When Charlie Chaplin Triumphantly Returned to Hollywood After McCarthyism

Charlie Chaplin 1972 Oscars - H 2015
AP Images

Charlie Chaplin 1972 Oscars - H 2015

After Charlie Chaplin was labeled a communist by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in 1952, the Hollywood icon, who had been traveling abroad in Europe, was not allowed to return to the United States. Chaplin settled in Switzerland and was eventually permitted to come back home on April 2, 1972, to receive an honorary Oscar.

Below are two Hollywood Reporter articles that were published in the days following his triumphant return to the U.S., reproduced along with their original headlines. The first was published on April 6, 1972, and the second a few days later on April 11.

Charlie Chaplin Is Hailed by Crowds at Lincoln Center

By Radie Harris (April 6, 1972, four days before the Oscar ceremony)

New York — It was the return of the conquering hero when 2,836 jammed Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center to give Charlie Chaplin an uproarious welcome in two separate standing ovations.

The silver-haired Chaplin, who'll be 83 on the 16th, seated in an upper tier box with his wife, Oona, Martin E. Segal, president of the Lincoln Center Film Society, and David Rockefeller, was obviously touched as he expressed his appreciation in a firm voice.

"First, thank you for your wonderful applause. It is so very gratifying to know that I have so many friends," he said. "It's easy for you but difficult for me to speak tonight, as I feel very emotional. I'm glad to be among so many friends. Thank you."

After the screenings of The Idle Witch and The Kid, repeatedly interrupted by applause, Chaplin rose again to say, "I feel as if I were the object of a complete renaissance — as if I were being reborn."

Later, at a small private reception, Charlie, seated at a table, greeted his former wife, Paulette Goddard (ablaze with rubies), his Limelight leading lady, Claire Bloom, and her husband, Hillard Elkins — remembered friends from his days in Hollywood — Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leatrice Joy, Lois Wilson, Foris and Jules Stein, and a host of other celebrities, including Leoplod Stokowski, Bella Abzug, Sen. Jacob Javitz, Joanne Woodward, Gore Vidal, Norman Mailer, Celeste Holm, Patrick O'Neal, Johnny Carson, Otto Preminger, Walter Reade, Candice Bergen (she's taking pictures for Life), and Gloria Vanderbilt and Wyatt Cooper. As always, Oona O'Neill, charming and self-effacing, was at his side. He didn't seem the least bit tired as his eyes sparkled with obvious relish over the success of the evening.

"I'm looking forward to my return to Hollywood and my appearance at the Academy Awards Monday night," he told me.

Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda in the Spotlight at Oscar Show

By Sue Cameron (April 11, day after the Oscars)

Hollywood has grown up, and it's a beautiful place. There they were on stage — Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda — both recipients of loud ovations and Oscars and both free spirits representing beliefs that have officially been embraced by "the system."

Everyone was talking about Charlie Chaplin. Academy representatives were under strict orders not to reveal the high security precautions about his entrance and exit. Apparently he entered through an underground garage rather than the artists entrance. Only twice did the usually blasé press corps cheer — for Charlie Chaplin and Jane Fonda. The other lady who got through to their hearts was Cloris Leachman, who kept saying "Oh no, I just used another cliché!" Well, cliché or no, this year's Oscar show was the warmest, most sophisticated, most memorable of them all.

The first guest to arrive at 5:26 p.m. was Pat O'Brien. General Hershey Bar was there, too, carrying a paper that said: "Chaplin and Hollywood for Peace" and shouting "Shoot films, not me." Across the street, the pickets were flowing in the wind. The Gay Liberation Front held signs saying, "We Are Lavender, Not Communist," and even the Progressive Labor Party was represented with the signs "No More Rascists Pro-Cop Films," "Dirty Harry Is A Rotten Pig" and "Smash Hollywood Trash." Last year there were hardly any pickets and there was no talk of politics. This year the awards had a strange political aura about them, but a healthy one.

In the poll taken before the awards, the people in the bleachers voted to give the awards to Cloris Leachman, Ben Johnson, Gene Hackman, Jane Fonda, and The French Connection. It was probably the first time that they got everything right. It was also fascinating to see who the crowd acknowledged with cheers. Dionne Warwicke, Connie Stevens, Isaac Hayes, and Shirley Jones got tremendous receptions, while Peter Bogdanovich slipped in unnoticed and then got lost in the crowd when he couldn't find his seat.

But it all comes back to Chaplin and Fonda. Chaplin appeared tremendously moved by the tribute and his speech was very humble. Jane was perfect. While everyone waited for her to make some grand statement, her speech was simple and to the point — with just the right pauses. This Oscar show was the kind of show that Hollywood needs. It was a tribute to the business, to the people who make it tick, who contribute through film to the betterment of this world.