A Comedian Sees the World

A Comedian Sees the World

A Comedian Sees the World

A Comedian Sees the World

Synopsis

Film star Charlie Chaplin spent February 1931 through June 1932 touring Europe, during which time he wrote a travel memoir entitled “A Comedian Sees the World.” This memoir was published as a set of five articles in Women’s Home Companion from September 1933 to January 1934 but until now had never been published as a book in the U.S. In presenting the first edition of Chaplin’s full memoir, Lisa Stein Haven provides her own introduction and notes to supplement Chaplin’s writing and enhance the narrative.

Haven’s research revealed that “A Comedian Sees the World” may very well have been Chaplin’s first published composition, and that it was definitely the beginning of his writing career. It also marked a transition into becoming more vocally political for Chaplin, as his subsequent writings and films started to take on more noticeably political stances following his European tour.

During his tour, Chaplin spent time with numerous politicians, celebrities, and world leaders, ranging from Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi to Albert Einstein and many others, all of whom inspired his next feature films, Modern Times (1936), The Great Dictator (1940), Monsieur Verdoux (1947), and A King in New York (1957). His excellent depiction of his experiences, coupled with Haven’s added insights, makes for a brilliant account of Chaplin’s travels and shows another side to the man whom most know only from his roles on the silver screen. Historians, travelers, and those with any bit of curiosity about one of America’s most beloved celebrities will all want to have A Comedian Sees the World in their collections.

Excerpt

The World Crisis in Dumb Show. The genius for using sound with
out syllables, which was so effective in his last film, can adapt itself
to any locality, any necessity for expression. One imagines the lit
tle comedian in his usual picture make-up pleading soundlessly at
Geneva for custard pies instead of poison gas. Or at Harbin he sits
on a keg of powder and kicks his big, flat shoes against it while
he shows a few Generals how to win. The Chinese “sound effects”
in this scene should be good. Riding a Soviet tractor in the Rus
sian fields, wearing a loin cloth and carrying his flexible cane in
India, taking off his battered derby to an American bank that never
failed, he can remain as silent, wistful and funny as ever in his old
character.

New York Times, 15 April 1932

As the New York Times news writer suggests in this excerpt, Charlie Chaplin was (1) often conflated with his film persona, the Little Tramp, and (2) viewed as seemingly “at home” in diverse locations and situations across the world’s landscape. Chaplin took advantage of the juxtaposition of these two phenomena twice during his long forty-year residence in the United States, in 1921 and in 1931–32. Each of these trips followed the completion of a film that marked significant risk on Chaplin’s part, as well as a period of some personal scandal publicized in the press.

When Chaplin left for London in September 1921, he had recently completed his first feature comedy, The Kid. The film was important for several reasons. First, as Charles Maland points out, it followed close on the heels of two relative failures, Sunnyside (1919) and A Day’s Pleasure . . .

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