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How The Great Dictator Ruined Charlie Chaplin's Acting Career

"The Great Dictator" eventually became Charlie Chaplin's most commercially successful film. Chaplin made the film to try and shorten World War II, pleading directly with the audience for inclusion and hope. When few were willing to speak out against Adolf Hitler, Chaplin urged his viewers to resist barbarism in their own souls. "You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts," his character, a Jewish barber, says while posing as the titular Dictator. "You don't hate! Only the unloved hate — the unloved and the unnatural! Soldiers! Don't fight for slavery! Fight for liberty!" The film's climactic speech is, ironically, one of the silent film star's most lasting legacies. It also helped him get kicked out of the U.S.

According to Karina Longworth's podcast, "You Must Remember This," the FBI opened its file on Charlie Chaplin in 1942. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his bureau didn't like Chaplin because he associated with communists, Hollywood liberals like Orson Welles, and progressive artists like Upton Sinclair. They also didn't appreciate that he was suspected to be Jewish. Hoover loved to dish with gossip columnist and fellow antisemite Hedda Hopper about Chaplin, and discuss how they could get rid of him.

Chaplin was despised by Hopper and Hoover, but he was relatively well-liked by the Hollywood establishment. "The Great Dictator," however, lost him friends in the major studio heads. Although many of the studio bosses were Jewish, they did business with Nazi Germany pretty much until Pearl Harbor. This ambivalence about Hitler is fictionalized in Netflix's "Mank."

It wasn't cool to hate Hitler too soon in America

People who decried Hitler before America was officially at war were seen as weird, or even communist. Studio executives tried to stop "The Great Dictator" from being made, according to Longworth.

Charlie Chaplin railed against Hitler and the dangers he posed, which made him a pariah of sorts in Hollywood and a bigger target for his detractors. After "The Great Dictator," Hoover and Hopper ramped up their orchestrated attempt to dig up enough dirt to get The Tramp kicked out of America. The FBI's file was almost 2,000 pages long, according to The New York Times.

Hopper and the FBI used Chaplin's womanizing (and penchant for huge age disparities in his relationships) to construct a case for his deportation. Chaplin's "adversaries relied on truths and half-truths, twisting contexts to put words and deeds in the worst possible light," wrote John Sbardellati and Tony Shaw in the Pacific Historical Review.

Chaplin was charged with violating the Mann Act, which prohibits transporting women across state lines for any "immoral purpose," per NPR. He was acquitted, but that was just the start of a PR nightmare. Hoover planted anti-Chaplin stories in Hopper's gossip column, feeding animosity toward him in the public. He was eventually barred from entering America in 1952 due to "moral turpitude," as noted by Britannica.