Joan Barry (American actress)

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Joan Barry
Joan Barry (1920).png
Mary Louise Gribble[1]:197

(1920-05-24)May 24, 1920
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.
Died1 October 2007(2007-10-01) (aged 87)[2]
Other namesMary Louise Baker
(legal name at the time of her death according to the Social Security Applications and Claims Index)
Known forPaternity suit with Charlie Chaplin
Spouse(s)Russell C. Seck (1946)[3]
Partner(s)Charlie Chaplin (1941–1942)

Joan Barry was an American actress best known for winning a paternity suit in California in 1943 against Charlie Chaplin after an affair between the two resulted in two terminated pregnancies and the subject of the suit, a live-born girl named Carol Ann. Chaplin supported the girl financially until her 21st birthday.

Early life[edit]

Barry was born Mary Louise Gribble on May 24, 1920, in Detroit, Michigan, to James A. and Gertrude E. Gribble. The Gribble family moved to New York City before June 1925. James Gribble worked as a machinist in Detroit, and as car salesman in New York. Another daughter, Agnes, was born in 1923. James committed suicide on December 10, 1927. Gertrude later married a man named John Berry. Barry went to California in 1938 to pursue an acting career.[1]:197

Acting career[edit]

Chaplin affair and aftermath[edit]

Barry, 22 years old, began an affair with established director Charlie Chaplin, aged 52 years, in the summer of 1941;[4] Chaplin had his studio sign Barry at $75 a week ($1,300 today) with possibility of extension,[4][5] and came to consider her for the starring role in Shadows and Substance, a film proposed for 1942.[6][page needed] Barry's initial contract was not associated with Shadows, but won Chaplin's favour for the part following an "excellent private reading."[5] Indeed, Chaplin spoke highly of her acting abilities, as David Robinson captures in his biography, where he notes "Chaplin’s sincerity in believing that he could make Joan Barry into an actress…. [as] 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.” [7]:512 Other sources, including FBI case records and Chaplin autobiographical writings, indicate the young actress to have had both talent at her craft, emotional swings, and periods of erratic behavior. According to Chaplin and some Chaplin biographers the relationship ended with Barry's harassing him and displaying signs of the mental illness which would, in later life lead to her commitment.[citation needed] Other sources suggest that after a concerted effort by Chaplin and his studio to prepare Barry for the lead in Shadows (after Chaplin's purchase of the rights)—efforts that included orthodontic work and participation at the Max Reinhardt Workshop for acting—Chaplin's interest in Barry as an actress and partner dissolved when efforts to produce the movie stalled.[5][citation needed]

FBI case files and other records would record two terminated pregnancies during the affair, initially slated to have occurred in New York City, but both eventually being performed by the same L.A. physician.[5] After having a live-born child, a girl, Carol Ann, on October 2, 1943,[1]:205f Barry's mother, who had custody of the child, filed a paternity suit against Chaplin.[5] The suit proceeded to trial, and despite blood tests which showed Chaplin was not the father, Barry's attorney, Joseph Scott, succeeded in arguing that the tests were inadmissible.[clarification needed][5][better source needed] Chaplin was ordered to support the child, which he did until the child's 21st birthday.[5][8] Chaplin's second wife, Lita Grey, who was divorced from Chaplin in a bitter, highly public legal proceeding in 1927, would later assert that Chaplin had paid government officials to tamper with the blood test results, further stating that "there is no doubt that she [Carol Ann] was his child", although she could not possibly have known 'without a doubt' that Barry did not have sex with other men.[5][9]

Federal prosecutors brought Mann Act charges against Chaplin related to Barry in 1944, of which he was acquitted.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Barry married Russell Seck, a railway clerk, in 1946, and had sons Russell in 1947 (died, Spokane, Washington, 2013[10]) and Stephen in 1948.[11] The boys moved to Ohio with their father in 1952.[citation needed] Stephen Seck would remember Joan Barry as “very gifted, a talented singer who worked hard to support us [he, his brother, Russell, and his half-sister, Carol Ann]. We were never neglected in any way.”[5]

The following year, when she was 33, Time magazine noted that Barry was "admitted to Patton State Hospital... after she was found walking the streets barefoot, carrying a pair of baby sandals and a child's ring, and murmuring: 'This is magic'."[12] After her mother was committed, Carol Ann went to live with a legally appointed guardian and changed her name.[citation needed] She continued to receive monthly payments from Chaplin until her 21st birthday.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c Maland, Charles J. (1989). Chaplin and American Culture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-02860-5.
  2. ^ "FindAGrave". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  3. ^ "Joan's Happy in Role of Clerk's Wife" (PDF). Utica Daily Press. Utica, NY. 1947-01-20. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  4. ^ a b c "Mann & Woman". Time. 3 April 1944. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Auburn-haired Joan Barry, 24, who wandered from her native Detroit to New York to Hollywood in pursuit of a theatrical career, became a Chaplin protegee in the summer of 1941. She fitted into a familiar pattern. Chaplin signed her to a $75-a-week contract, began training her for a part in a projected picture. Two weeks after the contract was signed she became his mistress. Throughout the summer and autumn, Miss Barry testified last week, she visited the ardent actor five or six times a week. By midwinter her visits were down to "maybe three times a week". By late summer of 1942, Charlie Chaplin had decided that she was unsuited for his movie. Her contract ended.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Joan Barry Article". Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  6. ^ Weissman, Steven (2008). "Fatal Attraction: Joan Barry". Chaplin: A Life. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  7. ^ Robinson, David (1986) [1985]. Chaplin: His Life and Art. London, ENG: Paladin. ISBN 0586085440.
  8. ^ In 1965, California civil procedure changed to allow blood tests as evidence,[citation needed] and some have argued[who?] that the perceived injustice of the 1943 Barry ruling led to the change in California law.[citation needed]
  9. ^ In the Matthew Mandarano piece, ca. 2009, cited in the foregoing, Mondarano states: "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” ([p.] 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” ([p.] 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” ([p.] 512).
  10. ^ "Batesville Technology Solutions - Delivering powerful technology to funeral homes, crematories and cemeteries across the globe". Retrieved 2016-01-15.
  11. ^ Probable birth date is 18 October in Los Angeles County, given at MooseRoots Birth Records, accessed 15 March 2015.[citation needed][original research?] "Gribble", Joan's maiden name, is given as the "maiden name" for Stephen Irving (or Irvin) Seck; see also Stephen Seck birth details, accessed 15 March 2015, corroborating that birthdate and bearing the maiden name, "Gribble".[citation needed][original research?]
  12. ^ "Just Like the Movies". Time. 17 August 1953. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Another Chaplin ex-protegee, 33-year-old Joan Barry, who won a 1946 paternity suit against the comedian, was admitted to Patton State Hospital (for the mentally ill) after she was found walking the streets barefoot, carrying a pair of baby sandals and a child's ring, and murmuring: "This is magic".

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