria Vanderbilt, later chronicled by Aram Saroyan in the book Trio: Portrait of an Intimate Friendship.

Oona dated cartoonist Peter Arno, director Orson Welles, and author J. D. Salinger. To Salinger's disappointment, however, their relationship ended when she met Charlie Chaplin, after having been suggested to him for a part in one of his films. Despite the 36-year age difference, Chaplin wrote in his autobiography that he was instantly smitten by Oona's "luminous beauty and sequestered charm."

Eugene O'Neill was outraged at the news of his daughter's affair with Chaplin and refused to give his consent so that she could marry him before her eighteenth birthday. After their marriage in June 1943, he cut Oona out of his life, refusing her attempts at a reconciliation. According to her biographer Jane Scovell, playwright Clifford Odets "saw something vindictive in O'Neill's behaviour and thought that O'Neill could not forgive Oona perhaps because he had abandoned her." Her half-brother, Eugene O'Neill Jr., was the son of a woman to whom his father had reneged on a promise to marry before attaining success as a writer; the younger O'Neill later suffered from alcoholism and committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 40. Oona's brother Shane became a heroin addict and moved into the family home in Bermuda, Spithead, with his new wife, where he supported himself by selling off the furnishings. He was disowned by his father before also committing suicide (by jumping out a window) a number of years later.

When Oona saw Jack Nicholson in the 1981 film Reds, where he portrayed her estranged father, she wrote him a letter saying "Thanks to you, I now can love my father". Nicholson has said that "that is the best compliment I ever got".

Chaplin and Oona maintained a close relationship for 35 years. Because of his age and renown, biographers have suggested that Chaplin was a paternal figure in their relationship.

While attending the London premiere of his film Limelight in September 1952, Chaplin was accused of "Communist sympathies" and denied re-entry into the United States. Because of the tax laws in England, the family (which by then included four children), chose to relocate to Switzerland. Oona returned to the United States by herself to close their California house and to surreptitiously collect all Chaplin's assets from safe deposit boxes, even as the FBI was questioning the members of their staff. She later admitted to sewing $1,000 bills into the lining of her mink coat, thereby saving the Chaplin fortune. Oona renounced her American citizenship shortly after returning to Europe. She and Chaplin settled permanently with their family in Vevey, Switzerland, where they spent the majority of their thirty-five year marriage, visited by Hollywood friends.

They had eight children: actress Geraldine Chaplin (b. July 31, 1944, who married Spanish film director Carlos Saura); Michael (b. March 7, 1946); Josephine (b. March 28, 1949, mother of Julien Ronet (b. 1980) by Maurice Ronet); Victoria (b. May 19, 1951, married to Jean-Baptiste Thieree, parents of Aurelie and James (b. May 2, 1974, in Lausanne)); Eugene Anthony (b. August 23, 1953); Jane (b. May 23, 1957, unmarried); Annette (b. December 3, 1959, unmarried); and Christopher (b. July 6, 1962, unmarried). Despite his large family, the demanding and temperamental Chaplin insisted on being put first, often to the detriment of the children who were sent off to boarding schools at the age of ten. Most rebelled in various ways as they grew older, but all retained a loving relationship with Oona until reaching adulthood.

In March 1975, three years after briefly returning to the United States to receive a special Academy Award, Chaplin was knighted. His health declined rapidly afterwards, however, and he died on Christmas Day 1977 at the age of eighty-eight.

Following Chaplin's death, Oona moved to New York where she attempted to build a life of her own. But after years of being on call to an aging husband, Oona–who had given up the promise of an acting career when she was 18–could not find the emotional resources to do so. She retreated to the manor in Switzerland where she became a recluse, and struggled with alcoholism. She ultimately died of pancreatic cancer on September 27, 1991, in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland.

Geraldine thought very highly of her mother, and when she was cast in Doctor Zhivago (1965), she decided to base her performance as the title character's wife on her mother, whom she described as "a woman who was willing to give her life to an artist."

In 2006, Chaplin's granddaughter, model and actress Kiera Chaplin (daughter of Eugene Chaplin), visited Tao House, where her maternal great-grandfather lived. She has announced that she would like to play her grandmother in a film. The same year, daughter Jane Chaplin announced that she had written a memoir entitled "Seventeen Minutes with my Father," which she said would not be easy on her mother.

Oona was a fan of Arsenal FC (The club that Charlie had supported all his life) and described their 1989 League Championship victory as 'One of the greatest moments of my life.'


  • Chaplin, Patrice: Hidden Star (written by her ex-daughter-in-law)
  • Saroyan, Aram: Trio (details the friendship among Oona O'Neill, Saroyan's mother Carol Saroyan, and Gloria Vanderbilt)
  • Matthau, Carol: Among the Porcupines
  • Scovell, Jane: Oona: Living in the Shadows
  • Chaplin, Charles: My Autobiography (mentions her frequently in the last few chapters, even suggesting that he loved her more than anyone else.)


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