The Scandalous Story of Wyoming’s Leading Lady Mildred Harris
By the time she was 16-years-old, Wyoming native Mildred Harris was among the most well known actresses in the world when her torrid love affair with Charlie Chaplin became the first tabloid scandal in Hollywood history.
Born in Cheyenne in 1901, the daughter of a telegraph operator scored her first Hollywood movie role at the age of 11, when she was cast in The Post Telegrapher. Many roles would quickly follow, catapulting Harris from a child star to a leading lady.
In 1918, while still only 16, Harris and Chaplin struck up a romance. Chaplin, arguably the most popular actor in the world at the time, was 29. Rumors quickly swirled that the teenage starlet had become pregnant by Chaplin. Later that year, the couple married in Los Angeles.
Sadly, their union would be short-lived. After their only child died as a newborn, Chaplin moved into a new home at the Los Angeles Athletic Club. For the sake of his career, they attempted to keep the separation a secret.
During that time, Harris began an affair with another woman, Russian born actress Alla Nazimova. Harris finally filed for divorce from Chaplin in 1920. In the settlement, she received $100,000 in alimony and the house they had shared.
Like many other actresses of the silent film era, Harris struggled to adapt to "talkies". However, she continued to star in many popular Hollywood productions, including the 1936 Three Stooges comedy Movie Maniacs and in several features directed by the legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille.
Harris remarried in 1924 to Everett McGovern. They had one son before divorcing in 1929. In 1934, she married her third husband, professional football player Bill Fleckenstein.
The couple would remain together until 1944, when Harris died at the age of 42, due to complications from pneumonia.
Following her death, Harris was honored with a star on the Hollwyood Walk of Fame. In 1992, Milla Jovivich depicted her in the movie Chaplin.