Today is the birthday of Virginia Cherrill (1908-1996), one in a long line of young women Charlie Chaplin plucked from obscurity in order to co-star with him in films. From rural Illinois, Cherill won a Chicago beauty pageant in 1925 and made her way west to California, where she was an extra in The Air Circus (1928) and made her way into the inner circle of Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst. Chaplin met her and cast her as the blind flower girl in City Lights (which began shooting in 1928 and was released in 1931).
The relationship was a contentious one. Chaplin felt she was awful (not to mention “high maintenance”, which she was) and sought to replace her several times, although her final performance gained critical raves. She acted in several more films over the next few years, such as The Nuisance (1933) with Lee Tracy, Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), and White Heat (1934, not the one with Cagney). She then retired briefly to marry Cary Grant. That marriage lasted only a few months. After which, she moved to London, where she acted in two more films and then retired again to marry the 9th Earl of Jersey in 1937. When he passed away in 1946, she married Florian Martini, a Polish flying ace whom she’d met during the war. The two settled in Santa Barbara, California in 1950.
To learn more about silent comedy, including Chaplin’s masterpiece “City Lights” please see Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc