William Randolph's Hearse
Enter Charlie Chaplin
The atmosphere aboard the Oneida, despite its surface appearance of frivolity and carefree-ness, was tense and potentially volcanic just beneath the surface. Hearst was certainly not unaware of the rumors surrounding Marion and Chaplin, nor was anyone else. Even though the tabloids treaded lightly (or not at all) on Hearst's relationship with Marion, what she did with Chaplin in public was fair game. Gossipmongers like Grace Kingsley of the New York Daily News, had a field day clucking about the two of them having been seen together on a number of well-publicized occasions, at least one of which was less than a week before Ince's death. It was even reported that Chaplin had taken to visiting Marion on the sets of her productions, scampering hastily out back doors when warned of Hearst's approach by his loyal posted sentinels.
Speculation has it that Hearst invited Chaplin onboard the Oneida that night specifically for the purpose of observing Chaplin's behavior toward Marion and possibly catching the two of them in the act. What he planned to do if he caught them in flagrante delicto is open to speculation. In The Cat's Meow, when Chaplin and Marion make love in her cabin, it is reported to be their first time in bed together. In reality, if there had been any hanky-panky between them, that "first time" would likely have occurred sooner.
Over the years before and after the Oneida incident, Chaplin had acquired a well-earned reputation as a ladies' man. His name, at various times, had been romantically linked to such stars as Edna Purviance, Josephine Dunn, Lila Lee, Pola Negri, Paulette Goddard, and others. Many others! Including some who weren't stars like wealthy socialite Peggy Hopkins Joyce. As Kenneth Anger points out in Hollywood Babylon, "Chaplin did not seek out scandal. Scandal came to him."
Chaplin was especially notorious for "robbing the cradle." His earliest wives and many of his conquests were much younger than him. Some were not even out of their teens. On the night the Oneida set sail he was troubled by an impending shotgun wedding to Lita Grey, who was all of 16 at the time and was carrying Chaplin's baby.