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Chaplin: A Life    by Stephen Weissman Amazon.com order for
Chaplin
by Stephen Weissman
Order:  USA  Can
Arcade, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Alexander Woollcott said that 'Chaplin's like has not passed this way before. And we shall not see his like again.' And 'Chaplin is arguably the single most important artist produced by the cinema' is attributed to Andrew Sarris. Charles Chaplin, Jr. appeared in this world in 1889 and left it in 1977. What he accomplished in the eighty-eight years allotted to him has given his public many, many hours of enjoyment. His participation in the birth of film making was his gift to the world.

Born to a drunken father and a psychotic mother, it is amazing that he survived, let alone accomplished what he did. His older half-brother Sydney watched out for his younger sibling and was responsible for Chaplin's getting his break in the field of entertainment. When Charlie was seven, he and Sydney were sent to an orphanage. His beloved mother had been an actress and singer, who lost her voice before she lost her mind. She instilled in her sons her love of the theater and performed for Charlie and his brother, while teaching them the ins and outs of the profession.

Chaplin did not like performing in front of a live audience in fact, he froze one time and couldn't continue his act. But his skill and timing were undeniable and, at a young age, he was making a name for himself. Arriving in Hollywood, he contracted with Max Sennet and began making minutes' long films. His comic antics were not happenstance, but were rigorously researched for the optimum effect.

His talent drove him. Author Stephen Weissman puts forward the idea that the plots for Chaplin's many films rescuing young women in danger reflected his effort to save his mother, something he was unable to do either as a child or an adult. Regardless of the reasons for his storylines, his talent shone through. Hopefully, his family life gave him peace. He married Ona O'Neil and had eight children by her. Chaplin: A Life is a fascinating read, even for younger readers who might no longer recognize his name. We all have much for which to thank him.

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