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My Autobiography (Neversink) Paperback – December 26, 2012
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“A moving picture of the hero himself. A truly fascinating book.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“The most original, virile book about the theater in a long, long time.”
“It holds the reader entranced. Every page can be read with pleasure.” —The Times (London)
“The crucial artist of the twentieth century.” —The New Yorker
“Among the greatest geniuses of film.” —Roger Ebert
“Few men in this century in any field attained his stature with the public.” —The New York Times
“Chaplin was not just ‘big,’ he was gigantic. In 1915, he burst onto a war-torn world bringing it the gift of comedy, laughter and relief while it was tearing itself apart through World War I. Over the next 25 years, through the Great Depression and the rise of Adolf Hitler, he stayed on the job. . . It is doubtful any individual has ever given more entertainment, pleasure and relief to so many human beings when they needed it the most.” —Martin Sieff
“For me, comedy begins with Charlie Chaplin. I know there were screen comedies before he came along . . . But none of them created a persona as unique or indelible as the Little Tramp, and no one could match his worldwide impact.” —Leonard Maltin
“For a star who made his fortune in the silent movies, Charlie Chaplin has a surprising way with words. His My Autobiography, published in 1964 and recently reissued, moves along at a quick clip, lit up throughout its many pages by bright anecdotes, easy humor, and a confident way with a good yarn.” —Biographile
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.