My Autobiography

My Autobiography

Book - 2003
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"As a child, Charlie Chaplin was awed and inspired by the sight of glamorous vaudeville stars passing his home, and from then on he never lost his ambition to become an actor. Chaplin's film career as the Little Tramp adored by the whole world is the stuff of legend, but this frank autobiography shows another side. He tells of his childhood of grinding poverty in the south London slums and early debut on the music hall stage, his lucky break in America, the struggle to maintain artistic control over his work, the string of failed marriages, and his eventual exile from Hollywood after persecution for his left-wing politics and personal scandals. My Autobiography is an evocative and compelling account of one of the twentieth century's most remarkable lives." -- Book jacket.
Publisher: London : Penguin, 2003, c1964
ISBN: 9780141011479
0141011475
Characteristics: 493 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., ports. ; 20 cm

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hotspur57
Feb 06, 2019

This is an autobiography (a very good one), so you get the authentic voice of Chaplin himself. But, as to be expected, you get fudging as well, particularly when it comes to the various ladies in Chaplin's life. Personally, I didn't need that all aired out, but it's interesting how Chaplin keeps making the mistake of marrying or dating actresses. Eventually, late in life, he marries Oona O'Neil (Eugene's daughter), and they have a bunch of kids (some very talented). Chaplin clearly loves her, but even this late happiness has its complications, since Eugene O'Neil would disown Oona (who was only 18 when she married the 54 year old Chaplin). Chaplin never discusses this estrangement, and I suspect throughout the book there are number things that are danced around. That said, it's still a remarkable story. Chaplin's early years in London were like something from a Dickens' novel. Both his parents were actors and performers. His mother (who was mentally ill) struggled to raise Chaplin and his brother. She was committed to the asylum more than once, and the brothers had to do a couple of stints at the workhouse. Chaplin's father, who sounds like he was fairly talented, was also a drunk who would die young. Both brothers would gravitate toward the stage, and eventually make it to America, where a new kind of taking of acting -- films -- was just coming into being. (Chaplin was a genius, but he was also lucky.) Eventually things speed up, as Chaplin (and his Tramp persona) catch on. His ambitions grow, as does his art, and the great movies begin. I think it's about the midway point of the book that Chaplin first mentions the art of pantomime. He tells the reader he's very good at it, but then not much else. I would have liked to hear more about that. But Chaplin could also act in sound movies, but by the time those began, most of his great work was behind him. His sound movies, though quite good, were few and far between. And then Chaplin would eventually become something of a victim of the McCarthy era, at which point he pretty much shuttered his career and studio and moved to Switzerland with his growing family. I think what really struck me throughout the book is Chaplin's sense of Art, and what is True and Beautiful. Did he always have that? Or was it something that developed over the years? This Chaplin quote about the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlovna, says as much about his own heart and eye as it does the great dancer.

"The sublime is rare in any vocation or art. And Pavlova was one of those rare artists who had it. She never failed to affect me profoundly. Her art, although brilliant, had quality pale and luminous, as delicate as a white rose petal. As she danced, every move was the center of gravity. The moment she made her entrance no matter how gay or winsome she was, I wanted to weep, for she personified the tragedy of perfection." -- Steve Harris

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SusyHendrix
Sep 05, 2018

A very good autobiography. Chaplin's vivid memories of late Victorian London are worth the price alone, as are the chapters on his exile from the United States. However, the middle flags a bit, with Chaplin bragging about seeing the Duchess of So-and-So at Mr. So-and-So's dinner party and things like that.

I love Chaplin as an artist and my favorite passages were his ideas about art, cinema, and camera placement (he does have a borderline curmudgeonly attitude toward the maverick young filmmakers of the 1960s, but at least his arguments were based on his preference of simplicity in cinematography over what he considered needless flash, which I can respect). However, he does have a persistent snob streak throughout that is a bit annoying, as are his rather dismissive attitudes toward some of the more assertive women in his life (he claims it was unfortunate that such a "pretty" woman as Mary Pickford was businesslike and domineering). I'm not saying he was a raging sexist, but that undercurrent of "how dare this little woman try to tell me what to do" is there regardless.

In the end, though, this is a good psychological portrait of one of the great cinematic artists. Even if I could have used less name-dropping and more discussion of his art, it gives you a lot of information about how he viewed himself and his world, and that is all an autobiography ever truly needs to be.

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