Treasure trove of Charlie Chaplin's letters, photos and auctioned (2024)

A remarkable treasure trove of Charlie Chaplin's annotated typescripts, letters and photos is being sold by his goddaughter for £50,000.

The scarce material was assembled by British publisher Max Reinhardt who published the comic actor's highly anticipated autobiography in 1964.

The archive includes photos of Chaplin as well as letters from the actor himself and his wife Oona detailing his writing process and even a botched attempt to steal his coffin after his death.

Mr Reinhardt and his wife Joan became close friends with the English actor, writing to each other regularly and they carefully kept hold of their correspondence.

Proceeds of the sale will be donated to MaxLiteracy, a charity and educational initiative set up in his memory to stimulate literacy through the visual arts in partnership with museums, galleries and writers.

Charlie Chaplin in one of his films. The comic actor, best known for his physical work in silent films but he also worked with a British publisher to complete his autobiography

A treasure trove of archive material is being sold for £50,000 by Chaplin's goddaughter. included are letters and photos

A photo included in the sale showing Chaplin (centre) with his wife (second from the right)

Mr Reinhardt was a British publisher who worked with George Bernard Shaw, Graham Greene and Alistair Cooke under his publishing house, the Bodley Head.

The life of Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin was born into poverty in London in 1889, where both his parents performed in music-hall theatre.

After a stint in vaudeville he moved to America in 1913, becoming an instant success as the Tramp.

By 1923 he was rich, famous, powerful and a star.

As he made his way through Hollywood, he also made his way through no fewer than four wives and it's claimed he slept with more than 20,000 women.

His wives included the 16-year-old Mildred Harris. The pair were wed after a false pregnancy scare.

His second wife, Lita Grey were married for three years and itis believed Chaplin seduced her when she was 15 and he was 35.

He then married Paulette Goodard who was 22 when she married the 43-year-old comic.

They were married from 1936 to 1942, after which Goddard received a settlement and kept quiet about their union.

Chaplin's last wife was Oona O'Neil who he moved on with a year after his third divorce.

She bore him eight children and stayed with him until his death in 1977.

Throughout his career he tried to push boundaries, even financing his own film Th Great Dictator in 1940, a satire of Hitler which was his last major hit.

He continued to make films up to 1967 and starred opposite Marlon Brando and Sofia Loren who both branded him as difficult to work with.

Chaplin was marred by scandal throughout his career including paternity suits with disgruntled former lovers and concerns over his political leanings eventually resulting in him being banned from the US.

He died aged 88 in 1977 in Switzerland.

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He saw off fierce industry competition to secure a 'gentleman's agreement' with Chaplin for publishing rights to his life story.

Chaplin was such a perfectionist that it took seven years for the final version to be released after multiple re-writes.

The archive includes two typescript proofs of Chaplin's autobiography covered in the actor's pencil-written corrections.

There are 14 letters from Chaplin to Reinhardt discussing different stages of the writing process as the project came together.

In one typed 1959 letter, Chaplin apologises for how long he is taking to write the book, which he says is due to time he is spending 'putting music' on film projects.

He promises to 'forge on to the bitter end' to complete the autobiography.

He writes: 'I have had many interruptions such as putting music to some of my films, which has delayed my work on the biography.

'However, I am starting again now and I hope to forge on to the bitter end.'

In 1959, Chaplin released The Chaplin Revue, three silent films he added a soundtrack to to explain them to modern audiences.

Oona was an even more prolific writer, penning 23 letters to the Reinhardts, which continued after Chaplin died in 1977.

One of the letters touches on the distressing ordeal of Chaplin's coffin being stolen in Switzerland in a botched ransom attempt by two Eastern European refugees.

She wrote in late March 1978: 'Three nerve racking weeks of phone calls asking for ransom, photographs of the re-dug-up coffin, threats to kidnap Christopher (their 16-year-old son), advice from the police to keep Annie & Chris out of school...

'Geraldine (Chaplin's daughter) dedicated to a 24 hour watch by the telephone... brilliantly dealt with the kidnappers.

'One of them practically fell in love with her... an unbelievable story... the police are convinced we are dealing with amateurs.'

In another letter, Oona praises the Reinhardts for how they handled her husband: 'I am convinced that no one else living could have managed to deal with Charlie through these past years as you have.

'It's been a pleasure that such a difficult relationship as publisher and author has ended in real friendship.'

Letters and notes are included in the treasure trove which have been hand annotated by Chaplin

Among the photos and notes are letters betweenBritish publisher Max Reinhardt and Chaplin's wife Oona

A black and white portrait of the comic actor without his iconic white makeup dark eyes and moustache and bowler hat

Other letters mention famous mutual friends including Noel Coward and Richard Attenborough, who Oona described as 'terribly sweet'.

She shines a torch on Chaplin's failing health when she says she was ready to cancel a Royal meeting because of it, 'Queen or no Queen'.

The archive features three photos of Chaplin by American photographer Edward Steichen, dating from 1925 and 1931.

Both were significant years for Chaplin, with the release of The Gold Rush (1925) and City Lights (1931).

Another batch of photos were taken at the star-studded autobiography launch party at the Savoy in September 1964.

There is a rare playbill from 1903 listing Chaplin as 'Billy' in a production of Sherlock Holmes at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton.

Reinhardt died in 2002 and the archive has passed down to his daughter Veronica Reinhardt, Chaplin's goddaughter, who is selling it at London-based auctioneers Bonhams.

Matthew Haley, books and manuscripts specialist at Bonhams, said: 'The autobiography of the legendary Charlie Chaplin was a publishing sensation, and a major coup for Max Reinhardt and Graham Greene at The Bodley Head.

A full length portrait of Chaplin holding his trilby hat and leaning on a cane. Photos are included among letters and notes in the archival material that is due to go under the hammer

A 1903 playbill listing Chaplin as 'Billy' in a production of Sherlock Holmes at the Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

A series of portraits of the actor playing around with a bowler hat and a cane

The contents of the archive were carefully kept by British publisher Max Reinhardt who published the comic actor's highly anticipated autobiography in 1964

'Reinhardt had taken over The Bodley Head in 1957 and under his 30 year tenure he was to publish authors such as Greene and George Bernard Shaw.

'At the time, however, taking on Chaplin's book was a huge financial gamble for the company, under the pressure of competition from publishers worldwide and a gentleman's agreement; taken on trust with an author refusing to sign a contact.

'This archive demonstrates not only the behind-the-scenes negotiations that brought My Autobiography to fruition and the relationship between author and publisher, but offers an extraordinary insight into the creative process of one of the world's most famous celebrities.

'Throughout the process, Max and Joan Reinhardt became longstanding family friends of the Chaplins, and Chaplin became godfather to Reinhardt's daughter Veronica, from whom this archive derives.

'Chaplin is one of the public figures of the 20th century and is instantly recognisable with his silhouette of the bowler hat and cane.

'The provenance is amazing and we are expecting a huge amount of interest in the archive not just from Britain but also Hollywood.'

The sale takes place on June 20, 2024.

Treasure trove of Charlie Chaplin's letters, photos and auctioned (2024)
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