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OONA - Living in the Shadows

Jane Scorell

117 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0446517305 / ISBN 13: 9780446517300
Published by Warner Books
Used Condition: Good Hardcover
From Hollywood Canteen Inc. (Toronto, ON, Canada)

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Bibliographic Details

Title: OONA - Living in the Shadows

Publisher: Warner Books

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Good

Dust Jacket Condition: Good

About this title


Follows the life of the daughter of Eugene O'Neill and wife of Charlie Chaplin, describing her struggle with her father's alcoholism, her marriage to the much-older Chaplin, and her extraordinary friendships


Like Jackie O, Oona O'Neill (1925-91) captured public attention for two reasons: her impressive familial/marital alliances (she was the sole daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill and the last wife of filmmaker Charlie Chaplin) and her elegant, raven-haired beauty. The two women also shared vitas that were filled with childhood disappointments, humiliating public attention during crises, and the wrenching deaths of loved ones. But as Jane Scovell's new biography clearly shows, Oona O'Neill Chaplin lacked both the stoicism and personal passion of Jackie Onassis. Hers was a spirit too tender--and fundamentally fragile--to assert itself fully or survive independently for any period of time. Hence the book's apt subtitle, "Living in the Shadows."

With information culled from press clips, interviews with Chaplin's friends and contemporaries, and previous biographies of Eugene O'Neill, Scovell's book paints an engaging portrait of a privileged, potentially fabulous life gone way wrong. Most fittingly for their subsequent tortured relationship, Oona's parents--Eugene O'Neill and writer Agnes Boulton--met in a Greenwich Village bar dubbed the Hellhole. Eight years into their marriage, in which they flitted between Greenwich Village, Bermuda, Provincetown, Maine, and New Jersey, O'Neill abandoned the family life for the erstwhile actress Carlotta Monterey (christened Hazel Neilson Tharsing). Oona was two at the time. O'Neill, a boorish father, saw her only a handful of times before she turned 18; at that point, he disinherited her because he wasn't happy with the oozy publicity she was earning as a New York debutante. That same year, Oona moved out to Hollywood (in the hopes of pursuing an acting career), and met and married Charlie Chaplin, who was facing a scandalous paternity suit at that moment. Chaplin was 54, Oona was 18. She never worked again, and he was at the end of his career. They had eight children (the last when Chaplin was 72), and she stood by him till his death in 1977, spending most of their years together exiled in Sweden, where Chaplin had gone to avoid a host of problems with the U.S. government. After Chaplin's death, Oona returned to the U.S., where she lived 14 depressed, alcoholic years before dying at age 66 of cancer.

There's a breezy, slightly superficial tone to this book, despite Scovell's attempt to elucidate fully the potholes and vistas of Oona's dramatic roadmap. None of Oona's eight children, or close family members, seems to have talked to Scovell, nor did Scovell have any significant access to Oona's correspondence or other writing. Though her dramatic fade is well captured here, Oona never completely blooms in this book. --Jean Lenihan

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