Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Charlie Chaplin: Monster and Charmer Biography Focuses on Contradictions in Comedian's Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Charlie Chaplin: Monster and Charmer Biography Focuses on Contradictions in Comedian's Life

Article excerpt

CHARLIE CHAPLIN AND HIS TIMES

By Kenneth S. Lynn

604 pages, Simon & Schuster, $35 IN A REVEALING photo taken by Edward Steichen just after the triumphant release of "The Gold Rush," Charlie Chaplin stands elegantly posed with Homburg and walking stick, his buttoned shoes encased in cloth tops. The lighting, however, is arranged to cast the shadow of his signature figure of the little tramp on the white screen behind him. In this biography, similarly split between the psychological and social forces that influenced the comedian's art, Kenneth Lynn focuses on the contradictions that led one of Chaplin's many mistresses, actress Louise Brooks, to call him "the most bafflingly complex man who ever lived." Unlike the fastidious tramp with a toothbrush mustache and almost balletic grace, Chaplin could be a monster as well as a charmer. His film relations with women were marked by hopeless longing and worshipful adoration. In life he was embroiled in shotgun weddings, sensational divorces, and paternity suits. Relying heavily on secondary sources, Lynn traces Chaplin's career from his knockabout apprenticeship in English music halls through the mixture of cruelty and slapstick that marked the early short comedies with Mack Sennett's Keystone Films and later with Essanay and Mutual. This mixture was to evolve in the poignancy and humor of the great feature films of the '20s and '30s, in which Chaplin is seen dining on boiled shoelaces or manipulating bread rolls into a dance of exquisite grace and tenderness. Though Lynn demonstrates the unreliability of Chaplin's largely self-serving autobiography, he adds little new material to an already large body of memoirs and biographies, including David Robinson's exhaustive "Chaplin: His Life and Art" of just over a decade ago or more recent books by Charles Maland or Joyce Milton. …

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