Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin

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9780060170523: Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin

An insightful biography of Charlie Chaplin sheds new light on complex world of the great actor, discussing his love affairs and marriages, radical political activities, rise from the London slums to film stardom, and his extraordinary films. $25,000 ad/promo. Tour.

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Review:

Charlie Chaplin is an enigmatic figure: famous throughout the world in the early days of Hollywood, his celebrity as the silent movie tramp/clown endures; yet he was also active in radical social politics, and later went into exile amid a swirl of rumor and invective concerning his Communist Party connections. Chaplin wrote his own rather selective autobiography, and has been the subject of several memoirs. Milton deals with his tempestuous marriages and with his work, but concentrates on his political life. She analyzes his political naiveté and inconsistency, while locating the source of his left-wing sympathies. The image of the tramp, it transpires, was no accidental movie persona.

From the Publisher:

British-born Charlie Chaplin was not only the world's first international movie star but one of the most loved, hated and gossiped-about figures in film history. In her colorful and absorbing biography of the mercurial Chaplin, Joyce Milton takes us from his childhood in the London slums and his early days as a music hall entertainer, through his meteoric rise and the full flowering of his artistic genius in the American film world, to his exile in Europe during the 1950s during the heyday of McCarthyism and Red-baiting.

The Keystone comedies era and Chaplin's emergence as a star and director make a fascinating story, peopled by the likes of Mack Sennett, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Wallace Beery and Edna Purviance. His founding of United Artists in 1919, with Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, was seminal, giving him a control over his own films that no other writer, actor or director could hope for under the studio system at the time.

Hollywood in the '20s and '30s makes today's film community seem puritanical by comparison, and Chaplin was a key figure in many of the gamier scandals. Successful, handsome and a megastar, he developed a reputation as a seducer of very young women -- his second, wife, Lita Grey, was 15 when they became involved, and he married Oona O'Neill, his fourth, when she was 18. Fighting a paternity suit and accusations of plagiarism, communism, pacifism, libertinism and anti-Americanism, Chaplin nevertheless managed to make 71 films by the time he was 33 years old -- with some of his finest work still ahead of him (The Gold Rush, City Lights, Modern Times and The Great Dictator).

To date only sanitized versions of Chaplin's life have been told, and no biography has yet placed Chaplin in an American context. A strong, determined artist -- at once charming and vulnerable but also vain, arrogant and egotistical -- Chaplin fought hard to overcome early hardships, and suffered greatly when the character he created -- the Tramp, the Little Fellow -- was rendered obsolete by age, changing audience tastes, and the advent of talkies. Joyce Milton's probing and revelatory biography explores the psychological and social roots of Chaplin's art, politics, love life and friendships through the course of a tumultuous life, at once rich and confounding.

Tramp is a shrewd, insightful and entertaining biography of one of the most talented and controversial figures in film history, a complicated man whose life was filled with scandal, politics and art.

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