My Autobiography Charles Chaplin by Charles Chaplin.
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Simon and Schuster; BOMC edition (1964)
(below: Charlie’s mother who was in and out of insane asylums.)
“The best autobiography ever written by an actor. An astonishing work.” —Chicago Tribune
Chaplin’s heartfelt and hilarious autobiography tells the story of his childhood, the challenge of identifying and perfecting his talent, his subsequent film career and worldwide celebrity. In this, one of the very first celebrity memoirs, Chaplin displays all the charms, peculiarities and deeply-held beliefs that made him such an endearing and lasting character.
Take this unforgettable journey with the man George Bernard Shaw called “the only genius to come out of the movie industry” as he moves from his impoverished South London childhood to the heights of Hollywood wealth and fame; from the McCarthy-era investigations to his founding of United Artists to his “reverse migration” back to Europe, My Autobiography is a reading experience not to be missed.
In the beginning I wondered if this Autobiography would keep my interest for 512 pages… but my concern was unfounded. It’s obvious that Mr. Chaplin was as good a writer as he was an actor.
Let me give you just a few sentences that caught me early on…
Upon staying at his first hotel:
I took a bath and combed my hair and put on my new bathrobe, intending to get every ounce of luxury out of my four dollars and fifty cents worth. If only I had something to read… a newspaper. But I had not the confidence to telephone for one. So I took a chair and sat in the middle of the room surveying everything with a feeling of luxuriant melancholy.
Working for Mack Sennett…
I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person he was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked onto the stage he was fully born. When I confronted Sennett I assumed the character and strutted about, swinging my cane and parading before him. Gags and comedy ideas went racing through my mind.
The secret of Mack Sennett’s success was his enthusiasm. He was a great audience and laughed genuinely at what he thought funny. He stood and giggled until his body began to shake. This encouraged me and I began to explain the character: “ You know this fellow is many sided, a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he is a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player. However, his is not above picking up cigarette butts or robbing a baby of its candy. And, of course, if the occasion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear… but only in extreme anger!”
I have to admit to having an interest in the beginning of motion pictures.. and of the time it all actually happened. I enjoy books that don’t just tell about the person I am reading about but that it also lets me know what was going on in the world at the time this was happening. Good descriptions of what streets and hotels and people looked like in that era, help make a good read. Mr Chaplin succeeded in keeping my total attention through the entire book.
As technology advances so quickly, one forgets (or never knew) that there was a time one could NOT fly back and forth to England, but rather had to travel by ship. Then must also remember that ships were not made they way they are today! Sometimes I think it is sad that the generation following me and others after that.. have their whole life in their pocket at their fingertips and never really sees the world around them.
Anyway.. if you like biographies and have any interest in a time long ago before sound even came to the movies.. this might well be a book you would enjoy reading. There are still first editions of this book available cheaply (and at thrift stores) and I believe it’s the only edition untouched by another who may have changed some things in Mr. Chaplin’s book.
So for now… I may go on to read Mary Pickford’s story since Mr. Chaplin was for a long time good friends with Douglas Fairbanks and his then wife Mary Pickford. I am not positive of the read..but I will see how it goes.