70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
I originally read this book back in the early 1970's when I was a teen-ager. Recently I found it at my Dad's house and had the great pleasure of re-reading it. As with any autobiography there is a certain amount of self-promotion and justification, however this book really keeps it to a minimum. The period covered is from birth until his expulsion from the United States, and gives great insight on the early years of Hollywood, including his formation of United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. If you're a fan of "the Tramp" then I highly recommend this book. If you're not a fan but looking for a great true-to-life story, I would still recommend it as well.
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
Chaplin is Chaplin. This is enough to make his autobiography interesting. It is his honesty and sensitivity and attempts to be in touch with himself at various points of his life that makes this book remarkable. And it is through sharing his inadequacies and traumas that the comic tramp makes me cry.
This book is invaluable in getting an insight into early days of Hollywood. It also provides a great account of Charlie's life and struggles. So the learning is tremendous.
However, the best part of the book is its humanness - fallible, confused, hesitant, and shy and yet successful, rich, adored, and mobbed by fans.
What struck my heart is the loneliness in the midst of a celebrity status and Charlie's ability to get in touch with it and share it.
What is also moving is his trauma during the McCarthy era and his eventual 'reverse migration' to Europe.
Even JFK could not get him back.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2008
Despite all the exquisite books that have been devoted to Charlie Chaplin through the years, the comedian's own account of his life remains vital to anyone interested in his life and work. In fact, it seems to me that the relevance of MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY increases as every new book is written, as every Chaplin-biographer since has relied so heavily on the vast number of unique recollections provided in this book. Thus to not recognize it in its entirety would likely result in an unbalanced view of the man. First published in 1964, Chaplin had made all but one of his films at this point, being well into his seventies, and presumably felt ready to tell his life story as he recalled it.
It seems to be the general standpoint that the first twelve or so out of the twenty-nine chapters are the most fascinating. Born in London in 1889, Chaplin's recollections of the late Victorian era, as seen through the eyes of someone who suffered a confused and insecure childhood, are often heartwrenching. Although Chaplin's early years are told in retrospect, half a century after he became one of the richest and most celebrated personalities of his time, one senses through his writing that feelings of desperation and inferiority never quite left him. I constantly found myself imagine not Chaplin the man, but Charlie the boy telling me his story as though it happened yesterday. His first spontaneous appearance on the stage at five, the constant struggle to make both ends meet, his mother's first and subsequent transmissions to mental asylums, the death of his alcoholic father, his first experience with love, his rise from a child dancer to a major music hall comedian, which led to his first movie contract while on tour in the States; it is all here, told through a vast amount of anecdotes. London of the 1890s-early 1900s is brought to life, I dare say, like no other first-hand account I have ever read on this period.
Having spent about one-third of the book recalling his childhood, Chaplin then devotes an entire chapter on his first year in the movie industry, at Keystone Studios in 1914. We are given access to his thoughts on the various directors and comedians he worked with early on, paving the way to the birth of his famous Tramp character, who within months turned Chaplin into not only a star but also the truly first icon of the movies. The comedian spends some time further into the book analyzing the development of his character, explaining how the Little Fellow (as he always named him) matured from the rather intuitive creature of the first one- and two-reelers, into the far more lovable Tramp most of us remember. When I first read this book as a 12-year old (in an excellent Norwegian translation), I remember being particularly fascinated to be told that Chaplin as early as in 1916 intended to make a science-fiction comedy, having his Tramp character travel to the moon; the film was never made, but a planned sequence involving a feeding-machine was much later included in MODERN TIMES.
However, after providing us with much valuable information on his first few years as a film-maker, Chaplin seems to be less willing to directly discuss his working methods. Of course, he does recall in some detail the making of and receptions to his feature-length masterpieces, and also occasionally shares some thoughts on how he was inspired to do these films. Particularly interesting is the part recalling how Chaplin suddenly felt inspired to work again after attending a performance of five-year old child dancer Jackie Coogan, after having experienced a creative block for months. This boost of inspiration persuaded Chaplin to hire young Jackie, which in turn led to his first feature-length film THE KID. On the whole, though, the time spent on his movies is generally not as vast as many fans and historians would possibly expect it to be. Several pages are spent on the comedian's various trips around the world in the 1930s, whereas the making of MODERN TIMES is gained less than two. One has to keep in mind that Chaplin quite likely wrote these memoirs as much for his own sake as that of any others', and it can be assumed that he didn't find it sufficiently amusing to recall the exhausting periods he spent on his masterpieces. On the other hand, he expressed in interviews that he remembered his youthful years with nostalgia (who doesn't), which may explain why he appears more eager to discuss that part of his life and career.
As for his private life, Chaplin appears selective as to what he wishes to cover. His second marriage, which had resulted in a most stressful public scandal in the 1920s, is wrapped up in a few sentences. Even so, Chaplin does not ignore controversial aspects of his life as a public figure; he is frank with his interest in sex, which was mostly present when he had no particular work to attend, and he spends a fair amount of time recalling the awful Joan Barry-scandal in the 1940s. Also thoroughly covered are his feelings on leaving the United States in 1952, after his re-entry permit was revoked; understandably, there is arguably a trace of bitterness to be found, although not nearly as much, I think, as one might expect. Chaplin still prefers not to dwell on these things, though, which is understandable considering that he'd led a very happy life with his fourth wife Oona and their children for twenty years by this time. Charlie's feelings of love for Oona are beautifully expressed towards the end of the book. He also shares his impressions of many famous people he acquainted; among the more interesting of these celebrities are W.R. Hearst, J. Edgar Hoover, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein and Claude Debussy, as well as movie stars such as Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Despite some possible, slight disappointments, MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY remains a very engaging read throughout. The first chapters dealing with his youth may be the most enthralling part, but the entire book most definitely deserves to be read -- and re-read. The vocabulary is outstanding. We should be grateful that Chaplin wrote this book; without it, later great biographies on the comedian would unquestionably have been more speculative, especially whereas his early years are concerned.
45 of 49 people found the following review helpful
While the movie Chaplin is very well done, no person can tell a story like they can tell there own. Based on this, I chose to read the book written by the cinematic legend himself. While there are some discrepencies between the book and movie, books have an ability to make details evident that movies can not make evident.
The book spends a considerable amount of time in his early life. Chaplin struggled with a rarely present father and a mentally ill mother. It was through this poverty that he followed the chosen career path of his parents in the theatre. The theatre would would lead him to America where he would begin working in the new film industry. Through this industry he made classic films that continue to influence modern cinema despite their age. When Chaplin made a film, it had something to say. It was art that spoke to the human soul with humor, love, and hope. His films were not merely a way to make money.
Aside from his work in films, Chaplin was a humanitarian. He supported America in times of war depite not being a citizen. Chaplin never forgot his roots, making him empathetic to the needs of the less fortunate. This trait led to the revoking of his residency when he spoke of openly of opening a second front in Russia during World War II. It was through this stance that he was labeled a "communist". In spite of these attacks led by J. Edgar Hoover, Chaplin rarely mentions Hoover in his book. Nor does he harbor ill will toward America. It is a travesty that this film legend and humanitarian was treated so poorly by the American government in his later years.
The book ends shortly after Chaplin has settled in to his new life in Switzerland. With his new life, Chaplin has a positive outlook. One has to wonder what might have been if Chaplin finished his life in America. Surely he was capable of creating more great work. However, sometimes a man's greatest work and pleasure is his family.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on January 16, 1999
While this is by no means a perfect book, it is still very enjoyable to read Chaplin's account of his life and times. Other works may portray him more accurately and with less bias, but they cannot offer the same personal touch that this book presents. For the most part, the book is a smooth read-even though Chaplin tends to leave out important points that are uncomfortable (but essential), creating a few strange transitions. Further, it appears that even the realm of non-fiction biography is not safe from fictional enhancements. Chaplin, being the tireless dramatist, invented at least one character in this book for fluency and apparently stretched a story here or there as well. Despite this, a fan of the great comedian must respect (or at least accept) the fact that this is how Charlie Chaplin wanted to be remembered.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2002
GREAT, WONDERFUL, THE BEST. these are just a few of the words that could discribe this briliant book about the talented little tramp, Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. He tells of his hardships as a child, and his stage debute at the age of five that changed his life, all the way to the first time he walked onto the keystone movie sets, with the creation of the little tramp. He goes on to tell us about all of his movies and all of the trouble making them. He talkes about the invasion of talking movies and the meeting and wedding of the love of his life to the day he died, Oona O'neil. He very gracfully talkes of his exil on the way to the london premier of "Limelight," and the buying of his new house in Switerland, Manoir de Ban. This was, is, and forever will be a great book for all ages to read.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2005
Charles Chaplin was easily the first international superstar the world had ever known, but his story is an intriguing tale of a person with hopes, dreams and faults. The towering successes in Chaplin's life are mirrored by his failures, especially during the early part of his life while he was struggling to perfect his craft. By all means, Chaplin was a comedic genius of the first magnitude, but with it came a price only perfection can demand.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 21, 2006
Once grown up, sort of, I never lingered long at the video shop over Chaplin's oeurve, passing his famous movies by for another day and then renting the Mambo Kings or True Grit, whatever. Finding his autobiography on a sale rack at Gecko Books in Chiang Mai stopped me though, and a few perused pages were enough to intrigue me as the man wrote affectionately and well. How the world has changed! Chaplin will acquaint you with turn-of-the-century London with its vibrant theatrical entertainment juxtaposed with 'work houses' and 'loony bins'. His initial tours as a stage actor in America are wonderfully rendered, filled with anecdotes worthy of Dos Passos, then followed by his swift ascent to fame and fortune working in and transforming the nascent movie industry in Los Angeles. After that sweet ride Chaplin confronted the 'talkies', a somewhat diminished energy and, eventually, the crude machinations of a voracious media and paranoid government. These latter periods are peppered throughout with overly long renditions of the rich and famous who sought him out or he them; mostly they ate and drank together. The look into celebrityhood is, at the very least, quite entertaining as a test of trivia. My Autobiography is a fine book and very well written, by one of the most engaging men of the twentieth century - I've got to rent those videos.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
CHARLES CHAPLIN: MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY tells the revealing life of one of the most beloved and iconic American silver screen legends of the twentieth century. In his well-known bowl hat, toothbrush mustache, floppy shoes, and bamboo cane, Chaplin had a long illustrious film career that spanned from 1914 to 1957 where he made about 88 films. Through his modest upbringing in Victorian era England by former stage performers, Charles and Hannah Chaplin, Charles picked up where his parents left off. He was an entertainer as he was an articulate man who lived a somewhat vagabond life, which included travels all over the world, but between directing and performing, he spent his time reading the classics from history to philosophy; he was observant of the world around him, but dealt with the subject of history as poetic and a breath of skepticism. Chaplin states, "After all, there are more valid facts and details in works of art than there are in history books" (323).
MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY does not cover controversial terrain. Chaplin is honest and respectful of the people he encountered throughout his career, and this is conveyed within his narrative. Charlie Chaplin lived and worked during the most serious periods in world history, the two World Wars and the controversy of looming accusations that he was tied to communist sentiment. Chaplin had the opportunity to become acquainted with the most towering dignitaries of the world, Sir Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Einstein, US presidents Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. However, he offers little hints of particular encounters, such as with his meeting with Herbert Hoover, but does not elaborate on the details and leaves it up to the readers to come to their own conclusions. Indeed, he had a deep concern for humanity. He clearly was cognizant in translating his concerns through his creative endeavors, such as in his full-length films, "City Lights" and "The Great Dictator." One of the interesting aspects of Chaplin's discussion of "Dictator" is that he includes the transcript to the last lines to the film in this book.
As a fixture of Hollywood, Chaplin shared the limelight with his peers. His most revered friendships were with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, William Randolph Hearst, H.G. Wells, and mentor Upton Sinclair. He also experienced less than stellar relationships with different women that led to three failed marriages, but finally succeeded in finding happiness with his fourth wife, Oona O'Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill, when she was only eighteen years old and shockingly, he was in his 50's.
Overall, Charlie Chaplin shares with readers his most creative and colorful life. The only weakness to the book is that Chaplin seldom mentions any particular date to an event, thus readers are assumed to have knowledge of history and the individuals in which he speaks about in order to parallel these events to his own life. Nevertheless, MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY will enlighten the Chaplin aficionado or curious reader.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 1998
I always knew Charlie Chaplin was a comic genius. However, after I read his book I realized he was more than that. He was an incredible man with a remarkable mind that didn't just apply to the silver screen. If he hadn't been a film star he could have been a great writer. His autobiography tells one of the greatest rags to riches stories ever. And he does it with beautiful, poetic prose. I can guarantee anyone who reads this book that they will love both the book and the man who wrote it. There never has been and never will be another man like Charles Chaplin.