Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay

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9781403973030: Chaplin and Agee: The Untold Story of the Tramp, the Writer, and the Lost Screenplay
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Chaplin and Agee charts the friendship between James Agee, author of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and Pulitzer Prize-winning A Death in the Family and screenwriter for American classics including The African Queen, and Charlie Chaplin, who starred in a staggering number of films from 1914 to 1967. This friendship emerged in the midst of the tumult of the 1940s and 1950s, with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, McCarthyism and blacklisting. In print here for the first time is Agee's first screenplay, The Tramp's New World, lost until recently. The striking screenplay--a comedy "so dark it was without precedent"--was written for Chaplin's tramp character and set in post-apocalyptic New York. Chaplin and Agee also features many previously unpublished letters and photographs. As the story moves from Hollywood to Greenwich Village, these two figures come to life, revealing the untold story of the great bond between two influential twentieth-century artists.

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About the Author:

John Wranovics is a Director of Marketing for a leading electronics and computing manufacturer who has written for The Boston Book Review. He lives in Pleasanton, California.

From Publishers Weekly:

A historical curio that links two cultural titans, James Agee's 1949 script for Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp sounds like an American Studies scholar's dream. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the untitled screenplay (dubbed The Tramp's New World) delves into Agee's atomic-age fears and glorifies a socially radical cinematic hero during an era of conservative politics. However, the document itself-which, in truth, is simply an early film treatment-has less historical significance than the subtitle of this book would suggest. It was quickly passed over by Chaplin and actually had little to do with the duo's eventual friendship, which was more significantly catalyzed by Agee's positive 1947 review of Chaplin's otherwise maligned drama Monsieur Verdeaux-a point that Wranovics, a marketing executive for an electronics and computing manufacturer, fails to clearly elucidate. More a dual biography than a close analysis of a literary document, Wranovics's account is a deft profile of two artists he clearly admires, and he takes care to underscore the surrounding social and political concerns. (HUAC, supplemented by Commie-haters like Ed Sullivan, was just beginning its assault on left-leaning artists in Hollywood at the time.) But while the book is well-researched, it's bogged down by dry prose, out-of-place commentaries (in the final chapter, Wranovics accuses Lost in Translation director Sofia Coppola of ripping off Chaplin's A King in New York), and lengthy asides. More seriously, Wranovics fails to present an illuminating argument about the two men's friendship, admitting, "to what extent, if any, Agee's ideas served as an influence on Chaplin is impossible to say." But while the novice historian's thesis could be sharper, there's no denying the cultural significance of his study.
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