Just to Meet Geraldine Chaplin

I realized the other day that of course the celebrity I wanted to meet most in the world was Geraldine Chaplin (b. 1944). (When I was a child, it had been Judy Garland, though that was quite impossible, but I did meet Liza!) Firstly, it’s because her father Charlie Chaplin matters more to me than any other movie star (read over 100 posts about him here). As his eldest living child, she’s surely the head of the famous family now. She comes with the added bonus DNA of Eugene O’Neill and his father James on her mother’s side, and her interesting Chaplin grandparents Charles Sr. and Lily Harley (Hannah Hill). There are other reasons. Geraldine Chaplin was also in the first movie I was ever taken to, Dr. Zhivago (1965), though I was an infant at the time (we were in a car at the drive-in). The young Geraldine also reminds me of my first high-school crush! She’s my type! These are good reasons to prioritize her, I think. Oddly, I’ve written about her siblings Sydney and Michael, and a little about her brother Charles, Jr, but no dedicated post on Geraldine ’til today.

Geraldine Chaplin looks like a perfect melding of her beautiful mother Oona O’Neill Chaplin and her less striking but very attractive father, with the fine features and delicate bones of both. Trained in ballet, she also inherited something of her dad’s physical vocabulary, and was no doubt schooled in it. And while she has his humor to draw on, she also possesses a becoming seriousness. Had he never existed, her body of work as an actress would be impressive, though I really only know the English language portion of it. Having moved to Switzerland when she was eight, essentially exiled from the land of her birth, I think it gracious of her to have made any American films at all. The majority of her movies are European: especially Spanish, French and Italian, with a few made in Germany, Belgium, and the country where she was raised. Nothing makes me feel so provincial or inadequate as the fact that I don’t know any of these movies, though I don’t know that I’ve had any great opportunity to do so either. Anyway, it’s on my (mile-long) agenda.

But, like I say, I do know her English and American films. Naturally, she started out in the later films of her father, Limelight (1952) and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). I think it highly appropriate that she worked with David Lean, director of two of the best Dickens screen adaptations, on Dr. Zhivago. (You could write a book about the similarities between Dickens and Charlie Chaplin, and I hope someone has). In 1970 she appeared opposite Charlton Heston in the screen adaptation of James Michener’s The Hawaiians. It was made by her father’s studio United Artists, though the film is a big, sprawling dud. She played Anne of Austria in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers (1973), The Four Musketeers (1974), and The Return of the Musketeers (1989). These are significant, given her great-grandfather’s long association with The Count of Monte Cristo). Then came a highly rewarding series of collaborations with Robert Altman and his protege Alan Rudolph: Nashville (1975), Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976), Welcome to L.A. (1976), A Wedding (1978), Remember My Name (1978) and The Moderns (1988). She was in the “Hustle” section of Merchant-Ivory’s Roseland (1977). She was next in a couple of murder mysteries, Guy Hamilton’s all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The Mirror Crack’d (1980), and the historical true crime story White Mischief (1987).

Amusingly, she appeared in Buster’s Bedroom (1991), about a woman who is obsessed with Buster Keaton, just prior to playing her own grandmother Hannah in Sir Richard Attenborough’s bio-pic Chaplin (1992). There were several adaptations of classic novels: Scorsese’s take on Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1993), followed by Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre (1996), an adaptation of Balzac’s Cousin Bette (1998), and later films of The Bridge of San Luis Rey (2004) and Heidi (2005). She was movingly eccentric (perhaps channeling Hannah again) in Jody Foster’s ensemble comedy Home for the Holidays (1995). She was in Jane Birkin’s first movie as director Boxes (2007, a French film, but the fact that both the women are native English speakers it tips the balance here for my purposes, plus I’ve seen it!) More recent stuff has included the 2010 remake of The Wolfman with Benecio del Toro, Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room (2015, what a dream for this lover of silent film to get to work with her!) and Jurassic World: Forbidden Kingdom (2018).

Geraldine Chaplin also has done lots of interesting television: Adrian Hall’s 1981 adaptation of Wharton’s The House of Mirth; a 1984 British series based on Daphne du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel; a 1985 telefilm of The Corsican Brothers (another Dumas swashbuckler), as well as small screen adaptations of Gulliver’s Travels (1996), The Odyssey (1997), and A Christmas Carol (2004). There were a couple of Christian tv movies Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor (1997, in which she played the title character), and Mary, Mother of Jesus (1999). She also appeared on series like Agatha Christie’s Marple (2006) and The Crown (2019).

Geraldine’s daughter (with Chilean cinematographer Patricio Castilla) is the exotically gorgeous Oona Chaplin, a RADA grad best known for her recurring role on Game of Thrones and more recent things like My Dinner with Herve (2018) and The Comey Rule (2020) with Jeff Daniels. She is also in James Cameron’s two upcoming Avatar sequels.

At any rate, as I write this, Geraldine is in her ’70s. I reckon I still have a shot! Hello! Paging Roy Exports!

For more on vaudeville (where three generations of Geraldine Chaplin’s forbears performed), please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy (of which her father was the biggest star) read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.