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Featured Memorial | Sydney Chaplin

Sydney Chaplin Obituary


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sydney Chaplin, second son of Charlie Chaplin and himself a Tony-winning actor who starred on Broadway opposite Judy Holliday in "Bells Are Ringing" and Barbra Streisand in "Funny Girl," has died at age 82.

Chaplin died Tuesday at his home in Rancho Mirage, longtime family friend Jerry Bodie told The Associated Press on Thursday. He said Chaplin had recently suffered a stroke.

"He was one of those guys who just sort of trooped through history," Bodie said of Chaplin, recalling his friend as a gregarious man who struck up friendships with everyone from Albert Einstein to Frank Sinatra.

Chaplin appeared in two of his father's later films, "Limelight" (1952) and "The Countess from Hong Kong" (1967). But he never achieved the success in Hollywood that he enjoyed in New York's musical theater.

He won his Tony for "Bells Are Ringing," the 1956 Betty Comden and Adolph Green musical about a telephone answering service operator (Holliday) who falls in love with a customer (Chaplin). New York Herald Tribune critic Walter Kerr wrote that the actor "doubles the evening's warmth by the simple expedient of believing in its love story."

His best-remembered show, though, was the 1964 smash "Funny Girl" as Nicky Arnstein, the gambler who woos Streisand in her star-making role as Fanny Brice. The New York Times called him "a tall, elegant figure as Nick, gallant in courting and doing his best when he must be noble."

The show brought him another Tony nomination, but he departed in June 1965, citing unspecified differences with producer Ray Stark. When it came time to make the movie, Omar Sharif, a major heartthrob following his roles in "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Doctor Zhivago," was cast opposite Streisand.

Chaplin — also bypassed in the film version of "Bells Are Ringing" — said he wasn't disappointed.

"I never had the burning desire for recognition and respect that had driven my father," he explained.

He starred in another Comden-Green musical, 1961's "Subways Are for Sleeping."

Although his career never measured up to that of his father, he had little use for those who thought a famous name was a handicap.

"I think anyone who feels his life has been scarred because of the fame of his father is a bore," he told the AP in 1967.

He was the second son born to Charlie Chaplin's second wife, Lita Grey. The other son, Charles Chaplin Jr., died in 1968.

Sydney was named for his father's older half-brother, who helped young Charlie launch his theater career in England. After Charlie became a superstar in the movies, he returned the favor by bringing Syd Chaplin into the business.

Lita Grey was 16 when she married the 35-year-old Chaplin in 1924. Sydney was born two years later and his parents divorced a year after that in a court battle that brought sensational headlines.

He spent much of his boyhood in boarding schools — "I had been thrown out of three schools by the time I was 16," he recalled — with occasional weekends at his father's house. He recalled playing tennis with Greta Garbo and turning the music pages for the violin-playing Einstein.

"I thought everyone's father was like mine," he commented in 2003. "I may have been a little sheltered."

He was stationed with the Army in Europe for a time during World War II and later toured with a group entertaining GIs.

Back in Hollywood, with a newfound work ethic because of his war service, he joined a theatrical troupe at the Circle Theater that specialized in classical and avant-garde plays. His father became interested and directed several of them.

Charlie Chaplin was patient with the other actors but not with his son, Sydney recalled in 2003.

"It's your own kid, you expect him to get it immediately. With me it was, 'Come on, Syd!'"

His first film role was in his father's "Limelight," arguably Charlie Chaplin's last great film. He had written the role especially for his son, who played a composer who falls in love with a ballet dancer (Claire Bloom) who is befriended by a fading music hall star portrayed by the elder Chaplin.

As for the poorly received "A Countess From Hong Kong," his father's last film, Chaplin told the Los Angeles Times in 1971 that he adored it.

"It's a hell of a good picture," he said.

The younger Chaplin also had a role in 1955's "Land of the Pharaohs" opposite Joan Collins, with whom he also had a much publicized romance. (He was also romantically linked with Holliday during their onstage collaboration.)

During the years his son was scoring big on Broadway, Charlie Chaplin was unable to see him perform. He was living overseas with his fourth wife, Oona, because American authorities had refused the English-born Chaplin's re-entry into the United States in 1952 over charges he associated with Communists. The great comedian was finally allowed to return to the U.S. in 1972 to accept a special Oscar.

Sydney Chaplin also appeared occasionally on TV, although those guest roles and his other film parts were undistinguished.

"I played Indians," he once said dismissively of his roles in forgettable Westerns. "I sat around the commissary in pigtails and I said 'Ugh!' on camera."

Chaplin married Margaret Beebe in 1998 after a 14-year engagement. He was previously married to actress Noelle Adam and to Susan Magnes.

Chaplin's father died in 1977 at age 88; his mother died in 1995 at 87.

Several other of Charlie Chaplin's children also had acting careers, most prominently Geraldine Chaplin, one of his eight children with Oona. She has appeared in such films as "Nashville," ''Doctor Zhivago" and the 1992 film biography "Chaplin," in which she played her paternal grandmother.

Sydney Chaplin's survivors include his wife, Margaret, and a son, Stephan Chaplin.


Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press
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