How Charlie Chaplin’s Wife Saved His Backyard Fortune

Charlie Chaplin had been in show business for decades when he was swept up in Senator Joe McCarthy's campaign to rid the U.S. of communists and communist sympathizers. Chaplin was one of many Hollywood luminaries  targeted by the McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. The matter came to a head when Chaplin visited Englan in 1952. The actor received a telegram saying he would not be re-admitted to the U.S. unless he appeared before the committee to answer questions about his politics and morals. Chaplin was so angry he vowed never to return to America.

Chaplin was returning by ship to his native England for the first time in more than 20 years, bringing with him his wife and four children for the worldwide premiere of his latest film. Like many in Hollywood, he had been growing increasingly frustrated with being the target of communist allegations hurled by Sen. Joseph McCarthy and others in Washington. And so Chaplin made a bold decision after receiving the telegram: He would not go back to the U.S. The hitch? Chaplin’s vast Hollywood empire, a fortune amassed over decades of successful motion pictures, lay in his adopted homeland. More than a million dollars also lay buried in his Beverly Hills backyard. How was he to extricate his fortune without returning? To solve his problem, Chaplin turned to the person he trusted more than any other — his fourth wife, and an American citizen — Oona O’Neill Chaplin.

Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, was 36 years younger than Chaplin, and married him right after she turned 18. Less than ten years later, with four young children (they eventually had eight), she was charged with arranging all of Chaplin's affairs in America, including digging up the million dollars in the their backyard. Read how she accomplished all that at Ozy. 

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