Q: Odd that Charlie Chaplin sends his daughters to a convent. It certainly can’t be said that he has any sympathy with the Church. And why on earth does he send you to a convent?
Geraldine Chaplin: “For the discipline. My father’s fanatical about discipline. Besides I was so wild, when I was ten, that I don’t know what would have happened if the nuns hadn’t brought me up. They were strict, the nuns, as strict as father, but they were so gentle too. And then the nuns gave me something I didn’t have, they gave me religion. You see, we Chaplin kids were never baptized into any religion. That’s the way father wanted and wants it. We’d never heard any talk of God, we’d never heard a prayer and…well, now I’ll tell you a very silly, a very odd thing.
The first day I went into class, all the girls were standing up praying. I didn’t know about praying, you see, and so I thought they were reciting a lesson. But the second day they stood up again and recited the same lesson again, so I thought, that’s odd, didn’t they say the same lesson yesterday? I turned to one of the girls and asked her: ‘What are you doing?’ ‘We’re praying,’ she said. ‘Praying?’ I said. ‘Yes, praying,’ she said. “Praying to whom?” I said. ‘Praying to God,’ she said. ‘God who?’ I said.
Well, the girl looked at me in amazement and didn’t say any more. So then, when the lesson was over, I went to the nuns and asked who God was: was he the head of the school? The nuns said yes, God was also the head of the school. So then I asked the nuns if I could meet this head of the school and the nuns replied that this head of the school was very good and was taking care of me. If I spoke to Him, He would listen and… well, it was like a fairy tale only more beautiful, and I believed it…”
Q: Is it really true that until you were ten you’d never heard religion spoken of?
GC: “No. Never….my father says he’d have liked to be religious, that it would have been a great help to him, but he just can’t be. If he could, he says, he’d put more trust in people. My father is a man with no illusions, and we all grew up without any illusions – except for the early years, when we thought it was Father Christmas who brought us cookies. But by now even the youngest of the children know the cookies come from mother and father, that there is no such person as Father Christmas.”
-excerpted from 1965 interview, published in The Limelighters (Oriana Fallaci, 1967) (photo via)