February 17, 2012 by staff
Charlie Chaplin, The real name and birthplace of legendary silent-film star Charlie Chaplin is shrouded in mystery, Britain’s domestic spy agency concluded after a probe into U.S. claims he was a communist sympathizer, documents released on Friday revealed.
British MI5 agents were asked in 1952 to investigate Chaplin’s background by the FBI, which believed he was using an alias and that his real name was Israel Thornstein, over long-running U.S. suspicions about the actor’s left-wing leanings.
Chaplin, one of Hollywood’s first and greatest stars famed for his “Little Tramp” character, believed he was born on April 16, 1889, in south London.
But, an exhaustive search by MI5 found no record of his birth anywhere, nor anything to suggest he was any kind of security risk, declassified files from the spy agency revealed.
“It’s very unusual, particularly after investigation by MI5, for the date and place of birth for such a well-known celebrity as Charlie Chaplin to remain so mysterious,” said Professor Christopher Andrew, the official historian of MI5.
The file shows no one called Charles or Israel was born on April 16, and further inquiries into suggestions Chaplin had been born in France near Fontainebleau also proved fruitless.
“We can find no evidence that Chaplin’s name is or ever has been Israel Thornstein, nor can we find any evidence of the existence of such a person,” MI5 said in a letter to the U.S. Embassy in London. “We have, however, been unable to discover any other name by which he has been known.”
Andrew said new evidence which emerged last year suggested Chaplin was born in a caravan belonging to a woman known as “the Gypsy Queen” in central England and his mother was a member of what is now referred to as “the travelling community.”
The information was in a letter, found in a locked drawer, which had been sent to Chaplin a few years before his death in 1977 by a man called Jack Hill, who said the caravan’s owner was his aunt.
“Though there’s no proof that Jack Hill’s information is correct, Chaplin obviously treated it seriously otherwise as his oldest surviving son has commented, Chaplin would not have preserved it so carefully,” Andrew said.
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