Joan Barry Article

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Joan Barry: The Most (In)famous Actress to Never Appear on Screen

By Matthew Mandarano


In the summer of 1941, Charlie Chaplin, the most universally recognized personality on the silver screen, began working on a script for a film which would never come to fruition. The film was to be titled Shadow and Substance, based on the Paul Vincent Carroll stage play of the same name. Like many of Chaplin’s prior films, Shadow and Substance was to propel a relatively unknown young woman to stardom as his new leading lady. In this case, the lucky, aspiring starlet was to be Joan Barry. However, Barry’s recognition to the masses was ultimately to be painted in infamy.

Chaplin, who was born April 16, 1889, in London, England, was 52-years-old when he met Joan Barry, 31 years his junior, in June, 1941. In his autobiography, aptly entitled My Autobiography, Chaplin describes the woman he came to know as Joan Barry as, “…a big handsome woman of twenty-two, well built, with upper regional domes immensely expansive and made alluring by an extremely low décolleté summer dress, which…evoked my libidinous curiosity” (413-14).

Joan Barry was born Mary Louise Gribble in Detroit, Mich., on May 24, 1920 (or 1919, sources vary), to Gertrude and James A. Gribble. Her father was a bus driver and a salesman, in addition to being a “shell-shocked” World War I veteran. Mary had one sister, Agnes, who was born Sep. 6, 1923. Her father committed suicide in December, 1926 in New York City and her mother, subsequently, married John E. Berry in 1927. Mary assumed Berry’s last name, though not legally at the time. The family lived in New York until moving to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, in 1930. They shortly moved back to New York where, according to Barry, she graduated from New Town High School in Jackson Heights. The high school, however, has no records of a Mary Louise Gribble, Joan Berry or Joan Barry ever having attended.

A few months after graduating high school, Barry came to California in pursuit of a career in the movies. By 1938, low on funds and down on her luck, she met a shoe salesman by the name of Mark Warner with whom she struck a relationship. In December, 1938, Barry was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department for stealing dresses from a local department store. She was put on probation, with one of the terms being that she was to return home to New York. She obliged and worked as a typist for Chubb and Sons insurance agency through most of 1939. She returned to California in late 1939 and lived with Mark Warner. After the dissolution of this relationship, Barry began living in various hotels under the name Mrs. Mark Warner. It was during this period that she met multi-millionaire oilman J. Paul Getty.

After a trip home to New York in October, 1940, Barry made several trips back and forth from Los Angeles to Mexico City visiting Getty. In May, 1941, she came to Hollywood with a letter of recommendation to Tim Durant from A.C. Blumenthal, an associate of Getty’s. Durant asked Barry if she wanted to meet Charlie Chaplin or Spencer Tracy. Barry said she would like to meet Spencer Tracy.

A dinner party was set up with Tracy and several other guests on his yacht. When the other guests disappeared, Barry got the feeling that the whole evening was a ploy to hook her up with the actor. Barry took a taxi home, refusing to let Tracy pay for the fare. Durant called Barry the next day, intrigued that she had paid her own fare back to the city. Barry informed him she was heading to New York for a visit home in a few days; he asked her if she would like to meet Charlie Chaplin before she left. She said she would.

In late June, 1941, Chaplin, Barry, Durant and an unidentified young woman went to eat at Perino’s Restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard. When Durant realized he was not going to make headway with his date, he excused himself and he and the young woman were escorted home by Chaplin’s chauffer. Chaplin and Barry remained at the restaurant chatting until the establishment closed. Subsequently, they rode up and down from Los Angeles to the beach several times in Chaplin’s car continuing their conversation, which touched on J. Paul Getty, communism and, primarily, the motion picture industry.

“I think it is a cruel town, that I had come to Hollywood full of hope and ambition, only to discover that unless you know someone of importance in the movie industry, who would give you a break, it is almost impossible to get into pictures” (Chaplin FBI File 1446),  remarked Barry on the troubles of breaking into the industry.

“I could tell you have a great deal of talent just by speaking with you” (Chaplin FBI File 1446), responded Chaplin.

Right then and there Chaplin mentioned putting Barry under contract with his studio, Chaplin Studios. Not surprisingly, Barry could hardly believe her ears and felt that Chaplin would forget all about it in the morning. However, he gave her his phone number on an envelope and told her to contact him soon.

Barry was put under contract to Chaplin Studios on June 23, 1941, for the sum of $75 a week, renewable for an extension within six months at $100 a week. Chaplin and his long-time studio manager, Alf Reeves, both insisted that Barry not make it public that she was under contract to Chaplin Studios.

Barry and Chaplin consummated their relationship sometime after her signing the contract and their relationship, though not a public one, was blossoming. Chaplin helped Barry get an apartment, as she was staying at the Ambassador Hotel at the time, and he paid the first two months rent.

Though Chaplin and Barry’s relationship grew during the summer of 1941, Chaplin relayed in his My Autobiography that, “…something [was] queer and not quite normal [about his and Barry’s time together.] Without telephoning she would suddenly show up late at night at my house. This was somewhat disturbing. Then for a week I would not hear from her…however, when she did show up she was disarmingly pleasant, so my doubts and apprehension were allayed” (414).

Barry was indeed a complicated personality. By this time, not only had she gone under nearly a half dozen aliases, but in the FBI records on Chaplin, which number almost 2,000 typed pages, mostly declassified to the public in the early 1980s, Barry was described in many accounts as aloof and somewhat strange acting. Chaplin’s studio manager, Alf Reeves, expressed that he noticed Barry was “erratic, emotional, hard to talk to, and could easily effect a vacant stare in her eyes” (Chaplin FBI File 1237). The stenographer for the FBI relates several times of the unbalance in Barry’s behavior, once stating, “It is to be noted that she [Barry] is a girl who becomes very emotional upon occasion” (Chaplin FBI File 1442).

It seems at times, however, that Barry could also be quite pleasant, as she was generally liked by Chaplin’s butler, Edward Chaney, and well regarded by Stephen Seck, Barry’s son from a subsequent marriage, who remembers his mother as “very gifted, a talented singer who worked hard to support us (he and his brother, Russell, and half-sister, Carol Ann). We were never neglected in any way” (Seck Interview).

During the fall of 1941, Barry was planning a trip home to New York and came under suspicion that she might be pregnant. Yet, she was perplexed by this in that Chaplin had told her that he was unable to have children, though he had two adolescent sons from his marriage to his second wife Lita Grey Chaplin (1908-1995), Charlie Jr. (1925-1968) and Sydney (1926-2009). When Barry told Chaplin of the pregnancy, he told her he would pay for her to have an operation in New York, though Barry later ending up having the abortion under the supervision of a Los Angeles doctor, a Dr. A. M. Tweedie.

After the first abortion, Barry was fitted with a diaphragm. Chaplin, however, did not want to use it during intercourse. By December, 1941, Barry felt she might be pregnant again. Chaplin, who took the news as a joke, insisted she get another abortion. Barry reluctantly agreed and had a second abortion under the supervision of Dr. Tweedie. Upon completion, she spent four to five days recuperating at Chaplin’s home on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills. This second abortion took a much higher toll on Barry’s health and longer for her to recover, though she did mention to the FBI that Chaplin was quite good to her and did what he could to help during her stay at his home.

On the business end, Chaplin had not done a film project at this point since The Great Dictator (1940), and was working primarily on a soundtrack for The Gold Rush (1925). The idea for his next film came during a luncheon with Sir Cedric Hardwicke and author Sinclair Lewis, who, during conversation mentioned the play Shadow and Substance by Paul Vincent Carroll. Lewis referred to the character of Bridget, the lead role in the play, as a modern day Joan of Arc. Chaplin was intrigued and requested a copy of the play to read.

In talking about the play over dinner one night, Barry mentioned she would like to play the role of Bridget. Chaplin didn’t take her very seriously at first, but after she performed an excellent private reading, he gave her a screen test. Her screen test took place on Jan. 26, 1942, and it was deemed that she was photogenic and could work for the part. In his autobiography, Chaplin states that at this time “…all my qualms about her oddities vanished” (414).

Over the next few months, Barry was in strong preparation for her starring role in Shadow and Substance, for which Chaplin had by now purchased the film rights. Chaplin Studios paid for Barry to get dental and orthodontic work done, were paying for her to attend the Max Reinhardt Workshop for acting and Barry was bought a fur coat for $1,200 at the May Company as a special gift.

In a passage from David Robinson’s definitive biography on Chaplin, Chaplin: His Life and Art, “There is no question about Chaplin’s sincerity in believing that he could make Joan Barry into an actress….he [Chaplin] said she had ‘all the qualities of a new Maude Adams’ and told his sons, ‘She has a quality, an ethereal something that’s truly marvelous…a talent as great as any I’ve seen in my whole life” (512).

During this time, both Barry and Chaplin mention that each was going his or her separate way, but they were not unfriendly with each other. Barry was immersed in preparation for her role and Chaplin was busy writing the script for Shadow and Substance. According to My Autobiography, Chaplin states that, “…strange and eerie things began to happen” (415) around this time, such as Barry driving to his house all hours of the night, drunk, and smashing his windows when he refused to answer the phone or open the door to see her. He mentions that, “Overnight, my existence became a nightmare” (415).

On May 22, 1942, Barry broke her contract with Chaplin Studios so that she could do a screen test with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The termination of the contract was deemed “amicable” by Barry in an interview with the FBI.  She also relayed in the interview that she was supposed to remain in effect for six months and did receive payments from the studio until September, 1942.

Through the summer and into the fall of 1942, Chaplin continued steadily working on the script for Shadow and Substance and he and Barry had sporadic, if any contact. By late 1942, the script was reported as finished.  In Chaplin: His Life and Art, David Robinson, who as an official biographer had access to the Chaplin archives, reports that the finished script for Shadow and Substance is “…excellent, though he [Chaplin] is much less interested in the issues of Catholicism than in the human and humanist content of the play” (514).

As Chaplin was diligently working on the Shadow and Substance script, on a broader scope, the world was at war. The United States entered the war as part of the Allied forces following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. However, at this point America’s declaration of war was specifically limited to the Japanese front; while on the German front Russian casualties were mounting at an alarmingly high rate. Most Americans, due to their anti-communist inclinations, were not obliged to support entering a second front. Chaplin, whose sons Charles Jr. and Sydney were both to be drafted into service before the end of the war, felt differently.

In May, 1942, the American Committee for Russian War Relief in San Francisco called Chaplin to see if he would speak at a meeting in place of former American Ambassador to Russia, Joseph E. Davies, who at the last moment had to pull out due to sickness. With short notice, Chaplin accepted and took a train to San Francisco the following morning.

Chaplin, who was to take the podium for nearly an hour, prefaced his speech with a few glasses of champagne to calm his nerves. He began the speech by addressing the members as “Comrades” and according to My Autobiography, “…made them laugh and applaud with anecdotes about Roosevelt and about my war-bond speech in the First World War…” (409). He concluded the speech with a call to action, urging members to send thousands of telegrams to President Roosevelt in support of opening the second front.

Garnering a new knack for public speaking and following a fourteen-minute long radio address organized by the Council of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, Chaplin accepted an invitation to speak at Carnegie Hall at a rally that was brought together by the Artists’ Front to Win the War. The rally was held Oct. 16, 1942. Chaplin arrived in New York and checked into the Waldorf-Astoria the day before.

Barry was also in New York during Chaplin’s 23-day stay, having arrived with her mother, Gertrude, on October 2. Accounts of how and why she was there differ. According to Barry, Chaplin had paid the tickets for Barry and her mother to come to New York via Los Angeles to “be near him” for his speech. Chaplin, on the other hand, attested that he had paid for the tickets and given Barry $5,000 to pay off her debts so that she would renege on her contract with Chaplin Studios and in hopes that he could be rid of her for good.

During the New York stay, it is generally agreed that Chaplin and Barry had one meeting at his hotel room in the Waldorf-Astoria. During this time, Chaplin gave her $300 which she would subsequently use to transport herself and her mother back to Los Angeles. It is disputed whether or not they had sexual relations during their brief meeting in New York.

Again, Chaplin and Barry had limited if any contact for the next couple months. It is recorded that Barry went to Tulsa, Okla., to visit Getty around November 17. Meanwhile, through the months of November and December, Chaplin had several more speaking engagements for a second front in New York and Chicago, as well as beginning the script that would become his next completed film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947).

Barry’s account states that in December, 1942, she bought a couple of guns and was going to kill herself because of her deep love for Chaplin and the fact that their relationship had become stagnate. After a series of telephone calls to Chaplin’s residence on December 23, she broke onto the grounds of his mansion at 1085 Summit Drive in Beverly Hills with a pistol in hand. She rang the doorbell numerous times and then went to the back and banged on the door several times before breaking into the house through a window. According to Barry, Chaplin was on the phone in his bedroom when she arrived. Chaplin spent more than hour trying to convince her to surrender the gun to him. Eventually, she agreed and did spend the night at Chaplin’s home, though according to Chaplin they did not engage in sexual relations, as he had locked the door to the bathroom between his room and the room in which Barry stayed. Barry, in contrast, insisted that they did have sexual relations that night and that Chaplin even joked of the “ironic twist” of making love while the pistol lay on the nightstand. The following morning, Chaplin gave Barry some money and she left the property. A week later, Chaplin called the police when Barry again showed up at his residence. She was charged with a ninety-day suspended sentence and was ordered to leave town.

Several days after the December 23 incident, according to Chaplin Studios files, Shadow and Substance was shelved indefinitely. However, before leaving the script behind for good and after the dissolution of Barry’s contract with the studio, Chaplin did have a meeting in November, 1942, with one aspiring actress vying for the role of Bridget who would have a large, lasting impression on the rest of his life. This aspiring actress was seventeen-year-old Oona O’Neill, daughter of noted American playwright Eugene O’Neill. In the midst of turmoil to come, Chaplin and Oona would eventually marry on June 16, 1943, in Santa Barbara. It was Oona’s first marriage and Chaplin’s fourth.

As Chaplin continued work on a script entitled Landru (eventually to become Monsieur Verdoux) through early 1943 and into the spring, Barry again visited Getty in Tulsa, Okla., then spent some time in New York with her mother before returning to Tulsa and, ultimately, coming back to Los Angeles. Once in Los Angeles, it was discovered that Barry was pregnant.

Deciding to inform Chaplin of her condition by again intruding on his property, Barry was arrested by the Beverly Hills Police Department a second time and sentenced to ninety days with sixty of those days suspended if she would leave town and not return. Due to her pregnancy, most of the time was spent in a sanitarium. Also, through the month of May, Barry was in correspondence with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, who vehemently despised Chaplin, and informed her mother Gertrude of the situation, who, subsequently, came to Los Angeles from New York.

On June 4, Barry informed the press that Chaplin was the father of her unborn child. That same day, Barry’s mother, acting as guardian to the child, filed a paternity suit against Chaplin. The suit demanded $10,000 pre-natal care, $2,500 a month for support of the child and $5,000 in court costs. Also, around this time Chaplin first caught wind from his friend Justice Murphy of the U.S. Supreme Court of the fact that the United States government was trying to find a way “to get Chaplin.” Matters were not helped by the fact that the American press was lamenting Chaplin as a villain who had fathered Barry’s unborn child and, in turn, had her arrested and left her destitute.

Agreement was eventually reached by Chaplin and Barry’s lawyers that Chaplin would give Barry $2,500 in cash and $100 a week for support, in addition to $500 a month before the birth, $1,000 at the birth and $500 a month for four months successively after the birth if she and her child would agree to a blood test. If at least two of the doctors on the panel said it couldn’t be his child, Barry and her mother would have the case dropped. If the doctors said it was maybe his child, then Barry would be free to press suit. This delayed any proceedings with the paternity suit until early 1944. Chaplin gave his deposition in the Barry case Sept. 14, 1943, and on Saturday evening, Oct. 2, 1943, Joan Barry gave birth to a daughter, Carol Ann, in a Los Angeles Hospital.

At this same time, the United States government was itself building a suit against Chaplin. Long wanting to pin Chaplin for his leftist actions and supposed communist affiliations, the FBI started a thorough investigation that, once completed, would amount to some 2,000 pages of memos, interviews, depositions and biographical information. The government was building their case around the United States White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910, better known as the Mann Act after American lawmaker James Robert Mann. The allegations were based on the transporting of Joan Barry in October, 1942, to and from New York with intention of having sexual relations with her. This violation of the Mann Act falls under section two of the original White-Slave Traffic Act, which was passed by the sixty-first Congress on June 25, 1910, which states:

That any person who shall knowingly transport or cause to be transported, or aid or assist in obtaining transportation for, or in transporting, in interstate or foreign commerce, or in any Territory or in the District of Columbia, any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose, or with the intent and purpose to induce, entice, or compel such woman or girl to become a prostitute or to give herself up to debauchery….upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars, or by imprisonment of not more than five years, or by both such fine and imprisonment, in the discretion of the court.

Chaplin was indicted by a Federal grand jury Feb. 10, 1944. Just days after Chaplin’s indictment by the grand jury, blood tests were submitted from Barry and Carol Ann by three physicians; one representing Barry, one representing Chaplin and a third physician of neutrality. It was determined that Chaplin, whose blood type was O, and Barry, whose blood type was A, could not have possibly produced a child whose blood type was B. John J. Irwin, Barry’s lawyer, at first suggested the possibility that Chaplin took some form of chemical to alter his blood type; however, a few days later, Irwin digressed and resigned as Barry’s attorney.

Following the blood tests, Loyd Wright, Chaplin’s attorney in the paternity suit, filed a motion for dismissal. However, Superior Court Judge Stanley Mosk overruled the motion. Subsequently, because Barry’s mother Gertrude was in agreement to drop the suit if the tests proved negative, the court was assigned guardianship of Carol Ann and brought suit against Chaplin on her behalf. The new trial was set for December, 1944.

Meanwhile, Chaplin was tied up with the criminal allegations of the Mann Act. Against the advice of his friend Justice Murphy not to hire a big name attorney, Chaplin hired well-known criminal defense lawyer Jerry Geisler. On top of the humiliation of the Mann Act case being brought against him on the heels of such a well-publicized paternity suit, insult was added to injury when photographers and the press were allowed to be present during his fingerprinting.

Chaplin was arraigned Feb. 21 and plead not guilty in the Mann Act case or in the conspiracy case, which listed six other individuals along with Chaplin in aiding towards a conspiracy to violate Joan Barry’s civil rights. The Mann Act case opened March 21, 1944, in which U.S. District Attorney Charles Carr was to have to convince beyond a reasonable doubt a jury of seven men and five women that Chaplin violated Joan Barry’s civil rights in New York in October, 1942. The case was heard by Judge J.F.T. O’Connor.

The prosecution fought hard with a slew of witnesses to prove Chaplin’s guilt as Geisler fought to prove the absurdity of the case itself. Barry and Chaplin both took the witness stand during the trial, Geisler remarking of Chaplin’s time in the stand that he was, “the best witness I’ve ever seen in a law court.” On April 4, the jury deliberated for about three hours and took four ballots to unanimously decide that Chaplin was not guilty on all accounts. Violations of the civil rights charges were subsequently dropped on May 15.

In the interim between the Mann Act case and the second paternity suit, Chaplin and Oona celebrated the birth of their first child, Geraldine Leigh Chaplin. Geraldine was to be the first of eight children born to Chaplin and Oona between 1944 and 1962. The second paternity suit concerning Carol Ann Barry opened Dec. 13, 1944, with Judge Henry Willis presiding. For this case there was a jury of seven women and five men. Chaplin hired attorney Charles A. “Pat” Millikan to represent him and Barry’s attorney was 77-year-old Joseph Scott.

While Millikan relied heavily on two witnesses, the neutral doctor present at the administering of the blood tests and a Tulsa lawyer, O.C. Lassiter, who relayed information on Barry’s November, 1942, trip to Tulsa to visit Getty; Scott, relied on sentiment and striking an emotional chord with the jury. The lambasting of Chaplin by Scott through the trial stayed with Chaplin for the rest of his life. Scott’s referral to Chaplin as “a little runt of Svengali”, a “cheap Cockney cad” and “a hoary headed old buzzard” penetrated Chaplin’s innermost insecurities. However, Jan. 2, 1945, the jury could not reach a verdict, though seven to five were in favor of an acquittal. A retrial was opened April 4, 1945, with Judge Clarence L. Kincaid presiding. The jury for the retrial consisted of eleven women and one man. Because blood tests were inadmissible in the California justice system at that time, their outcome was of no use in Chaplin’s favor. On April 17, with an 11 to 1 vote, Chaplin lost the paternity suit. Judge Kincaid ruled that Chaplin would make payments of $75 a week to Carol Ann, with an increase to $100 as her needs grew until she reached the age of 21. She was also legally entitled to adopt the surname of Chaplin. Chaplin’s attorneys filed for a motion for a new trial on May 10, but it was declined less than a month later.

The paternity suit itself has been analyzed in forensics articles and law schools ever since it took place with interest paid primarily to the blood tests which theoretically prove Chaplin’s innocence. Yet, according to Edward Chaney, who was employed as a butler for Chaplin beginning in December, 1941, and present during his October, 1942, trip to New York and the night of Dec. 23, 1942, “In about June of this year (1943) Mr. Chaplin was having a conference with Mr. Wright and Mr. Millikan, his attorneys, I heard him tell them that he had an affair with Joan Berry in October, 42’…that was a surprise to me…he also told his attorneys that he had been intimate with Joan Barry in his house in December, 42′. This was the time when she came up there with a gun.” (Chaplin FBI File 936).

Richard Lamparski, author of the popular “Whatever Became of…” series which details the then and now lives of many famous celebrities, was a friend of Lita Grey Chaplin (1908-1995), Chaplin’s second wife and father of his elder sons, in her later life. According to Lamparski, in person at Grey Chaplin’s residence, she confided to him that during that time many Los Angeles government agencies and the justice system were “extremely corrupt and you could buy anything” (Lamparski Interview). She further relayed to Lamparski that Chaplin had paid to have the blood tests tampered with and that “there is no doubt that she (Carol Ann) was his child” (Lamparski Interview).

Following the trials, Chaplin’s public image in the United States was badly tarnished. His next film, Monsieur Verdoux (1947), a dark comedy about a murderous bluebeard, failed at the American box office both commercially and critically upon its release, though Chaplin considers it one of his finest films. Chaplin would complete one more film in the United States, a film which most agree was his final masterpiece, though not his final film, Limelight (1952). Chaplin’s re-entry permit was rescinded by the U.S. government while he voyaged to London for the premiere of Limelight in September, 1952. Never to return to live in the United States, Chaplin made his home in Corsier sur Vevey, Switzerland from 1953 until his death. Chaplin released two more films after Limelight (1952), those being A King in New York (1957) and A Countess from Hong Kong (1967). He also scored and added soundtracks to many of his early silent features including The Gold Rush (1925), The Circus (1928) and The Kid (1921). He hoped to make one last movie entitled The Freak about a South American girl who sprouts wings and is passed off by captors as an angel before being arrested because of her appearance. He was to have his daughter Victoria from his marriage with Oona play the lead role. Test footage was made with Victoria in costume, though Chaplin never got to complete the film.

Twenty years after his exile from the United States, Chaplin was invited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and receive a special honorary Oscar. He attended and was greeted with a standing ovation that to this day is the longest standing ovation in Oscar history. Through all the humiliation the United States government caused Chaplin, he said in later years that he could not hate America because of all it had given him. In 1975, Chaplin was named on the New Year’s Honor’s List and was, subsequently, knighted March 4, 1975, as Knight Commander of the British Empire. After his knighthood, Chaplin’s robust health began to deteriorate and he died in his sleep on Christmas Day 1977 at his home, Manoir de Ban, in Swtizerland. He was 88 years old.

Following the second paternity suit in late 1945, Joan Barry moved to Pittsburgh, Penn., to pursue singing lessons and try to start a career as a night club singer under manager Don D’Carlo. However, Barry was in a legal row again, when D’Carlo sued her in January, 1946, for commissions from a $1,000 weekly night club act in Detroit. The Detroit night club manager disclosed that her contract had been reduced to two weeks with a $1,250 settlement because of “numerous heated arguments.” In October 1946, she married Russell C. Seck, a railroad clerk, in a small town outside of Aliquippa, Penn. She had two sons from the marriage, Russell C. Seck, Jr. (born 1947) and Stephen Seck (born 1948). In August, 1953, Barry was committed to Patton State Hospital, a mental institution in San Bernardino, Calif., by her mother after being found in Torrance, Calif. “walking the streets barefoot, carrying a pair of baby sandals and a child’s ring, and murmuring: ‘This is magic'” (TIME Magazine 17 Aug. 1953).

According to her son, Stephen, the family lived together in Los Angeles and moved to Acapulco, Mexico, for a short time when the U.S. government was again trying to get Barry to testify against Chaplin in an undeveloped case. She refused to incriminate him. He remembers his mother as a kind, caring woman who always tried to do the best she could for her family and remembers her having a wonderful singing voice. In 1953, at the age of five, he moved with his father and brother to Ohio where he would graduate high school. He has not seen his mother since, having last talked with her on the phone in the mid 1960s. He and his family hired private investigators to try and track her down over time, but she seems to have disappeared. He assumes she may have remarried and is more than likely deceased.

Several sources on the Internet show a death date of 1996 for Barry, that in no way can this author validate. After hundreds of hours in search of what happened to her, through marriage, birth, death, divorce and public records, every road leads to a dead end. Attempts to locate a former brother-in-law, Alfonso Altavilla, were unsuccessful. A social security number listed on page 921 of the FBI files on Chaplin is valid, but tracking the number has proven inconclusive.

Carol Ann Barry received payments from Chaplin on time for 21 years as the court ordered. After her mother was committed, she was entrusted to a legal guardian, an attorney, A. H. Risse of Los Angeles, Calif. She went under a name other than Carol Ann and was attending a private school according to a Stars and Stripes article from 1954. As of February 2009, Carol Ann Barry, 65, was alive and well living in the western United States. She recently retired from a career in which she helped many under privileged people. According to her brother, Stephen, she has many freckles like that of her mother. However, Carol Ann has no interest in speaking of the paternity suits. As a young child, that was a different world that did not concern her. She has strived to live a normal life and enjoys her privacy. Her grandmother, Gertrude Berry, who filed the first paternity suit, passed away in Los Angeles on Sep. 8, 1980, at the age of 80.

Shadow and Substance was never completed by Chaplin. The script still remains in a vault in Switzerland with the rest of Chaplin’s work. He did toy with ideas of reviving the script and making it into a film around the time he decided to shoot A King in New York (1957), but nothing materialized. It is an interesting theory to wonder what might have happened had Joan Barry taken the lead role in Shadow and Substance and fate worked a different way. All sources that exist seem to relate that she had great potential as an actress. It seems, however, that destiny, if there is such a thing, had other plans for Barry and Chaplin. The paternity suit and Mann Act cases were two of the biggest celebrity-related tabloid headlines of the decade and the effects took a strong toll on the career and public view of one of the world’s most cherished comedians.


1. Chaplin, Charles. My Autobiography. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964.

2. Maland, Charles J. Chaplin and American Culture: The Evolution of a Star Image. Princeton University Press, 1989.

3. Robinson, David. Chaplin: His Life and Art. Hammersmith, London: Grafton, 1985.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. Files released through FOIA on Charles Spencer Chaplin.

4. “Mann & Woman.” Time Magazine 3 April 1944. (,9171,850389,00.html)

5. “Just Like the Movies.” Time Magazine 17 Aug. 1953. (,9171,858217,00.html)

6. “Joan Barry, Ex-protégée of Chaplin, Now a Singer.” The Stars and Stripes 11 Oct. 1945: 7.

7. “Joan Barry in Trouble Again; Manager Sues.” The Stars and Stripes 18 Jan. 1946: 3.

8. “Joan Barry Weds Clerk, ‘Love at First Sight’.” The Stars and Stripes 20 Jan. 1947: 6.

9. “Chaplin Told to Set Aside $10,000 for Child.” The Stars and Stripes 30 April 1954.

10. Seck, Stephen. Telephone Interview. Feb. 2009.

11. Lamparski, Richard. Telephone Interview. Aug. 2009.

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3 responses

28 05 2012
Michael G. Ankerich

Very well done! A mystery, indeed!

6 11 2012
Charlie Chaplin persecuted for sex with Joan Berry

[…] FBI 1:5.  Berry had two more abortions that she attributed to pregnancies resulting from sex with Chaplin.  Berry’s testimony and other evidence indicates that Chaplin and his confidants pressured Berry into having these abortions and paid for the abortions.  FBI 2:152-7 (report dated 2/25/44).  Newspaper articles of the time refer to these abortions obliquely as “operations”.  Berry first met Chaplin about May 27, 1941, signed a contract with Chaplin’s studio on June 23, 1941, and first had sex with Chaplin about this time.  In her testimony at the first Chaplin paternity trial (started Dec. 19, 1944, jury returned deadlocked Jan. 4, 1945), Berry “denied positively that she had been intimate with any other man since she met Chaplin.”  See “Joan Berry Asks Juror to Name Chaplin Father,” Los Angeles Times, Dec. 21, 1944, p. 2.  Paternity blood tests conducted and reported in Feb. 1944 clearly indicated that Berry had sex with a man other than Chaplin since she met Chaplin.  FBI records on the Chaplin-Berry affair make clear that Berry was active in Hollywood night life apart from her relationship with Chaplin.  FBI 2: 158-66.  From Nov. 6-17, 1942, Berry took a trip with J. Paul Getty to Miami Beach, Florida.  FBI 1:108-9.  Following the legal resolution of her relationship with Chaplin, Berry had a troubled life.  See Matthew Mandarano, “Joan Barry: The Most (In)famous Actress to Never Appear on Screen.” […]

16 02 2013

A good, interesting article. At the end of the movie “Charlie Chaplin” they give a blurb saying they never found out what happened to her – where or how she died – only that she was in and out of mental institutions. A sad ending for the lady.

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