Stephen Weissman, a professor of psychiatry, brings his psychoanalytical perspective to his biography of one of cinema’s first giants, Charlie Chaplin.
Through Weisman's perspective, Chaplin’s genius as a comedian and iconoclast lay in his early relationship with his entertainer parents and his move to an orphanage at age seven. By age 28, the Vaudevillian known for his ballet dancer-like grace was a millionaire and worldwide celebrity. Chaplin’s later life included scandalous love affairs and political activism.
Narrator Steve West’s crisp, evenhanded reading, delivered with a British accent, allows the material in this eye-opening new look into a cinematic greats to take the spotlight.
Born in London, in 1889, Charlie Chaplin grew up in dire poverty. Both his parents were in show business, but severe alcoholism cut short his father's flourishing career, and his beloved mother first lost her voice, then lost her mind to syphilis. Charlie, at age seven, was committed to the Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children. How then did this poor, lonely child become such an extraordinary comedian, known and celebrated worldwide? Chaplin cut his teeth in British music halls, but it was America that made him.
At age 25, he was touring here with a vaudeville troupe when his talents caught the eye of entertainment entrepreneur Mack Sennett, who spirited him off to California and signed him to a film contract. Chaplin became Sennett's star comedian, and by 28 the actor had become a millionaire and the world's greatest celebrity.
Weissman traces Chaplin's life and the sources of his genius in fascinating detail, demonstrating how his tragic childhood shaped his personality and his art. Infamous for his politics and his scandalous sex life, Chaplin was a much more complex and contradictory character than has hitherto been known. Weissman brilliantly illuminates both the screen legend and the turbulent era through which he lived and worked.
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I found the story of Chaplin's early life and how it influenced his great films to be very interesting. The book covers his rise through the Mack Sennett Studios and going independent. The author then spends five minutes to wrap up the next 50 years of Chaplin's life in a brief essay, skipping his family life altogether. He then goes into a debate over the authenticity of an unpublished Chaplin book. Very disappointing. Apparently his book draws on research in David Robinson's Chaplin book, which I will track down.
This should be titled The Early Years, or The Rise of Charlie Chaplin. It's not a biography of his entire life.