By Polina Boiko
It emerged this morning that MI5 – the British Secret Service spied on Charlie Chaplin – the legendary actor who is the star of modern times and of great dictator. He has been living in Hollywood at the height of the McCarthyite witch-hunt. So, with the fear of communism so high the FBI began to suspect Chaplin of harboring communist views. Now the MI5 has actually said that he was a bit of a radical but nothing out of the extraordinary. But the FBI really was hellbent on finding some sort of evidence that Chaplin was in fact a real communist and he was helping communist organizations.
They even went as far as describing Chaplin as one of Hollywood’s parlour Bolsheviks and they really wanted to find clues to justify throwing him out of the USA. And the results of the search, including information gathered through eavesdropping, contained an extensive personal MI5 file which is released on Friday by the National Archives in London which is why it’s such a big story in London today. And there is really a lot of information in these files. They really did spy on Chaplin quite a lot just to give the FBI the information that they wanted. And one of the things that the FBI asked MI5 to check was whether Chaplin was meeting any suspicious figures on his visits to London and they were also very interested in finding out where Chaplin was actually born.
So, it has always been assumed that Chaplin was born in South London in 1889 but in the absence of the birth certificate it’s still a mystery. MI5 found no record of Chaplin’s birth saying that it would seem that Chaplin was either not born in this country or that his name at birth was something other than Chaplin. They told the FBI that they had no records of this name. So, there was a theory that Chaplin was actually a Russian Jew and he was born under the name Israel Thornstein. MI5 rejected this suggestion on the basis of there being no evidence. And there is also a suggestion that he was born in France, but that came to nothing. The most recent suggestion of where Chaplin was born and who he was born to was in a letter discovered amongst family papers in London and a man called Jack Hill told Chaplin in 1917 that he was born to a Gypsy Queen at a site near Birmingham.