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Asia and the Tramp


In the post-globalization age, it is common for Hollywood stars to visit Southeast Asia. This was not the case in 1836, when the tourist happened to be one of the greatest male screen legends of all time.

By Joel Quenby

Published on Jun 9, 2010

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Raffles Hotel Le Royal
in Phnom Penh recently announced: “On April 18, 1936, Charlie Chaplin, one of the most creative and influential personalities of the silent-film era, was checking-in…”

The movie icon chatted with reporters in the hotel bar, the release continues—complimenting the “superb” hotel, where he was enjoying “such perfect service” to Echo du Cambodge. The weirdly timed missive concludes: “Nobody really knows the true purpose of his trip to Orient.”

It is an intriguing tidbit. Other sources (especially Darryl Leon Collins, co-author of Building Cambodia: ‘New Khmer Architecture’ 1953–1970) are thankfully more descriptive.

On February 12, 1936, five days after the Hollywood premiere of Modern Times (a satire on mass production that radicalized the actor’s reputation), Chaplin and a three-person entourage, including his co-star and mistress of four years Paulette Goddard, left America on the S.S. President Coolidge.

The New York Times later called Chaplin’s five-month trip his “conquering tour of Europe and the Orient—a whirl of meetings with statesmen, writers, artists and celebrities.” (Others say it was partly promotional, partly escapism.)

After stopping over in Hawaii, the party sailed via Shanghai to Singapore on 19 March, where a photo of Chaplin in the Tiffin Room of Raffles Hotel is still on show. Meanwhile, a wire report informed the world that the two movie stars had married en route, in Singapore or Canton. It remains unclear whether the wedding actually happened—more of which later.

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