Charlie Chaplin (Review)

Charlie Chaplin was the most famous person in the world for many years. When I considered this fact, I stopped reading and tried to digest what such fame means to the celebrity. In the case of Charles Chaplin, fame colored nearly every aspect of his life.

I paused my reading of Peter Ackroyd’s biography, Charlie Chaplin, because a key Buddhist teaching came to mind right away. Self-cherishing leads to great suffering. The individual suffers, and those around him suffer, as well. I think that students of Chaplin-bookcoverBuddhism can take away some big lessons if they read this book.

I also think that students of psychology will find this biography of Charlie Chaplin of great interest. The most famous man in the world was a very driven man who displayed several behavioral faults to his intimates. He was greatly loved and admired by people the world over. At the same time he was feared by many in his private circle.

Ackroyd presents Chaplin through the lens of the celebrity’s work. The story begins with Charles and his older brother, Sydney, struggling in the slums of South London, England. The young actor survived an impoverished home life, parented by a mentally unbalanced, alcoholic mother. His first taste of show business was in the seedy music halls. He was the consummate mimic and acrobat. Show business was the lifeline for the young brothers as they were placed in various asylums and poor houses during their boyhood.

The book progresses through the complexities of Chaplin’s life, while showcasing many of Charlie’s movies. The reader witnesses the “Little Tramp’s” career from the days at Keystone Films, the makers of “Keystone Kops”, to his work as an independent, to his efforts in co-founding United Artists studio. Charlie was one of the few actors who successfully adapted from silent films to films with sound.

Chaplin’s perfectionist tendencies were a boon to the film world and a pain to those who worked with him and the people in his private circle. His drive to remain foremost in the
Chaplin-youngmanpublic limelight came from the core of his being. Whereas, most of us are happy to receive a pat on the back or other kudos, from time to time, Chaplin required massive public adulation. He seemed to derive nourishment from the adoring crowds who yelled “Charlee, Charlee” whenever he made personal appearances in cities.

Ackroyd’s book brings out Chaplin’s egoism and borderline delusions of grandeur in equal measure with the actor’s genius. He thought of himself as “lord and master” of his
family, the movie studios, and possibly, the world at large.  This aspect is illustrated in the chapter titled “The German Tramp”.

Ackroid did his homework in compiling the chapter aboutChaplin’s movie, “The Great Dictator”. The resemblances between Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler numbered more than their small mustaches. Some of Hitler’s insiders claim that Hitler adopted Chaplin’s toothbrush “stash” as a visual way to inspire love and loyalty among the German people. Both men knew that the unusual feature would draw the viewers’ attentions to their faces.Chaplin-GreatDictator

Although there is no known birth certificate for Charles Chaplin, it is acknowledged that Hitler and Chaplin were born within four days of each other. Both had alcoholic parents.   Both worshiped their mothers. The two shared concerns about familial illegitimacy and insanity. Most importantly, both possessed the highest degree of charisma. Chaplin became the world’s most famous man; Hitler became the world’s most infamous man.

As a history nerd, I found this chapter about “The Great Dictator” a major highlight of Ackroyd’s book. Although the Nazi Ministry of Culture, banned the movie in Germany and occupied Europe, Hitler, himself insisted upon viewing it.  Legends say that Adolf Hitler viewed “The Great Dictator” alone, three times, possibly more.

As is the case with many famous public figures, Charlie Chaplin’s life devolved from great public acclaim to unpopularity, and ended with a retrospective golden glow.  Chaplin’s messy personal affairs presented emotional and legal reasons to abandon the United States and to become an ex-patriot in Switzerland.

Upon completing my reading of Charlie Chaplin, I more deeply understood the Buddha’s teachings about self-cherishing and them importance of cherishing others above oneself.

{ Charlie Chaplin by Peter Ackroyd; 272 pages; published in 2014 by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday Random House; ISBN: 978-0-385-53737-7 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness gives this book an A+ for its ability to hold the reader’s interest and for its pacing.

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, Controversy, Entertainment, History, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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