Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sydney Chaplin Passes On

Sydney Chaplin, the son of Charlie Chaplin and Lita Grey who went onto his own acting career, passed on March 3 at the age of 82. He had experienced a stroke not long before his death.

Sydney Chaplin was born on March 30, 1926 in Los Angeles, California. His father was legendary director and actor Charlie Chaplin. His mother was Chaplin's second wife, actress Lita Grey, who was only sixteen when Charlie Chaplin married her and only seventeen when Sydney Chaplin was born. His parents divorced only a year later, in 1927. Sydney Chaplin proved troublesome in school, being moved around from one to the next, before he finally dropped out and joined the Army. He did not make it through his first year in the Army, although a military career was in his future regardless. A year after he was discharged from the Army, he was draughted. He served in Europe under General George Patton.

After World War II Sydney Chaplin returned to the United States where he formed the Circle of Players with undergraduates from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dedicated to theatre in the round, the Circle of Players performed several plays by William Saroyan, among them the world premiere of Sam Ego's House. In 1952 he received his first movie role courtesy of his father, Charlie Chaplin, who wrote the role of Neville in Limelight specifically for him.

Chaplin's film career would not be quite as esteemed as his father. Not viewed as leading man material, he was often cast in secondary roles in such films as Land of the Pharoahs, Abdul the Great, and Pillars of the Sky. In the Sixties he primarily appeared in foreign films, including Sept hommes et une garce, Troppo per vivere... poco per morire, and Le Clan des Siciliens. Exceptions were his roles in Follow That Man, The Adding Machine, and in his father's final film, A Countess from Hong Kong, released in 1967.

Chaplin would have a much more impressive career on Broadway. In 1956 he played opposite Judy Holliday in Bells Are Ringing, for which he won the 1957 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. He would also perform on Broadway in Goodbye, Charlie (1959), Subways Are for Sleeping (1961), and In the Counting House (1942). He played opposite Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl in 1964, for which he won another Tony Award for Best Actor in Musical.

Chaplin also appeared on television, albeit infrequently. He guest starred on the short lived show King's Row and starred in a television production of Wonderful Town. He appeared on television more frequently in the Seventies, when he guest starred on Police Woman, Spencer's Pilots, Switch, and The Bionic Woman. His last role on screen was in the cult film Satan's Cheerleaders. In the Eighties Chaplin opened a restaurant in Palm Springs.

Sydney Chaplin was a talented actor whose talents were ill used by Hollywood. Indeed, when Funny Girl was adapted to film, his role was given to Omar Sharif. This is sad, as he gave good performances even in such forgettable films as Four Girls in Town. He should have had a great career both on Broadway and in Hollywood.


Raquel Stecher said...

Thanks for this bio. I didn't know much about Sydney Chaplin at all before reading this.

Unknown said...

ditto to what Raquelle said. Sad to hear of his passing, too-- your blog seems to be the only place it was mentioned.