The highest-grossing silent comedy, The Gold Rush was the film he wanted to be remembered for, Chaplin said. What's little remembered is the Tramp's tramping around off-screen with leading ladies. His relationships (at least 12) and occasionally resulting marriages (four) then shadowed his films, but are now eclipsed by their enduring genius.
Chaplin's choice for actress in the Klondike comedy was Lillita McMurray, who'd been in his 1921 picture The Kid. Publicists had rechristened her Lita Grey, 19. But she was actually 16 when she collapsed some months into shooting on the set in 1924, eight weeks pregnant with Chaplin's child. Encouraged by her lawyer uncle, Chaplin shotgun-married her in Mexico.
Carole Lombard, future star of '30s screwball comedies, auditioned to replace Grey, but Chaplin cast Georgia Hale as the dancehall girl after seeing her in Josef von Sternberg's The Salvation Hunters. (Hale nearly starred in City Lights, too, when Chaplin shot tests of her while considering replacing Virginia Cherrill.)
Hale later recalled Chaplin's countless retakes for the scene between the girl and her paramour Jack—eventually, “I was in a rage and I really slapped him awfully hard across the face and that was the take that Charlie really wanted.” They had an affair during filming and Hale claimed their climactic kiss, between the Tramp and “Georgia,” was genuine. But when Chaplin recut the film for a 1942 re-release, he removed the kiss.
Chaplin and Grey's marriage quickly soured. Her uncle behind her, she filed for divorce in 1927, threatening to name five actresses who'd slept with her husband; the scandal roared through the press and the settlement was the largest Hollywood had seen.
Decades later, Grey recalled the famous scene of Chaplin and co-star Mack Swain eating shoes—they were licorice and, with all the retakes, the two “got violently ill from eating so many … they called off production for several days.” When The Gold Rush hit cinemas in the summer of 1925, though, only viewers were in danger of feeling sick: the Berlin-premiere audience applauded Chaplin's “dance of the dinner rolls” for so long that the film was rewound and replayed, while the BBC recorded 10 straight minutes of audience laughter during one screening.
Fri, Apr 6 – Sun, Apr 8
Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Metro Cinema at the Garneau
Originally released: 1925